On The Rail: Produce Row

A little over a year ago, Produce Row suddenly and unceremoniously closed.  News and blog posts went up about it but there really wasn’t any reason why, at least to the casual observer. One day it was open, the next day it was closed and the staff of PR was as surprised as anyone.

Just as quietly, Produce Row opened back up again just a few months ago. I’ve always liked the place so I’ve come down, drinking a Breakside Fresh Hop ale. Because fresh hop ales are the best, rarest beers on earth! (Spoiler; no, they aren’t).

Nothing has changed. And I don’t mean that nothing feels different. I mean that nothing has perceptibly changed.

It’s eerie to feel this way; not the decor, not the arrangements, even the font on the menu looks familiar. I don’t even need a new wifi password. For a moment, I have a shadow of the Shining come over me. Should I worry about possession?

Eh, who cares? A cool place I like has come back! Let’s finish this beer.

It is hoppier than I would’ve expected. Not in the nose; that barely registers and that’s a bit disappointing. The finish is bitter and it’s pretty citrus forward. It’s good but Breakside has done so many excellent beers lately that I feel like this could be better. I may just be holding the bar too high. Then again: they set the standard, can I really be faulted for holding them to it?

Common Ales: Pelican Kiwanda Cream Ale

So let’s talk about what a Cream Ale is first because maybe you, like me, don’t know what one is and as such, may have been expecting a beer with a creamier mouthfeel to it. That’s not what it is: cream ales came into vogue (if my casual internet research is true) in America as a way to compete with lagers. During the Prohibition era, Canadian breweries helped refine the style and today we have what is essentially an attempt to get lighter beer using an ale yeast to taste like a lager.

That is: cream ales are meant to be light, refreshing and mimic the characteristics of lagers as much as possible.

So, now that we know what this is, the question is; should you get it?

It’s hard for me to appreciate cream ales. There’s just the obvious question: why not just get a lager? Without a side by side comparison, I’m hard pressed to make a distinction between the two styles. Still, that’s my problem not yours.

Here’s what I think: Pelican’s cream ale does what it sets out to do. It’s a drinkable, thirst quenching ale that doesn’t have a lot of corn-like sweetness to it that I have found in many lagers. It finishes pleasantly dry and the overall crispness of the beer makes it a good one for pretty much any pub food I can think of.

It also might be an excellent beer to start someone into the craft beer scene. If all they’ve had is macro lagers, this is a low-risk, medium-reward ale. That is: while the style may seem odd and the brewery unfamiliar, the beer tastes familiar and shouldn’t turn someone off from the style. It may even encourage people to keep trying different things and it’s priced reasonably.

I’d have another.

Common Ales: Laurelwood Pumpkin Ale

The things I do for you people.

So, let me just get this out of the way: this review is one where I didn’t ask anyone what their best selling ale was or do any research about the best selling pumpkin ale or anything like that at all. I just saw my Facebook feed blow up for about two weeks on the subject of “pumpkin spice (somethings)”. Regardless of how I, personally, feel about the subject, people drink pumpkin ales and those ales are made by craft breweries.

And that means that this falls smack dab into what I’m doing, right? Right. So, I found a torpedo of a pumpkin ale (because 6 pack = Very No) from a brewery that often does good work and went from there.

The nose has a strong nutmeg presence and there is a little bit of cinnamon too. I like this at first. As I get further into the beer, the cinnamon gets stronger and clove becomes quite present. Again; initially, I like this.

Here’s why: the first sips of the beer belie a custard-esque finish. This is mostly a mouthfeel thing, a kind of thickness to the beer but it helps give the ale some robustness. It doesn’t last long, though. By the fifth sip, the spicy qualities have cut through everything that might provide this beer with some sweeter counter.

It’s…not vile. Something in the finish about that spiciness doesn’t work as a liquid for me. If this was pie, there would be the crust and perhaps whip cream to make it all balance out. Without that, the spices push everything else out of the beer. It’s like I’m drinking a liquid spice.

