Saturday, March 26, 2016

22nd Annual Portland Spring Beer & Wine Fest

Now in its 22nd year, the Portland Spring Beer & Wine Fest sets itself apart from the myriad of other beer festivals for one big reason and no, it's not because there's wine (and cider and mead and distillers), it's about the people.

The craft beer community is as much about the product we enjoy as the people who made that product and the Spring Beer & Wine Fest is one of the few places where you'll have the opportunity to talk to the people who made the product that you're sampling. For some of the more established breweries, like Coalition, it's a chance for me to chat with folks I don't get to see often enough but for others, like Bent Shovel, it's a chance for me to hear first hand how they came to be and what they're making. While I'd love to relay all the stories I heard at yesterday's media preview instead I encourage you to go to the festival today and hear them yourself.

In addition to being a great venue to try all manner of liquid libations, there are also tons of food booths - from chocolates and nuts to hummus and cheeses - and five food carts. Perhaps you don't need to bring home some of Eliot's Adult Nut Butters but delicious, unique products like this make for great gifts, especially for hard-to-buy-for people (i.e. parents).

Held inside the convention center the festival is immune to weather issues with the biggest challenge being parking but there's plenty of public transit that services the area or if that's inconvenient, consider parking a little ways away and walking. Unlike many festivals this two-day festival runs Friday and Saturday only so if you have to choose, say between this and Saraveza's Farmhouse & Wild Ale Festival, go to this one today and save that for Sunday.

Oh, and if you're considering not going because basketball, they've got you covered there, too. Where the presentation stage has been in past years there are TVs and plenty of chairs. Wander around for awhile enjoying the fest, take a break to watch some hoops and repeat until you've gotten your fill.

Portland Spring Beer & Wine Fest
Oregon Convention Center
Saturday, March 26th Noon-10pm

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Grab a Bit of the Devil Thursday

Spirits are making a big comeback these days, craft spirits in particular, and as illustrated by StormBreaker's recent Brewstillery festival and with beer and whiskey pairings being a regular sight on drink menus - StormBreaker and Migration Brewing being just two examples. So even though I'm a beer lover through and through I'm gaining an appreciation for spirits. Recently I had a chance to try out McMenamins Devil's Bit whiskey alongside a beer that spent time in the same barrels.

Every year McMenamins produces and releases a limited number of Devil's Bit whiskey on St. Patrick's Day. In response to demand and thanks to the arrival of a new still that is four times larger than the original one, this year there will be more bottles available than ever before (approximately 1,600). Nonetheless Head Distiller James Whelan expects lines at each of the retail locations where it will be available and to sell out of the hand signed 200ml bottles before the end of the day. The $17 bottles will have a two bottle limit per person.

This year's release sports a redesigned label with the Black Widow Porter spider replacing the clover in the center, harkening to the whiskey-to-beer-to-whiskey shared barrel aging process for this four-year-old Hogshead whiskey. This process, a collaboration between the brewery and the distillery is something that is made easier being that they are all part of the McMenamins family. Once the whiskey barrels were emptied they went to the brewery to be filled with the beer, then when emptied of beer, back to the distillery where whiskey sat in one of the barrels for three weeks and for six weeks in the other. The two barrels were then allowed to vat (marry) for six weeks to produce the final product.

The Black Widow Porter that spent time in the barrels between the whiskey fillings, called Widowmaker, was released last October. It's nearly gone but there's rumor that there's still one keg of it around so if whiskey barrel aged beer is your thing, keep your eyes open for it. In the meantime, if you hope to get your hands on this year's Devil's Bit, clear Thursday morning and make plans to get to one of the locations selling it early (opening times vary by location).

Friday, March 11, 2016

It's March So Of Course Guinness

Some beer mail arrived this week from folks at Guinness, who sort of own this month if a survey of tap handles is any indication. But what arrived was not the stout many will be drinking next week, instead two versions of porter. Of all the beer styles available this is one I'm particularly tough and possibly not the best judge on as I have a hard time with the versions that simply come across as watered down stouts. It's also not a style I drink as much anymore although in my early days of becoming a craft beer drinker stouts and porters were my go-to styles.

