Thursday, May 14, 2015

Day Trippin': A Slightly Longer Excursion to Eugene

Continuing on our day trip/explore more of Oregon plans we decided to head south to Eugene at the end of April. While Eugene isn't so far that it couldn't be a day trip (for most people) we know us and we know that by the end of a day of exploring beer places the last thing we'd feel like doing would be getting in the car to drive back to Portland. Instead we made the decision that we'd get a room in town and take the trip at our own pace.

Our first stop, which I hooked Mag with by relaying the message on their menu that they served brunch until 3:00 pm on the weekends, was Plank Town Brewing (technically in Springfield). We arrived around 1:30 pm, easily finding them based on one of the exterior pictures from their website, and the place was hopping. We could have found a seat at a table by we went with our standard game plan and bellied up to seats at the bar. Addressing the most important question first we perused the beer list, about 15 offerings, starting off with their ESB and A Streetcar Named Stout, great beers to start the day with.

As I mentioned, the place was pretty busy and with nothing to buffer the sound, the noise level was pretty high. Generally that would be a mark against them but since it is a family-friendly establishment the din covered up any child noises. What turned out to be a big mark against them was the fact that it took 45 minutes for our order (a hot sandwich and an omelet) and the food was so-so at best. Yes, the place was pretty full but on a Saturday afternoon the kitchen should be better staffed to handle it. Moral of the story - go for the beer and find somewhere else to eat.

Shoving off we steered toward Claim 52 Brewing located in a light industrial area. The space is nice, with two roll up garage doors, but the day (cool and rainy) was less than conducive to having the doors wide open. Nonetheless we tried their beers (none of which happened to be their most highly rated ones). In general they all had a Belgian twist, which many of you know isn't exactly my favorite. After a beer a piece we shoved off, checked into the hotel we booked, left the car there and headed out on foot to Elk Horn Brewery.

Prior to Googling "Eugene breweries" I'd never heard of Elk Horn Brewery and as we walked down what appeared to be Sorority Row, I wasn't expecting much. Oh, how wrong I was! Since a picture is worth 1,000 words, check out a shot of their interior.

In addition to a creative, split level house feel they had an extensive tap list including plenty of their own beers. Both the IPA 3 and the Samoa Stout I had were great and all of the food I saw come out looked like something I'd definitely want to eat, a notion I seriously entertained as a way to erase the memory of the food we'd had at Plank Town. But I resisted and with thoughts about potentially returning later in the night we moved on to our fourth stop, Falling Sky Brewing House.

I'd been to Falling Sky before, which is located in an alley, really, its address is 1334 Oak Alley, but was looking forward to returning. Their beer offerings included 15 pushed selections as well as cask. Coming off the Samoa Stout at Elk Horn I ordered up the Hard Rain American Stout on cask and found it to be outstanding. At this point we were getting the time of the day where we could use a little beer break so we circled back to a place we'd seen on our way to Falling Sky, Level Up Arcade.

Like Ground Kontrol in Portland, Level Up has plenty of old school arcade games (Pac Man, Centipede, etc) and pinball machines. The bonus was that here the games were just $.25/play (at least the ones I played). After blowing a load of quarters each we headed out to Bier Stein.

I had been to Bier Stein in its previous location and been impressed by both their bottle selection and tap list. Coming up to the new location it was clearly much larger and being a Saturday night, looked pretty busy. Sure enough, when we got around to the door there was a substantial line for beer (bar ordering only) and that was not something we were down for. Turning around we decided some grub would be good and found a Killer Burger near our hotel for a quiet end to our night.

The next morning it wasn't beer we were thinking of but breakfast before making our way back to Portland. That proved to be a taller order than we were expecting and after a few failed attempts (one place too busy, other places closed) we found a sports bar that was just opening their doors. Sixth Street Grill is just across the street from the Hilton where we first tried to get a room.

Our server, who was also playing host until reinforcements showed up, was cheery in that genuine way that was endearing, not the annoying, just shut up and get me coffee kind of way. Coffees came quickly and although the server situation might have been a bit short handed, clearly the kitchen was firing on all cylinders. Our food arrived promptly and I dove into my Firehouse Scramble - eggs with bacon, pepper jack and loaded with pickled jalapenos - while Mag made equally short work of his omelet, a far superior product than the one he'd had the day before. Bellies satisfied we hit the road home, chalking up another successful weekend outing.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Return of Short Snout Brewing

Return might not be exactly the right word since Short Snout Brewing out of Milkwaukie never actually went away and rebirth is a bit too dramatic so maybe it's more appropriate to say reemergence. Long time homebrewer Brian VanOrnum started Short Snout Brewing in 2012 after a successful Kickstarter campaign (which received coverage by Thrillist and the Oregonian) that raised over $16,000, exceeding the $15,000 goal he set. With the campaign funds Brian was able to upgrade his homebrewing system to a 1.5bbl system and install a fermentation room and cold room/keg storage area in the former garage. On April 28, 2012 Brian had his first batch and signature offering, Short Snout Stout, kegged and ready to go. That year also saw participation in Rye Beer Fest with Rye-teous Dude rye stout and fall brewing of Dank Nugs - Fresh/Wet Hop beer with estate-grown hops. Then things slowly trailed off...

