Tuesday, April 30, 2013

To Silverton! For Beer & More

Last week was my first trip to the Oregon Garden Brewfest and to Silverton. The main focus of the overnight trip was to attend the Oregon Garden Brewfest, held on the Oregon Garden grounds. We left Portland early and had time to spare before attending the Brewer's Tasting Dinner (which was delicious!) so we stopped in at Seven Brides Brewing. They are conveniently located on the main road, Highway 214, coming from Portland and had about 12 beers on tap, many more than make it into Portland.

First off you should know that the vibrant green beer on the left is their pilsner that food coloring was added to in honor of St. Patrick's Day. Not being a pilsner fan in general it didn't do much for me and I have to admit the brightness of the green was a bit distracting. What was easily my favorite was their Abbey's Belgian Sour, which was not sour to the extent of something Cascade might pour but a great gateway sour more along the lines of Duchesse. Also pleasing was the Weezin-ator, a Doppelbock, Becky's Black Cat, a very roasty porter, and Erin's Irish Red Ale that was offered a roasty aroma and went gentle on maltiness that I find overpowering in many red ales. After splitting a sampler tray and having a pint it was time to depart but not without a mental note to make plans to visit again.

Arriving at the Oregon Garden Resort we checked into our room, a roomy set up with a semi-private patio and a gas fireplace that was the main heat source. The Brewer's Tasting Dinner that evening was well worth coming down early for (In case you missed the last post you can read all about it here.) but after how busy the week had been we called it an early night, forgoing an over indulgence that would have been so easy with a room within stumbling distance available.

Friday morning dawned sunny and beautiful, warm enough to eat breakfast outside overlooking the upper part of the gardens. With the festival not beginning until noon we had plenty of time to explore the gardens, which we did so completely. It's a beautiful set up overall and for those who don't have time to do a full tour the map easily identify the separate gardens so one can pick and choose.

The walking was good but somewhat thirst inducing so by the time noon rolled around we were ready for the festival to begin. Split between a permanent structure and a tent there was plenty of room to move around and for the first two hours of the festival there were plenty of brewers on hand. Like usual they were happy to talk about their beer and answer any questions. This was one of the highlights of the festival since it's a festival feature that is far more uncommon in Oregon than in the Midwest where you'd be hard pressed to visit any booth at a festival and NOT find a brewer or someone intimately involved with the production of the brewery's beer.

I enjoyed plenty of good beer but the brewery that stands out most in my mind is Standing Stone out of Ashland. Each brewery offered two beers and both of theirs were hits with my taste buds. Their I Love Oregon Ale was deliciously stanky with plenty of grapefruit flavor while their Noble Stout was one of the best coffee stouts I've had, reminding me strongly of Furthermore's Oscura, a Midwest beer I dearly miss.

We could only spend part of the afternoon at the festival as duties back home were calling so after grabbing lunch it was time to hit the road back to Portland. Traffic ended up being much heavier than I expected but other than it taking longer to get back than I would have liked the entire trip was a good one. And beer fest or not, I hope to visit Silverton again before long. You should check it out, too.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Brewer's Tasting Dinner at the Oregon Garden

Last night's Brewer's Tasting Dinner, on the eve of the Oregon Garden Brewfest, brought brewers and beer lovers to the table for a six course meal. One cider and five beers, each introduced by their brewer, were paired a mix of traditional plates and those with surprising components.

First Course - Flat Tail Blended Beer with Fontina, Boursin and dill Havarti with dried fruit and crostini

The dinner started off with a very successful pairing of a blended beer from Flat Tail that was part pre-Prohibition pilsner and part sour beer.

Second Course - Fort George Roses on Roses Belgian IPA with blackened shrimp martini with fresh pico salsa and crab meat

After a big first course I was pleased this was a smaller portion of food. Belgian IPAs are not a style I enjoy and the boozy, barrel aged flavors were appreciated more by others at the table than me.

Third Course - 2 Towns Traditions Ciderworks 2012 Vintage Amity Rose - Willamette Valley Traditional Dry Cider with pork and baby apple bruschetta

The cider was more like a wine, dry and not sweet at all to my palate, but it was delicious with the apples and pork.

Fourth Course - Alameda White Peppercorn Saison with spinach salad with smoked pears, walnuts and lemon vinaigrette

The Saison was "dry hopped" with peppercorns and was delicious with the walnuts alone. The most impressive part of the dish was the smoky aroma and flavor from the pears. Had I not known it was a smoked pear salad I would have thought that there was delicious smoked meat on it.

