Thursday, February 25, 2016

A Neighborhood Brewpub From Neighbors

How many of your neighbors do you know? Not many, I'd bet. I only know a couple and that includes our immediate neighbor whose driveway abuts ours. There might be some really cool people just around the corner and who knows where that could lead? Just look at Great Notion Brewing - the three owners met because they're neighbors and a shared love of craft beer has spawned a partnership that is re-energizing the former Mash Tun brewpub on NE Alberta.

James Dugan and Andy Miller had been homebrewers for years before they met Paul Reiter, the non-brewer piece of the triumvirate. The beers they shared with Paul thoroughly impressed him and it wasn't long before they began talking about opening a brewery. Many a homebrewer has done the same thing but talking and actually making it happen are completely different. Thanks to Paul's professional background in finance, they were able to tether their dreams to reality, albeit a reality that included scouting locations and finding many of them to be financially out of reach.  Then through a friend of a friend they learned that the owner of Mash Tun was looking to get out of the business.

The guys proceeded with the process of purchasing it, taking over ownership in the fall of 2015. Since the purchase included the beer that had already been brewed (and they were sitting out the standard six month wait to brew from "The Man") they continued to pour Mash Tun beer, retained the Mash Tun name and curated a guest tap list as the Mash Tun beer ran out. In early December 2015 they were cleared to begin brewing and as the New Year was rung in the official rebrand from Mash Tun to Great Notion took place.

It wasn't until recently that I finally made it to Great Notion to check it out first hand after hearing great things about them and being impressed by a pint of their Ripe IPA enjoyed at my Growler Guys in SE. The space doesn't look drastically different from it did as Mash Tun but look below the surface - a larger (7bbl) brewing system, a lineup of beers that showcases the brewers' ability to take what had formerly been recipes scaled for homebrewing to successfully recreate them on a commercial system (far harder than just doing math) and a menu from Chef Ryan O'Conner that goes beyond the food you'll eat just because you're there and need something to pad your belly with to food that you'll look forward to.

Both Ripe IPA and Juice Jr. session IPA are great beers but it's the sour program that they're working on that excites me the most. Currently available is Zest, a Berliner-Weisse, that is kettle soured and very enjoyable but for those who prefer a more traditional barrel-aged sour, those are coming. I was able to sample one, a 12% Belgian beauty that if representative of what's happening at their separate barrel aging facility where they're utilizing their own sour strain they will be something worth seeking out.

Based on the beers I've had so far Great Notion seems to be living out their slogan, "The passion for hops. The patience for sour." If you haven't been it's time to check them out. In the meantime, a clip of Paul, Andy and James talking about their place.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Beer + Spirits = Brewstillery 2 Festival

Regular readers know that I'm a primarily a beer drinker, only occasionally dabbling in other tipples. One of those rare times is for an event like the StormBreaker's 2nd Annual Brewstillery Festival. No stranger to pairings as their regular menu offers eight house beer and whiskey pairings, this Saturday's event goes to an entirely different level with 22 breweries and 21 distilleries participating and a total of 27 pairings available.

Designed to allow people to try more of the pairings (and stay upright) the portions will be sample sized - 1/4oz of each spirit, 4oz of each beer. Even so, 27 is a lot of pairings so you may have to make some decisions, hard decisions because the spirits range from traditional whiskey/bourbon/scotch to gins, flavored vodkas, liqueurs and even absinthe. So, too, do the beers range from the lighter end of things with wits and saisons through IPAs to porters and stouts, all the way to a nearly 13% barleywine.

At a recent preview I was thrilled to find the pairing I was most excited about was being sampled - Wild Ride Nut Crusher Peanut Butter Porter with Bend Distillery Crater Lake Hazelnut Espresso Vodka (made with Sisters Coffee Company coffee). If this sounds sweet, it is. If it sounds decadent, it is. Both the beer and the spirit have incredible aromas and I'd drink as much of this pairing as was available (within reason, of course). A great cold weather duo for sure.

For those who prefer something lighter, something that would be more appropriate in the warmer months, there's Fat Head's Heads or Tails Sour Gin Saison with Big Bottom Barrel Aged Gin. As a sour beer fan in general, this one was right up my alley. The spirit pairing elevated the experience, smoothing out the Saison characteristics of the beer, providing a refreshing contrast to the Wild Ride pairing.

