Tuesday, June 30, 2015

New Beer Festival Finds Ways to Set Itself Apart

July is Oregon Craft Beer Month and right away there's a brand spanking new beer festival happening. The Portland Craft Beer Festival is taking place over the 4th of July weekend, Friday through Sunday, at The Fields Park.

In Portland our cup runneth over with beer goodness including a vast array of beer festivals so new entries into the crowded field need to find a way to differentiate themselves from the pack. The biggest thing that sets the #PCBF apart from the rest is that you'll find beers made exclusively IN Portland - nothing from Bend, nothing from Lake Oswego, nothing from Hillsboro. That doesn't however mean the beer won't be plentiful. Attendees can expect to find beers from 45 breweries as well as ciders from Reverend Nat's and Cider Riot, wines from Coopers Hall and those delicious difficult-to-categorize fizzy wines from Hi Wheel.

Another thing that sets #PCBF apart is that they are attempting to strike a balance between a 21+ festival and a family friendly festival. If you're like me and prefer the lil'uns to be somewhere besides the beer festival, go on Friday or Saturday. If you don't mind knee-high humans and strollers or if you have them and want to bring them along, attend on Sunday when the festival is family friendly. And by family friendly they don't just mean you don't need to prove you're 21 to enter, they'll also have a family yoga class, children's market and free vision testing for kids by The Oregon Lions Sight and Hearing Foundation. The Oregon Lions is one of three charities, along with the James Beard Public Market and the Oregon Brew Crew, that funds from the festival will benefit.

Portland Craft Beer Festival
Friday, July 3, 4 - 10 pm | Saturday, July 4, 12 - 10 pm | Sunday, July 5, 12 - 7 pm

The Fields Park, NW 11th Ave & Overton
Tickets: $20 both at the door & in advance but if you buy them by July 2 you get 15 tickets instead of 10 in addition to your tasting mug

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Barrel Aged Ciders: A Collaboration Between Reverend Nat's and Raven&Rose

Warning: This post is not about beer. It's about cider that's almost as good as beer.

Reverend Nat's, always on the cutting edge of the cider world, has teamed up with Raven&Rose to produce two barrel aged ciders. Raven&Rose provided the Eagle Rare Bourbon barrels where Revival and Sacrilege ciders sat for about four months. This Thursday those ciders will be available at the Rookery Bar above Raven&Rose.

Before we get to the ciders and happenings  on Thursday, I wanted to share some of what I learned during the "lecture" owner Nat West gave to the Oregon Bartender's Guild. "Lecture" isn't really fair since it was one of the most interesting presentations I've been to (not to mention there was cider being poured throughout). He covered the history of cider in the US and abroad, the process of making cider and the varieties of cider.

Some of the most interesting takeaways:
  • Prohibition was even more devastating to the cider industry than the beer industry. Thousands of apple varieties, suited only for cider making and not eating, were lost when there was no market for them. Unlike beer, when Prohibition was lifted producers couldn't just start making their product again; they had to wait for apples to be grown before they could resume their business.
  • The Pacific Northwest is the fastest growing region in the US for cider. This is due in large part to easy (and inexpensive) access to apples from Washington, the nation's top apple-producing state.
  • Glucose is the sugar in apples. Maltose is the sugar in grains. Glucose is much easier for yeast to eat. (Things got really science-nerdy here.)
  • Most cider makers in the US use white wine yeast. Nat's a bit different (in case you missed his experiments with Angel of Death and Kumiss Mongolian Milkwine) and he uses Belgian yeast.
  • All yeasts have different nutritional and temperature requirements. Nat is dialed in to what his yeast needs and has been known to show up at the cidery at all hours of the night to make sure they're able to do their job optimally.
  • Even with all that attention, yeast used to make cider cannot be repitched, they're just too tired (true across the cider industry).

Now, back to the upcoming release of these two barrel aged ciders. I had a chance to try each and I can assure you that the barrel did its work on the Revival, imparting a ton of bourbon aroma and flavor. Not being a bourbon connoisseur the subtleties may have been lost on me but those more well-versed in the spirit should enjoy the side-by-side boilermaker experience of the cider and the bourbon from that barrel. The effect of the barrel on the Sacrilege is completely different and the result is a very dry and tart product. Intended to be a primary component in the Old Fashioned, generally a very sweet drink, the goal was to enhance the sour, dry and funkiness of the cider. Both the boilermaker and the "Old Fashioned" will be available for $10.

