Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Celebrate 20 Years with Lompoc

Bryan Keilty (L) & Jerry Fechter (R)
Zwanzig Fest, a four-day celebration to mark Lompoc Brewing's 20th anniversary, begins today. Zwanzig means "20" in German and along with being the name of the celebration, it's the name of the bitter Märzen ale that is a nod to Lompoc's very first brew, Erst Ale. The beer, brewed with the help of local beer writers, has a malty body with eight hop additions and was designed to bring back memories of enjoying pints on the New Old Lompoc patio.

During the brewing there was plenty of chatting, including a look back at the last 20 years, with owner Jerry Fechter and head brewer Bryan Keilty. Jerry acknowledged that they can't rest on their laurels and must find ways to stay "cool, hip and exciting." That's a tall order for any brewery but especially in a craft beer-rich market like Oregon. The smaller, younger breweries have to maintain the balancing act of brewing enough beer to be profitable while not over extending themselves with the purchase of new equipment should sales decrease. "Old guard" brewpubs like Lompoc face competition from new bars and growler fill locations, making it harder and harder to draw people in. Competition also comes from other brewpubs serving great food although in hiring head brewer Bryan, Lompoc also gained a CIA (Culinary Institute of America) trained chef.

Therefore answer to the question of how to stay relevant is far from a straightforward one. Jerry made it clear that expanding sales geographically isn't something they're interested in and there has been a shift in the sale-ability of bottled beer. Lompoc started out with 22-ounce bottles and has moved toward 12-ounce bottles as the larger format bottles have seen flat, and even declining, sales. There's also been a shift in the beer that sells the best; it used to be their flagship C-Note but these days it's Proletariat Red. The preferences of the consumer are a moving target but the answer to relevancy may lie in beers that don't readily fit into a traditional style.

Zwanzig, while dubbed a bitter Märzen ale, is such a beer and the next four days offer plenty of opportunities for you to try it. Swing into one of the Lompoc pubs, grab a pint (or featured taster tray) to receive a raffle ticket for a drawing of Lompoc swag and perhaps chat with Jerry and Bryan who will be at all of the 4pm tappings.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Kris Kringle Returns

The first day of December seems like a fitting time to remind my fellow beer drinkers that McMenamins' winter warmer, Kris Kringle, is back on store shelves. This annual seasonal is wrapped in a festive but subdued label, giving a hint to the solid-not-gimmicky winter warmer contained inside.

According to my not-so-rusty, but oh-so-trusty Untappd notes from past years I've found it to be malty but tasty and a nice accompaniment to the gingerbread I had on hand last year while drinking it. Perhaps it was the suggestion of gingerbread from reading my notes but upon pouring a glass of this year's brew the ginger and cinnamon in it popped to the forefront as it hit my taste buds. The flavor, one that would pair well with food, remained largely the same from the first sip to the last.  At 6.8% ABV it's a beer that can warm you through multiple pints without laying you out cold.

The beer will be available through Christmas...for you, to share with others or perhaps as a goodie to leave out for Santa as he brings gifts to all the good kids, big and small.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Snow Cap Winter Warmer

The last time I bought a Pyramid beer...not sure but its been awhile. Anyway, when I was recently contacted to try Snow Cap, celebrating its  30th anniversary this year, I thought, sure, why not? I've been surprised by more beers as time has gone on and according to Untappd I hadn't had Snow Cap before.

Poured from the bomber that arrived on my doorstep the aroma and flavor presented on the sweet side, not unexpected for the style. I tend to prefer my beers hoppier however as the beer warmed instead of becoming more malty as expected, the spice notes became more prominent, balancing the roasted chocolate and caramel malts.

I suspect this beer would play well on many palates, such as one might encounter over the next few days and weeks during holiday gatherings. The deep ruby/copper color would not only look nice against a holiday spread but would be a nice compliment to many foods from cheese plate to meaty main dish to dessert.