Now: maybe that sounds good to you! Awesome. Get this beer. It’s not working for me.

Sir We Have A Problem

I got the recipe for this from the White House’s web site. President Obama asked the kitchen to make homebrew and I thought; well hey, I should totally see what kind of beer the President likes. So I made it.

There are…issues.

There’s a spiciness in the nose and I’m pretty sure that this is due to the fermentation temperatures over the actual yeast, which was just an english ale yeast, or the addition of honey.

This is the slight drawback to brewing under less than advanced conditions: I ferment my beer in my basement. The temps are steady, which is good, but subject to climate change, which is bad. I figure I’m getting about 1/2 of a bottle per beer. Not the best yield.

It hasn’t resulted in a bad beer; The spicy quality in the nose is present in the finish and it’s not a hoppy thing, it’s more floral. This could be due to the pound of honey: with the other sugars eaten, it’s pretty easy to imagine the residual floral elements taking up the space left over.

It’s a pretty good looking beer too, when the foam hasn’t take over. The drawback of finding a flaw in my process means that I probably won’t see the correction for another three recipes. Still, I’d like to give this beer another shot, perhaps this fall.

Brew date 6.27

.75 lb Amber Crystal C60
.5 belgian biscuit
5 lb 2 row

4 lb LME
1.25 lb of honey

2 oz UK Kent Goldings @ 60
2oz Fuggles @ 6

Yeast: Widsor dry yeast 3rd use

OG 1.072

FG 1.014

Secondary on 7/5

ABV 7.8%

On The Rails: Loyal Legion

‘There isn’t any reason I should dislike this place’ is what I kept thinking to myself as I nursed Silver Moon’s Nelson the Spacefish IPA. The beer selection is broad and often rotated. The servers are good and more than happy to pour you a taster if you’re uncertain. Hell, tip is included in the beer prices, which is awesome!

Yeah, I could really, really do without the pretentious categorization of beer-I saw “Chilled” as a category on the menu not long ago-but the occasional snobbery is something one learns to live with when you drink craft beer. I would also prefer it if the place was reasonably well lit. Why is it that so many bars think that turning the lights down to faux-romance levels is a good thing? I want to see what I’m drinking. I want to play cards, damnit.

And then Fleetwood Mac’s Everywhere came on. For the second time in an hour. Nobody seemed to notice but me.

That’s when it hit me: This feels like the fucking Yardhouse, except for people without children. It’s not bad or evil or I Hate This. It just is devoid of personality. It’s boring. It is Fleetwood Mac at their most likable, played over and over to people who aren’t paying attention to it anyway.

It is a bland environment for people who want craft beer but don’t want to have to deal with any of the possible weirdos who make craft beer.  I could be in San Francisco or New York or any metropolitan city. Without the relentless focus on Oregon produced beverages, I really could be anywhere at all.

That makes me sad. The scouring of personality is good for business I suppose but I wonder if it’s good for anything else.

On the other hand, I suppose it just means that when I go there, I need to bring an excess of personality. Make your own party, right?

Lunchtime Ale: Fire On The Mountain

It has been a long, long time since I’ve had a lunchtime ale, hasn’t it! But beer costs money, damnit and lunch costs more. I’d rather save my lunch money for beer, you know?

Still, sometimes I forget my lunch. This always irritates me, because there’s perfectly good food that I made that I’ve denied myself access to, until dinner. PBJ sandwiches get a little stale after eight hours.

I might as well make the best of things. Fire On The Mountain has been making their own beer now for at least three years but I never go there to blog, since it’s not really a bar and seating is often a real pain in the ass to get during my regular drinking hours. So let’s sit down and have a beer!

I had the Red Hornet fresh hop ale, with a grassy nose, caramel middle and muted bitterness in the finish. The fresher qualities of the hops were allowed to stand out but nothing overpowered the beer at all. I thought it was a pretty decent example of the style; at least, I’d totally have another one.

Except it’s lunchtime. I have to go back to work. Damnit, I knew there was a reason I didn’t go out for lunchtime beer.