With all of those caveats, it's probably best to refer to the information from the company about each. According to Guinness these beers are part of The Brewers Project that brews on a test brewery at St. James's Gate and are based on recipes from their brewers' notes from the late 18th and early 19th century. Dublin Porter is an English Brown Porter, weighing in at a mere 3.8% ABV and described as being "brewed with rich Irish barley malts and Goldings hops to deliver sweet, rich maltiness and light, earthy hop character." The West Indies Porter comes in at a more standard 6% ABV and "is a full-bodied, richly flavored beer with notes of toffee, chocolate, and caramel."

Both beers are available nationally but not at your local bottle shop. If you'd like to try them you'll have to hit up Costco, Sam's Club, Total Wine or BJ's. None of those are regular stops for me so I appreciated the opportunity to try these beers out. And if you'd like to see what I thought, check out my favorite external memory device, Untappd, for my thoughts on both the West Indies and Dublin porters.

Cheers to the weekend and whatever delicious beer is in your glass!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Beer & Girl Scout Cookies Pairing Year III

This third year of pairing Girl Scout cookies with beer was definitely the most successful yet. Using what we'd learned in the past - primarily that stouts work well with many of the cookies, as does Lindemans Framboise, and that Samoas will be the most difficult to pair - we delved in again this past weekend.
One change this year is that the Girl Scouts now offer a gluten free cookie called Toffee-tastic. We figured that was as good as any place to start and to stay with the gluten free theme chose Ground Breaker Olallie, a blackberry rose hip ale. The cookies are a crumbly shortbread, larger in width and thickness than any other of the cookies, and received two thumbs up from our group of gluten-lovers. Unfortunately our choice of beer wasn't successful and it was agreed that a porter would work better with the toffee flavor. Tabling the cookie, we forged ahead.

With the intent to play off the success we'd found with Lindemans Framboise we chose a bottle from Minnesota brewery Brau Brothers that we'd received from a friend. Barrel & Bog, a dark ale brewed with cranberries and soured in oak barrels, turned out to be tart and dry, pairing wonderfully with Savannah Smiles. The lemon cookies proved to be one of the easiest to pair in the past but this beer really made the lemon flavor pop. A second, and more widely available beer, Saison dupont also was outstanding with the Smiles. Not a particular favorite of mine on its own as it's a Belgian farmhouse, Chris was spot on with this choice.

Another beer that I do not enjoy on its own is Bell's Winter White. Not usually available in the Portland market Bell's products have been brought in on a limited time basis and that timing turned out to be perfect for this pairing event. Not only did it pair well with the Trefoils (shortbreads) and Do-si-dos (peanut butter sandwich cookies) but it worked with the difficult-to-pair Samoas. It seems that the coconut is what makes the Samoas a challenge, particularly for Chris who simply doesn't like coconut, but in this pairing he found a way to enjoy the cookie and I found a way to enjoy the beer.

Moving along to darker beers and what we anticipated to be more successful in pairings we popped Off Color Dino S'mores (RIS), 21st Amendment Lower Da Boom (barleywine) and Stone Americano (espresso). It was here that we found a beer that matched well with the gluten-free Toffee-tastic in Lower Da Boom. The high ABV is obvious in the beer, making it one I generally wouldn't drink much of but if I did want to get smashed, I'd grab a few cans of it and a box of Tagalongs (chocolate-covered peanut butter cookies) as they mellowed the alcohol bite with their creamy goodness. On the flip side, when paired with the addictive Thin Mints the alcohol bite became more pronounced. Also take heed of Mag's warning regarding the Savannah Smiles: "NO - not with the lemon!"

Dino S'mores, as one might expect, completely dominated the mild Trefoils, but unexpectedly and conversely was drowned out by the peanut butter of the Tagalongs. It did however work well with the Do-si-dos and provided a nice compliment to the Samoas, with flavors that that were along the same vein but different enough not to be blah together.

The lightest of the three, Stone Americano, offered a pronounced coffee flavor that was accentuated by the Do-si-dos (yum!!) and played well enough with the Thin Mints, Trefoils and Samoas, making it perhaps the most successful beer of the day. The mild, buttery Trefoils, the bright, lemony Savannah Smiles and the oatmeal-peanut butter Do-si-dos seemed to be the most agreeable cookies to pair beer with. The latter found its "jelly" with the gluten-free Olallie, similar to what we'd found with Lindemans Framboise last year. All in all it was once again a different twist on enjoying our most favorite of beverages.