Category Archives: portland

Top Tens

The local paper has ranked the top ten beers of Portland for this year.

Setting aside, for a moment, that tastes are subjective and people are going to have a broad array of things they think are great, I have complaints.

First: at least two of these beers aren’t available now. Others might be but there’s an air of “it’s goin’ fast” or “bottle release next year”, etc. The issue I have here is that there’s no way for me to verify how good these beers are! It’s nice that they enjoyed it, however “trust but verify” kicks in for me.

Second: how nerdy is this list? Six of these beers have “experimental” or “sour” in the description.

Do you know why Deschutes’ best selling beer doesn’t have those words in them? Or Baerlic? Grixen? Sierra Nevada? Fat Tire?

Because sour beers have limited appeal. Doesn’t matter how good they are.

This isn’t to discount the quality of said ales; every one of these breweries has a strong history of making good beers. My issue is that most of this list sounds off putting to people who are unfamiliar with craft beer and utterly unpersuasive to people who aren’t into sour ales.

It brings me back to something that I’ve been thinking and reading more about this year: How it is apparently “the consumer” who’s always demanding the hot new style or trend.

However, here are these beer reporters telling us that the best beers are either a) niche styles or b) unavailable.

Am I to sincerely believe that there wasn’t a fantastic Irish red or stout available? A beer where “chewy” isn’t a proper descriptive term, ever? Or are those styles just too pedantic to be considered? Yes, there’s a hazy (it’s so hot right now) and an IPA, which has never gone out of style but c’mon. Whom, aside from beer nerds, have even heard of a “black bock” or thinks Brett isn’t the name of some shitty Supreme Court Justice?

I’m sure, to the author, it feels like they’re out there on the cutting edge recommending a “Foeder-aged ale with strawberries” and I don’t doubt that it’s a fine beer. I can’t help but wonder if sometimes, being out there on the edge is missing the point of appreciating a classic style executed well. At the very least, I question what’s driving the narrative that people always want the hot new thing.

How It Starts To End

With the sale of the CBA-which notably includes Portland’s Widmer brewing and Seattle’s Red Hook, here’s a bit of inside baseball on the subject.

According to the article, the former owners of Widmer have no regrets and I’m not here to insist that they should have them. But I can’t help feeling as if something important is now lost. That notion that the best thing you can do with a business is sell it to someone bigger feels…puny.

In addition, it’s interesting to see how the seeds can be planted for future exploitation. Perhaps exploitation is too strong a word but: from the very beginning, A-B was in position to take advantage of those breweries and to me, their being sold off was inevitable. There was never a plan to expand beyond what A-B was going to give them or get out from under A-B, and once A-B became ABInBev, it was too late.

Mark my words; in ten, fifteen years tops-long enough for those people who are working there now to forget that it was ever an independent entity-Widmer will no longer exist, even in name. It’ll be Budweiser’s Hefe and I think we’ll all be poorer for that.

The Six #6: Laurelwood

Free Range Red aleSo, why am I at the Laurelwood public house?

I’m here because it is easy to forget our roots. The genesis of craft beer goes back to the 1980’s, and yet so few of those breweries have survived to the modern era. People talk about Dogfishhead or Sierra Nevada, Deschutes, Widmer, Fat Tire, but when was the last time you drank one of those beers?

Laurelwood has been a Portland staple since 2001. I can’t say their beers are flashy, but they are consistent. That IPA? It’s a solid damn IPA. The Lager? Hey it’s a easy drinkin’ and yet forgettable beer, just like expected. Are you interested in a stout? They got you covered, and dang if it isn’t a nice stout.

I went with the Free Range Red ale. I can smell the roasted malt well before I drink it, which is fantastic, and yet it’s still a Portland beer. By that I mean: They put some nice bittering hops on the finish, so it’s a little crisper.

It’s creamy in the middle, which is quite an accomplishment, given the other flavors goign on. Along with being a mild ale to drink-you can have it any time of year, with damn year anything to eat.

So I’m telling people they should come to Laurelwood as a way to honor our history: They been making solid beers they can be proud of for almost twenty years. I hope we get twenty more.
Postscript: Two days after I went here, news of the southeast location closing arrived. I was disappointed to hear that, in part because neighborhoods need places like this-it’s where I wrote this post from. I’m glad the location in northeast is still going strong and the beer is still out there, though.

