Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Best Things We Drank: May 15 - 21

The recent warmer weather, ok HOT by Portland standards, seems to be influencing our taste buds as this week's best beers are dominated by light, bright beers that go down particularly well on a warm, sunny day.

Pono Brewing Kikiao - Pono, while founded in 2013, has expanded their offerings and the availability of them this year, much to our delight. Focusing on tropical and exotic beers, this one follows that theme and is described as a "South Pacific Farmhouse." The mango and passion fruit provide mildly fruity notes, with the green tea and farmhouse yeast keeping it from being one-dimensional. Super refreshing!

The Commons Citrus Myrtle - A seasonal take on their year round Myrtle, a tart farmhouse ale that uses Silverton-grown lemony Meridian hops, it is made with Buddha's hand, a citron fruit, and orange peel. Citrusy and easy drinking at just a hair over 5%, it's great on its own or with a sushi burger at Wasabi Sushi PDX that we checked out last week.

Culmination Momentary Lapse of Reason - A New England style double IPA dry hopped with Polaris, Cascade, Citra, El Dorado and Mandarina Bavaria hops, this beer is all about bright and juicy. Nearly as easy drinking as the other two, its 8.4% does pack a bit more of a punch. Enjoyed at the McMenamins 23rd Avenue Bottle Shop in NW, drinking there was not a momentary lapse of reason, but a conscious choice because as much as we like to joke/poke them, Kyle curates a great tap list and packs the coolers with a selection of bottles and cans that rival other top notch bottle shops in town.

Xbeeriment Black Force One - The one beer that deviates from the sessionable and bright beers that make up the rest of this week's list, we did in fact enjoy this outside on one of last week's warm afternoons from taps at our neighborhood beer cart, Captured Beer Bus. The 10% smoked imperial stout is an import from a Denmark phantom/gypsy brewery and the first beer we've had from them. Starting off with an aroma that is deep and a bit salty, the flavor follows in depth without being deep sweet, finishing a little peaty and roasty.

As we head into Memorial Day weekend, a bit of extra time off for many hopefully, we wish you happy trails that are lined with, or at least lead to, great beer!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Inside Wasabi Sushi PDX

We've all heard the saying "don't judge a book by its cover" but we also know we've gotten burned when we fell to the temptation of an awesome label/name only to find that the cover was far better than what was contained inside. So, too, are new food trends sometimes more hype than substance. Put all of those doubts aside as we take a look at Wasabi Sushi PDX's new brick and mortar location.

Three short years ago Alex and Phyu Naung met with Steven Shomler to discuss an interest in opening a food cart and in the fall of 2015 they did just that. The following year they opened a second cart and an indoor location at CARTLab PDX. This year they are opening their first brick and mortar location, complete with full catering capabilities, at 980 SE Madison. We had the pleasure of attending a preview of the new location yesterday, including a new addition to their menu - the Sushi Burger.

Steven, guru of all things food and beverage in Portland, has not only coached the Naungs but is also managing the bar at the SE Madison location meaning that the four taps are pouring an excellent selection of local, craft beer. Selected to compliment the food menu, the opening line up consists of Culmination Phaedrus IPA, Little Beast Bes, Ruse Translator IPA and The Commons Citrus Myrtle with Zoiglhaus and Sunriver kegs waiting in the wings. For non-beer or equal opportunity drinkers there are also two sake options from Sake One, a trio of Whoa Nelly! wines, a pair of Vin de Days wines and bottles of Reverend Nat's Revival and Deliverance Ginger Tonic.

While we were definitely impressed by the liquid offerings the food was most impressive as well. Sushi is possibly the most an eye-pleasing of all cuisines but here, especially in the case of the sushi donuts (above), that eye candy is taken to a whole 'nother level. Similar to a maki roll in composition, there are three flavor combinations, each competing to be the prettiest and served on a nori sheet to facilitate eating by hand just as one would a sweet, doughy creation.