For those not able to make it to Raven&Rose Thursday there are a limited number of bottles of each barrel aged cider. But I can't tell you more than that...just yet. Keep up with Reverend Nat's online or check back here. I promise to let you know more as soon as I can.

Eagle Rare Bourbon Barrel Aged Ciders Release Party
Raven&Rose's Rookery Bar
1331 SW Broadway
Thursday, June 25th 6-10 pm

Monday, June 22, 2015

Beer & Cheese Fest (and DIY Pairing Takeaway)

Yesterday was the final day of PDX Beer Week and wrapping up the week was one of my favorite events, Beer & Cheese Fest, which returned to The Commons Brewery this year after having temporarily moved to Burnside Brewing last year. It was the fourth year of the festival and the third time I've attended. This event ALWAYS sells out and for good reasons: 1) great beer primarily from local breweries 2) great cheese curated by the cheese monger, Steve Jones 3) there's actually a limited number of tickets sold. I'm a big fan of limiting the amount of tickets to any event and it's really the only way this kind of event could be successful as the cheese needs to be portioned and cut in advance.

Held in the space starting at the roll up door on 7th and utilizing an L-shaped area towards the brewing kettles, it allowed The Commons to operate the taproom as normal during the festival. Did it get a little packed during the height of the event? Yes, but not overly so and lining the pairings up from the entrance toward the back in the suggested order probably made it work as well as it did. With that set up there was less back and forth; the crowd simply, slowly tasted their way along the path, stopping off of course for samples from Woodblock Chocolate and Olympia Provisions.

Since the pairings list wasn't published online, here's a look at it for those that weren't in attendance:
pFriem Family Brewers Pils + L'Amuse Brabander Goat Gouda
The Commons Brewery French Country Ale + Raclette du Haut Livradois
Fat Head's Rye Bock + Willamette Valley Cheese Brindisi
Laurelwood Brewing Co. Chateau du Sylvia + Unjekaas Vintage Grand Ewe
Lompoc Doppelbock + Le Saut du Doubs Summer Comte
Firestone Walker Lil Opal + Ferns Edge Mt June
Ecliptic Blackberry Sour + Hooks Cheese Co. 8 Year Cheddar
Breakside Brewing India Golden Ale + Mahon Curado Reserva
Alameda Brewing Co. XXStout + Marquis del Castillo Zamerano
Hopworks Urban Brewery Big Poppa + Neal's Yard Colston Bassett Stilton

There were some pairings that I liked better than others but overall everything was great. My favorite was Breakside India Golden Ale and Mahon Curado Reserva, a cow's milk cheese, that makes for an aggressive pairing. It's a "punch in the face" flavor-wise and absolutely delightful. The best part, however, is that the beer should be readily available in 22oz format at most better bottle shops and for the cheese, stop in at Steve's Cheese Bar on SE Belmont. A call to the Belmont Zupan's also seemed to indicate that they had it in stock.

Runner up is a pairing that is not as replicate-able based on the availability of the beer, Hopworks Big Poppa. While they have more of it in kegs, none of it is currently tapped so this is a pairing you'll have to tuck away until it is. Big Poppa is a Belgian Strong Ale brewed with figs and aged in Bourbon barrels that isn't shy about letting on how much booze is in it. But it's precisely that booziness that cuts the decadent richness of the Stilton and makes this such a great pairing. Again, check with the Cheese Bar to pick up the cheese once the beer's available.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Culmination Brewing Grand Opening

The doors to the taproom at Culmination Brewing, located in inner NE Portland, have been open for a while but if you've visited you may have noticed that many of the 20-ish taps are guest taps. As the brewery nears its grand opening celebration this weekend they're increasing the number of house beers on tap and rolling food out of their kitchen. Focusing not just on making great beer, but seeking to provide a great experience that includes incredible food and live music from local bands, Culmination is striving to be the whole package.

