The Duchesse and I

finish aleThankfully, to save me from my errors at the Belmont Station is the Duchesse. (Which I also got while buying Smithwick’s.)

What a fantastic beer. Apparently a traditional Flemish red ale, this beer has a plum color and a creamy velvet ivory head that seems to be borrowed from a Guinness that some bartender overdid. The faintly fruit sour nose made me think I was about to drink a lambic the first time I had this beer. There’s some red wine qualities here but mellowed out; the nose and the acidity all resemble red wine, though not a strong as wine can be. But the beer downplays the sour aspects, opting for a sweet tang that explodes everywhere, and then finishes pleasantly dry. It’s sweetness noses into the rest of the beer, making this much more complicated, and yet much more drinkable than most lambics might be. Some people are put off by the sourness in lambics, this Flemish ale provides the fruity punch of a lambic, but the sweet balance of a red, and goddamn if it doesn’t work.

It’s a bit pricey, so I don’t get to indulge in it often, but as the antidote to my hasty purchase of a very poor red it works perfectly.

I often think of my friend at Impy Malting when I drink this beer.  On her last visit to Portland, I was able to introduce her to The Duchesse, in a pub in Southeast Portland where a hastily set up karaoke machine was hosting a group of revelers who insisted on singing Journey. We left shortly after drinking this beer, and had a great night overall, but I would have liked a little more time to sit there and enjoy this beer and her company.

But you know. Karaoke Journey. Gotta move away from that.

Wee Heavy lunchbreak beer

Summer has brutalized it’s way into Portland, slapping us with 90 degree heat mere days after highs in the 60s. I wandered into the the pub on my lunch break. It’s deviant for me to have a beer on my lunch break, but it was one of those days; fuck the job, let’s have a pint.

So I found myself at the Rogue Alehouse, pondering their vast selection. Written in large letters on their chalkboard: No Cell Phones In The Bar-please use the phone booth.  Lo and behold, there’s a red british phone booth, with a crown above the word Telephone on each side, and looking like it’s made from iron- something heavy duty enough to survive soccer hooligans- in one corner. On the opposite wall is a skeleton in Spider Man pjs, and a sparkly neon-green tie. Ah, Portland.

Making choices under pressure is a challenge for me because there are so many beers to try and when I can only get just one, better make it good, right? It’s not like I’m having to choose a car in 30 seconds, but I want a beer that is going to meet a couple criteria: be tasty and be something I haven’t had before.

The Wee Heavy Scotch ale from the Issaquah brewery was what I went with, having had good memories of other wee heavys (heavies?) I’ve drank. It was not my wisest choice though, especially given the heat of the day. Scotch ales tend to be sipping beers, and perhaps not for a less leisurely lunchtime consumption.

The deep amber color that’s almost but not quite dark enough to be opaque is the first thing I noticed in my already sweating glass. This beer was thick and sweet, giving away to a final hop bitterness at the very end. It’s a last minute save worthy of Batman, honestly; without that bitterness the beer would be almost syrupy. As I kept drinking, I notice a tang to it that’s not quite right. There’s a metallic quality to the finish here that throws the whole beer off. I’m not sure if that’s due to the weather or what, but I was not so fond of this.

My impresions were made worse by the fact that I had to walk quickly back to work. The Wee Heavy sat badly in my belly, sloshing around as I strode the blocks, the heat uncomfortable and the beer not very cooling for this day. Next time, I’ll have to remember to try something lighter.

On haste

In honor of the beer critic Michael Jackson, who died last year, homebrewers were going to try to make one of his favorite beers, Cheswick Bitter Ale for National Homebrewers Month. This is all well and good, but I’ve never had the Cheswick, so I won’t really know if I’ve made the right beer or not. (I’ve also had to substitute ingredients, but one makes do.)

Last night, I’m at Belmont Station with Fuz, looking for beer. We’ve been there awhile and I want to hurry up and pick something because we’re burning daylight, you know? I find a beer from the UK and think; ‘Ah-ha! I can try this, take notes, and then compare it to my beer!’ In my head, I’ve just bought the Cheswick Bitter.

So I buy this:Not what I thought 



Oh yeah. Very, very smart of me.


OK, so I fucked it up. But eh, it’s still beer, right? And it’s from the people who do Guinness, so it’s bound to be OK!

