Tag Archives: ninkasi brewing

The Local: Pied Cow

pied cow loungeI don’t belong here, either. Not sure that I can explain it but I don’t fit in. A quieter place for a quieter soul, perhaps? Or a friend to sit with on benches padded by pillows once comforting in the 80’s. The Pied Cow is very open as a space; tables are tiny and round and there aren’t booths in any sense of the word. I think visitors are encouraged to either be a big group that can take over the place or be a very tiny group that can tuck into a corner where nobody will notice you, because if anyone else is in the room you’re in, they can legally testify to your conversation.

My Ninkasi Spring Reign comes in the bottle and arrives with a glass that is chilled.

Sigh. How do pubs, restaurants or any purveyor of spirits fail this basic test? Especially in Portland. If I was in Phoenix or Baton Rouge I’d get it, sorta, but truthfully, anyplace that serves you a beer with or in a pre-chilled glass earns a fail.

Still, the service is prompt this time and people smile at me. I suppose I have to take what I can get. (Edit; until I want to leave and then I’m ignored…)

I’m not up for tonight’s adventure. First day of Summer and it feels like mid-Spring still, except for the constant itchiness at the corner of my eye. My adventure in Spokane was good but has left me tired. I was a whirlwind of seeing people and I didn’t give myself time to take notes on anything I drank. A touch foolish, that.

Maybe after so many days of adventuring with people, I’m feeling a little out of sorts adventuring alone. Sure, I choose to come out on Mondays and I know it would be rude to invite someone to come with me while I write but I don’t think I’ve hit my limit on company, especially good company and I was blessed with a bunch of that while I was away. Now that I’m by myself in a place that does what it can to make the barriers between people fuzzy, I feel out of place and wanting to go somewhere either more familiar or more isolating.

I can barely smell my beer because of my allergies. Some hop spiciness with nudging malt breaks through my sinuses but I don’t recall this as the awesome Spring Reign I’ve had. Perhaps a stout or amber would have been a smarter choice. Something malt-rich that plays well on the tongue. I highly doubt the beer is at fault but I can’t properly evaluate it right now and that’s bothersome too.

Maybe I’m disgruntled today and the Pied Cow insists on supporting my gruntle and not my cheer. The alt-trappings, the alt-music (all seemingly based off 808 machines and the Cure/Depeche Mode), the too-dim light; it’s all bugging the crap out of me. I can’t sit comfortably, I can’t write easily and I want to go home. So that’s what I’m going to do.

The Local: Hawthorne Hideaway

One nice thing about going to the local bars is that I get a chance to have regularly appearing beers that otherwise I’d overlook for the new thing. In this case, Ninkasi’s Believer ale, which is very much the kind of red ale I’d like to make someday. Rich enough in the malts to stand up but with a bitter finish that clears any pretense of sweetness away.

walloholTonight I’m at the Hawthorne Hideaway which has been a bar I’ve always liked but had trouble getting to. Being blessed with a number of good places to drink means that sometimes I don’t get to bars I really enjoy. Circumstances get in the way it seems but that also feels like a poor excuse. I don’t have any reason to avoid it here; the fries are good, the bartenders like heavy metal and there’s enough space but not too much so you won’t crowd the other patrons.

I like it more since the smoking ban; the Hideaway is cozy enough that just a little smoke makes it feel a hell of a lot more crowded, but even before the ban I liked it here. I could sit at a table by the window and play cards. Admittedly, I had to sit by the window as the lighting is too dim everywhere else but I’m OK with that.

Interestingly, it feels easier to pay attention to the football game here, where there is only one TV than at the 39th Street Pub where there were four. Maybe it’s because I don’t have to pay attention to the game, I can just check in, whereas at the sports bar I had to deliberately ignore it and the big empty spaces made me feel isolated.

On the spur of the moment, I decided to sit at the bar (which is why you have the shot of the wallohol) and I like it.