At last week's media preview we sampled six of their beers along with a sessionable mead from building neighbor, Stung Fermented (tagline "Drink Mate Die"). We tasted through two Saisons, two IPAs, a Coffee Cream Ale and my favorite, Citrus Sour. Of the Saisons it was Saison 1 (left in picture) that I found to be more agreeable to my palate due to its less aggressive flavor than its counterpart, Saison 2. Taking me by surprise was the Belgian IPA. Light on the Belgian characteristics, I found myself preferring it over the IPA that didn't have quite enough hop forwardness to tickle my tongue. Coffee 'n' Cream Ale, a collaboration with Kells, was brewed with two styles of Ethiopian beans and served on nitro. The aggressive, delicious coffee aroma was followed up with a body more like iced tea with a splash of cream. Finally, the cream of the crop for me was Citrus Sour. As founder and brewmaster Tomas Sluiter described their method for souring I thoroughly enjoyed every drop of the Sweet Tarts-esque sourness of it. This is one not to miss.

Following the beer tasting came a plate from Executive Chef Carter Owen that could easily have been mistaken to have come out of Ecliptic's kitchen. If you've eaten there you know that's high praise. A nicely sized pulled pork slider topped with slaw was accompanied by house pickles and what appeared at first glance to be a fairly plain pile of greens. Oh how wrong that first impression was! Those greens were dressed with Carter's Intervale Herb Dressing that includes eight herbs and some other secrets he's keeping close to his chest. He hails from Vermont, perhaps not what you think of when you think BBQ country but if the juicy, flavorful pork slider was any indication of where to find good BBQ, I'll take Vermont over the south any day.

This weekend is a busy one as PDX Beer Week wraps up but not to worry, the celebration at Culmination spans both Friday and Saturday. Surely you can find a couple hours in your schedule to swing by and check them out.

Culmination Brewery Grand Opening Celebration
Friday, June 19th 4 - 10pm

Brewer's dinner available

Saturday, June 20th 11am - 10pm

Brunch until 2pm
Small plates for the middle of the afternoon
Dinner special starting at 4pm

2217 NE Oregon Street

Monday, June 15, 2015

Constructive Criticism for Portland Fruit Beer Festival

Last weekend marked the 5th Annual Portland Fruit Beer Festival, which I've mentioned is one of my favorite festivals. Again this year I enjoyed it (overall) but I noticed more and more issues that are quickly eroding my enjoyment. Generally I play by the old saying, "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all," so what follows is intended to fall into the realm of constructive criticism instead of bashing/complaining/bitching/being mean.

Tickets per sample
It seemed to me like there were a lot more beers that required two or more tickets for a sample this year. While I haven't specifically counted in the past what I found this year was that of the 27 Main Beer Taplist beers/ciders/others at least seven required two tickets and four required three tickets. That's over 1/3 of the beers, enough to give me the feeling like I'm getting nickeled and dimed. Don't get me wrong, I understand a lot of fruit beers have a higher production cost, all I'm saying is that it's bad enough we have to deal with the OLCC's ticketing crap (entry price covers all, please). If there are that many beers that are more expensive, why not raise the entry ticket price a couple of bucks? With the number of people that attend this event I suspect the numbers would balance.

Lack of shade
It was my bad that I forgot to put sunscreen on before I went to the festival but in my defense I know in past years that by getting there when the gates opened on Saturday I should be able to secure a (usually high top) table that was tucked under a tent. Not so this year. All of the high tops were out in the full sun, even at 11 am, and I counted myself lucky to snag a barrel that at least offered shade for the new ink on my leg, my most important consideration all day. Sure, Burnside has a nice set up with their year-round picnic tables under the tent but there needed to have been another tent of equal size erected for this event. It was a gorgeous, sunny weekend but we all know heat and sun are the enemies of outdoor beer drinkers.

Venue size
It's great that the organizers were able to use the car lot across 7th street (a 40% increase in size by their calculations) but it was still not enough. More specifically, it's the shape and overall layout of buildings and streets that no longer works for a festival as popular as this.

Sidewalk crossing snafu
If you attended surely you saw or were made aware by the alcohol monitors of the "No Beer On Crosswalk. Finish Beer First." signs. Apparently the sidewalk that sits between the car lot and 7th is a "public sidewalk" and the organizers were unable to secure a permit that would effectively close that sidewalk to people not attending the festival. This essentially negated the addition of the car lot space as people were unable to freely roam, beer in glass, between the two areas of the festival. Seriously, how many times has EVERYONE in your group had an empty glass at the same time, allowing them to migrate? I never even went to that area specifically because of this.

