Common Ales: Ft George Vortex

‘There’s just so much stuff, I never have any idea what to take’, my Dad said as we browsed for beer. To which I replied, ‘That’s why I’m doing the reviews!’ so let’s get back to it, starting with Ft George’s Vortex IPA.

Nose smells like pot. The hop additions skew heavy towards that dankness and pine but after so many grapefruit IPAs I have to say that it’s a relief to experience some variety.

There’s a solid malt quality  before the bitterness of the finish but somewhere in between I’m getting…watermelon? Yep. There’s a quality there that I associate with watermelon, a watery vegetal bitterness I’m not that fond of. It seems to give way to a more grainy flavor as I get further into the glass. That is a good thing for certain but it makes me a little wary of my own senses. I’ve slowed down my sips of this beer to try and get a better grip on it.

Restarting with a new beer, the watermelon influence isn’t notable. Was I mistaken or has the cold temp of the new beer blunted the flavor? I don’t seem to get the watermelon in this glass but in the end I have to approach with caution.

SW Ales

So as I meant to tell you last week, I went to Nevada to visit my Dad and he was kind enough to indulge a shopping trip for me. I looked around for beers that were specifically from the area (Nevada and Arizona) in order to try and (briefly) review.

But first, we found ourselves in Laughlin, where a casino there had a brewpub of their own called Pints. We got samplers and while I did take notes on the beers, I think this exchange sums it up best:

“So, you think anything here is worth getting a growler of?”


“Me neither.”

So let’s move on.

Mudshark Full Moon Belgian White ale. Bready nose, like fresh sourdough. Fairly drinkable beer, citrus but that bready quality comes up again at the finish and it’s sticky, uncooked, not as tasty.

Tenaya Creek Old Jackalope barleywine. Really great nose; almost burnt caramel, that smokey sweet quality I love about this style. Beer is interesting. It’s got a dry finish that I would not have expected. It’s not subtle, and it gets bitter fast. A release date of 1/21/15, written on it by hand. That’s kinda cool. But that bitterness coupled with the dryness makes for a rough ending and I’m not sure if I can recommend this or not. Given that it was released in January, it’s possible the beer is a little old.

Joseph James brewing Hop Box imperial IPA. Pine tilted nose. A little soap, too? But I’m enjoying the beer. It’s not as intensely bitter as the Jackalope and while there isn’t much malt in the middle to give it some body, it’s tasty and something I could totally drink with a pizza.

Bad Beat Brewing Gutshot irish stout. Mild: that is, coffee, chocolate flavors, not overwhelming. It’s drinkable and light enough to go well with my leftover mexican food. There is a nice sweetness that makes it really tasty. More please.

Odell Brewing IPA. (OK, so I stretched out the geography a little at the end. ) Citrus nose and a…unremarkable IPA? It isn’t outstanding but while I’m enjoying it, I can’t say it’s standing out.

State of the (Craft) Union

Edit: I’m sorry, this was meant to go up last Wednesday!

Sorta kinda.

I’m off to Vegas today so there won’t be any more posts until next week: hopefully Wednesday I’ll have content and then Friday should be a good day to recap the beers I tried in Nevada.

I read a couple articles though that look at the challenges that craft brewing is facing, the first is on the overall challenges of having a thriving craft industry in this country.

The second has a little overlap with the first but is far more about how the big brewery (now that InBev and SABMiller are merging) business is trying to take back the space in the market that craft brewing is carving out. I’m reading between the lines a little but there definitely seems to be a bit of a warning in there.

It does not escape me that this warning is coming from an online magazine with close to twenty-seven titles under its umbrella.

On The Rail: Feckin Brewery

An old friend came into town this weekend and with her came a question: “Have you ever been to Feckin Brewery?”

I have not. “Well then let’s go. It’s hard to find a place you haven’t been and I got a  Groupon.”

Who can resist a Groupon?

So we dialed up the directions and I drove us there. On the way out, I followed a caravan of Ford pickups, all flying the the American flag, some with anti-wolf decals, and every quarter mile or so, they’d honk horns that sounded like steamboat whistles or barge horns. Not for any particular reason that I could sense. Just to make noise.

Welcome to the outskirts of Portland. The assholes self-identify here.

I got a sampler because that’s how I roll under these circumstances and here’s what I thought:

The IPA is nice and piney which I appreciate.

Fresh hop ale is pretty mild, mostly tasty until the finish which gets a little dirty. Close, but not quite there.

IRA isn’t bad but it’s got a coffee acridity on the finish that isn’t appealing to me.