Rather than drag you though more of my amazing preview experience I'll cut it short and encourage you to check out this unique festival. The majority of the pairings will cost two drink tickets, with some three-ticket pairings and two (featuring rare/expensive beers/spirits) five-ticket pairings. Whether you're a diehard beer drinker or someone who regularly enjoys such pairings I feel confident in saying you'll enjoy yourself.

Brewstillery 2 Festival
Saturday, February 27th
StormBreaker Brewing
832 N Beech Street

Advance tickets (online through 9pm Friday):

$25 regular admission (includes 10 tickets)
$50 VIP admission (includes 20 tickets)

At the door:

$30 regular admission (includes 10 tickets)
Additional tickets available for $1 each

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Happening Saturday: Hillsdale Brewfest

This Saturday is the 23rd Annual Hillsdale Brewfest, known to some as the "battle for the belt." 22 McMenamins breweries will be vying not only for bragging rights but the winning brewery also gets added to this ----> belt.

Last year Edgefield Brewery's Cerberus Wild Ale won the hearts of patrons and this year Head Brewer Matt Bergfield's team has brewed up another Berliner Weiss-golden ale blend, with an addition of fruit, in hopes of a repeat win. Apricots were chosen for their soft fruit character and ability to blend nicely with funk and sour, the latter being important because the beer was aged in cider barrels from Edgefield Winery. According to Matt the barrels "previously housed some super cool, lacto'd up cider" and have yielded a finished beer that is "mild, tangy, funky and has the perfect amount of oak." Anyone besides me drooling yet?

Going to the completely other end of the beer spectrum is another of the entries that I'm quite excited about. Kilmister's DIPA (RIP Lemmy) is from Concordia brewers Dave Kosanske and Matt Carter. The double IPA is a style that has been a winning one for them in the past (with a beer called Double Helix) and has a similar grain bill to this year's entry. With the intention of creating a more citrusy version they "added eight pounds of Citra pellets" into the bright tank "then bubbled with CO2 for a few days to keep them in suspension." Dave feels this is one of their finest offerings and I look forward to indulging my love of hops and citrus with this one.

I'll be putting Concordia's DIPA up against Willamette Stone DIPA from John Barleycorns, a higher ABV but lower IBU beer, for a side-by-side comparison. Both utilize dextrose and Simcoe and Chinook hops but it's my guess that's where the similarities end. There isn't a corresponding wild ale to the Edgefield entry however Hillsdale's Fuzzy Barrel is a whiskey barrel aged peach beer and McMenamins on the Columbia's Cowabunga Radler with pineapple juice and lemonade may offer some fruity similarities. In both cases only time...48 hours and counting...shall tell how the beers compare and who will get my vote.

McMenamins 23rd Annual Hillsdale Brewfest
Saturday, February 20th
11:00am - 1:00am
Hillsdale Brewery & Public House, 1505 SW Sunset Blvd
$10 per sampler tray (There are two, each with 11 4-ounce samples.)

2/26 Update: Cowabunga Radler from McMenamins on the Columbia (brewer Jesse Grover) took 1st place, Kilmister's Double IPA from Concordia (brewers Dave Kosanke & Matt Carter) took 2nd place and Cinnamon Toast Wheat from West Linn (brewer Jacob Willson) took 3rd place. Perfect Timing IPA from Crystal Ballroom (brewers Drew Phillips & Stephen Harper) sold the most full pints.

Both Kilmister's Double IPA and Perfect Timing IPA were in my top five. Cowabunga Radler is better than Ruby in my book and I'd happily drink it on a summer day. Cinnamon Toast Wheat, however, I don't understand how it took third as I didn't feel the flavors worked well with the wheat beer base. Oh well, something for everyone!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Prepping for Festival of the Dark Arts

This is our second year attending Fort George's Festival of the Dark Arts in Astoria. With a festival boasting 60+ stouts it's one that requires a certain amount of preparation.

