Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Return to The Tundra

I finally understand what all my non-Upper Midwest residing friends and family have been trying to convey for 30+ years. After moving to Portland a mere six months ago, my return to the tundra convinced me that the people who live there are crazy. Certifiably crazy.

When we left in June Minnesota was nearly as green and lush as Portland. When I returned there was snow on the ground and temps were in the 20’s. For the first time I was seeing the stark contrast that visitors had been seeing instead of the gradual change in landscape and climate I was familiar with. That was only the start as Mother Nature let loose, dropping 1 ½ feet of snow on the metro and holding Sunday and Monday’s high temps in the negative single digits. Reminding myself not to let the weather get in the way, I mostly kept to my preset plans to visit my favorite watering holes.

Before things got nasty I budged my way in on the Friday night Surly tour. Starting with a warm welcome by Omar, followed by my fill of Coffee Bender, and an evening with fellow volunteers, it made for a great night. The cherry on top was through the generosity of Keith and Omar, I’d be able to take some of that Surly goodness back to Portland.

Saturday Kat and Scott got into the spirit of things with me and agreed to get the Suburu out to make our way to pint club at Town Hall. Yes, there were multiple warnings that if one didn’t have to go anywhere it would be better to stay put. We cast those warnings aside, planned a non-highway, most-likely-to-be-plowed route, and hit the road. The longer than usual drive was amusing to say the least and the reward of being back at Town Hall was worth the hassle the snow provided. Sitting at “our” table, drinking tasty pints brought by one of my favorite servers, and watching the entertainment provided by drivers, skiers, and cyclists, made me pine for this now lost part of my weekly routine.

Sunday the snow had stopped, the cold had descended, and sun shown brightly on the snow. We bundled up and made an easier drive to Great Waters for pint club. Although many friends were digging out once again after the winds had erased their efforts, I was thrilled with the ones that were able to come out and share some beer with me.

You might now be wondering where more details about the beer I drank are at. They aren’t here. The beer was great and I thoroughly enjoyed every pint, but it’s my “beer friends”, my wonderful friends that I miss most. Thank you to everyone! You made braving the snow and cold more than worth it.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


Ever since coming out to Portland and talking to beer geek brethren, we’ve heard that the Holiday Ale Festival was the best fest out here. Sounding somewhat similar to the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild Winterfest in that the majority of beers would be more wintery in flavor and stronger in ABV, we were looking forward to partaking.

I’ll spare you my event planner and been-to-plenty-of-beer-fests critique of HAF. If you truly want to hear how it stacks up to Winterfest, just let me know. I’d be happy to rattle on for quite a while with all the nitty gritty. Instead, I’ll fast forward to what I know you want to hear.

Undoubtedly, everyone always wants to know what your favorite beer of a festival was. Sometimes it’s harder than others to pin it down to just one. Not this year. I can firmly say my favorite beer was Breakside Brewing’s Belge d’Hiver.

Their description of this Belgian Strong Ale:
Brewed using Belgian Pils malt, wit yeast, and an absurd amount of Continental hops, this light colored brew defies easy style categories and stakes out new territory in the brewing world. It’s finished with a touch of secret holiday spices for additional complexity.

Those of you that have spent any time drinking with me should know that with “Belgian Pils malt” and “wit yeast” should send me running the other way. Generally it probably would have but thanks to Fate making things happen for a reason, we got to chatting with some folks in an isolated area of the festival where I’d already tried the rest of the beers I wanted to. This choice was more one of default than anything else.

Granted, when I first put the glass (I use this term liberally as they only offer plastic tasting mugs) to my nose all I could think was that the beer smelled like piss. And not in that good hay and manure or B.O. way. Good thing I soldiered on because upon tasting it I was hooked! In the end I probably had about a full pint of it and had they had it when we returned the next day (it's a five day fest), I would have had more.

A strong runner up, and probably the beer that topped the fest for Mag, was Buckbean Brewing’s Very Noddy Lager. And finally, the beer that I’d want to sip in front of a fire on a quiet winter’s night would be Oskar Blues’ 2008 Ten Fiddy.