Pyramid products are widely available, including at Plaid Pantry stores, meaning all it takes is a quick pop in to grab a bottle on your way to the feasting. Reasonably priced ($3 at one of the Pantry's near me), it'll leave more jingle in your pocket to pick up that special beer you've been wanting to try later on. Winner, winner, turkey dinner.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Culmination's Kitchen Welcomes Chef CJ

Those familiar with the food at Culmination Brewing may have been sorry to see their original chef, Carter Owen, leave for the next step in his culinary path but fear not, owner Tomas Sluiter has selected a replacement worthy to fill the large shoes Carter leaves behind.

Chef CJ Mueller hails from Oregon and in addition to 10 years of cooking under his belt he's also been homebrewing for five years. His aim is to do farmhouse, rustic food that pairs with farmhouse beers and it seems that he may have found the perfect spot in the incubator, both for brewers and chefs, that is Culmination.

His menu is decidedly different from the "Vermont BBQ" Carter served up but it is no less delicious. At a recent media preview CJ took us through six, beer-paired courses starting with liver mousse and 2015 Kriek. I'll admit liver mousse isn't for everyone (and if you're someone that isn't sure, invite me along, I promise to make sure the dish is cleaned) and its richness can be overwhelming. The pairing with the Kriek balanced that richness and I'm not ashamed to admit I ate as much of it as my tablemates would let me have.

Next up was the Thompson Farms Broccoli paired with Farmhouse Fresh Hop. The sharp cheddar, fish sauce, togarashi and perfectly cooked, runny egg was delicious on its salty, umami-y own and well complimented by the fresh hop beer. Even the folks that weren't huge fans of fish sauce enjoyed this dish that displayed CJ's understanding of how to use a powerful ingredient to correctly to work with the other flavors in the dish.

Following that, and designed to pair with the fresh hop Saison as well, was Gruyere three ways with Chanterelle mushrooms. The presentation was as artful as you'd see anywhere in town and the flavors equally impressive.

The meal continued along the theme of "so you think you don't like ____, let me change your mind" with a charred beet salad that my friend, Pete, who is self-admittedly beet-averse said was "damn good." The sweetness brought out in the beets was complimented by the peppery arugula, which also served to accentuate the hops in the beer it was paired with - Vic Secret IPA.

Moving back toward the more familiar was CJ's take on colcannon with a side of mushrooms and gravy. It was comfort food on a plate with the mushrooms and gravy of the sort that would be found in an English pastry or shepherd's pie. The beer pairing was a Burton Ale, a style that was popular before IPAs took off. A more malty beer than I prefer, the pairing made sense.

The main dish of the night featured coulette steak that had been cooked sous vide and was paired with Phaderus IPA. The meat was incredibly tender and Phaderus is a solid IPA that works very well with meat, standing up to but not overpowering it. As with the previous course, this was a refined take on comfort food and is the type of hearty fare that will be welcomed during the cooler, darker months ahead.

The tasting finished with a dessert of pumpkin pie, malted whipped cream made with 4&20 Black IPA and concentrated pumpkin seed oil drops served with the beer they made for Horse Brass' recent anniversary - New Olde English. The dry Irish stout was made with smoked malt, giving the 7% ABV beer a roasty aroma. Stouts are great dessert beers and the dryness complimented the just-right sweetness of the pie.

Huge thanks to Culmination for a taste of the new kitchen! CJ's clearly a talented chef whose food is on par with the beer that it's being served with. Next time you pay them a visit make sure and have room for both beer and food.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Orchestrating the Brewing Business

Portland is home to a multitude of breweries that churn out some of the best beer in the world but did you know that it's also home to a company that helps breweries make sure all of the parts of their business work together effectively?

Last week I was invited to attend Orchestrate 2016, an annual conference put on by Orchestra Software. The Beaverton-based company provides business management software for beverage companies, which encompasses breweries, distilleries, kombucha makers and soon wineries. Perhaps that doesn't sound like the most fascinating conference to attend, and admittedly it is a conference put on by a business for its customers and prospective customers, but bear with me, there are some good nuggets ahead.

During the opening keynote CEO Brad Windecker took a global look at the beverage business, a perspective that is all too easy to forget when managing the day to day operations of one's individual business. While he was specifically speaking to and about the beverage industry his comments could be applied (in the broadest terms) to many businesses. A couple quotes stuck out to me:

"A millennial drinker is more promiscuous."

"Generation Z is next and they have no concept of the internet NOT existing."

Since many of you reading this are of my general age those statements may make you feel old. They make me feel old. Regardless, these are critical observations that must be taken into account for any brewery that wants to cultivate the younger end of the consumer spectrum. A lack of brand loyalty and being used to having so much information at one's fingertips are new hurdles to be addressed.

To those points Brad reminded the audience that "it's no longer good enough to make a good product." He went on to explain businesses can do that by:
- creating new digital business (i.e. beer clubs that sell directly to customers, crowd sourcing to determine the next beer to be made)
- rethinking the value proposition (maybe it's not about selling a product, but selling an experience)
- substituting products (breweries adding cider production or doing contract brewing)
- reconfiguring the delivery model

I'm sure there's a transcript of his talk somewhere if you want all the nitty-gritty but the short of it is that in order to achieve their goals and reach their full potential breweries need to intentionally drive change instead of letting it happen. While we can all appreciate a finely crafted product those that don't address the business side of the equation with as much care as they put into the product in their tanks will stagnate and at some point fail to remain competitive.

It was a lot to think about, even for someone like me who was attending as a casual observer. But it was also exciting...to be surrounded by hundreds of people who were there because this is their business and are interested in being proactive about their future.

Monday, October 17, 2016

4th Annual WW Beer Pro/Am - Bigger & Better Than Ever

Saturday, amidst "Portland Windstorm '16," the 4th Annual Willamette Week Beer Pro/Am took place in the comfy, dry confines of the North Warehouse. This year there were over 30 collaborations, more than a couple which surprised me in delightful ways. I would not have thought an India Pale Lager, a Doppelbock, a Yerba Mate-containing beer or a couple of Belgian styles would have hit the right notes with me. Yet they did, along with a sour, a couple of IPAs and a beer based on one of my favorite Girl Scout cookies. Quite an array of beers, no?

I was also thrilled to be part of the judging team that awarded Great Notion and Chad Graham's Amprosia Saison as the Judge's Choice winner. A beautiful color with a nicely sour nose and flavor, this pair - which I know both the pros and the amateur - showcased their talents with mixed fermentation and fruit. Runner up aka Honorable Mention went to the team of Rogue and Tracy Hensley for their barreled Belgian brew that combined the worlds of beer and wine.

The People's Choice went to one of the beers with a great name - Ex Novo and Jack Hall's It Burns When IPA, a jalapeno cream ale that had balanced heat and I'd love to have with nachos. Tied for People's Choice Honorable Mention were Fort George and Chris McNeel's The Doomed Rider, a wee heavy that was smoky and sweet and Bretta Persica, the Brett fermented IPA on nectarines from Coalition and Jon and Parker Hall that was fruity, dry and tart.

And I would be remiss if I didn't mention the most unique beer of the festival, Barely Legal Hazy CBD IPA. This creation came from Dean Pottle, Portland beer scene legend and proprietor of Dean's Scene, who passed away days earlier. CBD, the non-psychoactive substance in marijuana, was infused into a New England style IPA and I for one found the aroma of freshly harvested hops rolled between my palms and the flavor that mirrored it to be delicious.

In addition to the beers the food from both of the carts on hand - Thrive Sauce and Bowls (formerly Thrive NW) and PDX Sliders - were delicious and offered exactly what was needed to soak up all the liquid goodness.

There could have been more port-a-potties (are there ever enough at "that time" at a beer festival?) and it did get crowded as the afternoon went on but overall every year Steph Barnhart has improved this festival. (The charging station was a new addition that hopefully will become a festival feature as common as water stations.) I look forward to next year's iteration with great anticipation!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Reasons Not to Miss Saturday's Pro/Am

The Willamette Week Beer Pro/Am, now in it's fourth year, takes place this Saturday at the North Warehouse (down the street from Widmer). For those unfamiliar with the event it features brewing teams - part commercial brewery and part amateur brewer. "Amateur" is technical by definition only; these amateurs tend to be very accomplished homebrewers who have been doing this for years, entered countless competitions and taken home awards for their beers. The creations attendees will be sampling easily qualify as something the "pro" part of the team could turn out and who knows, maybe in the future you can say you were one of the first to have the beer that started out as a Pro/Am entry and has now become a beer the brewery makes.

Beyond the cool factor of the professional and amateur brewers collaborating, an aspect that keeps the connection between where most brewers started and where they are today, here are a few more reasons you should strongly consider scrapping any other plans for Saturday and attending.

#1 The beers made for this festival will be some of the most creative you'll run across. From a lavender and vanilla cream ale, the collaboration of homebrewers Jen McPoland and Jeremie Landers and Burnside Brewing's Natalie Baldwin (who won as the "am" part of a team in 2014) to Amprosia, a mixed culture Saison with local Chenin Blanc and Merlot grapes from Great Notion Brewing and Chad Graham (aka Before Noon Brew) to a barrel aged dry sparkling session mead from Oregon Mead & Cider Co. (formerly Stung Fermented) and Brewvana Brewery Tours to Purple Rain, a Brett fermented cider with pureed Oregon black currants from Swift Cider and Miranda Karson, the 30 collaborations showcase the skill these teams possess.

#2 Both parts of the brewing team will be on hand pouring their beer and will be more than happy to talk to you about it. Unlike big festivals where often volunteers, who may or may not have tried the beer, are pouring it you'll not only get your glass filled by someone who has had the beer but by someone who has played an integral part in its design and making.

#3 I'll be there and you know it's been too long since we last had a beer together. I've been fortunate to be asked back for a third year as a judge meaning I will be there for the entire time of the festival and will be trying every single entry. Even if you can only come for a few hours on one end or the other look hard enough (I am short) and I'll be there somewhere.

Willamette Week's 4th Annual Beer Pro/Am
Saturday, October 15
1-6:30pm (12pm entry for VIP)
723 N Tillamook Street

$25 general admission includes pint glass, enough tickets to taste all of the beer/mead/cider, pretzel necklace & free retro video games
$55 VIP tops those benefits with early entry, voucher for event food vendors PDX Sliders or Thrive Sauce & Bowls and event t-shirt

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Find Your Way to Wayfinder Beer

From street level, Wayfinder Beer doesn't give many clues about what lies inside. The first hints come as one walks up the steps, entering the building via a gorgeous, expansive west-facing deck. Then as you step through the glass doors, there's an expansive bar. Turn to the left and wander further - ooh there's the open kitchen - and further - ooh there's the open brewery - and further. Really the place seems to go on and on. But a beautiful place is only one component to a brewpub and even one as impressive as this must have the liquid and solid chops to back it up.

We'll start with the liquids, which are currently presented in the form of collaboration beers done with local breweries, large and small. It's a plan other new places have used and especially great when your brewery equipment just showed up. That's no exaggeration - the 10bbl system, including vessel for decoction mashing and hopback/hopjack - was delivered mere hours before the media preview began Thursday. When fully installed the steam powered brewhouse headed by Kevin Davey, a Tualatin native whose resume includes Firestone Walker and Chuckanut, will focus on lagers. There's enough space for a large expansion or perhaps their own packaging line as that's something they plan to do down the road.

The beers were presented alongside a sampling of food:
- Wayfinder/Baerlic Bike Crush Kolsch
- Wayfinder/Hopworks Tiny Bubbles German-style Pilsner
- Wayfinder/Breakside Li'l Goblin Weizenbock
- Wayfinder/Widmer Supergeil Festbier Lager
- Wayfinder/Breakside Definitely Not IPA
- Wayfinder/54 40' Double Trouble Double Red Ale

Overall the styles are not my preferred ones but the Hopworks collaboration Pilsner was quite nice, especially with the charcuterie meats and sausages. Also a tasty accompaniment to the meatiness of the appetizers was the Double Trouble double red collaboration with 54 40'. At 7.5% ABV it's not overly boozy but as one who doesn't enjoy malty beers the balance provided by the meat, especially the sausage, was spot on.

No surprise the Definitely Not IPA collaboration with Breakside, the hoppiest of the beers presented, was my favorite. The level of hops was agreeable for pairing with just about any food and a good choice for my fellow hop heads.

In addition to the charcuterie and sausage plates, all of the food was delicious, with obvious care and thought taken in its preparation. That's a big compliment from me in particular regards to the cornmeal crusted fried oysters. I generally gloss over oysters on any menu that have had heat applied; on the half shell is the only interest to me. These however were incredibly tender inside...think of a Scotch egg that's crispy on the outside but inside the yolk is still slightly runny. Mmmmmmm.

And before I wrap this up, a note about the chicken and dessert. Like cooked oysters, I typically pass by any chicken dish but Wayfinder's is some of the most flavorful and moist I've ever had. Smoked and served on the bone it would be easy to eat an entire bird. Here it was served with a sweet potato hash and bright, cooked-just-right broccolini.

Never one to pass up finishing a meal with dessert, their buttery brioche bread pudding was the icing on the cake of a preview that left me eager to go back.

Ok, now go. Eat, drink, enjoy!

Wayfinder Beer
304 SE 2nd Ave
Open daily at 11am

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Mt Tabor Brewing Returns to Portland

Glass lamp inspired tap handles & a tasty line up
Mt Tabor Brewing's location-based name might cause some a bit of confusion but there's no confusion about the beer they're making. It's good. Plenty good to join the heavy hitters in the particularly wonderful SE section of this beer wonderland we call Portland that they've just moved to.

When Eric Surface opened Mt Tabor brewing it was located in SE Portland's Mt Tabor neighborhood and thus the name was fitting. Then as things tend to happen to small, growing breweries, they needed more space. Forging across the river to Vancouver, WA, five years ago they aimed to "do double duty between the brewery and full time jobs" and of course continue their growth. They succeeded so much so that earlier this year they announced that they would be leaving downtown Vancouver, coming back home to Portland. (There's also a location in the Felida Village area of Vancouver - NW 119th St & NW 36th Ave - in the works.)

Ben Dobler lays it out
Having gotten to Portland not long before Mt Tabor moved across the river I hadn't gotten properly acquainted with them and in the ensuing years have been fairly Portland-centric with my drinking. Last night the situation was rectified when I visited the new space which is conveniently located within easy walking distance of my house (thanks!!) and managed by the friendly and familiar face of Nicole Kasten. The space is tucked just off SE Sandy Blvd and from the outside is unassuming. But one step inside the doors and wow, there is a ton of space that is part tasting room, part brewery and all "I got room to add more tanks AND more tables."

Of the 10+ beers from head brewer Ben Dobler, a long-time Widmer alum, I had the pleasure of trying seven - Lamp Post Lager, Ash St. Amber Ale, Powell Butte Pale Ale, Asylum Ave IPA, Crown Point Porter, Cowboy's Lament Dark Mexican Lager and Little Dutch Boy ISA. As a hop head amber and pale ales generally do little for me and merely serve as a warm up to the main event - IPAs. Not so here. Mt Tabor's Ash St. Amber certainly has the caramelized malt flavor one would expect from the style but takes a turn away from the sweet-too-malty-for-me path and goes down a more toasty trail. And for as much as I enjoyed the amber it was the Powell Butte Pale Ale, their flagship beer, that really hit it out of the park for me. With an enticing citrus hop aroma followed by a flavor that doesn't wash out this 5% pale ale easily stood up to the real test - coming back to it after drinking the piney-citrusy (and yummy in its own right) IPA.

More Crown Point coming
The Crown Point Porter was also a definite winner in my book. The combination of having an incredibly roasty aroma and dark but not heavy drinkability would make this a great breakfast beer. Finally the Lamp Post Lager, a style I'm coming around to, was a clean and very drinkable version of the style that does considerably more than serve as a light option.