One item, new and available only at the Madison location, is the Sushi Burger served with fries, that upon quick glance might be mistaken for something one is used to. But taking a second, more detailed look (and taste!) all four options are served on buns made from pressed Forbidden/black rice seared on the grill with a side of sweet potato fries dusted with Old Bay seasoning. We sampled the shrimp katsu version whose elements - avocado for creaminess, slaw for texture and a spicy sauce - combine with the fried shrimp to form a complete package. As with any delicious burger, this one will get messy by the end but the use of multiple napkins is well worth it. The sweet potato fries (a food we are admittedly not a fan of generally) are thinner than most, cooked to achieve actual crispness and find a perfect flavor partner in the Old Bay were so good that we ate them all.

In addition to the "donuts" and "burgers" there are Sushi B-Rittos (including one coated with hot Cheetos and containing wasabi sauce) that rival the bulk of many traditional burritos. Fans of more standard fare will find familiarity in the sushi roll and bowl offerings.

Tonight at 5pm is the friends and family, soft opening with the grand opening on Thursday. The full menu will be available tonight and as an added incentive, pints are specially priced at $4.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Best Things We Drank: May 8 - 14

This week's beers are all over the board in terms of style, size of brewery that made them and geographical location. Where they come together is that they all garnered a rating of 4 out of 5. With that, let's look at what made each of them stand out.

Montavilla Brew Works Warren's Big Barrel Porter - The only Portland (or Oregon for that matter) beer to make this week's list comes from one of our favorite breweries to drink at. The captain's chairs at the bar invite one to stay for a good long while, which we did, and as an added bonus to the beer, Flying Pie Pizza is just across the street. (Of course we got some of that as well.) This was tops of all the beers we drank there that night, starting out with a slight aroma and a flavor [especially as it warms] of gentle maple syrup with a touch of barrel. A very drinkable 9%, upon looking back at the check in saw a note that "it would be great with flan," which is particularly interesting since we don't eat much flan. But we'll trust our past self and roll with that idea.

Firestone Walker SLOambic Batch #2 - Firestone Walker does great things when it comes to wild ales and this one, fermented with blackberries, is no exception. Tart, sour and mildly fruity, it has held up well (brewed 1 1/2 years ago) and it was a treat for our tart/sour taste buds to be sure.

New Holland Dragon's Milk Reserve: Mexican Spice Cake - We've had plenty of beers that are designed to have a similar flavor profile to Mexican cake or hot chocolate and they've been done with varying degrees of success. This Midwest-brewed one is definitely one of the best. Starting off with an aroma of coconut (which is somewhat puzzling as there is no coconut in it...perhaps it's the vanilla beans?), the flavor is nice and spicy...eventually. This is a beer you gotta let warm up, so pull it out of the fridge/cooler a beer before you want to drink it but then savor every drop of it.

Other Half Hop Showers - Found in our beer fridge, we apparently forgot to put a note on it so that we could remember who gave it to us. There are two likely subjects but whoever it was needs to be commended. East Coast IPAs (and we don't mean the hazy, NE-style ones that have become so popular recently) have generally failed to wow us, being spoiled with the abundance of and skill used in creating hoppy beers by many West Coast breweries, but this one most certainly did. Thank you, Joe, Kris or whoever is responsible for gifting this to us!


Thursday, May 11, 2017

PDX Beer Week Official Beer Preview

PDX Beer Week runs June 8 - 18 and in addition to the multitude of events listed currently, and will surely be added as we get closer to it, the official beer has been brewed. Hop Berry IPA from Culmination Brewing was brewed during a media preview that we had the pleasure of attending. Using marionberry and blackberry purees from Oregon Fruit Products, the premiere choice of brewers using fruit in their beers, it was dry hopped with Vic Secret and Galaxy hops and should clock in at a drinkable 7% ABV.

As a part of the preview we had the opportunity to taste six fruit purees from Oregon Fruit Products and talk to Chris Hodge, Director of Sales Brewing. The 85-year-old family owned company located in Salem processes fresh fruit into sterile, 18-month shelf stable packages. It's a straightforward process in which the fresh fruit undergoes a short heating period to kill any "bugs," then the skins and seeds are removed, all in a sealed system to eliminate contamination. 