Well, no. Though this claims to be an Irish Ale, what this really is is mass produced, quite dull red. It tastes like soda water, with no real malt to back up the color or give any flavor. How the hell does one produce a red ale without any malt flavor?  Yet it has been done, and I can attest to it.

The one bonus is that I’d just finished a whole bunch of yardwork. Since this was more like water than beer, I felt pretty refreshed afterward, if a little foolish about my purchase. I guess I’ll just have to figure out my version of Cheswick Bitter on its own merits.

Lager done right

I understand that most people who try to drink beers that aren’t produced by macrobreweries have issues with not just the ‘weight’ of the beer (density, mouthfeel, how they settle in the stomach) but also with the intensity of the flavors.  Sweet, bitter, floral, clove–these can put someone off who isn’t welcoming of it. Unfortunately, most microbreweries (and home brewers) avoid the lagers that are the popular American style for two reasons: 1) the market is pretty much cornered by the big brewers, and 2) lagers are hard to brew. As a result, most people only ever get to try a lager that has been watered down for the masses, instead of a truly refreshing drink, ideal for a hot day and pub grub, and beer lovers never get a chance to try a really well done lager. Thankfully, that’s changing.
3 beersThe Hopworks Urban Brewery won silver at the World Beer Cup 2008 for their lager, and deservedly so. There is a slightly bitter flower nose from the hops (I’m told they’re Saaz), but the body of this beer is all malt. 

You might be able to tell from the picture, but this lager is a few shades darker than your standard mass-produced lager. I’d assume that’s because ‘leeching’ agents to make the beer more ‘acceptable’, like corn or rice, haven’t been added. The malt flavors aren’t muted and hidden, they’re right up front with a  a really nice balance of sweet and roasted qualities, so this beer is very, very drinkable. 

Like any lager, as I reached the end of my glass, there was an ever so slight skunking of the beer–but this is to be expected from the warmth and the (thankful) light. That’s right; I’m drinking this lager as summer has started to push it’s way into Portland, and HUB’s lager is perfect for this time of year. It’s really refreshing, able to wash down not just the standard pub fair, but those spicy calzones they offer as well. (The red sauce at HUB is truly excellent)

Armory XPA

The first beer from Deschutes’ Portland brewing system (a fancy way of saying their new brewpub in Portland) is an IPA that I am pleased to try, Armory XPA. The nose has a citrus quality to it, but I wasn’t overwhelmed by that, which was good. It should be noted that my nose isn’t the most astute one, so someone else might pick up on the scent more, but I found it muted, like orange blossoms, instead of oranges. However I thought that was perfect for complimenting the finish of this beer.

The hop bitterness starts right up, not overwhelming but still a constant that rides the tongue front to back. The lingering scent helps play off this citrus bitterness, and just like when it clears your nose, the hops clear the palate rather quickly, leaving a slight dryness. The clean finish makes this more ideal, I think, for a late spring beer, when the air is mostly warm, the flowers are confidently out, and skirts are starting to show up.

Unfortunately Portlandia has other ideas about the weather, and it’s been friggin’ cold and windy, even into May. The fact that the pub (and this is truly a wonderful place) is playing Led Zeppelin’s Fool in the Rain is not persuading the climate to shift warmer, sadly. This doesn’t detract from the beer, but I’ll admit that sometimes where and when you have a drink sometimes matters almost as much as what the drink is.

Still, the citrus notes hold up throughout the beer, and I didn’t start noticing a shift toward a more bitter aftertaste until I was 2/3rds through–but this is a hoppy effect; the bitterness can intensify as one drinks, and the beer warms up. It doesn’t detract from the beer; most beers shift as you drink them, but this one follows it’s path of floral citrus hop bitterness, and I’m just going to be led until it’s gone.
The XPA looks a little less amberish than I would’ve expected. It’s not golden by any means, and is has a slight haze that I associate more with hefes than pale ales (I don’t believe it’s out of style though), but given what I’d seen from the Cascade Pale Ale, I had this idea in my head this beer would be clearer. Trust me, I got over it.

Boulder Dam Brewing Samplers

Sigh. There are some things that just can’t be helped, and I’m afraid the beers at Boulder Dam are among them.