Fifth Course - Falling Sky Who Loves the Sun Winter Spice Ale with Cornish game hen with grilled strawberries and root vegetables

I didn't anticipate liking a winter spice ale but it surprised me with a sweet, hoppy aroma and a completely different, amazing tropical fruit flavor. Another surprise was in store for me with a bite of grilled strawberry and a piece of bacon. I could have eaten a whole plate of just these two components.

Sixth Course - Santiam Sangre de Cristo Oak Barrel Aged Cabernet Stout with flourless chocolate cake with black cherry compote

The barrel aging of the beer was very prevalent and very pleasant and paired with the dense cake...nothing short of f*$%ing amazing. Really.

The evening - the food, the beer, my dining companions - were a great start to my first visit to the Oregon Garden and the Brewfest. Although the dinner is now just a delicious memory and I can't do anything other than suggest you get a seat next year, the fest awaits, running both Friday and Saturday. It's going to be a gorgeous day so hop in the car and make the short drive to Silverton for the Oregon Garden Brewfest.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Pairing Samoas

Samoas are one of my favorite Girl Scout cookies so I suppose it's only fitting that they should be the last of the five beer and cookie pairings for me to test out. If you've been following this mini-series you're familiar with the article that I got the idea from. They suggest pairing Samoas with Maui Brewing CoCoNut Porter, a beer I've enjoyed in the past although I can't say I recall the last time I had one.

The beer, brewed and canned on Maui, pours opaque black without much coconut aroma but just the right amount of coconut flavor. It's a subtle coconut flavor, one that doesn't come across as fake and works well against the backdrop of a porter that is neither too sweet nor too thin.

The cookies are very sweet with a trifecta of coconut, caramel and chocolate. Interestingly, something I didn't find with any of the other pairings, was that the cookies brought out the alcohol presence in the beer. It's particularly interesting because the beer is only 6% ABV. Samoas might be a more difficult to pair cookie than I initially thought. I wouldn't go so far as to say this was an unsuccessful pairing just that another beer might work better. Perhaps if I can restrain myself from eating them all I can try them with another beer. Or perhaps I'll pick up a box of these and give it a go.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Pairing Savannah Smiles

I have to start off offering my apologies for having taken such a hiatus from the beer and Girl Scout cookies pairings. I hadn't intended that it would be quite so long but you know how it goes. Sometimes life just gets in the way of what you intended to do. As we resume there are two pairings remaining from the original five. We'll pick things up with Savannah Smiles, described as "crisp, zesty lemon wedge cookies dusted with powdered sugar."

The article suggested a pairing with The Bruery Saison de Lente. The bottle shop didn't have any the day I went to pick up beer so I made the executive decision to go with Boulevard Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale. It's part of their Smokestack series, a series of beers that I've found to be head and shoulders above their other beers. This beer in particular was one that I've had in the past and was very pleasantly surprised with.

The cookies are essentially a light, lemony shortbread and the beer, very effervescent with a mild aroma and crisp, tropical fruit flavor. After a few bites and a few sips I realized that the profiles of the beer and the cookies were very, very similar, almost like the cookies were a slightly sweeter, solid form of the beer. This pairing would make a nice afternoon "tea party" type of treat. There's nothing heavy in either the beer or the cookies and it would be all too easy to eat a whole box while drinking a full 750 ml bottle of the beer.

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Oregon Garden Brewfest is Coming

Two weeks from today I'll be attending the Oregon Garden Brewfest in Silverton for the first time. Having lived in Portland for a scant three years now there are plenty of places I haven't visited and events, even beer events, I haven't attended. I have heard from veterans to this beer festival that the grounds are absolutely gorgeous and with so much in bloom right now I'm looking forward to drinking in one of the prettiest settings of any festival I've been to.

For those of you that know me well you know that it's not my nature to just show up at a festival. I can't remember the last time when I showed up woefully unprepared so even though there are other things I should be doing I had to sit down with the program and a fine tooth comb.