Only 22 minutes into the festival on Saturday
Line length
Again, I applaud the festival organizers for creating such a hugely popular festival. The problem (compounded by the aforementioned issues) is that very early in - I'm talking within two hours of gates open on Saturday - the lines to get beer were already an issue. An hour later I switched to full pours because I couldn't stomach the wait (in the hot sun no less) for just a sample.

That concludes one of the very few disparaging posts you'll see from me. And as I said at the beginning I hope that if the festival organizers read this they'll take it as constructive criticism, as it was intended, and make significant changes to the event before next year. I'd really like to continue attending.

Friday, June 12, 2015

pFriem Beers + Spirits = A Most Adult Father's Day Pairing

When you get asked if you'd like to sit in on a meeting in which the parties will be creating beer and spirits pairings you don't say no. That's just what I had the opportunity to do when Dave Shenaut of Raven&Rose and Matt Kotwasinski of pFriem Family Brewers gathered in the upstairs Rookery Bar to figure out pairings for Father's Day.

Matt showed up with a case of beer, Dave flung open the doors of the well-stocked bar and in no time the table was filled with glasses. At the end of it all six pairings had been created that will be offered during brunch Sunday, June 21st 10 am - 2pm. Each pairing will be $10: 12 oz of the beer plus a 1 oz sidecar of the spirit.

Pilsner and John L Sullivan "10 Count" Irish Whiskey - The idea behind this simple pairing is that of "a powers and a pils."

Wit and Asbach Uralt 3yr German Brandy - The clean and crisp brandy is well matched with the zesty character the coriander and orange peel impart in the Wit.

Belgian Strong Blonde and 1792 R&R Single Barrel Bourbon - The easy drinking beer compliments the complex Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.

Belgium Strong Dark and Hibiki 12yr Suntory Japanese Whisky - The combination of the ripe fig and chocolate notes from the beer and the whisky aged in plums is down right delicious.

Flanders Red and Zucca Rabarbaro - This is a perfect dessert pairing with the wood and smoke from the amaro liquor blend tastily with the fruit notes from the beer.

Blonde IPA and Ancho Reyes Chile Liqueur - Perhaps the weirdest and most fun pairing combines pFriem's bold take on the style with the smoky sweetness of the liqueur.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Coming Up: 5th Annual Portland Fruit Beer Festival

Attending this year's media preview for the Fruit Beer Festival, one of my favorite Portland beer festivals, it was interesting to hear how many of the nine beers we sampled used Eugene's own Nancy's Yogurt. Yogurt is one of the ways brewers are able to affordably kettle sour beers, something you can read more extensively about it over at the New School. For the purpose of this post suffice it to say that as a sour beer lover I'm all for the use of yogurt and enjoyed the beers represented at the tasting that used it.

One of those delicious brews was Ecliptic Ultra Violet Blackberry Sour Ale, a beer I feel obliged to warn you about. John Harris brewed it to showcase Oregon blackberries and it's a beauty with a secret. She'll whisper 3.5% sweet nothings when in fact she's concealing a full 7.5% ABV. Enjoy, but make sure to enjoy with caution and don't say I didn't warn you.

Fruit beers in general often have a sessionable ABV and use a lighter base beer but those looking to visit the dark side can count on this festival to come through with something. Darker fruits like blueberries and Marion blackberries were used by Upright and Alameda, respectively, in the brewing of a stout and CDA.

In addition to those dark beers there will be offerings for those interested in exploring equal opportunity drinking. If that describes you, you can look forward to cider offerings from 2 Towns, Reverend Nat's, Cider Riot and a head scratcher hybrid, Kiwi Lime fizzy wine from Hi-Wheel. What I've had from Hi-Wheel to date has been delicious and if you haven't yet tried them, you'll want to do so.

The festival runs two and a half days starting with a Friday night session. Last year it was a VIP-ticketed event but this year it will be general admission and in addition to more space across 7th Street, will hopefully help to alleviate the crowds that are sure to show up for this rapidly growing festival. My recommendation, as always, is still to get there early.