Fast forward to February of this year and the lights started to come back on. Brian began posting Facebook updates of brewing again, an Instagram account was established and he received coverage by The New School. This past week Brian contacted me that were samples available and kegs of Short Snout Stout and Wiggle Butt Wit ready to go. Why would he contact me you may be asking? As it turns out I, along with #pdxbeergeeks founder Michael Umpress, are working to get Brian's beer on taps around town. Starting out we'll focus primarily on east side and north establishments, places we and other beer geeks tend to frequent.

Due diligence is my nature and while I'd tasted plenty of Short Snout's beers in the past it had been a while. Over the last couple of days I've tried both the wit and the stout they are both great. Wiggle Butt Wit is exceptionally balanced and mild on the coriander notes, something I appreciate. Fans of more assertively flavored wits might not be satisfied but it will likely be a crowd pleaser as the weather warms and we're looking for an easy drinking summer beer.

Short Snout Stout may seem like a bit of an odd choice to be rolling out this time of year until you try it. The brewery's signature offering gives off a roasty aroma with a jet black, opaque color. There's enough sweetness to provide a quick thought of chocolate milk up front before the roastiness and Columbus hops kick in. The combination and sequence of flavors made me ready to dive back in, sip after sip until I found my pint drained.

A keg of stout has been delivered to Bridgetown Beerhouse just off of N Mississippi and another will be showing up at The BeerMongers on SE Division shortly. The wit is currently on tap at Captured Beer Bus in SE, in the food cart pod behind the former location of Coalition Brewing's taproom, and Michael and I have been in contact with other locations so keep your eyes and ears open to find out where else you can get your hands around a pint.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Whole Foods Pearl: More of a Beer Resource Than You May Think

Recently I had a chance to sit down with Jason Jamie, the Beer Specialist at Whole Foods in the Pearl District. Jason hails from Texas, the cool part of Texas...Austin...and has been with Whole Foods for 11 years. Not long after relocating to Portland "the best job in the store" opened up and he jumped at the chance to fill it. A craft beer fan, sometimes home brewer and occasional blogger he's in the envious position of having a job he loves.

I asked Jason what his biggest challenges were and as Portlanders might guess, high on his list is keeping up with all of the beer releases. That's no small task in this neck of the woods and he's committed to making sure they have a great, current selection of new and seasonal beers. In fact this month all of the Whole Foods stores in this region have been focusing on IPAs and hoppy ciders. The ones Jason selected are a combination of solid beers from Oregon and Washington including Laurelwood Workhorse IPA, Walking Man Homo Erectus DIPA and Breakside Lunch Break ISA. Speaking of Workhorse, it's a beer Jason maintains they will "forever" carry 6-packs of for $7.99. That right there may be incentive for a trip, and the headache of parking nearby, another challenge he identified of this urban location. Conversely the location is a boon in terms of the tourist crowd, especially those staying downtown. As a good beer buyer should, Jason works to make sure he has a great selection of Portland beer at eye level to appeal to them.

Beyond keeping the shelves filled with great beer Jason's excited for Portland Beer Week in June where Whole Foods is a major sponsor. During that week they'll be throwing a beer festival, shutting down a block of NW Couch, which will also serve as a fundraiser for Harper's Playground. In addition to events, including a continuation of the beer pairing dinners held upstairs in a bright, airy space adjacent to their cafĂ©, Jason anticipates the impending warmer weather will bring an increase in canned beer sales. As people spend more time hiking/boating/camping where cans trump bottles in terms of weight, lack of restrictions by venues and ease of disposal. With ever more breweries offering their beers in cans his choices are plentiful and while it might make his job a bit harder selecting which ones to bring in, it's a boon to consumers to be able to take quality craft beer with them in a more portable friendly format.

So the next time you're making a beer run, keep Whole Foods Pearl in mind. You can keep up on the selection over on Instagram and events on Facebook and Twitter. And the next time you're at a beer event, you might even run into Jason like I did during CBC week.

Update: They will validate parking in their ramp. Thanks for the tip, Chad!