On The Rail: Slow Bar

The original plan was to head to the Loyal Legion but it didn’t have enough space for me to sit and write. Fortunately, the Slow Bar is nearby, awesome, and has room. Big Business and Led Zeppelin are on the speakers which I’m always good for, and there are two different foreign language films on the tv; one in black and white, possibly A Girl Walks Alone At Night, the other a war film out of Asia with a plot that looks like a riff on the Spartan legend of Greece but set around WW 1 and involving tigers. I don’t know how anyone could be unhappy about this.

The Slow Bar feels too big. I don’t know why I haven’t noticed before, though. The ceilings are absurdly high and the lighting deliberately muted, making the place seem far more cavernous than it already is.

Summer’s last gasp is here. The day was hot; Slow Bar’s front door is open in acknowledgement but the cold and wet weather is coming. Everyone knows it and most of us are grateful. Still, those warm nights are nice and I’m glad to have a few comfortable ones before the gray takes over.

Man, the Duchesse is a good beer. I don’t really have anything I can add to this: that beer is excellent and known worldwide for a reason. But as a gateway to autumn, perhaps the Duchesse is just the thing. Everyone else is going to be about the fresh hop IPAs in a matter of moments in that last gasp for summery, fresh grass notes in their ales.

Let it go, I say. I’m in a cavern bar, celebrating the end of Summer. Give me the slightly sweet slightly tart bubbly drink, that looks like something out of a witch’s cup.

Common Ale: Cascade Lakes Hop Smack

The gracious people at Cascade Lakes told me their Hop Smack IPA was their best seller. So away we go! Except for a photo. Which I swore I got! Twice! But it’s nowhere. I just need to hire someone for pictures I suppose.

First thing I noticed was there was not a lot of head retention, which is unusual for and IPA. The lemony hop scent sticks with it though through the initial impressions, so it’s got that going for it. I’m trying to get my head around the middle and finish. Citrus is definitely there but it’s around the corner from the middle which has some orange-gummy like sweetness.

Midway through the beer and it becomes more orange gummy/caramel sweetness than hops. The finish though, doesn’t really seem that hoppy. It’s bitter, yes but as appropriate for a pale I think.

It’s not bad, don’t get me wrong. Not at all. I find this beer to be cromulent and worth a pint. However, I’m not certain that I want another-and that’s one of the qualities that many great beers have.

It’s good but I feel like I can move on.

The Reality of Limits

So, Lagunita’s has sold a 50% stake in their business to Heineken. Here’s what they had to say about that.

The owner has gotten a bit of blowback for selling to Heineken because he was at the forefront of craft brewery owners railing against just this sort of thing. Now he’s turned a new leaf, apparently and he’s super excited to sell his beer in Mexico!

There are all kinds of ways to get up in arms about this but I think that the real problem is this: beer is a very old industry and I’m not sure there is a way to ‘revolutionize’ it.

We see new technologies come up all the time and what happens to most of them now? They are bought out by larger more established companies. Of greater rarity these days are the startups that go on to Twitter/Facebook/Google levels of relevance.

The owner of Lagunitas wants to sell his beer in Europe and Mexico and grow his business. How can he do that? Making inroads to those places costs a lot of money and it’s pretty clear that smaller companies are going to have to make some tough decisions in order to realize dreams of that scope.

He’d also like to retire someday and leave his company in a good place.  That’s where it gets tricky, because I promise you, it won’t be his company by the time this is all over.

So what to do? The reality seems to be that either you sell out to The Man or your accept that you won’t ever be a serious contender in the world of beer, because 99% of the drinking public can’t access your wares.

The question for me is: Is having a not-global brand a bad thing?

Common Ales: Worthy IPA

(Due to technical difficulties, I lost my post and its notes. I apologize: the following is an abbreviated {and mentally aggravated} recap).

I like it. It’s a good IPA that uses dank notes and woodsy finish to distinguish it from the grapefruit hordes. There’s a solid sweetness in the middle to keep it all balanced. It comes in a can and I like that decision.

Check it out.