What I found was that there will be more representation by some of the larger "craft" producers, some of which are owned at least in part by the big boys, than some of the other festivals I've been to. Those include Goose Island, Leinenkugal's and Blue Moon but that's ok. There will be far too many beers for me to try all of them so that makes knocking a few brews off the list of 125 beers, ciders and meads a little easier. What is harder is narrowing things down to a list to probably about 20 beers. A few that I don't want to miss are:
  • Old Town Brewing Boysenberry Black Ale - I have only had a few Old Town brews and I'm also a sucker for fruit beers.
  • Falling Sky Brewing Retrograde NW Red - Again, I haven't had a lot of Falling Sky and I'm curious to see just how hoppy this red ale is.
  • Crux Fermentation On the Fence Pale Ale and Outcast IPA - I haven't had much of their beer...seeing a pattern yet?
  • Standing Stone Noble Stout and I Love Oregon Ale - I don't think I've had anything from Standing Stone.
There will be some breweries and beers that I've had before and enjoyed and while I may have some of those, at this festival, like most I go to I'll be focusing on trying beers I haven't had before and breweries that are less familiar to me. Usually there's a mix of ones that are "meh", a stinker or two and some that wow me. The question is which will fall into which category?

If you're thinking about making the short drive to Silverton, here are the important details:
Oregon Garden Brewfest
April 26 - 28, doors open at noon each day
The Oregon Garden, 879 W Main St, Silverton
Cost: $15 & up (advance, multi-day and on-site tickets available)
The Oregon Garden Resort is offering a package including overnight accommodations, festival admission and more.

Images courtesy of the Oregon Garden Brewfest.
Disclaimer: I was invited by the festival to attend however I can assure you that I wouldn't be going if I wasn't sincerely interested.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

British Columbia Beer Tasting: Drinking & Musing

My British Columbia-loving friend, Regan, made another trip recently and lucky for us, hauled back six bombers to share. It was a short trip but he managed to collect three IPAs, two double IPAs and an oatmeal stout.

The tasting's line up went as follows:
Moon Under Water  - Tranquility IPA
Tofino Brewing - Hoppin' Cretin IPA
Parallel 49 - Lord of the Hops IPA
Townsite Brewing - Perfect Storm Oatmeal Stout
Tin Whistle - Scorpion Double IPA
Tree Brewing - Hop Head Double IPA

The beers ranged from 5.5% ABV (the stout) to 8.5%, with the two double IPAs falling on the lighter end of the ABV spectrum for DIPAs - not surprising for Canadian beers. There wasn't a stinker in the bunch and the IPAs and DIPAs were all distinctly different. Beyond discussing our personal favorites, there was also a side discussion about branding, focusing on two of the six beers in particular.

Before we get to the musings part I know there might be a few of you who are looking for a short read and are more interested in the beers themselves. My favorite, for both the grapefruit flavor displayed in the obviously unfiltered beer and a great label, was Parallel 49 Lord of the Hops. Tree Brewing Hop Head DIPA was a close second, one I found very drinkable even while the group consensus seemed to be that it was "too" malty. Now, if you'd like to read on, the musings part.

The first beer, Tranquility IPA, was a solid IPA with a moderate 70 IBUs and 6.5% ABV. What struck me though was the label. Something about the colors (especially the use of silver metallic), font and overall layout of the label said "sake" or "wine" to me more than it said "beer." There's nothing wrong with that and there is most certainly something to be said for brewery/label recognition. When consumers are facing a cooler full of options I agree wholeheartedly with the idea that there should be consistency among a brewery's labels although it may sacrifice some creativity. Taking a look at their website there unfortunately weren't pictures of the full labels, just enlarged portions of them, but they did maintain consistency with similar sketch-type images and the likely sticking to a two color label.

The other beer that sparked conversation was Tin Whistle Scorpion Double IPA. Here it wasn't the visual of the label but the seeming disconnect between the brewery name Tin Whistle, accompanied by an image of a train in the logo, and the beer name Scorpion. Again, not having familiarity with the brewery I consulted the internet in hopes of determining if there was a naming pattern, finding their Facebook page. Scrolling through some of their pictures it appears that they have used labels which used the Tin Whistle train logo featured prominently however Scorpion Double IPA and Rattlesnake ESB appear to be new releases. Maybe they're taking their artwork in a different direction or perhaps these are part of a new series of beers. Either way, they don't seem to have a naming theme that ties to anything train related.

As with many musings I'm not offering up any answers. I would however be interested to hear your thoughts on either brewery and their choice of artwork and naming themes, or lack there of.