While they produce over 20 purees, Chris brought a selection that included their number one selling puree, raspberry. That beauty in the middle of the picture uses berries from Washington and was the first puree that they made. Oregon grown blackberry (far left), pineapple, grapefruit , blood orange and mango rounded out the selection. The flavor of all of them were of perfectly ripe, just harvested fruit, a seemingly amazing feat for something that could (but why would you?) sit on your shelf for over a year. We're not generally fruit juice drinkers but if we had bags of any of these, especially the mango, on hand we might change our mind about drinking fruit.

In addition to the Week's official beer, Hotlips Pizza has once again created an official pizza. Featuring pork belly and kimchi, an idea from Tomas, owner/brewer of Culmination, the pizza's flavors are balanced and should be delicious with the forthcoming Hop Berry IPA. 

Those familiar with Hotlips know that they don't just make pizza, they also make a line of sodas. Using Oregon Fruit Products puree as well, their blackberry soda will be available for drinking side-by-side with the official beer. Beer, pizza, soda...win!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Best Things We Drank: May 1 - 7

The three beers on this week's list were so good that a few beers that would have made the list in other weeks aren't included here. Not including them doesn't diminish how good they are, it's simply a matter of perspective. Just like when someone asks, "what's your favorite beer?," and the answer is a favorite current beer (or two), those beers that didn't make the short list are in comparison to the beers drank in chronological proximity.

Coalition Dark Horse - Last Saturday Coalition resumed taproom hours at their brewery (huzzah!!), with weather that was made to order for such an event. This rare beer was one I hadn't had before but was so glad I had the opportunity to drink. An imperial stout that was aged on Brett and cherries in Pinot barrels, it definitely took on wine characteristics in the most delectable way. Appearing black it's actually the deep red color one would expect of a wine and while lower in ABV than most wines at 9%, it is a dangerously drinkable beer.

Brouwerij Rodenbach Alexander - Shared by my friend, John, who had been sitting on this beer for many years there were no defining markings on the bottle to verify the vintage so 1990 check in on Untappd is only a guess. That said, this is one of the best beers ever to have crossed these lips, riding the perfect balance of tart and fruit and funk.

Crux In the Pocket [Banished] 2017 - Also courteous of John, the use of Brett in what is described as an "imperial rustic Saison" that was aged in red wine barrels makes the 9.9% ABV nearly laughable. Following Dark Horse's lead it would be so very easy to finish off the full 22oz bottle on one's own.

So there you have it, two beers you can probably find with some looking, and one which may or may not live up to this rave review depending on its vintage. Happy drinking!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Beer & Cheese Pairing - 2017 Edition


We recently got together with friends and fellow cheese lovers, Chris and Lyn, for another play date pairing beer and cheese. We each brought a selection of cheeses (plus crackers, won ton chips, blue cheese scones and dried fruit compote) and settled into our favorite haunt to crack bottles.

We'll start the rundown with an apricot stilton (purchased at Trader Joe's and one of Lyn's favorites) which we found to create a light, summery pairing with Modern Times Fortunate Islands. The beer is available in 16oz cans, making it an easily portable and openable selection for your next picnic, camping trip or outdoor activity.

Not a cheese, but containing our go-to blue cheese (also from Trader Joe's), was the blue cheese scones. Serving not only as another vehicle with which to consume cheese but also as a bit of a palate cleanser between cheeses, they, too paired well with Fortunate Islands. The beer accentuated the pleasant bite of the blue cheese (added with a gentle hand to a standard scone recipe) and mellowed out the butteriness of the pastry.

Each of us contributed a gouda and each of them found a different beer to play well with. The deli sliced version by Boar's Head from Fred Meyer found a happy pairing with a beer we got in trade, Black Hog Brewing Co. Disco Pig Brown Brett Braggot while a double cream version from Trader Joe's went in an opposite beer direction, making friends with Breakside Wanderlust IPA.

That IPA was not only a group favorite but overall the most pair-able beer of the day. It was one of the few beers that paired nicely with Rouge Chocolate Stout Cheddar, a cheese we were all on the fence about, as well at two others. In the case of the ooey-gooey Trader Joe's triple cream brie the beer brought out a pleasant sharpness in the cheese and in return the cheese accentuated the beer's hoppiness. And for as much as we enjoyed the way the aged cheddar played off the beer, each improving the other, in cold form the consensus was that a hot combination (i.e. beer cheese soup) would be fantastic. Should you try it out please invite us over for a bowl.

