Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Hops in My 'Hood: An Update

Determining whether or not summer has actually arrived in Portland seems to be a day to day decision. Last Wednesday was stunning, followed by some not so stunning days and although we've yet to turn the corner today, the weather folks seem to think the sun is on its way back and tomorrow will be another stunner. Regardless of what it feels like, there's no doubt that many plants are in full-on growth mode. This includes the hops in my 'hood.

The hops I labeled "abandoned" in a January post have been stealthily growing along with the hedge, their colors similar with just the shape of their leaves to distinguish between the two. I'll be curious to see if they manage to completely overtake the pole and sign this summer.

The "neglected" hops have taken the lack of use in stride and once again are well on their way to providing a lush, green curtain in the front yard of the house they occupy. Their tendrils reach high and have gone past just making use of the frame, weaving themselves through the slats of the fence.

Both spots are along the regular routes the dog and I traverse so they're easy to keep tabs on. Maybe someday I'll run into the occupants of one of the properties. I'd be quite curious to know if they know what those bright vines in their yards are. I'm not sure I would have years ago, before I discovered the wonders of hop juice.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Beer & Cheese

These are two of my favorite things. Generally, however, I don't make a concerted effort to have one with the other. But they do go incredibly well together so when the opportunity arose to attend an event that was curated by Portland's own award-winning cheese monger, Steve Jones, hosted by The Commons Brewery, there was no way I could pass it up.

The first Beer and Cheese Festival was one of the last events of PDX Beer Week and what a way to wrap up a great 11 days of beer events. The advance sale only ticket price of $27 entitled attendees to 10 beer and cheese pairings, a glass snifter plus a huge variety of cured meats and pates from Chop Butchery & Charcuterie. On the surface "10" might not seem like a lot and I'll be honest that I thought I might end up buying extra individual tickets. However, once the fest began and I got a few pairings in it was obvious that 10 oz of cheese and approximately 30 oz of beer was going to be plenty.

My top three, in no particular order were:
Solera Berlinerweiss/Grisette Blend with Sartori Bellavitano (cow's milk cheese from WI)
Solera is one of Oregon's newer breweries and this was probably my favorite beer of the day. Sartori is a cheese maker I was already familiar with, in particular their Raspberry BellaVitano that is soaked in New Glarus Raspberry Tart ale. The bonus was that I had the chance to meet head brewer Jason, who worked under Minnesota's own Mike Hoops.

Gigantic Rauchweizen and the Bandit with Willamette Valley Cheese Co Brindisi (aged Fontina cow's milk cheese)
I have to admit this was a pairing I wasn't looking forward to as I'm not a Rauch beer fan. As suspected, the beer was smoky in both aroma and flavor. When paired with the noticeably salty cheese (and I mean this in the best way possible) my eyes were opened to a way to enjoy the style. I would love to see Gigantic start to carry this cheese as I'd happily purchase the pair next time I meander down to the taproom.

Block 15 Figgy Pudding with Colston-Basset Stilton (cow's milk cheese)
Figgy Pudding is a big (11%) brandy barrel-aged beer that is strong enough to stand up to the deliciously assertive blue cheese flavors of the stilton. Mag described the pairing as feeling like, "I'm doing something naughty," and I agree that this was the most decadent pairing of the day. It was also my final pairing and the perfect "dessert."

As with the Fruit Beer Festival last year, I hope this first year festival returns in the future. It was a great time and something that while simple in concept, was executed very well and from all the comments I heard, an absolute hit. Thank you to Steve for allowing us to benefit from his mastery of cheese, The Commons for hosting, Chop for sharing their delicious work, Ezra for putting together another great event and all of the other folks that made it possible.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Thirsty Lion Pub & Grill

Living in the beer rich environment of SE Portland means I don't need to go far to find a good place to grab a beer or two. Because I don't need to I often don't unless I'm prompted by someone or some beer. So when I received a prompt* to hit the recently updated Thirsty Lion I took advantage of the opportunity to discover a place I might not have otherwise.

