Category Archives: portland

The Best*: Rosenstadt and Unicorn Brewing

Rosenstadt's Fest beer, in mug on table

There is no IPA at Rosenstadt so I’m free to choose whatever! This makes sense, since they focus on the maltier German styles. I immediately go for the fest beer because that’s a favorite of mine.

It’s….good. The finish is a little sharp on the bitterness and the mouthfeel seems a touch thin. It’s a bit off balance, it seems. I don’t hate it, I’m just trying to give up my expectations for the reality of the beer.

My friend gets the Helles lager, and I can’t say I’m jealous but I’m wondering if that isn’t a better deal. However, when I try the Helles, that beer tastes sweeter than I’m expecting, a quality that isn’t assisted by a finish that isn’t very crisp.

My second pour is the Vienna Lager and this is where it’s at: a light, malt forward beer that is far more sippable than the previous offerings. More of this, please.

Unicorn brewing Unicorn Dreams IPA in glass on a desk

The Unicorn Clouds IPA from Unicorn Brewing is…ok. I think my beer is suffering from being canned. I’m not knocking Unicorn Brewing, because I recently had their beer off the tap and it was very good!

But the process of putting this into the can and fridging it for a few days has blunted the flavors of this west coast IPA on all fronts. The nose isn’t notable and the notes of pine are ghosts, with more of a malt presence.

Unfortuately, my friend having the Scottish ale is having a similar experience; the beer isn’t very carbonated and leans into the sweeter side. There’s a diacetyl quality too and that is no bueno.  

The Rum Brown is more promising: chocolate with a little coffee in the nose. The beer has a bit of rum qualities and some chocolate-and this is  the most promising beer of the bunch!

I am kind hating reviewing this because my experience off the tap was so good, but: what I’m having is what I’m having. Recommending this beer for not-to go might be the thing.

Common Ales: Von Ebert’s Ewok Dreams

Von Ebert's Ewok Dreams in glass on desk, next to a can of Ewok Dreams

The ED from Von Ebert is named in just such a way that I am going to consider buying it. That it is a West Coast IPA all but ensures that!

Up until I get an initial whiff of medicine. It smells and tastes antiseptic. Like I’m drinking a hospital cleansed liquid. Oof. I don’t know what’s going on in this beverage but it is not something that encourages drinking it.

The Best*: Away Days and West Coast Grocery

Away Days Brewing: Not So Sensible IPA

The thing about Away Days is the taproom closes at 7. But they own the Toffee Club next door, a place that focuses on showing soccer matches and conveniently serves Away Days’ beer.

I start off with the Not So Sensible IPA which has a mild nose that gives off elements of citrus and honeydew, and that kind of melon style bitterness is what appears on the finish too. I’m quite pleasantly surprised about that, since the middle malt sweetness allows for a nice bridge between the two.

My friend has the Milner’s Mild, which is served on cask and this beer is dangerously drinkable. It’s almost far to easy to have three or four pints of this. Just a bit toasty and very, very smooth, this beer is a great place to start if you’ve never had a mild.

My second beer was their ESB which was on nitro. And this beer, like the mild, is malt forward but only with strong gestures at coffee, and caramel, not any overwhelming presence. Another beer that is very easy to drink a lot of.

At West Coast Grocery, I’m having the Good Night Soon IIIPA which is a great name for a beer. The nose hints at citrus but the beer is fairly sweet and finished with a definite melon quality-I want to say honeydew.

Goodnight Soon IIPA from West Coast Grocery, in glass on table indoors

It’s pretty drinkable for such a strong beer, and the smoother finish is a definite surprise.

My friend had the Wedding Season creame ale and it is a nice beer-I definitely got a sense of the grains on my sip of the beer.

My second beer is a pale and…I’m just not sure about this one. The first problem is: I can’t pick up a nose and that tweaks everything else. It’s got this flaccid…melon note.

But the flavors don’t do this any favors either. The finish is wrecking it for me: it’s got a seltzer water bite but nothing to surround it. Just not thrilled with this one.

The Best*: Breakside and Assembly

Breakside sampler tray with four tiny glasses

At Breakside we got a sampler tray!

But I started with the Breakside IPA because it seemed to be the classic NW piney IPA. It’s basically a classic NW piney IPA. I think it properly restrained-not too piney but definitely what I think of when I think of IPAs from the late 90s.

I also ordered the Jarmusch, a Czech dark ale with coffee, and the Cheeky Muppet because the name. The Cheeky Muppet-a golden with a little pineapple flavor in the profile, which I liked, but the Jarmusch was…a but dour, too roast, not enough sweet. I did enjoy the nose, which resembled a cup of joe, but not being a coffee expert, I couldn’t tell you how good that cup of joe would be.

My friend picked the pils, the altbier and a berry sparkler ale. All three of these were solid-and the berry sparkler ale wasn’t as sweet as one might’ve suspected. The pils is a crushable ale and the altbier is especially delightful for a long night of chatting with your peeps.

