On The Rail: Cbar & Ship Ahoy


I’ve come in to the Cbar from under a mottled sky, the day’s chores complete and while this beer isn’t satisfactory, I can at least dig the atmosphere. A sign for a women’s pinball league nearby, big windows to my back letting the sun in, music running an undercurrent but easy to speak over…and the scents from the kitchen are quite tempting.

I get a Riveter Red from Hard Knocks; it’s described as an imperial red ale. I’m having trouble evaluating it; the nose is barely fruity, the midrange thin and the finish surprisingly bitter.  The notation says it’s got 82 IBUs; in comparison the IPA next to it has 80. All of which has me fairly certain this beer isn’t what it’s supposed to be. Imperial means more of everything, not just more hops.

There’s a crew of men nearby enjoying brunch, laughing away.  Their dress and belt attachments suggest they are builders of some kind and they peaceably eat near hangover recovery tables, old queer ladies, and the other smattering of Portland weirdos.  I love environments like this: everybody is welcome, everyone is nice.  How else are we going to move forward if we don’t rub shoulders now and then?

My beer is weaksauce though so I go across the street to the Ship Ahoy and get a Good Life Redside. It…is awful.  It tastes medicinal on the finish and I can barely recognize the more toasted notes or maple flavor through that.

My beer appears cloudy and I can’t say for certain but I don’t believe red ales should look like that. Given that decor and style, I’m inclined to blame the bar for having infected lines but that could be unfair. I saw a pils poured a few minutes later and it looked clear.

But where the Cbar is where people rubbed shoulders, this is a bar where people know each other.  A woman next to me compliments another’s outfit by name, the reply is that she’s going to a funeral today.  Couple of old school blue collar looking fellas, trucker caps and overalls, exchange a hug a few feet further down, the TVs show college basketball on one screen, Star Trek Next Gen on the other. Conversations happen across the bar and I almost feel bad for not wanting my beer, as though I’m refusing food my grandma made. Visually, the clientille looks more homogeneous but there is an involvement at Ship Ahoy that doesn’t replicate easy.

Someday, the Ship Ahoy is going to change.  But for now, the neighborhood is clearly keeping the heart of it alive.

This is also extremely cool

BrewDog decided to publish recipes for some 215 different beers they have brewed. They appear to be calibrated for all grain, 5 gallon batches which is also really cool, since they’ve taken the work of scaling the recipe down off our hands. (Unless you’re an extract brewer like me but I’m pretty sure I can fake it…)

It’s a hell of a time to be a beer drinker.

Credit Where Due

The big breweries get a lot of crap from craft beer drinkers and most of it is deserved. But when they get something right, it’s pretty damn cool.

So when I read that MillerCoors was able to make all major breweries landfill-free operations, I thought that was worth sharing and celebrating. I may not enjoy the product they produce but that doesn’t mean they haven’t done something other people shouldn’t emulate.

On the Rail: Home. A Bar

Home used to be the Morrison Hotel until very recently and in that incarnation, it was a place that had an excellent and broad bottle selection, along with Old German served with a straw and pretty damn good burgers. I know that because my ex-girlfriend and I used to come here occasionally. There were too many TVs with a lot of sports icongraphy on the walls and a alcove that they never knew what to do with. I saw them try it as a karoke nook, darts, pinball area, mere storage of extra chairs but nothing ever seemed to stick. It didn’t matter to us; we got to hang out at a pretty good burger place that was rarely too crowded. A good memory.

And now Home is… in need of some personality and still has too many TVs but you can tell they’re starting over. They still serve Old German, though.

I feel a little bit like Neo, on his way to the Oracle when he wistfully says, “I used to eat there…they had really good noodles,” remembering a nice thing from a life he used to have. I am where I’m supposed to be but everything is different, now. I don’t know that I can say I have regrets but questions, perhaps. Maybe I should have…or perhaps if we had…

These are the kind of thoughts I hammer away at for awhile in an attempt to chart a better future, since the past is settled. My answers are imperfect and for the moment, I’m good with that.

The bottle selection has been replaced for a selection of spirits and the nook is still bare but the whole space is brighter and feels more open. The kitchen still takes up half the bar space. I don’t know how the food is but I hear the employees talking about bars and restaurants in Portland and they have a pretty good sense of what works here. I’m interested in the food based off their conversation alone.

25117824235_3fdcabf414_cCaldera’s pale is my selection and it’s not quite cromulent. There’s a corn note in the beer, in between the malt start and the bitter finish. That finish isn’t particularly distinctive, either: not tilting towards citrus or pine and without that corn note in the beer, I’d easily recommend it.

It’s quiet here, regaining it’s footing as a new spot and I think I’d like to come here for a burger sometime. Maybe they still have really good noodles. Or maybe I’ll find a nice thing in the new life.

Sympathy for the Devil(‘s Mother)

24424159773_2d24defe06_kThis is the third time in about a year I’ve taken a  swing at an imperial milk stout. The results are starting to speak well of my process, I’m happy to say.

