I am enjoying the Solar Flare pale ale. It’s got a soft maltiness but it’s just enough to keep the beer in line. I’m having trouble getting a nose off this beer-maybe because I’m outside? I sense a whiff of grassiness, which I like, but it’s faint and I can feel my face warp grumpily for a moment because I can’t get anything else.
I hate being outside. I really don’t understand why people want to be outside during times of year that aren’t July-Aug. And I don’t really understand being outside when it’s so damn hot out. Mostly because I want to relax and outside is just not a relaxing place. Too cold, too windy, too hot; being outside is like a conspiracy of things that exist to make me uncomfortable. So I just don’t understand being outside in general, I suppose.
But, there is beer. That makes things a lot more bearable. Most things are more bearable with beer, now that I think about it. It doesn’t hurt that I’m here to play cards as well; and more things are bearable with people, too.
I’m losing my game though. So maybe it’s just the beer that makes this better.
On a recent trip to the Lucky Lab (NW version) I was able to try a few beers, and I dug ’em. The Pavlov stout was bourbony and good. It was also a surprise: no mention of that beer being kept in bourbon barrels was on the chalkboard.
Not complaining; just a surprise.
The Triple Threat IPA was on cask and I like it. I was reminded of the nice discussion I had on firkin ales a few weeks ago. I felt that this beer came across a little better: the hops were less intense, I thought, due to the lower carbonation and resulting fewer aromas, so if you weren’t a hophead this beer might speak to you.
Finally, I had the Zingerbeer; a nut brown w ginger instead of hops and I think I could make this! Which is super cool: I so often drink beers that I just couldn’t make without a hell of a lot more time, equipment or knowledge so to come upon one that, in addition to being tasty, was within my skill set to make, was pretty awesome. I’ll have to give that a go soon.
I am briefly stymied by an overabundance of choices. It doesn’t happen too often but occasionally I just have no idea what to try because enough new beers have come up and so many look good that I don’t know where to start. Being on a budget certainly helps, because I can’t suddenly cry, ‘Drink all the beers!‘
Although that’s probably for the best.
It’s with a certain relish, though, that I see Lucky Lab‘s ’07 Old Yeller barleywine on tap. I feel like I never get to try enough Lucky Lab yet they’re in my neighborhood (ish) so I ought to be better versed in their ales.
I am rewarded with a mostly fine ale, smooth and chocolatey but there’s a harshness on the finish; a certain woodiness that stands out against the ‘Awww yeah‘ funkiness of the start. It’s still good, mind you and I won’t be struggling to finish it by any means. There’s just something keeping it from being great.
It feels a little more lively tonight. No idea why, since it seems like there are less people in the pub, overall.
As the Old Yeller gets warmer, the woodiness recedes and a slight whiskey/alcohol bite comes in at the end. I have to say, I like that better.
I’m enjoying my solitude tonight, to the point where I’m almost considering another brew. I’m feeling a bit like hiding out and I currently have the luxury of doing so in the corner, plenty of space to write and nobody to disturb. Doesn’t suck. On the other hand, I only have thirty minutes left on my laptop’s battery: this is not a lot of time left to finish this beer and enjoy another.
Plus, the woodiness of this beer has come back. Damnit, why won’t this barleywine just make up its mind?
Then again, I’m still pondering another ale, so who am I to criticize indecision?
The Lucky Lab smells like carmel corn when I walk in. It has a whole carnival element to it too; not a single stable table in the place, wood floors beat to shit by decades of warehouse use, groups gathered haphazardly both inside and out. But the smell of carmel corn is what sticks with me. NOt the first time I’ve had this experience; I assume it was a brewing day because of the maltiness in the air.
I have to say I had a bit of a dilemma tonight. I wanted to do this theme was that it would allow me to visit places outside the zone of the previous themes but there is a significant drawback to interlinking this theme to other people: Namely, I have to have other people to interact with. The Lucky Lab doesn’t have places along the rail, it has a waiting zone for beer. There isn’t an easy way to ask people what they’re having.
So tonight I am a spy, a stealth drinker, listening to the conversations ahead of me, trying to understand what’s been said, to get just enough snippets of language that I can place an order without having to pause and hold everyone else up. I catch just enough of the bartender’s response to someone ‘The Golden has technical difficulties so here’s the rye.’ Problem solved-as far as what beer I want.
I watch the bartender pour my beer; it almost seems like the rye is having technical difficulties. The bartender is very conscienscous about pouring me a full pint and creates a nice puddle of foam beneath the spout of rye in order to do so. I appreciate the thought but I have to wonder if violently shaking foam out of the glass doesn’t affect the beer somehow. As it stands, I can’t smell anything other then carmel corn, which is not helping me understand what it is I’ve drank.
The rye itself is OK. Finishes nice, with a great deal of crispness and dryness, so I want another sip but the beer itself tastes thin and I can’t get any nose. So let’s give a B+ to the finish and a C- to the rest.