Milk stout; holy shit that tastes like a Hershey bar. So it’s pretty good.

The brewery itself is open and has a loose feel. It’s kinda punk rock out in the middle of Oregon City. It’s almost thrown together, lamps plugged in haphazardly, a mirror hung by a door just ’cause, a mural of the Willamette river (which is spitting distance from where I sit) that has monkeys on it for no reason I can discern.

I like it here. I want to come back, I want to visit when it’s cold and dark and everyone is huddling around because the rain is pounding on the sheet metal. I don’t mind the 90’s alt rock nostalgia on the PA (seriously, the only song missing was “Smells Like Teen Spirit“), and the firecamp smoke wafting through every open door here (there are three) works because it gives me the sensation of camping without having to haul a bunch of shit somewhere into the woods and set anything up. I could’ve even sat outside by the fire but I wasn’t ready for that.

This whole place works, actually and I’m not sure it should but…why argue?

We chat. We talk about the power of the Catholic church, football, the power of sports teams, lamb burgers. It’s a conversation that isn’t about us even as it is, because that’s how old friendships are.

Glassware (revisited)

My friend sent me this Lifehacker link on why there are so many different types of glasses for beer. It’s pretty comprehensive and I found it to be educational enough.

The first comment, predictably, says: “Is it beer? Then it goes in a glass.” Essentially saying that the glassware doesn’t matter at all.

But that’s not what I discovered. The shifts may have been incremental but I could detect them. Is it science? No, but it still suggests that there’s more to the experience of drinking beer than “a glass is a glass is a glass”.

That doesn’t mean that I think anyone should be snobbish one way or another. If you have the glassware for a style, power to you! If you don’t, please enjoy your beer!

No one can tell you how to enjoy your beer.

Beers Made By Walking 2015

I had an opportunity to try some of the Beers Made By Walking and the results were decidedly mixed. The following are my mildly edited notes, with a little follow up after that.

Base Camp, Shroomed Pilgrimage-EARTHY! It’s a bit warm, too: rum barrel aging definitely present but the mushrooms pretty much take over everything halfway into the sip and the rest of the way through. (Saison as base style)

Hopworks, Samsara; Belgian pale base style, with a definite herbal flavor. There is some attempt at complexity here-a touch of spiciness from the ginger appears but it evaporates quickly, just leaving the herbal note.

Commons, Tinderbox; Saison base, which allows a smokey, woodsy quality to shine through very easily. I could definitely drink a half-pint of this while out camping.

High Street homecrew club, Spruce Lee; you know why you don’t use spruce in beer? Because it makes the beer taste like gin. Now, if you like gin (and I’m OK with it) then this beer is solid. But if not…

10 Barrel, Sweet Chariot; this beer tastes the most like a recognizable style. It’s a mildly sour cherry ale, pleasantly drinkable and accessible. As a Belgian style ale, it works well.

Hopworks, Wandering Brewers bitter: this is a pretty solid beer but it has a bitterness on the finish that is a bit intense for hops and feels almost-but-not-quite offset by the malt.

The Wrap Up

While I like this idea in concept, I feel like most of the beers I had were very difficult to recommend. Only the 10 Barrel tasted balanced and that may be due to the use of ingredients that are most like those used in regular brewing processes.

My opinion is that the unfamiliarity with those ingredients lead to beers that just weren’t as good as the brewers are typically capable of. I have no objections to mushrooms, cedar, wild ginger, licorice fern, or any number of unusual ingredients being used in beers but I do object to paying money to be the test subject for these breweries. I don’t know if the Beers Made By Walking project is giving the brewers enough time to develop and polish these recipes so that consumers feel they get their money’s worth, instead of just being part of the Glory of Cool Things.

On the Rail: Zoiglhaus

I stumbled upon information about the Zoiglhaus, which just so happens to be within walking distance of my house. So I’ve come on over to try their beer and the one that caught my eye was the Oktoberfresh.

OK, so that name is kinda dumb. But the nose is pleasantly malt forward and oh man, the deliciously biscuit malts are all over. The finish is sweet, too but I wouldn’t call it cloying at any moment. The effervescence keeps it light on the palate and I like this beer.

This whole place is a surprise to me. The Zoiglhaus is open, bright and so new that there’s a room in the back still under construction.  Walking through Southeast to 92nd, on the other hand, is a grindy area to be in. I take some back roads as a shortcut and look around: houses are in a battle for elevating the neighborhood, the nice yards with the rattier ones butting up against each other, as the 205 freeway looms over all and the goats? They just mind their own business.

