My friend Fuz sent me a link to an article on the resurgence of beers being aged in wood barrels.
While I appreciate the craft that goes into making these beers, I have to say the price tag makes me balk in a serious way. That might be the point; these are specialty beers for special occasions, but I certainly hope that this doesn’t become a widespread trend. I would like a good beer for a reasonable price available to as many people as possible. If brewers decide to put the really good beers out of the reach of the regular budget, then I feel like something has gone a little awry in the brewing culture. They already have to overcome misconceptions about the way their beer tastes (too heavy, too intense, etc.), the fact that it costs more, and the still frequent condecension from people who derive status from their drink instead of the pleasure of good food shared.
Making $35 bottles for 25oz of beer is something I’d like to see kept as a rarity, if you don’t mind.
I sit down at Bailey’s for the first time in three weeks and order an old ale, chatting briefly with the owner who has to bow out to serve a rush of customers; girls and guys who ask about styles, kinds of beer available, where they should go next, can they try this or that or the other? Another person asks if they ever considered selling coffee here, and the owner replies yes, but someone else would have to do it as he doesn’t consider himself to be a barista. I cringe internally at the thought and focus on my drink.
Old Humbug II has a slightly sour nose, which resurrects itself about midway through the drink. Surrounded by the sour are roasted flavors of sugar; caramel and chocolate, but less sweet and more burnt.
It’s nice to be back where I started. I’m sitting at the bar, which I don’t get to do too often. I like sitting at the bar, though because I get to see the place in action, both patrons and bartender in their social dance. I miss sitting at the bar, having developed a taste for it at Europa in Spokane. When I was a young drinker my friend A.Ho and I became regulars there, frequent visitors who knew all the bartenders by name (there were only two) and fueling ourselves on cheap beer and cheesesticks during happy hour. Cheesesticks weren’t the typical kind; they were more like mini-pizzas without tomato sauce. We’d get red sauce and ranch dressing to dip them in, and drink Alaskan amber ales and tequila (for him) and Jager (for me) and do the guy talk thing. Europa was damn near perfect for this; no televisions to distract you, the music at a level low enough to allow conversation, loud enough to obscure the nearby tables. It was a place where I could be found, and bring friends to for a good time, but not quite popular enough to destroy your sense of quiet privacy.
When I moved to Portland, I tried to find a bar like that here but in vain. Some places just cannot be replicated. They exist in a certain space and time, and then some kind of glacial change comes along. I try to go back to Europa when I visit Spokane but it’s not quite the same for me now; most likely the glacial change has occurred within me, but it also feels different in a way I cannot quite pin down.
And Portland for all its charms and fantastic places, does not have that build in friendly group of people for me. I have friends now, but our interests spread out; going to a bar, sitting down, and spending a few hours doing nothing but chilling out and eating bread and cheese does not appeal to people the same way it once did.
Or so I think.
As I begin to wrap things up, the owner of Bailey’s comes back to our conversation. Eventually the subject turns to the Transformers movie, and he lets me rant about that a little bit. He tells me that because he went into the movie expecting it to suck, when it didn’t totally suck, he was at least happy about that.
On New Year’s Day I decided to try my hand at making a Belgian IPA. I first sampled this style at one of the Oregon Brew Crew meetings, and liked it quite a bit. However, after my last experience with brewing a belgian ale, I realized that I would need to be willing to really let this beer sit for a length of time so it would be ready. What better time to prepare for a new thing than New Year’s Day?
I steeped 13 oz of Caramel 20, 1 lb 4 oz of Simpson’s Naked Golden, and 2 lbs, 5 oz of White Wheat malts, at about 150 degrees, fro about 30 minutes. Then I added 7 lbs of liquid light malt extract, and turned the temperature up for the boil.
At a boil of about 175 degrees, at 60 minutes I added 2 oz of Zeus hops, reused from Demon Alcohol. At 30 minutes I added 1.5 oz of Cascade, and at 15 minutes I added 1 oz Amarillo. I also put in a 1/2 tsp of Irish Moss in at this time.
After cooling, this beer came out looking a little odd.
The Original Gravity is about 1.08, and I added to that two packs of Wyeast 1814. This is the reason this post is tardy; for 36 hours, nothing happened with this beer. I’m not sure if the yeast is just slow, or maybe I made a mistake in the brewing process. So I brought it up from the basement, where it was resting at about 60 degrees, and put it on the main floor where hopefully it would warm up just a little and maybe let the yeast activate. Fortunately, it’s taken off a bit since then, at about 62 degrees, and so I’ve put a towel around it to keep the light out.
I wanted to give this a try, just because they’ve got to have some smart people working at Budweiser. Lagers are a very difficult style to brew, and to do it so consistently on such a large scale requires some real dedication and skill. Even though I don’t like the beer they brew, I appreciate the effort that it takes to get a lager made. They must’ve put some polish on a different style, right?
Well, maybe not so much. My personal enthusiasm for trying this beer has been curbed. It’s probably for the best.
The vote was 2:1 to go elsewhere, vs. suspending the project. However last week the votes didn’t matter because I was snowed in and nobody was going anywhere, much less out to get a beer. This week though, I can act upon what the people have spoken for, and I am out at a different bar, namely the Crow Bar. Smoke from some of the patrons drifts in front of my screen, and as you can see it’s quite dark here.
I like it.
Smoke ’em if you got ’em is the mantra right now. In two days the ban goes into effect, so I deliberately chose a smoking bar–a soon to be extinct species in the city. When confronted with the request that I go to a different place, the Crow Bar wriggled its way from my subconscious to the forefront. Oh yes, I thought, I always wanted to go back there.