I will admit, I don’t like Las Vegas that much-it strikes me as foolishly excessive, ugly, and lacking the element of fun that it so madly insists it is selling to people. I have family down there, though, so I go visit. Now fortunately for me, my Dad also likes good beer so he tries to keep his ears perked for any brewpubs. And since Boulder City is only about 20 minutes outside of Vegas, it was easy enough for him to hear of this brewpub–and so it was on my visit last weekend, we took off for the wares of the Boulder Dam Brewpub.

It’s in the 80’s at least, so it’s the perfect time of day for a beer. Dad and I stroll in to have sampler trays of 6 Boulder Dam beers. The first thing that struck me was this; every single beer was disturbingly cloudy. Even the stout when I held it up to the light, seemed to have a haze to it that didn’t belong. I am not sure if it’s the water in that area causing this haze, or some kind of defect to the brewing system itself, but all the beers had this quality. So just as the tray is being set down in front of me, I’m troubled.

I suppose that the two caveats to this post then should be first: all the beers had a haze to them that in some cases (pils, red, stout) definitely shouldn’t be there, but since the haze was present throughout, I won’t mention it in my descriptions. I’m not sure how water in Nevada might impact the clarity of the beers, but it’s the kind of thing that a brewpub certainly needs to know and compensate for. Second: I only had samples of each beer. There are some beers that just need a pint to get a feel for, and so a touch of salt should probably be taken with these descriptions.

Powder Monkey Pilsner; this had a slightly lemony aftertaste, and like most pilsners, no real nose on it. It also had a mouth feel that was just way too dense for what anyone should expect from a pilsner. Finally there was a bitterness-a kind of dirty aftertaste as well that just didn’t sit well with me.

Hell’s Hole Hefe; this was served with a huge slice of orange, and when brewers’ use fruit to overcome the sourness of their beer, I think something is seriously wrong. At this point, I’m starting to wonder if the yeast strain they used in the Pilsner is the same as the one here; there’s a similar mouthfeel, but none of the more belgian elements (clove, banana) that you’d expect from a belgain beer. There were citrus notes through the entire beer, though, as a positive. From the hops or the orange slice though, I couldn’t tell you.

Raspberry Vice; this had a nice raspberry nose, but that’s where it ended. This fell into the pit of many fruit beers; the fruit is not actually complimenting the beer, it’s either overwhelming or barely present at all. This weiss beer ended up tasting like sickly raspberry candy instead, and both my Dad and I were especially critical of it.

Hop Crisis; This felt a bit more like a traditional IPA instead of the super-hoppy ones made in the Pacific NW. It had an effervescence that cut through the bitterness and had a slightly malty finish, but again there was a dirty aftertaste on this beer that I couldn’t get past.

Ragtown Red; this was the first beer that actually tasted interesting. Because they used black malts the beer had a darker, shade to it, almost a ‘core’ of darkness, surrounded by a lighter dirty golden fluid. This malt gave the beer a chocolate, malty chewiness that I found interesting, and I would’ve liked to have drank more of this beer to get a better feel for it. There was a hint of clove in the nose, and this was the first indication I had that a different yeast strain may have been used in this beer versus the others.

Black Canyon Stout; this felt more like a porter in the mouth, but the line between porters and stouts have been blurry for awhile. The roasted malt flavors hung out in my mouth, but they weren’t unpleasantly sweet, so I wasn’t unhappy about that.

Of the beers I had, I’d try the Ragtown to get a better handle on it, and recommend the Black Canyon…but with serious reservations. My Dad liked the Stout and the Pilsner, but after that had reservations or flat out disliked the rest of the beers.

This may (not) be as good as it gets

I bottled a porter 2 Sundays ago, and usually after a week I like to bust my beer open and see how it tastes.
The nose has a heavy molasses component-so strong, I’m almost surprised the beer is actually viscous. And the flavors are very nice; sweet, but set just so slightly back by a bitterness that comes from dark malts. There’s a nutty flavor there, probably from the malts I put in (I changed the recipe, but lost my notes!) and that helps lengthen it a bit too, flavorwise.
But there’s no effervescence whatsoever. I was hoping after 10 days that there would be some, but zip. I’m drinking a flat beer. A very tasty beer, but a flat one.
However, it’s entirely possible that this beer just needs more time, so I will let it sit for another 7 days.

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