I wasn’t surprised by this because Breakside consistently does very good beers, but it’s always nice to have it confirmed.

At Assembly brewing, I started off with their NW IPA, and my first impression is a fantastic lime nose from the beer. It’s a good thing.

Assembly Brewing's NW IPA in glass outside at night.

The bitterness is strong-and it’s imbalanced for a normal IPA but when I remember that this is a NW IPA, going overboard on the bitterness sounds about right. The midrange sweetness really isn’t present.

That said, the finishing bitterness isn’t overdone, either. Is the beer unbalanced? Yes. Is it overwhelming? No. It’s fairly drinkable despite being tilted, and certainly the nose helps a lot.

My second beer was the stout, and it smelled and tasted like a chocolate covered espresso bean, which I like! My friend tried it and agreed with my assessment of the beer-except they do not like chocolate covered espresso beans, so they did not enjoy the beer.

Still, points for consistency!

Finally, I got a taste of their Kolsch from my friend and it’s a damn fine beer. A better Kolsch than I had had in awhile, and I was very surprised by this. I might have to come back for more of that.

The State of Things

The local weekly paper has their annual craft beer roundup to go along with the Oregon Beer Awards, which they sponsor. And which I help out on!

Tiny plastic glasses, stacked up in boxes

Here is a picture of almost all of the glasses that were prepped and used for just the first weekend (there were two) of judging for the awards. There were over 1000 beers that were judged over two weekends and let me tell you, that is A LOT of beer.

I bring this up in part because hey, I think I participated in a cool thing. But also because while I was doing it, multiple judges thanked me for my work. It struck me, again, that none of this is possible without the efforts of a great many people and in this instance I am just one helper in a crowd of many.

One of the organizers thanked me for my work and I told her it wasn’t work. “This is me helping my friends.”

Which is a nice way to think about it, because standing on concrete for 8 hours a day for two weekends makes me sore.

But also, it makes me wish I could think about, or have the same help, when it comes to, say, any form of house maintenance that I do not understand. Which is most of it.

Common Ales: Fort George’s Deviation Works

Fort George's Deviation Works in glass on kitchen countertop in pils glass, next to can of beer.

Sometimes, I just have to ask a very simple question: Who is this for?

This Deviation Works from Fort George cost me around $4, maybe $4.50. It is an American Light Lager.

But American Light Lagers are the domain of Budweiser, PBR, Miller, etc. And they do them very well-I’ve even been told the style category was invented to include them in beer judging comps.

Why is Fort George making one?

Don’t mistake this as a question of the quality. The beer has a subtle olfactory set of hops and corn, the midrange is sweet but not overly so and the finish is bitter-more so than I’d expect-but with a lingering effervescence to this Deviation Works, nothing stays in place for long. It is, as far as I can tell, a fine example of the style: crushable and low enough in flavor as to be nearly forgettable.

But I could get a Budweiser for probably half the price. And if I wanted to on-board a devout light lager drinker into the craft beer scene, I’d either start with some cool extremes, like chocolate stouts, IPAs or sours, depending on the flavors they like, or I’d bring up some of the exceptional pilsners, kolshes, altbier or lagers that are being made.

Either way, I’d be looking to contrast what they usually have with either “wow, this is so different” or “holy smoke, this is what I like, but better”.

So…who is this for? Aside from, you know, parting me from my money so I can blog about it…

The Best*: Culmination and Cascade

At Culmination I am having a Planets Consumed IPA, because I cannot resist a name like that. A classic West Coast IPA, dank pine Straight out of the 90s. Retro in the best way.

The Better Late Than Never Fest ale I only got a sip of, but it was a nice sip. My friend seemed to dig it, and she likes fest ales. So that’s a good sign.

The We Love Sullivan’s Gulch blonde ale was my second and it’s just a tasty beer. It’s subtle in that it doesn’t have a massive presence, which means you can have multiple pints of it.

Pear Mary ale in glass on counter

Cascade Brewing is the sour capital of Portland but first I got the Altenative Expression IPA. My friend got the Autodraft red ale.

One thing that I think is important to note is that these beers are solid. I don’t think they could do sour ales to the level of quality that Cascade does, without being able to do a good base beer.

My IPA has a nice nose to it, with some softer citrus qualities and a finishing bitterness that is far from sharp. This might even qualify as a pale.

The red ale is so basic is might even be considered bland. But to execute a really drinkable beer like that is difficult. My sip of the red suggests a pint of that would be just fine.

Nobody comes here for the standard beers though.

So that’s why I’m having the Pear Mary, an ale aged in wine barrels and fermented with pears and infused with rosemary. But I’ll be damned if there isn’t a spicy element there, like cinnamon or ginger.

Uh. Holy shit. This beer tastes like pear cider, and I mean that in the best way. It’s tart but by no means would I call this sour. That is NOT a criticism: I like it quite a bit and I’m glad to see more options, because I’ve had so many sours that taste like vinegar.