‘I always wanted to go back there’ seems to be a common theme for me in Portland. The city is blessed with a wealth of good places to imbibe, and getting to them all takes more dedication and money than I have. Hell, just being able to go back to a place I once liked is hard enough. Worse, I am a bit of a wayward soul. I might have one place where they know me, but I prefer it when I have many places and almost no one does. Do I go to the bars to be alone, or do I try to isolate myself by going to a bar?
As the smoke works its way though my clothes and clots my ability to smell my porter, I take a look around. The Crow is just a nudge to the right of a dive, but refuses to wade into hipster-dom too. A sticker that says ‘Impeach Bush, Torture Cheney‘ is posted on a towel dispenser behind the bar, right next to the liquor license.
The porter is too thin to be enjoyed amongst the cigarettes. It’s OK, but I can’t get anything else out of it in this environment. The lighting, however, is perfect for the thin smoke that drifts from the cylinders, giving my drink-and my computer-a Blade Runner kind of feel.
Next to me, a woman in a french beret chats up a man in a pedantic blue sweater; they talk about getting older, and why their paths haven’t crossed more…friends who meet in the random convergence of beer and smokes. There’s a little pop-psyche bullshit going on, but it’s none of my business. I tune them out.
MC5 starts to rail through the speakers, so I tip my hat low and drain my porter. I don’t feel like writing any more, I feel like brooding, so I think it’s time to go. Going, though, means I get to come back, and I am looking forward to my next visit here already.
While most of the city remained paralyzed by the weather, I got up, stepped aboard a bus and went downtown to work. As I was the only one in the office though, the place closed up early; noon on both Tuesday and Wednesday, and I’m not one to stick around if I don’t have to. The afternoon busses don’t run as frequently as the morning ones though, especially with the road conditions being icy, so instead of standing in the cold I decided I would walk home.
All along my path, pristine snowpiles tempted my gloves, and soon I was grabbing fistfuls of snow, torquing my hands clockwise and counter, just to get a solid ball. I haven’t made snowballs in ten years, since I left Spokane for Portland and I haven’t had a reason to make them since I was in grade school, ambushing girls on the way home. They would return the favor, and winter became a came of cat and mouse between me and Jeanette and Jenny, to see who could catch whom unawares.
But snowball season comes rarely to Portland, so I was going to take advantage. Every parked car I could take a shot at, I did; the snowballs creating perfect circles of impact when they hit, long cones of destruction when they miss. The hollow thunk made when I hit a dumpster, or the popping sound that comes from striking a building, the calculations I kept making to hit the next target when I miss: Higher next time. Plant your feet. Don’t sidearm if you want to get it that far. Be careful; it’s slick. Square your shoulders. Too hard; but it’s nice to know you can get it across the street.
I was carrying far too much on my back; my shoulders ached like the muscles were tearing and I was starting to get a headache. No busses were coming along to take me home. It was time to stop for a beer.
I dropped into Roots brewery. I still had forty blocks to walk if a bus didn’t come by, so I asked if I could get a glass instead of a pint, and when the barkeep said I could, I asked for their Epic ’07 ale. She gave me a small grin as she told me that this beverage only came in a glass, and that’s when I saw the description on the chalkboard: 14% ABU.
Boy howdy you would not know it. The beer tasted like a banana that had been flambeed in rum. Roasted sugars, and not a hint of alcohol warmth, but good for the cold weather. Unfortunately, I wasn’t even close to being cold; I’d just trekked from downtown across icy sidewalks, and I could feel the sweat coming down my face. I wiped my brow with a napkin and went across the street to the Lucky Lab.
There were a few choices that appealed to me there, but when I asked about the Malt Bomb, the barkeep said, “Let me pour you a taste, because it’s hard to describe.” While he did that, I read the writeup posted on the taps. Apparently this beer is the third in a series; the hops and malts were kept the same, but the first time they used belgian yeast, the second german yeast, and this time american ale yeast.
I wish I’d known they were doing this experiment, because I would love to know how these other beers stacked up. This beer had no yeast presence at all, and very little hops that I could tell. It was all caramel, with a pleasingly cutting fizzy mouthfeel. The finish left my mouth bitter, like the aftertaste of chocolate when the sugar is almost all gone. It suited me much better; a more quenching beer for someone about to make a long slog over ice to get home.
I threw snowballs the whole way home, and then did something I hadn’t done in a long, long time:
In Portland, snow days are regarded with parts celebration and dread. The city is in the thrall of weathermen and women, and people stay glued to the news, as though there will be changes while they scheme of sleeping in and try to ignore the specter of work that builds up while they peer outside. Everyone is afraid to drive, hell afraid to leave their house which merely adds to the sense of impending doom and stir craziness that afflicts people who have never had to stay indoors for a week.
I decided I would make a chocolate ginger porter.
With one pound, eight ounces of chocolate malt and five and one-eighths ounces of rye (to give it a dryness), I steeped the grains, adding them to warming water until it hit about 160, and then let it sit for fifteen minutes. At this point, I scooped the malts out and added five pounds of extra dark dry malt extract and brought it to a boil (about 170-5).
At this point I added 1/2 tsp. of vanilla extract-probably not nearly enough, given the volume-, one cup of brown sugar, and three-quarters ounce of Mt Rainer hops. With fifteen minutes left in the boil, I added a half-ounce of Cascade hops, three ounces of fresh ginger, and 1/2 tsp. of Irish Moss.
The yeast I added was the 1007 German Ale yeast, reconstituted from Demon Alcohol (The beer that keeps on giving). The whole thing sits in primary now, looking like this: