Sunday, March 31, 2013

Twin Cities Beer: New and Old

Since we moved out of the Twin Cities nearly three years ago the craft beer scene has really been picking up. New breweries are opening at a pace that would be astonishing if not for the fact that the pace is as rapid if not faster in Portland. In addition, "The Surly Bill" was passed which will allow Surly Brewing to build their destination brewery as well as making the laws more favorable in general for breweries.

Thanks to some great friends I've been able to try some beers from the new places that have opened but that's nothing compared to actually visiting the breweries. While I didn't have enough time to make it around to all the new places my lovely "tour guides" Kat and Scott took me to two of their favorites (after putting down a good jiffy burger base at The Blue Door Pub St. Paul).

The interior of Dangerous Man has an industrial bent.

The first stop was Dangerous Man Brewing located in the heart of Northeast Minneapolis. Dangerous Man doesn't bottle any of their beer and due to recent demand they're limiting growler sales to a mere 10 per day, one per person. The place was packed when we arrived post-lunch although we were able to get our beer fairly quickly. Of the five beers on tap I was only uninterested in one - German Kolsch - simply because I'm not a great fan of the style. The three of us shared "short pours" (10 oz) of the other four - Double IPA, Matchbox Coffee Porter, Chocolate Milk Stout and El Dorado Rye.

L to R: Double IPA, Coffee Porter, Milk Stout & Rye

I'd heard great things about the Chocolate Milk Stout, most notably that it was adult chocolate milk, and it lived up to the billing 100%. The porter surprised me with the depth of flavor and just the right amount of coffee and the rye, while being one of the most rye-forward beers I've had, was very enjoyable. The Double IPA was a bit much on the booze profile for me but still an enjoyable and well-made beer.

Indeed's taproom uses more classic touches.

Next we headed over to Indeed Brewing which Kat had described it as the most Portland-esque taproom in the Twin Cities. She was right. Just the feel of Indeed was more to my liking with the classic wood bar, exposed brick wall and shuffleboard table. Indeed does bottle some of their beers and I had been lucky enough to try a bottle of their flagship Day Tripper American Pale Ale earlier this year.

Pretzels and Hot Box

They had that on tap along with three others that we shared - Midnight Ryder American Black Ale, Hot Box Imperial Smoked Pepper Porter and Burr Grinder Beer Coffee Ale. The Coffee Ale didn't do much for me and the Hot Box was heavy on the smoke but the Midnight Ryder was very good. I had commented earlier in the day that I prefer smoked beers with food instead of on their own so Kat grabbed a bag of Sully's Sweet & Heat Pretzels from the food truck parked outside. They increased my enjoyment of Hot Box considerably and even improved the Coffee Ale.

After that it was time to head to a couple of old favorites, places that a trip back wouldn't be complete without - Town Hall Brewery and Great Waters. Town Hall's weekly Pint Club from 4 - 5 pm Saturdays brought in many familiar faces and I got my French fry fix (theirs are the best on the planet hands down). The stop at Great Waters was a bit unplanned, I'd been hoping to take in Sunday Mug Club there, but due to the "holiday" they would be closed. Still I got to see a favorite bartender, Chuck, and enjoy a pint of St. Peter Pale Ale.

It was a great day of drinking new and old in Minnesota; one I would have liked to make two-day adventure. However due to lovely Minnesota laws, taprooms are not allowed to be open on Sundays (oh, and neither are liquor stores...the only place one can buy beer) so whatever beer I'll enjoy for the remainder of my time will be at a bar (which are allowed to be open) or from a friend's cellar.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Two Happy Hours to Fill Your Belly

I've talked about happy hours before and the focus has been on how inexpensive one can purchase a beer, a good craft beer, for. While I still love being able to spend a mere $2 or $2.50, I recently visited two places suggested by and with a friend. Although these places don't offer discounts on the beer the happy hour food is spectacularly priced. And it's not "cheap food" but really tasty food and not the two-little-bits-on-a-plate variety either.

The first is tucked away in NW Portland, tucked away at least for this SE dweller. Rae's Lakeview offers happy hour daily 3 - 6 pm with the only beer special being $1 bottles of Miller High Life. The happy hour food menu however boasts 16 options all priced $2 - $5, including a cheeseburger and Croque Monsieur for $5 each or biscuits & gravy for a mere $2. On our first visit we ordered and shared a majority of the offerings and on my last visit I had to give the biscuits and gravy a try. I found all of them to be tasty and enough of a bargain to offset the non-discounted beer prices (about $5 each).

The second, while not tucked away, is located in a restaurant and bar heavy area. One might walk or drive by it a dozen times without even thinking about stopping in. The place, Jake's Famous Crawfish, is a part of the McCormick & Schmick's family of restaurants but that doesn't mean they don't offer a hellava happy hour food menu. Their happy hour, also 3 - 6 pm daily, has dishes that range from $2.95 - $5.95. I can't speak to as many of these dishes mainly because the Northwest Seafood & Sausage Gumbo that I ordered and the Jake's Cheeseburger that Mag ordered turned out to be full sized meals. And they were only $3.95 each. Oh yeah, did I mention that the Tillamook cheese-topped burger was accompanied by a mound of French fries? Well, it is. The beers were similarly priced to Rae's ($5 - $6) and again, the delicious, filling food at rock bottom prices offset the full priced beers.

Finally, while we're on the topic, a quick reminder that for inexpensive beer, and only slightly higher happy hour food prices, there's the White Owl Social Club in SE. If you missed my post about it last month you can check out all the details here. Are there other places with similar happy hours I should be checking out?

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Commons Beer Dinner

Last night's four course beer dinner at Simpatica Dining Hall in SE Portland featuring the beers of The Commons Brewery was simply amazing. The meat-centric meal was rich course after course and was so overwhelmingly good I took very few notes. Therefore I'll let a few videos and pictures do most of the talking for the rest of the post.

Course #1 - Montreal Smoked Meat Open-faced Sandwich with Marrow Bone Poutine & Urban Farmhouse Ale

Poutine is a greasy, salty pile of food in the absolute best way possible. And this is one of the best variations of it I've had. The crispness of Urban Farmhouse, their flagship beer, did a great job of countering the richness.

Palate cleanser - Myrtle

Myrtle tastes exactly the way Sean described it in the video and a delicious, new seasonal addition to their lineup. Recently released, I understand if you haven't tried it yet, however I implore you to get some, soon.

Course #2 - Duck and Onion Shepherd's Pie with Baked Egg & Flemish Kiss

What the dish lacked in photogenic qualities it more than made up for in flavor. This example of pure comfort food was paired with a beer that has enough Brett character for this sour head to enjoy yet remaining approachable for those on the fence about the style.

Course #3 - Ham Steak with Molasses Bean and Duck Fat-roasted Turnips with Persillade & Biere de Garde

This was the pairing that I was least enamored with although both the dish and the beer were enjoyable on their own. Like the shepherd's pie, this dish was comfort food that Simpatica elevated to a whole new level of deliciousness.

Course #4 - Peanut Butter Mousse Eclair with Applewood Bacon and Maple Glaze & Oatmeal Stout

By this point in the meal I was in such heaven that I dove in before taking a picture. And then proceded to devour the whole thing, probably without even taking a breath. Thankfully The Commons showed more restraint so you could take a gander at this dessert. Peanut butter, bacon, stout - over the top goodness.

This marks the second beer pairing dinner we've attended at Simpatica and we've been very happy with both experiences. While they offer many more wine pairing dinners than beer pairing ones, they do come up from time to time. The next time you hear about one, don't ask questions, just call and make your reservation.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Pairing Do-si-dos

Confident, but not hopefully overconfident, I decided to diverge from the article's Elvis-inspired pairing for Do-si-dos. They claim peanut butter is a challenging one to pair and suggested with a drier finish beer, Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse Dunkel, due in part to its effervescence and the yeast's banana-like characteristics.

While I'm a fan of peanut butter and banana sandwiches, banana is not something I enjoy in my beer. Using that as a starting point and thinking along the sandwich lines I pondered peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Then it was down to the "cellar" to search for "jelly." Without many fruit beers to choose from I grabbed a bottle of Block 15 Kriek and crossed my fingers.

The beer all on its own is a stunner with great fruit flavor, not sweet and degree of tartness perfectly dialed in. The cookies, an oatmeal sandwich cookie with peanut butter filling, have plenty of peanut butter flavor. I won't say the two are a perfect match; there may be other fruit beers that would make a better pairing but I was pretty happy with it. I was also bolstered by Mag commenting, "That's good. That's really good." Certainly the effervescence of the beer helped to lighten the heaviness of the peanut butter and oatmeal and with my personal dislike of the banana yeast flavors of a weisse this is a better choice for my palate.

If you haven't been keeping track that's three pairings down, two more to go: Samoas and Savannah Smiles. Stay tuned.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Pairing Thin Mints

Remember how I told you last time that due to my (apparently) poor pairing skills I'd be following the guidelines of the article from here on out? Well...I didn't plan very well...and so...ummm...I guess I'm retracting that statement. Hopefully the results will be better. If not I'm putting a cicerone on retainer.

The article recommended pairing Thin Mints with North Coast Old Stock Ale, an old ale that clocks in at 11% ABV. Having no old ales in my "cellar" but plenty of barleywines I selected Victory Old Horizontal, vintage 2006.

Bringing the bottle to sit out on the counter to warm a bit I noticed a fair amount of "crud" at the bottom of the bottle. I don't mind crud but I was glad this one needed to warm so it could also still.

When poured the beer had little carbonation, typical of the style, but wasn't overly boozy either in the aroma or the flavor as barleywines can often be. Maybe it was a few years ago but at seven years old it was mellow and pleasing. Even better, it didn't overpower the cookie, nor did the mint flavor in the cookie clash with the beer.

Although it was probably more dumb luck than anything else I say this brings me even in my pairing attempts. Hopefully this doesn't go to my head and lead me to screw up the next one. Tune in later to find out.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Pairing Trefoils

The five boxes of Girl Scout cookies in the kitchen have started their tempting whispers. Unable to wait to find a time to sit down and try all five paired with beers at once I decided to start the experiment one by one.

According to the article that sparked my interest in this particular pairing pursuit, Trefoils (or those old enough to remember when the un-fancy name of Shortbreads was sufficient) are the easiest to pair, "because they are lightly flavored, [and] pair well with pretty much any beer of your choosing." While Mr. Agnew suggested Lindemans Peche or a Munich Helles I didn't find either of them in my beer stash. However I'd been eager to open my bottle of Logsdon Peche 'n' Brett so I thought, why not?

The answer to "why not" is because I'm not skilled in the art of pairing. This wasn't the most horrible pairing ever but the delicious Brett quality of the beer wasn't complimented by the cookies nor was the flavor of the cookies enhanced by the beer.

Undeterred I attempted another pairing, this time with the remainder of the bottle of Cigar City Jai Alai Aged on White Oak that I opened the night before. I love the beer on its own and low and behold, it worked. The bite of the hops and dryness of oak cut through the richness of the cookie imploring me to take another bite while the richness of the cookie told me to have another sip of the beer. A delicious, vicious circle that only came to an end when my glass and the bottle were empty. And then I ate another cookie. Just because.

Seeing as how the Trefoils were the "easiest" to pair, I'll be making a trip to the bottle shop before opening the next box. If the rest of the Trefoils haven't disappeared perhaps I'll pick up a bottle of Lindeman's or a Helles.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Beer & Cheese Pairing at Lardo v2.0

At Lardo's first beer and cheese pairing it was promised that there would be more in the future. This past Thursday the promise became reality. Five Breakside beers were paired with three Oregon cheeses and one each from Washington and Montana, directed by Steve Jones, Portland's premiere cheese monger.
I generally enjoy Breakside's beers although I don't visit the brewery as often as I should so four of the beers were completely new to me. The tasting started out with the lowest ABV beer, Cedarbaumbier, an American Wheat Ale brewed with cedar tips and 40% wheat. Both the beer and the cheese, Ferns' Edge Goat Dairy (OR) Mt. Zion, were mild in flavor, complimenting one another nicely.

Up next was MacFischer's Peated Scottish Ale, a beer I would not typically order as Scottish beers tend to be too malty for me and I don't enjoy peat flavor much. However it was not surprising to discover that like other pairings Steve has had a hand in, the whole was far greater than the sum of its components. The peat flavor was subtle and the dryness of the Black Sheep Creamery (OR) Tin Willow Tomme countered the maltiness of the beer.

The third beer, Battle of the Bulge Belgian Stout, was paired with Samish Bay (WA) Ladysmith. Again the beer was of a style I wouldn't typically order but the pairing with this high moisture, salty cheese helped to offset the Belgian characteristics I dislike in the beer.

Aztec Ale was the only beer of the day that I had tried previously. This beer, brewed with habanero and serrano peppers as well as cacao, could be considered Breakside's signature beer. A delicious yet assertive beer, it was well matched with an equally assertive raw cow cheese, Mountina (MT) Mountina Original.