Plus, this bar is more lively. There’s a Monday Night Trivia event and it seems like there is a spirited competition there. As a bonus, if you don’t care about playing trivia there is a back room with pool tables where the patrons are all but isolated from the rest of the bar. I like the setup because I could walk in and enjoy myself no matter what my state of mind is. Which is pretty much what I did tonight, now that I think about it.


So, after last week’s post on the Iron Horse Brewery, I got to thinking about the troubles Iron Horse may be having. In the comments someone from the brewery says that it’s a size issue and that they’re scrambling to supply the markets they already have. This seems like a good problem in some ways but I remember talking to someone from Ninkasi Brewing last year and having him tell me the same thing; they had a five year business plan that was being met in two years and they were desperately trying to keep up.

Again, this seems like a positive until one takes into account the potential difficulties with scaling up an operation quickly. In addition to having to suddenly build more of the basics: fermenters, chillers, etc, problems like storage and transport start to loom, but I have a guess what the biggest issue would be.

Quality control. The bigger you are, the harder it becomes to ensure that your product is what you expect it to be. Hell, just look at Microsoft: Windows has been plagued with issues for years and will likely never be an entirely smooth operating system. Yes, yes, there are lots and lots of reasons for this but certainly size and demand play into the difficulties of making a rock-solid operating system. So I think a basic question still remains; how do you meet the demand and satisfy the quality (which is the reason for your demand) in a timely fashion?

In the middle of all this I begin to wonder; does Iron Horse have any obligation to ensure their product gets to me?

No, they don’t. Their obligation, as I see it, is to produce the best damn beer they can. If that means that their beer stays local then good. Do I miss out on a tasty beer? Yes and that’s unfortunate. But there’s a silver lining too, in my opinion.

Now I have a reason to travel.

We’re pretty fortunate, as Americans, to have access to almost any kind of food we want, whenever we want. The more research I read about that, however, the more I think that maybe we shouldn’t have that luxury at quite the level we have it at. It’s bad for the environment, bad for your health, and frequently just doesn’t taste as good. Yes, bananas are good for your prostate but do you need them twelve months of the year? Perhaps it’s better to have local things as often as possible, expanding one’s diet based on what’s around wherever you go. Certainly an easy way to appreciate the local culture when you travel, too.

Granted, Ellensburg is a little over 200 miles from Portland so that’s not far. In the US that distance could certainly be called local-but how far does local go? Idaho? Sure. California? I don’t know; San Francisco or San Diego? Montana? ┬áVancouver, BC? I’ve pined for beers from Vancouver and Victoria ever since visiting last year; yes it’s international but could you call it local? Both those cities are closer than San Francisco.

It’s certainly more local than the beers I can get from Japan, England, Belgium or Germany. But what’s the cutoff distance? Is it Kansas? Mexico City? The Atlantic?

I don’t know and I certainly don’t wish ill towards Iron Horse’s attempts to satisfy the markets they are in. I like their beers and would love for nothing more than to find them at my local store. At the same time, if I had to go to Seattle (which I visit regularly) or Tacoma to find their beers, doesn’t that just increase the value of my trip?

My personal feeling is that it does. Yes, I have access to beers by Meantime and Brew Dog but the selections are limited. I’d have to go to England to investigate the depth of their selections.

Which I’m totally up for. Sure, it would be nice if all their beers were in Portland but if they were then what’s left to make England special?

And yes, I realize that’s a loaded question but I’m trying to ask it in a broader sense; if everything comes to you then why go anywhere?

If your reaction to that question starts with “Because…” then good. This is my point. We go to places to experience them and all they have to offer. On the other hand, if that means that I have to go without some things that I like then there can be positives to that as well. It gives me a chance to look around and see what is right in front of me and unearth the wonders of what’s right here. I doubt I would have found the Natian Brewery at all if I wasn’t in Portland so there are clearly new worlds to explore without having to go far from home.

I can wait for Iron Horse to make its way down to Portland. I believe their success is coming because they make a damn good beer and people like me are exhorting the praises of their efforts. If that means that I have to be patient so that they can grow their business in a smart, positive way that allows them to stay in business because they’ve been focused on making a damn good beer, then I will be patient. They can stay local and make my trips north more prized through their presence there.