The nose is like chocolate milk mix. The flavors run along with that, except with some coffee mixed in. However, it doesn’t have any acrid notes at all. There is some bitterness but it’s not very hop oriented at all. Of note: I avoided these bitter flavors by steeping the dark malts in cold water I was going to brew with the night before I brewed. Just filled up my pot of water and let it sit overnight with the malt.

As the beer warms up, it gets smoother but it also marks a rise in the coffee flavors of the beer. It’s a pretty significant shift away from the sweeter qualities but it’s still very good.

All in all, it tastes a lot like the second batch of Devil’s Mother, and that’s pretty cool! It’s a hell of an accomplishment to be able to replicate a beer.

However, what feels even better is the responses I’ve gotten from not only friends but other homebrewers. Everyone’s been really impressed with this beer and that has felt really good.

Brew date: 12/6/15

1lb Black Patent, 1 lb Chocolate .5 Blackprinz 4 oz cocoa nibs steeped overnight
3 lb 2 row
4 lb pale
7 lb LME
1 lb milk sugar

Hops: 2 oz Nugget hops @60

Yeast: White Labs London ale yeast, starter made

OG: 1.1

FG: 1.034

Bottle 1/1/16

ABV: 8.9%

Common Ales: Elysian Immortal IPA

I decided to try a new thing: use Twitter to ask breweries what their best selling beer was. I’ve been using contact forms on websites and not getting much reply-some, certainly, and I’m grateful for that response. But more often than not I was talking to the void. So I figure, what’s more immediate than pinging someone’s Twitter account, right?

My first conversation went…a little weird. While I appreciate that brewers are proud of their work but c’mon. Just give24942445245_66a6e9952a_k me a straight answer. Still, though it took me four stores to find it, the Immortal IPA was purchased!

The nose is nice-ish. Little lemony and a little funky, like rind. The front side of the beer is a touch sweet, also in a citrusy way. There’s little malt sweetness and I can’t say it’s strong as the bitterness that the hops steps up very quickly. It hits the top of my mouth, mostly and that’s a little strange. Eventually I feel the bitterness in my cheeks but what’s interesting so far is that it isn’t accompanied by a dryness, like I’d get with white wine or some really bitter IPAs.

I’m about halfway through the beer when I notice that it’s got a sweet note that sneaks up in between the bitterness, just before I finish my sip. That helps keep things in check somehow.

And yet, there’s something I can’t put my finger on. A little bit vegetal flavoring is lingering at the end. The beer is nearly done and it doesn’t seem to be quite as good as when I started. It’s not bad but it’s not tempting me to have another. I can’t quite recommend this.

On the Rail: Montavilla Social Club

I start off with kolsh from 54 40 at the Montavilla Social club. The bartender asks me if I like kolshes and I say, “I do if they’re good!”He’s dubious of my choice already.

It is an OK kolsh. Old Town’s kolsh it ain’t but I am immediately distracted from my beer by the conversation the bartender and a patron are having, complaining about how you can’t call people ‘gay’ or ‘retard’ anymore. I’m having difficulty feeling sympathy for them.

“Look at this girl, (on the TV)” the patron says, “she’s got slanty eyes.” The TV is on mute, showing the US and Chinese curling teams competing.

Now they’ve moved to a discussion from ‘zipperneck’ to ‘zipperhead’, which they both agree were racial slurs. ‘Gook’ is apparently 200 years ago and…I can’t say I’m offended by this discussion exactly, because we’ve got two guys, the patron, a Korean immigrant, and the barkeep, a white dude who’s a bit older and clearly having a go at his friend, having the kind of discussion that friends sometimes have when nobody is around. It’s obvious they know each other and their conversation doesn’t include me.

Except, you know. They’re in public. I can write down what they’re saying. It makes me a little uneasy.

24420375984_42c7f8bc60_kThe Patron and I end up getting into a volatile discussion about the free market and whether or not internet access should become a municipal service. He’s a free market libertarian and confirms most of my suspicions about libertarians: They don’t understand how human beings work in a collective, so they can’t understand why certain choices are being made for society. The philosophy always sounds good: “I own my body, therefore I own everything I produce.”

But it always devolves: “Which means that when I am being taxed, because nobody asked me if I wanted to be in this country, I am being stolen from, because this transaction is involuntary,” and gets worse  and “if people don’t want to participate they should be allowed not to; they can just be set aside.”

“Like on reservations?” I ask.

“No, they get to be in cities with everyone else!”

The logistical impossibility of this doesn’t register and the creepiness of what my question would suggest also seems to fly by. Somewhere in here I get a Ft George Lucille IPA, which I remember to take a picture of but don’t have the time to write about.

Or flat out uninterested history: “The private sector would produce better than the public sector in everything and nobody would ever go without.” As with may true believers, the answer to whatever isn’t working is more of what you were doing that wasn’t working.