The final pairing of Barberhop Quartet Double IPA, an 8.9% ABV beer brewed with Citra, Cascade, Amarillo and Columbus hops, with Rogue Creamery (OR) Smokey Blue Cheese acted as dessert. The strength of the beer was apparent, although pleasantly so, and along with the creamy smokiness of the cheese made for a pairing that was delicious in a decadent manner.

Each of the pairings were introduced to our end of the table by Ben Edmunds of Breakside in which he discussed the beers' backgrounds as well as details about the cheeses while Steve covered the opposite end. Ben's descriptions of the cheeses were impressive and had Steve been unable to attend Ben would have been able to handle things quite adequately.
Compliments and thanks Ben, Steve and the Lardo crew for putting this event together. Now is it too much to ask for v3.0 to come at us in yet another few weeks?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Using Social Media & Using it Well

A Facebook post (which was also fed to their Twitter account) by Stickmen Brewery & Skewery in Lake Oswego Sunday morning quite impressed me. In case you don't follow/like them on one of these mediums here's what they had to say.

We're seeing more & more people stop by before AND after catching a movie next door - keep it up, we love hearing your reviews!
Perfect Sunday: Brunch & coffee porter at Stickmen > movie next door > boutique shopping > Big Honey Imperial K├Âlsch, skewers & sports at Stickmen. Remember that parking is available every weekend at the professional building lot next door.

Showtimes for Lake Twin Cinema |106 N. State Street
Silver Linings Playbook - 12:15 - 2:45 - 5:15 - 8:00pm
Argo - 12:45 - 3:15 - 5:45 - 8:30pm

Not only did the post show their followers how to "use" their product but they went above and beyond by giving movie times for the two films playing. I've often lamented about the lack of use of social media by breweries and brewpubs so it was refreshing to see one who is not just using social media but being thoughtful and creative.

Hopefully others will take notice and imitate because I for one am a fickle consumer. I need reminders of why I should visit an establishment. Certainly the release of a new beer or some other event is something that might draw me in but as the above post shows, it's possible to promote an establishment even when there isn't something special happening. It's about staying in the forefront of customers' minds.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Beer Brawl VI Results

The people have spoken. The results are in. Oregon kicked some BIG beer butt outpacing their nearest competitor, Colorado, by a nearly 2-t0-1 ratio in Concordia's Beer Brawl VI. Each of the 590 taster trays contributed three votes (one in each category) to come up with the following totals.
Oregon 720
Colorado 425
California 365
Washington 260

And now, so that we're on the same page as I muse over some of the results, here are the beers in the order of the taster tray.
#1 Pfriem Mosiac Pale Ale (OR)
#2 Stone Pale Ale (CA)
#3 Georgetown Manny's Pale Ale (WA)
#4 Oskar Blues Dale's Pale Ale (CO)
#5 Hale's Super Goose IPA (WA)
#6 Good Life Descender IPA (OR)
#7 Great Divide Titan IPA (CO)
#8 Firestone Walker Union Jack IPA (CA)
#9 New Belgium Imperial Chocolate Coffee Stout (CO)
#10 Black Diamond Rampage Imperial IPA (CA)
#11 Boneyard Hop Venom Double IPA (OR)
#12 Elysian Manic Series Savant IPA (WA)

The first thing that struck me was learning that #1, a beer that knocked my socks off, is made with the same hops, Mosaic, that I learned through a bottle share on Saturday I really, really enjoy (if you follow me on Twitter you may have seen the tweet).

The next observation was that #4, which I felt was a strong runner up to #1 in the Pale Ale category, was Dale's. I know that this is a beer I've thoroughly enjoyed in the past but it's been quite some time since I last had one. I'm glad to see it still makes my taste buds sing.

My blindly chosen favorite in the IPA category, #6, turned out to be Good Life Descender IPA. I haven't had a lot of Good Life but with this information I'll have to see about having more in the future.

#9, the oddball of the bunch, is a beer I know I've never had before and although I didn't choose it as my favorite in the Open category it was good. Now that I know its identity I hope to find it again as I'd like to have more of it.

I was not surprised at all to learn that my favorite, #11, was Hop Venom. Interestingly, however, #11 did not take receive the most votes overall. That honor went to #6 Good Life Descender IPA while the second most popular beer overall went to #1 Pfriem Mosaic Pale Ale and third place to #9 New Belgium Chocolate Coffee Stout.

With that bit of fun done I'm looking forward to the next "drinking game" Concordia presents to the thirsty Portland masses.