But that’s rather judgmental of me; nobody lives in a shithole because they want to. I can even see that when I take a closer look: the beat up yards, the houses with more cars than people, these aren’t desirable. They’re necessities, baggage that you acquire to provide a life that is worth living. Who has time to mess around with a yard when you’re working two jobs in order to keep everyone fed and warm? How can you afford to get the wreck that’s stashed in your driveway and covered in five years worth of pollen the rain can’t dent towed away when you haven’t even paid it off yet?

It’s not always an easy life and I’d do well to remember that. I may be judging (it’s all but inevitable) but as my Dad put it to me once, “you can judge with contempt or you can judge with compassion.” It’s almost always best to do the latter.

The Lents neighborhood change is inevitable though and the Zoiglhaus is part of that. On the upside, I am hoping that a neat place like this can flourish. It’s packed while I’m here, so clearly the customer base exists. The downside; who will be forced to leave because of this?

It’s the great Portland dilemma, poured into my glass and I wish I had an answer for it.

Use By Date

So, Sam Adams is making waves because their new double IPA is going to have a very strict shelf life.  The cool thing about this is that Sam Adams is big enough that they can throw their weight around a little, in order to get fresher beer on the shelf. Distributors on the other hand, aren’t as excited because they take on more responsibility to get product moved into the stores.

This is a big deal, because beer has been known to say in a warehouse for a month or longer before arriving on the shelf. In the case of a finished beer (as opposed to a hurried fresh hop ale) that can have a significant impact on flavor.

If I hadn’t recently had the experience of having an IPA that was made every two weeks, I’m not sure that I’d make a big deal out of this. But because of my trip to the Key & Lantern, I genuinely feel that Sam Adams is going to be offering a superior product with the Raw IPA and I look forward to trying it.

I also hope that this helps other breweries in their push to get their product on the shelves in a timely manner. A successful run of Sam Adams’ beer might help with that.



On The Rail: Bailey’s (Ninkasi Total Crystalition edition)

I attempted to go somewhere new, somewhere I had never been. Because the pleasant thing about new places is that they don’t know me. Nothing of who I was matters. When I need to hide, that kind of invisibility and reinvention is comforting.

However, the place I drove by either wasn’t what I thought it was or was closed so I have returned to Bailey’s. It is a little disheartening but not because it’s Bailey’s. Because I have felt, lately, as though I have nothing to contribute. I want to hide out and familiar places don’t let you do this. When dealing with a stranger, there’s no need to contribute but there’s also the potential that I can surprise myself. Or at least see the old with something new: they don’t know that I’ve told a story before and in a retelling, maybe I’ll see something new in that story.

Mostly, though, as I said, strangers don’t ask anything from me. Being human feels like a chore right now and doing even normal things feel difficult. If it wasn’t for the work, I wouldn’t go out. I would stay in, hide out, play videogames. Sleep more. Slump my shoulders and condense myself, grind out bad essays and poetry by hand with ink that stains my knuckles and wait for whatever bad brain storm I have to pass.

On Thursday, marijuana became legal for recreational adult use and it’s difficult to walk anywhere in the city now without smelling it. The guy next to me with a Snap-On cap and an NRA tshirt is visiting from New Mexico and is wondering where the nearest dispensery is, ‘Just to see it, you know?’I do: there are places across the river that he could walk to, if he wants to. “I ain’t walking. I have a car, man,” he says jovially. I chat with him briefly (he asks if the skate park beneath the Burnside bridge is still there) and in the back of my mind, an old proverb rises up. “You can never step in the same river twice.”

If every moment is new then every visit is new. I only carry the things I insist on carrying or don’t know how to decouple; there is no such thing as a moment where I am not inventing myself again. Even the familiar can be strange with this perspective.

The beer is adequate. There’s a metallic note in the finish that I’m not digging on. The more fresh hop ales I have, the more I think these are beers that are hustled out the door in order to preserve the qualities of fresh hops, while neglecting the question of whether nor not the beer is ready. It’s a strange trend to note in an industry that is known for being patient with it’s wares in order to produce beers that meet the standards we expect.

I suppose hype can overtake us all from time to time.

How Wild Is Your Ale

Hey everyone, I’m sorry there wasn’t a Wednesday post. I had it all ready to go, I just have no idea what happened! I’ll continue with the Friday shenanigans and we’ll get back on track next week. I hope.

In the meantime, enjoy this writeup of a local Oregon brewery which I particularly liked. Because they’re brewing a little differently, the opportunity to discuss the difference between sour ales and wild ales comes up and the author takes the time to do it. I liked that.