In one respect, the LL is a microcosm of Portland. There’s a trio of woman hammering ideas out on laptops far away, one in a purple plaid flannel, the other with blonde dreads and the Jan of the group. Closer by there is another trio, one with glasses and a jacket, another with a tiara of stars mounted on springs-like alien antenna, the Jan a brunette this time but in knee high boots. They’re soon joined by a man on crutches, hat with a surfer logo on backwards, hoodie with logos on frontwards, pants seemingly logo free.
Low budget kids next to me, complaining about working their shitty jobs, mocking posers, complaining about idiots who text and don’t spell correctly, remarking on the foolishness of some online interactions (ah, Facebook, what have you tweaked for us?) and mistakes that get made when you drink too much. Further away there is an older couple, the guy is in a red hat that screams ‘White person from the 70’s’ . Moustache too.
There are also children. And by children, I mean rugrats under 5 who probably shouldn’t be allowed to run around a place like this. Sorry but there’s something fundamentally irresponsible about allowing a child to run around a pub unattended because that boy is headed for the door with nothing in his path. But this is also Portland, sometimes.
Suddenly, I can hear the last verse and chorus of “Fade to Black” just over the crowd murmur and the beginning of brewery cleaning. Metalheads are everywhere I suppose. Though I guess I ought to know, as I’m one of them. But I’m a metalhead who has had a meager brew and no story to listen to. Let’s go home.
I realize I had this at Baileys’ 2nd Anniversary event, but some time has passed and it’s time to give this beer another chance. It both improves and suffers at the same time; this beer has a touch of sour in the nose, a tartness in the mouth, that liquid Sweet Tart moment that stops a few stations away from a sour beer.
But it wants some food. While salty goodness is my default for beer, this one wants some light chocolate mousse, maybe a cheesecake with chocolate sauce. Cake might be too dense. Pie might work, as could ice cream. Either way, it is a dessert beer and a complimentary drink not a solo one-at least for me.
I saw a giant billboard for Stella Artois on my way down tonight. I wonder how well beers like that really do in Portland. I mean, we’re obviously not all in the thrall of Widmer or Hair of the Dog, yet I really wonder who chooses Stella when Session is available. Or any other beer for that matter.
Occasionally, it’s hard to remember that there are places in this country that don’t care about the local brewers. Of course, being able to try beers from all over is a wonderful thing. Colorado, Maine, California and Vermont all are known for producing some amazing beers as a culture. Recently I’ve had brews from Michigan and Kansas that have been excellent. Getting to try something from across the country is a real wonder and it’s good to remember that in these times.
But even when I lived in Spokane, which was not known for being a land of plenty when it came to cultural options of any sort (residents would occasionally proudly tout the city as an ideal test market; Spokane, the standard of Bland) I somehow learned that getting the thing that was made locally was always something to investigate over the ‘wonder’ that was made everywhere.
I’m not here to make any kind of statement about the cost compared to quality of getting beer made from Japan or Germany vs drinking what’s made in your hometown. We like what we like. But I wonder; when was the last time you adventured?
And when was the last time that adventure was close to home? Or even on the path to somewhere else; stopping to try the wares of that town en route to the city instead of just driving through.
So many of us spend our time not going to the places or events that ‘everyone’ does, because that’s what the tourists do. New Yorkers who never go to the Statue of Liberty, San Franciscians who don’t go to Alcatraz or eat the sourdough, Tuscans who don’t bother with the Duomo, Spaniards who don’t go to Las Fallas.
Don’t get me wrong; travel is good for the soul. It’s certainly been good for my soul. I wonder, however, how many journeys I’ve missed because I decided to go there, instead of stay here.
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:
Fuz and I went to the Lucky Lab for pints tonight.
I generally go out to the pub for only three reasons; to write, to play Magic, or to visit with friends. With Fuz I can do 2 of 3, so I don’t complain.
I had the Solar Flare; an IPA disguised as a pale ale. No sweat, for the LL makes good IPA’s. They taste bitter but finish smooth and almost sweet. There’s a NW sensibility there, tempered by a commonality; not everyone wants the hops to kick you in the ass. Fuz tries an alt-beir, and it’s not an alt. It’s an IPA; alts do not have that level of hops in them, if they want to stick to style. Fuz and I play cards and talk shop, movies, gloom and what card best fits the green/blue deck I’m tinkering with.
But it needs to be an early night. I drive him home, drop him off and drive down 39th under Jackson Pollock skies that make the heavens look like something out of Blue Heaven; textured and jagged and lit way past sunset. Summer is coming, despite the winds and the shaking of the trees and the chill that makes the furnace kick on. It must’ve been even more potent, living in an era without electricity, to see the skies turn blue, and to have that tint shade everything around you. Now the streetlights cast their peach glow on us, and I square my shoulders and head home.
I sing to U2’s Beautiful Day, and try to remember that things are good, and then when Queens of the Stone Age’s Feel Good Hit of the Summer, I growl the drugs until Halford kicks in with his shriek of ‘COCAINE’ and I try to relish the drive home, and slumber soon to follow.