In case you haven't found a reason to stop in yet, the Thirsty Lion is just around a couple of corners from Voodoo Doughnuts downtown, south of Burnside. From the outside it appears to be yet another of the many pubs in the area but upon stepping inside it's not just another bar. The dark, yet elegantly dark, interior makes the idea of settling in, even on a beautiful summer day, seem like the best idea in the world. For the sports fans there are five huge TVs above the bar. For the non-sports fans, the volume isn't so loud that you can't tune it out and focus on your companions.

Part of their update includes adding more tap lines, bringing them to 32. Besides ordering a pint, the indecisive or new to Portland beers, can order a flight of three, 4.5 oz samples for a reasonable $5. The tap list ranges from a few macros (PBR and Coors Light) to familiar Oregon breweries (10 Barrel, Double Mountain and more) and spans a variety of styles, providing something for just about every taste.

On the food front they offer a fairly common range of items including a bar staple, Scotch eggs. These aren't your run of the mill Scotch eggs. These are quite possibly the most delicious iteration I've ever had and I had to resist ordering a few more plates after I'd made short work of the first one.

Instead I decided to give one of their slider trios a try and selected the pulled pork variety. Sliders can be good, sliders can be overpriced cop outs, but rarely are sliders delicious like these were. The sauce was heavily peppered and paired well with the creamy coleslaw atop the meat. Both were sandwiched between perfectly squishy buns that molded themselves around the ingredients, saving them from being casualties scattered about the plate.

There were only a couple dark clouds that keep the experience from being better. 1) They were out of four tap beers including two IPAs, my favorite style. 2) The service, although exceptionally polite and friendly, was slower than I would have expected for a Sunday afternoon. Those two things are easily fixable and hopefully I just caught them on an off day.

So the next time you're looking for a convenient, central location to meet up with friends for some beers and food, maybe to watch some soccer, keep the Thirsty Lion in mind. Just don't forget to order the Scotch eggs.

*Full disclosure: My food and drink was provided on a complimentary basis.

The Thirsty Lion will be offering up specials for Oregon Craft Beer Month (July) including a Slider & Flight Combo (3 sliders + 3 beer samples) and other beer/food pairings.

Monday, June 11, 2012

#PFBF: Year Two

After attending the first year of the Portland Fruit Beer Festival last year I was very excited for year two. So excited that I took advantage of the opportunity to get in an hour before general admission and purchased VIP tickets. And like usual I came prepared with a cheat sheet that had me starting off with tarts/sours and working up to the stouts and black saison.

Delicious Tart Beers
Bend Brewing Ching Ching - Even though I'm quite sure I've had this beer before, it was first on my list. I wanted to start the fest off on the right foot and this award winning beer was just the way to do it.

10 Barrel Raspberry Sour - This was not only one of the prettier beers of the festival but was tasty and drinkable, like liquid sour raspberry candy without the sweetness.

Delicious Non-Tart Beers
Burnside Red Light District - An imperial stout made with chocolate and strawberries, I went into it unsure that the product would be successful but Burnside came through. The chocolate-strawberry aroma was followed by a smooth, medium bodied beer.

Gigantic Hot Town, Summer in the City - New kid on the block, Gigantic, had already won me over with the base beer, an Imperial Black Saison, and continued the winning streak combining just the right amount of heat from the fruit of the pepper plant in this beer.

Delicious Rare Beers
Even though I only had a few of the rare beers, the ones I tried were very good and worth the extra ticket.
Short Snout Blueberry Hibiscus Wheat - Their second commercially available beer (the first, Rye-teous Dude debuted at Friday's Rye Beer Fest), wouldn't win any beauty contests but it is most definitely delicious. The light blueberry aroma was followed by a delicately balanced combination of blueberry and hibiscus. It would not only be a great warm weather drinker but would be a great way to introduce someone to fruit beers.