As an added bonus the non-profit beneficiary of the festival this year is the Portland Fruit Tree Project. They're one of my favorite organizations in town, one that aims to put the bounty of underutilized fruit trees to use. Volunteers scout neighborhoods early in the season and then volunteer pickers show up when the fruit is ripe. The majority of each harvest is donated to local food pantries; volunteers get to take home some of the fruits of their labor.

Portland Fruit Beer Festival
Friday, June 12 - Sunday, June 14
Burnside Brewing, 7th & E. Burnside
Tickets: $20 for a taster glass and 12 tickets

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Coming Up: Oregon Garden Brewfest

What tremendous summer weather we're having now! It's the kind of weather that gets me especially excited that the Oregon Garden Brewfest moved from March to June this year. That's not to say that I haven't enjoyed the festival and wandering the grounds of the gardens previously just that the increased chance of better weather and the assuredly more lush gardens this year are a bonus.

1st course from last year's dinner
The 11th annual event, just south of Portland in Silverton, is one that I've attended for the last two years. While it's close enough to be a day trip (remember our April outing?) to get the full Oregon Garden Brewfest experience I highly encourage staying overnight at the Oregon Garden Resort. That's also where the pre-festival Brewer's Tasting Dinner takes place on Thursday night. This year's six-course dinner showcases beers from a host of the state's newer breweries - Buoy, Crux, Ex Novo, Ecliptic, Vagabond and Wild Ride - paired with dishes that are leaving me drooling just reading about them. There are still some tickets available for the dinner, an evening of great food, great beer and the opportunity to hang out with many of the brewers attending the festival.

Tickets for the festival itself, which opens at noon Friday, Saturday and Sunday, can be purchased in advance or at the door. Depending on how much of a weekend you want to make it there are single day as well as three-day ticket options and a VIP package. As an added bonus for Silverton residents, they receive a $10 discount on three-day tickets purchased at the door (proof of address required).

A 2014 standout - a citrusy DIPA
The star of the show is of course the 135 craft beers, ciders and meads from nearly 70 breweries. The beers run the gamut from summery sours and Saisons to hop-forward IPAs and barrel-aged offerings. In addition there's live music Friday and Saturday nights and diversions like shuffleboard and foosball. It's a close weekend getaway or maybe even a day trip provided you have someone to drive your festival-weary self home.

11th Annual Oregon Garden Brewfest
June 19-21, 2015
Silverton, OR

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Beer + Ketchup = An Odd Duck Pairing?

You may have noticed that Coalition Brewing has been producing some playful, slightly off the wall but most decidedly tasty beers lately. The first one that caught my attention was their Dill Dose (be careful if you try to say this three times fast), a Berliner Weisse dry hopped with dill pickles. The beer is delicious on its own but I really want to have it with a burger or hot dog and it's no surprise that the first batch was so popular Mike had to make more.

Then came Ojos De Sapo, a sour ale made with hatch green chilies, and Thyme Out, a Berliner Weisse made with lemon and thyme. As with the Dill, I wanted to eat the Ojos with food, perhaps with nachos or a great street taco. Thyme Out, a beer that had me a little worried there would be too much thyme in it for me turned out to be delicious. It was refreshing and balanced, low in ABV like the other two and one that screams for a warm summer day.

Now, coming up on Friday in fact, they're going to be releasing two ketchup, YES KETCHUP, beers to honor National Ketchup Day. Elan and Mike are talented brewers that have shown they can make great beers that could easily come off as gimmicky (and not particularly good). The first is Michelada (5.8% ABV, 10 IBUs), made with Red Duck Spicy Ketchup, lime juice and spices. I have full faith that it will taste nothing like that macro monstrosity you may have seen at the store.

The second is King Ducky that was inspired by red curry and uses their King Kitty Red Ale as the base beer. Another easy drinker at 5.75% ABV, it contains Red Duck Curry Ketchup and enough Northwest hops to weigh in at 60 IBUs.

I can't wait to try both of these beers! If perhaps I haven't been convincing enough to this point, you should know that there will also be frankfurters from Olympia Provisions and Red Duck Mole ice cream from Red Wagon Creamery. How can you say no?

Red Duck Ketchup Day 
Coalition Brewing, 2705 SE Ankeny
Friday, June 5th

5:00 - 8:00 pm