For me that means:
1. Cross checking my Untappd account to see what I've had (and can skip this time around)
2. Adding all un-drank beers to my Untappd wish list (making on-site check-ins much, much easier)
3. Creating my own day-of plan, putting the lower ABV beers and those I'm most eager to drink at the front of the line (the less interesting ones relegated toward the end so if and when I don't get around to them I won't be crying in my beer the next day)
4. Packing Drinkwel tablets (I'll swear that they really do help out when it comes to big drinking events)
5. Planning for post-fest food (last year we learned Astoria closes up early so this year I'll have plenty of "hotel picnic" food)

If this seems like a lot of work and anal behavior then go about your non-planning plan. I hope it works out for you. For me, this is my best bet to wake up Sunday morning:
A. Happy to have enjoyed the beers I was most looking forward to
B. Able to look back at my check-ins throughout the day (as my memory clouded) to recall what my favorites really were
C. Not hung over

I'm looking forward to seeing plenty of familiar faces at the festival while I know plenty of people will be enjoying Zwickelmania. Both are great events so here's to a delicious Saturday!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Third Time is a Charm at NW Coffee Beer Invitational

While the first two years of the NW Coffee Beer Invitational were good, in its third year it was even better. The overall quality of the beers continued an upward trend and it was great to see some new breweries in the mix. Some tickled my taste buds more than others so without further ado, my top four.

Fire on the Mountain Brewing - Caffe Corretto - "A rich stout conditioned with fresh cold pressed coffee from Spella Caffe. Further aging on star anise, vanilla and a splash of Sambuca replicates the traditional and delicious Italian coffee drink in beer form. 6% ABV" I'm in the camp that loves anise flavor and this one hit all the right notes for me.

Feckin Irish Brewing - Feckin Shipwreck - "This is what would have been drunk by sailors shipwrecked off the Caribbean islands circa 1750. Its roots are made of Feckin's Double Irish Oatmeal Porter. The addition of coffee, from Happyrock Coffee Roasting, unlocks notes of rum, fresh coconut and vanilla beans. 6.7% ABV" Here, too, is a beer which is a like/dislike depending on your stance on coconut. It's not as overpowering as something like Oskar Blues Death By Cocount or Town Hall Three Hour Tour and may be even more deliciously drinkable from the standpoint that the coconut is more subtle and the ABV lower.

The man of the hour, Dave Fleming.
Buoy Beer Co. - Coffee Brown Porter - "This brew combines perfect elements to create a flavorful beer for you to pair with breakfast or to warm up with on a rainy day. Oats and roasted barley build the beer's rich foundation and in the secondary conditioning. Additions of hazelnut and Columbia River Coffee Roaster's dark roast coffee bring distinctive flavors to the brew. 6.5% ABV" Outstanding combination of beer/coffee/oatmeal that screams to be drunk for breakfast. At that ABV one might just get away with doing so.

Widmer Brothers Brewing - Brrrbon with coffee - "Brrrbon is the winter seasonal Brrr placed in a single use Bourbon barrel with a fresh charge of live yeast for secondary fermentation followed by 13 months of aging. The beer was able to find its way deep into the staves of the barrels and suck out every last drop of bourbon flavor and essence. Then we added a half pound of Stumptown Ethiopian Duromina coffee per keg. Chocolate, chocolate covered cherries, vanilla, coffee and bourbon dominate the nose. Those flavors continue across the palate with a fulfilling smooth finish. 13.1% ABV" A beer this big could come across hot, unbalanced or simply too much but this one does none of those things and drinks more like 8%. Dangerously delicious.

Didn't make it to the festival? Here's the information I have to date on where and when you can find beers you missed.

54° 40' - Due to its popularity they'll be brewing more, which will be available in their taproom in Washougal most likely by 2/10.

Burnside Brewing - Per their 2/3 Facebook post, it is currently on tap.

The Commons - Only one keg is left, which will be available in their taproom, possibly as early as this week and is on tap as of 2/4 per their Facebook post.

Everybody's Brewing - They'll be bottling their entry in 22oz bottles this week with first availability at The BeerMongers and Belmont Station.

Lompoc - It's currently on tap at all Lompoc locations (and it just so happens Miser Monday is taking place today at Lompoc Tavern and Oaks Bottom Public house...yeah for $2.50 pints!).

Lucky Lab - Only one keg is left and it is going on today (2/1) at the SE Hawthorne location only.