Widmer 2009 Port Barrel-Aged Cherry Doppelbock - At the other end of the fruit spectrum, a heavier beer that appropriately blended true cherry flavor with the wood from the barrels it was aged in.

Did you go to the fest? If so, what were stand out beers for you? If not, I beg of you to mark your calendar for the second weekend of June 2013 as "busy" right now. Congrats to Ezra and all involved in the planning and execution of the festival - another great job!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Single Hop Fest - Year Two

The second year of Amnesia's Single Hop Fest was very similar to the first - a light crowd at the start, a packed house by the time we'd made it through the offerings and headed out, great laminated descriptions of each beer atop the jockey boxes and the same beer took top honors in my book. The differences were minor and were improvements on what was already a good first fest. There were printed programs with details about each beer and instead of the 4-oz or so sample from last year for one ticket, this year saw only a slight increase in ticket price but each ticket got you (at least) a half pint.

In case you didn't read the post from last year or you've forgotten (how dare you!), my favorite beer last year and again this year was Double Mountain's Cluster F*#k. I recall looking for it after last year's fest and having a hard time tracking any more down but I don't think it will be that difficult this year. I noticed Apex had it on tap within the last week and I'm hopeful that it'll be turning up at more bars. I would love to see this, or any Double Mountain beers for that matter, in bottles but I guess I'll just have to be patient on that front, settling for now to enjoy their great beers when I find them on tap.

Beyond Cluster F*#k, a couple other beers I really enjoyed were Terminal Gravity's Double IPA, with Simcoe hops, and Amnesia's Ripplin Tripel. Terminal Gravity was the only brewery to submit two beers of the same style but made with different hops. I fully expected to like both of them and was surprised to find I didn't enjoy their Double IPA made with Columbus hops. Hopefully I'll be able to retrieve that little nugget of hop preference from the depths of my mind for use in the future. Besides being tasty, I was completely surprised to find I enjoyed the Ripplin Tripel. The aroma was very Belgiany however I was pleased to detect zero Belgian characteristics in the flavor. Chalk up another beer I'm glad I didn't miss the opportunity to sample.

Besides an interesting line up of beers and an opportunity for me to continue my beer education it was a great afternoon of drinking with friends. If you went I'd love to hear what your favorite beers were.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Vanilla Done Right

Short Snout Brewing, owned by head brewer Brian VanOrnum, is getting ready to make their commercial debut next Friday at Spirit of 77's Rye Fest with Rye-teous Dude. I had a chance to try the rye stout brewed with rye malt, flaked rye and chocolate rye and found it to be a solid beer. I'd encourage you to hit the fest if you can to give it, and a variety of rye beers, a try for yourself. However, it was another of their beers I tasted that blindsided me with its amazingness.

Vanilla is an ingredient I've found generally to be used rather poorly in the making of beer. Usually it has been in a stout or porter and maybe it's the type of vanilla used or the amount used to stand up to the beer style, but either way it seems to come across fake or cloying. Brian's version, Vanilla Jasmine Blonde, stands head and shoulders above any other I've had.

From my first sip a new world opened to me, a world in which vanilla could be used in a beer to produce a delicious product. The vanilla coated my tongue (in the right way) but the beer finished dry and clean. The jasmine is very subtle and the aroma is that of freshly baked vanilla wafers. Brian was hoping for the jasmine to be more pronounced is considering recipe tweaking to achieve that. Selfishly, I hope he doesn't change this beer a bit.

He's also working on an IPA and a red but right now I can't tell you where to find them. What I can tell you is that his one-off Blueberry Hibiscus Wheat will be on tap at the Portland Fruit Beer Festival next weekend in the rare/rotating tap tent. I attended the fest last year and am looking forward to being there again this year. If you go, make sure you keep your eyes and ears open as the rare beers rotate and catch this one if you can.