Another variety of cheddar that made an appearance was a smoked cheddar found at Whole Foods. Even through the wrapping the smoke aroma was strong and in addition to a similar presence in the flavor there was a mouth-pleasing creaminess. Paired with Clown Shoes Black Currant Saison (a beer that didn't live up to expectations on its own) the smoke became even stronger, which we enjoyed but take that recommendation with a wisp of smoke if you're not into smoky cheeses. Where the cheese really had a chance to shine was with Pelican Father of All Tsunamis, an iteration of their Tsunami Stout. This 11.2% imperial stout made for a very decadent pairing similar to other RIS-blue cheese pairings we've enjoyed. Thanks to Chris for both the beer and the pic!

We had tried diligently to get our hands on a blueberry stilton but were unable to so in its place went a blueberry Havarti from Willamette Valley Cheese Co. Less fruity and more cheese-forward than the apricot stilton, its tanginess created a bit of a challenge to find a partner for. We lucked out pairing Pelican's Tsunami which was able to stand toe to toe with the tanginess.

Closing things out and coming full circle with another lighter pairing - Against the Grain All Funked Up Fruitus the Farmer Beescake and that triple cream brie. One might not think of a luscious brie as part of a light pairing but it brought the cider-like aroma of this Brettanomyces-finished Saison out in the flavor, which lightened the overall feel of the pairing. If there are any cider-Brett-brie fans in the audience please proceed as quickly as possible to your nearest better bottle shop to grab the beer, then over to Trader Joe's for their Le Delice de Bourgogne triple cream brie.

While our pairing play wasn't as structured or organized as our Girl Scout cookie pairings were it was at least as fun (and didn't lead to the sugar hangover). Besides, cheese is good for you, right?

Thanks to my partners in the pairing, including David who was our fabulous beertender that day!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Best Things We Drank: April 24 - 30

After last week's marathon of a list we've dialed it back with just three Best Things, followed by four [very] honorable mentions.

Against The Grain Fruitis The Farmer Beescake - Selected during our recent beer and cheese pairing fun day (more to come on that) this melon Saison finished with Brettanomyces, a part of their Wild Series, displayed a sharp, almost cider aroma with a flavor that was definitely Brett-forward. Oh yum!

Three Magnets Helsing Tempranillo - One of the more difficult to find beers from Three Magnets, we have to give huge thanks to Chris for sharing some of this delectable drink with us. The flavor that is packed into the mere 7.5% combined with the great wine aroma is impressive, even for one who knows little about wine and drinks even less of it. Wine barrel aged on Tempranillo grape musts and bottle conditioned with champagne yeast, this is definitely worth picking up if you run across it.

Boneyard Incredible Pulp - Juicy and yummy, especially for a pale ale, while we most recently enjoyed it on tap, the artwork it pretty damn cool, too, if you run across it in packaged format. Boneyard is an expert with hops and this citrus-forward example further proves that.

Ruse Translator IPA
In the honorable mention category come two beers that we've had in the past, Ruse Brewing Translator IPA which was enjoyed in last Friday's brilliant sunshine outside at Culmination Brewing, and Little Beast Fera that after debuting the previous week found its way onto the taps at our favorite haunt. Both beers were ones that we couldn't pass up enjoying again.

Additionally, we found two other beers that really tickled our summer taste buds. Uinta Lime Pilsner, in a very attractive can, was refreshing and although we really, really like lime and thought it could have used a touch more, this should be right up the alley of anyone that loves a bright, citrusy, easy-drinking beer.

The other was one we had seen in the cooler and mistakenly thought we'd had before. Upon checking however, Modern Times Fortunate Islands had not yet passed our lips. Rectifying that we found a refreshing surprise that was both more hoppy and tropical than wheaty.

All of these beers clock in at 8% or less, perfect for the beautiful, more seasonal weather we've been promised is coming this week.