I realize I'm gushing a bit. That's ok. I'm pretty sure these guys deserve it. And whether you believe me or need to decide for yourself first hand, you should check them out Friday and Saturday afternoon/evenings.

Mt Tabor Brewing
124 SE 11th Ave
Friday & Saturday 3-9pm

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Camping with a Side of Beer - Part II

Welcome back to the story. If by chance you haven't read the first part, check it out here.

The coolest dumpster ever.
Our first stop in downtown Boise was 10 Barrel Brewing. While not of interest to me due to the change in ownership I was happy to accommodate Chris' desire to stop in and say hi to his friend, Shawn. Shawn Kelso, a former Barley Brown's brewer, has been at 10 Barrel since well before the buyout and while they were chatting I happily took advantage of a bit of a beer break knowing there was plenty of day left. Before we headed out Shawn told us that the best way to get to our next destination, Bittercreek Alehouse, was to go through Freak Alley. Had Shawn been a stranger I would have thought he was pulling our leg but we took his word for it and it turned out to be the coolest alley I've ever been in.

After a couple blocks of marveling at the artwork in Freak Alley we found ourselves deposited directly across the street from Bittercreek Alehouse. It isn't a brewery but a well respected bar with 30+ taps and a place which Mag had actually been to while in Boise on a work trip. There were plenty of great beers to choose from, as I'd had and enjoyed the majority of them, so I went with a slightly unorthodox option in terms of the purpose of our trip, ordering up New Belgium Very Cheers since I hadn't had it. The sour beer was exactly what I needed to refresh my palate.

Looping back towards the car we visited Woodland Empire, the smallest place we'd been into so far. Here we ordered up the first sampler tray of the day consisting of Neon Golden (hefeweizen), Someone Gave Me Crabapples (gose), Set 'Em Wild, Set 'Em Free Ginger (berliner weisse), Close to Home (strong ale), Moon Dog (amber) and Green Tea Saison. The Green Tea Saison was easily my favorite of the bunch but if you're not a fan of green tea, pass on it. The same should be said for the ginger berliner weisse. On our way out we considered ducking into PreFunk Beer Bar for a quick pint but with one eye on the clock and the other eye gauging our stamina we decided to head out of downtown and start working our way west again.

Barbarian Brewing was a place that had been recommended to us and was in the same strip mall area as Meriwether Cider, an easy one-two punch for us to finish up our time in Boise. Hitting up the cidery first we bellied up to the bar, getting samplers of all seven of their ciders and learning from our server that they are a family operation (mom, dad and two adult children) that are new in the cider game, just nine months old. All of the ciders were enjoyable, something made more impressive considering they've really just started. I'd happily have had more of any of them but as it was getting late in the afternoon we finished up and headed to our final destination.

Barbarian wasn't too busy by the time we got there but it was easy to tell that they probably would be packed later on, being a Friday night an all. We sampled 13 of their beers (good thing there were three of us) and as you might guess with that number, they were all over the board in terms of styles. It's no surprise that my favorites were a double IPA named Big Bad Wolf, a 9% ABV beer with cedar, Mint Lime Gose and two sours - Beta Wolf 2.0 and Sour Noir. If we didn't have a 90 minute drive (ok, "ride" for three of us) ahead I would have easily stayed for quite some time. As it was, we packed up with a great final stop in Boise to keep smiles on our faces as we made our way back to Farewell Bend.

Huge thanks go out to Chris and Lyn for inviting us and to Lyn, a special thank you for allowing us the opportunity to fully enjoy the Boise experience.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Camping with a Side of Beer - Part I

Earlier this month we joined our friends Chris and Lyn on their annual camping trip at Farwell Bend State Recreation Area in Eastern Oregon. We all know that camping tends to involve plenty of beer but this time was different than our usual hope-we've-packed-enough-booze-because-once-we-get-to-the-campground-what-we-have-is-what-we-have.