My friend had the Baked Apple Sour and my sip of it gave a a slightly metallic nose but the beer itself was working sour applesauce flavors-it passed tart but didn’t get so sour I couldn’t take it.

The Best*: Great Notion and Hair of the Dog

Great Notion's Obscurial IPA in glass on table.

At Great Notion I started with the Obscurial IPA. It’s an imperial, which I don’t mind, but it’s a hazy, and every other beer on the menu says if they are hazy. So some consistency would be nice.

The nose has an orange candy scent, so I’m expecting juice box.

I am pleasantly disappointed. Don’t get me wrong; the beer IS sweet, but they remembered the utility of finishing hops! It comes across far more balanced. My friend says it’s pretty mellow & we agree the finishing bitterness reigns it all in.

My friend got the Northern Light which is supposed to be a Helles but is waaaaay to hoppy for me to grok. It might not be bad, but I don’t know that it is what it says it is from the brief description on the board.

Next up, the Obligations of Autumn stout. Now, I’m expecting there to be pumpkin so…here we go.

And there is just too goddamn much going on here. Cinnamon, vanilla, ginger-any one of these flavors would be enough, but that with clove, nutmeg and coffee too? This is a mishmash and I can’t enjoy it.

My friend got the Horchata ale and it’s got a fine cream brûlée flavor. I’m glad the pour is a short one (10.5 oz) because I cannot imagine having a pint of this, though. Heck, finishing this small amount might be too much.

There is a reason why beer snobs look at Great Notion with a touch of disdain. The beers are always on the sweet side and that rarely seems tasty to a aficionado. But for someone who isn’t immersed, this might just be the thing they need to see that beer has a lot more personality than they knew.

At Hair of the Dog, I’m having the Green Dot triple IPA because the Blue Dot is responsible for the worst hangover I’ve had in my life. The nose is giving me orange and caramel, which I do not object to at all!

Green Dot IIIPA by Hair of the Dog in glass on table indoors.

The bitterness on the Green Dot is a slow burn, coming in late, and lingering. But it does help tie the beer together, because the front end is rather sweet.

My friend has The Hague, a dopplebock and it’s got a little hint of smoke to it. An interesting and enjoyable ale. I’m a bit more impressed than I thought I would be, but maybe that’s because Hair of the Dog is practically an institution here and expected to be decent.

But that expectation is well deserved, ‘cause it’s good stuff.

I had the Fred ale next, an American strong, because it’s arguably their flagship beer. It’s a nice beer but it feels a little under-carbonated. This isn’t a heavy beer, but I think I’d appreciate it a little more if it felt a little lighter on my tongue.

That said, it’s got those roasted caramel notes and isn’t overly sweet. About halfway through, I even get a little alcohol warmth in the back of my throat. Glad I tried it.

That Bit Ya

Hair of the Dog brewing is closing, because the owner wishes to retire. And I get that.

I can’t help but feel that this is the end of an era though, in Portland beer. Or maybe just a changing of the guard? Hair of the Dog was a small operation and undoubtedly worked because of the vision of the founder.

Someone else will come along and I hope the community is willing to make room for them.

In the meantime, we can certainly toast the work and legacy of Hair of the Dog: they helped put Portland on the map in regards to our respect in the craft beer world, and that is worth celebrating.

The Best*: Little Beast and Modern Times

Little Beast's Top WC IPA in glass

Starting with Little Beast’s Pine Top WC IPA has a piney-ish nose and is absolutely referencing the IPAs of the craft beer explosion. However, the finish isn’t intensely bitter; it’s got that lovely craft of being bitter and allowing the bitterness to build over the course of the drink.

Which means that instead of overwhelming me, the beer is just far more drinkable.

My friend got the Helles and…wow! this is a very drinkable beer. I only took a sip, but it was light and a little sweet, but then finished with a pleasant grainy flavor that gave the beer depth. I was impressed.

My second beer was the fresh hop Little Green Men and it’s pretty subtle. A little citrusy on the finish and the beer is really mild, but that isn’t a complaint.

At Modern Times I had the Storm Armor IPA; really fruity nose-like candy.

Modern Times' Storm Armor IPA in glass

That’s what the beer is like too: there’s a jolly rancher quality to this, like cherry candy which is very very weird. The finish has a hint of pith…and I have a feeling that’s going to be more intense as I go.

I try my friend’s festbier and it’s just…ok. A bit thin, which is odd. Festbiers tend to have a little more oomph to them.

In the end my Storm Armor is OK but I can’t say I’m happy.

My second beer was the Ghost Hug Belgian golden ale. This is a much more pleasant experience. The Belgian qualities-clove in this instance are nicely complimentary to the malt. It’s also a little dry on the finish, whichI like. So this is a nice change.

My friend to got the Italian Pilsner, Oracolo, and it had a very pleasant hop bite on the finish. A quality ale for a hot day for sure.