The Six #5: Gigantic

48631906743_600dd8ca6c_cI was torn between the IPA and the Sassy Pony pale ale. But I went with the IPA because, oddly enough, it was a more balanced beer! Nothing wrong with the Sassy Pony; I think it’s delicious, but if I’m going to tell someone to come to Gigantic Brewing (and I clearly am) then the IPA is a fantastic representation of their work.

The nose isn’t too strong. Citrus, but not pungent. The malts are present but not cloying. It’s a really solid beer that is wonderfully representative of what a good IPA should be.

So why are you here?

You’re here because GIgantic hit the ground running with their beer, founded by two brewers with a ton of experience both in brewing and Portland life. Which meant that they were able to take some unique risks-and in this case, it’s wasn’t about the beer.

I’ll always remember Gigantic as being one of, if not the first brewery in Portland to make a serious push to have a visual brand that was unique. Employing local artists to make new labels for their beer, the art popped out to catch the eye before  it would catch anyone’s tongue. It was a moment that other breweries would follow, recognizing that the packaging of a beer couldn’t be ignored.

So while you’re here, take it in: they’ve got framed artwork of many labels used throughout the years and it’s worth looking at! The visual representation that Gigantic decided on helped their beer stand out, even as the labels themselves had wildly different looks.

It wasn’t long after that when I noticed that other breweries starting to do visual rebrands of their own. None of them were as daring as Gigantic was, but the idea that packaging really mattered? That is something that they helped bring to the fore, along with a beer to back up that cool art.

The Six #4 Breakside

48632260296_6710670c67_c Breakside has been making great beers, specifically IPAs, since they were founded. While they’ve built a business that includes many other styles-it’s summer right now, and fruit beers are prevalent- along with the hype for fresh hop beers soon to be tapped, the IPAs are consistently good.

Which is why I’ve gone with their standard IPA. It’s piney and has a little tropical fruit happening in the middle. The bitterness is a fine bitey thing that should go well with food but really suggests that maybe a second IPA is in order.

I recommend Breakside because of the exceptional beers, especially since IPAs are, no matter what anyone wants to say, still all the rage. Every brewery I go into has at least two, no matter how small the tap list.

So if you’re going to get an IPA, why not get some of the best Portland has to offer?

The Six #3: Cascade Ale House

Honecot ale at Cascade barrel houseThere is one reason and one reason only to come here: you love sour ales. Sour ales caught fire in popularity a few years ago but this is a genuine moment where I can say that Cascade was doing sour ales before they were cool.

However, I don’t like sour ales. So why am I here?

Because Cascade has been a flagship in Portland for sour ales for close to two decades. Because one of the few beers in my life I distinctly remember came from Cascade: A cherry lemon quad ale, aged in Makers Mark barrels, the flavors of which peeled off like a gobstopper: first cherry, then lemon, then whiskey.

Now, all that said, let’s talk about the Honeycot, a blonde white barrel aged with apricots and wildflower honey, that has been poured on nitro. It is remarkably pleasant! Not very tart, but the presence of the apricot is definitely there. The nose has no sugar to it; a slight sting from the tart fruit qualities as I breathe it in.

The flavors remind me of a tart apricot with honey drizzle.

Which is not faint praise; Cascade does a lot of different sour ales and they run the gamut of tart and flavor: my friends are having cherry or marionberry aged beers some intensely astringent or very sour, and others mellowed and pushing tart, not sour flavors.

So you should come here to experience some of the sheer variety of what Cascade offers the beer scene in Portland. They probably have something for you, even if you’re not a sour ale person!

Common Ales: Laurelwood Free Range Red

Laurelwood Free Range Red aleThe nose has some caramel/roast qualities but it shows up a little late; there’s actual hops on the first few whiffs. Once those go away, though, we’re dealing with a red ale and by golly that is what it is.

It’s got a pleasant richness to it; the Free Range has a creamy quality that only fades after the effervescence which is persistent but not constant, comes to do a little cleanup. The head on this beer fades pretty quickly, but there’s a steady film of bubbles on the top.

What I like is that drinking this beer is similar to chewing on good caramel. It’s sugary but not overly so and the finish doesn’t linger. That clean palate experience means that I can line up another drink or nosh on some food pretty easy.

Round Two #17\Second Pint PC

There Be Monsters is having a Japanese Beer Month so I thought I’d check it out.

But none of the beers from Japan are on tap right now. Instead I got Ruse’s Forever and a Day hazy IPA. What’re gonna do?