It doesn’t seem to matter when I bring up historical events where the free market only served everyone because they were compelled to and I don’t think pointing out conditions where the free market is ‘free’ would work. The counter to my point that municipal water and power have been a massive public good is met with “Except for the people in Flint,” as if that one example (as horrifying as it is) nullifies the fact that I can go to 10,000 other towns in this country and drink water from the tap.

But the conversation is lively and I have to admit, I got a few things to chew on. As it winds down, he introduces himself; he has the same name as me. “Good Christian name,” he says, “It’s like lookin’ into a mirror.”

“You’re probably better lookin’,” I tell him. Always leave ’em smiling.


24708116161_9c454b0497_cI had the opportunity to get one of the latest spins on the Abyss: this particular batch was kept in rye barrels. It was a rather expensive beer, $25 instead of $18 for the regular stuff and I get it, this is a premium product made from a premium product.

Still, it’s expensive and that raises expectations. You can’t get around that in Portland. I joke with my friends about this because Portland is spoiled for selection but the other half of this is: We now expect a lot for our money.

So what does a $25 beer taste like?

The nose has a massive whiskey dose that’s almost repellent it’s so strong and difficult to get past initially. After the first wave is over, there’s a warp and weft of chocolate in that booze and a touch of maple.

The beer itself is not terribly thick on the tongue, which is a bit of a surprise. Given the style and the conditioning in rye casks, I was expecting more density. Chocolate is very strong here, the dark bitter kind and I don’t get anything in the way of coffee at first. A little sweetness and we’d probably have a hint of that espresso bean taste that Elysian’s The Fix executed so well.

Later on, as the beer really warms up, coffee appears and becomes the dominant flavor in the finish. But it’s not sweet; this beer really wants to push the bitter aspects of those flavors, relying on the rye barrel notes to provide any sweetness.

The question is; is this a $25 beer?

At the moment I don’t really feel that it is. Yes, this is drinkable but it’s not so amazing that I want all my friends to try this. It’s not worth raving about.

About this time is when I notice the tiny white print on the side of the label: best served after 12/18/16. It’s the first time I’ve seen a beer with a best served after notice.

But I don’t have an extra 25 bucks to store this beer and see if it gets better.

Which opens up one the question: if you sell it, shouldn’t it be drinkable now? I think it should. I don’t object to anyone who wants to cellar a beer for themselves, but damnit, if you’re going to charge me so much for beer, I should be able to drink it immediately and get my money’s worth. Having me store the beer for you for an extra year in order to get the best product is basically charging me time and space.

I don’t go for that.

On the Rail: Slingshot (Barley Brown edition)

It was a genuine surprise to me to get yelled at this evening over money.

I was at a party, having a lively discussion-bordering on argument but I was trying to hear the other person-on the presence of Uber in Portland. My position: The service might be good but they were trying to come into Portland providing a public service, without having to serve the entire public-namely, people with disabilities-and that’s not OK. And if they wanted to avoid that, then they should pay the limo licensing fees. Pretty simple. His position: The service is invaluable and they shouldn’t have to serve people with disabilities.

As the discussion became both more and less clear-why is it OK to ignore a section of the public? Because the city gives them services. Wait; you’re saying that a pubic service can ignore some of the public? Because federal law says that they can’t.

It was around this moment that the conversation went south. In the space of a few seconds, I was being yelled at by someone who doesn’t understand why he, as someone who earns $200K a year, has to pay more taxes than someone who makes more than he does. Or less.

“Why do I have to pay more taxes than someone who makes more than I do? Or you?” he snapped, “What, you earn 70K? 50? 20?”

I honestly did not know what to say. My value was being questioned by how much I made and paid to the government. And, even as I was struck with a ping of admiration for someone who could earn $200K a year I couldn’t help but recoil. I will never see that kind of money. I will always be checking my resources, at least mentally, no matter how comfortable I become, before purchasing something.

I don’t want to live like that. I’d like to not worry. But that’s my shit to haul.

I double blinked, pausing to see the clearest path and then I said, “Look, you’re getting very angry and I don’t understand why. So I think it’s best I just back off.”

And he nodded, sneeered and said “Yes,” making a brush-away motion with his hand. Dismissing me as one might a servant. Not long after, I began my walk home.

I stopped at the Slingshot on my way, to nurse a Barley Browns Handtruck IPA, some of my pride, and a bit of bewilderment.  The beer has a faint orange nose, sweet but not cloying. Gone now. Bitterness filling the mouth, lingering, not enough nuance for me to be happy.

I can’t find it in myself to be really angry at this person: I don’t know what may have set them off. Maybe I came across rudely.

Yet I cannot understand their position either. They make money that I will never see, yet they are unhappy, hostile to those less fortunate. What happened there to make them so hard hearted? Also; fuck being yelled at for no reason.

It makes my body so heavy, this absurd conflict people have.

2/3 through my beer and I feel a long, long way from home.