Ruse Forever & a Day hazy IPAGrapefruit in the nose…grapefruit in the middle…grapefruit on the finish. I think we’ve firmly established that this IPA wants me to taste some grapefruit flavors.

To its credit, the Forever isn’t pushing a pithy bitterness hard, and it certainly isn’t too sweet. Nevertheless, I feel that this beer is a spotlight on the issues I have with this style: when it’s too sweet, it’s just soda pop. When it’s too bitter, it tastes like part of the fruit you shouldn’t eat. When it’s in the middle, it lacks complexity. Honestly, I’m getting more out of this beer because of the truly delightful scent of french fries in the air, than I am from the beer itself.

Now, I’m mostly of the opinion that great or even good beer should be something you can drink by itself. No additions, no excuses, just: can I have a glass of this?

However, occasionally I do come across beers that, while OK, would definitely be improved by a slice of pizza. Or a chocolate dipped strawberry. Or even blending in another beer.

I’m starting to wonder if this could be true of a style, at least as far as I’m concerned. That the baseline for hazy IPAs is that I should have some food, and it’s only the exceptional ones that can be drank by themselves. Perhaps I would be kinder to the style with this in mind.

Because this style isn’t going anywhere and this beer isn’t getting any better.

Glass two brings more of the same, except now the hop oils are coating my mouth. I can feel the oil scrape off my tongue as I roll it against the roof of my mouth.

So the pithy bitterness IS there…it just takes a little while to get going. The bubbly now becomes highly relevant, as it’s one of the ways this beer has to help clear my palate. But I still can’t escape it’s homogeneity.

Today’s second pint goes to Pawsitive Change.

The Six #2: Grixsen’s Brown Ale

I’ve come for Grixsen’s Brown Ale.

Is there a little touch of vanilla amongst the chocolate? SomethingGrixsen brown ale is giving this a scent that is the reason people should drink brown ales. My friend suggests caramel and I have to agree; caramel is a better choice but it doesn’t quite nail it. Finally it hits me; hazelnut. We agree; that’s the flavor.

So why would I send someone here? Because brown ales are a great style that often go unsung, and people should give them a chance. And if I’m going to recommend a brown ale, then why not the best damn brown ale I think Portland has to offer?

Grixen’s brown ale is light and possibly one of the most drinkable ales in the city. Yet it’s got plenty of malt flavor for body, and a hit of astringency on the finish to balance it all out.

This isn’t to dismiss the other beers that Grixsen has; their tap list reflects a lot of english-style ales, malty but quite drinkable. The brown ale is why you come, the other ales are as you like!

The Six #1: Hopworks Pilsner

“You should do this, but for Portland,” my friend Fuz tells me. My initial feelings on the notion are lukewarm, because does anyone need that? There are so many articles out there, what is one more?

Later that night, I run into two Irish tourists at Bailey’s Taproom and they ask me what places they should visit. I spend nearly an hour talking to them. Clearly, I have opinions, so I’m doing this!

These breweries and beers shouldn’t necessarily be regarded as ‘the best’; rather, I would think of them more as ‘the representative-ist’. Places that, should you be in Portland, I’d recommend visiting because of the quality represented, but also the history (as I understand it) of craft beer here, and the variety as well. I’ll try and explain each as I go, just to be clear about my own thinking. There is, thankfully, no wrong answer. Just; where do you want to go? What do you want to have?

I’ll also have a friend with me, in part to facilitate some thoughts on why we’re here, in part to get some real-time feedback before I put pen to paper, to give an answer to the question: why are we here? So if I mention another human, that’s why.

Hopworks' Pilsner

We start with Hopworks Pilsner.

I’m here because this was one of the first lighter beers that I can remember being brewed in Portland-which medaled at the Great American Beer Festival. This was a pretty big deal, because at the time Portland was known for hopping the hell out of every style it could get its hands on. Hopworks’ Pilsner brought hope to people tired of hops and helped set the stage for more styles to be available here.

This beer has a great yeasty bread elements to the nose, and you can absolutely taste the grain involved. I am almost certain it’s two row, but it has a flavor that mass market pilsners just don’t. Plus, it’s got enough of a bite on the finish from the hops that I get a contrast between the sweeter grain and bread flavors.

It’s a damn fine beer and you can get it lots of places in the PWN, but let’s face it; you should visit their pub. There’s a broad selection of ales, including a cider and while some of them come and go, the Pils is always on tap.