Farewell Bend is about 45 minutes past Baker City, where Barley Brown's is located. It might be Chris' favorite brewery so of course he was planning to visit again and this was a prime opportunity for us to visit for the first time. Arriving mid-afternoon, shortly after they opened we set about to trying a number of beers we hadn't had (although we'd had quite a few both because they're fairly well distributed in Portland and anytime Chris visits he always brings back growlers to share). Leaving while we were still in a position to finish the drive to the campground, we arrived with plenty of daylight to set things up. The evening was a typical camping one - a hearty dose of food and beers around the campfire - but nothing to crazy as the next day was the big beer day.

Boise, Idaho likely isn't one of the first places that pops to mind when thinking of beer destinations but we knew there was enough there to be worth the three hour round trip drive. It's something Mag and I wouldn't have undertaken on our own however Lyn doesn't drink so the four of us piled into their van mid-morning knowing we'd have a sober driver to bring us back at the end of the day. We didn't have a detailed itinerary but had identified a few places we definitely wanted to hit and mapped out others. From there it was a matter of trying to visit places in roughly a geographically sensical sequence taking into account what time each place opened.

Starting out on the western side of the Boise metro we rolled into Powderhaus Brewing and ordered up three pints to share - First Turns IPA, Haus Bier (cream ale) and Deadfall Ale (red ale). While enjoying our tasty first beers of the day I wandered around the interior, with seating open to the brewery, and "backyard" area with a small stage and creek running behind it. Both the IPA - woody and pleasantly hoppy - and the Red - hoppy and a bit nutty - are beers I could drink plenty of, the cream ale only getting a slight down grade due to style.

Next up was Crooked Fence Brewing, just a short jaunt down the road, where we decided that since it was a full service restaurant it would be a good idea to grab lunch before we got too far into our day. Crooked Fence is fairly well distributed in Portland so it was another round of pints with my choice being the Gose of Davy Jones - a version with a lovely, pronounced salt characteristic and a surprisingly rounded mouthfeel - along with a mighty tasty quesadilla. Mag and Chris opted for Hither Brown and Welcome to Idaho Amber.

Set with a good base for the rest of the day we continued east towards downtown with the next stop being Payette Brewing Company. An impressive facility in size and accommodations - a taproom that could fit a hundred people easily, multiple cooler doors of beer to go and a "backyard" outfitted with picnic tables, cornhole, a disc golf hole and hammock. Ordering our pints - Recoil IPA, Experimental IPA #2 and Payette Pale Ale - our server invited us to go through the glass door to the observation deck overlooking the brewery, something I found to be a good solution to letting people see the brewery without them getting in the way or requiring staff to attend to. The Recoil, a juicy IPA, was my favorite of the three and one I'll be keeping an eye out for in Portland as we see a fair number of their beers around town.

Then it was time to head downtown for our next three stops and here is probably a good place for a break in the story. Check back in a day or two to see what the rest of the Boise adventure entailed.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Buckman Kerns Beer Belly Dinner Recap

Course #1
While I'd love to be enjoying Feast again this year, not doing so means I have more time to indulge in other types of feasting...like last night's Beer Belly dinner at EastBurn. Typically these monthly dinners focus on one brewery but this month, the Buckman Kerns version, we were treated to beers from seven local breweries, among which there are a couple big favorites of mine.

Course #1
Fried okra bread, smoked peach relish with Culmination Urizen ISA

Okra has a mild flavor so it didn't contribute much as a component of the fried sourdough bread but it was hands down the least slimy preparation of okra I've experienced (score!). Served with a well balanced relish combining the sweet smokiness of peach and a nice bite of onion, the slight greasiness of the bread was cut by the lightness of Urizen and the dinner was off to a great start.

Course #2
Lamb, eggplant, pomegranate, chickpea, feta with Migration Better Off Red IPA

In a very interesting composition and presentation the eggplant (another ingredient that usually doesn't wow me) was thinly sliced and used as a wrapper around the lamb which was heavily spiced (nutmeg and cumin perhaps?) and salted. An assertive dish, the pairing with this equally assertive, Vic Secret dry-hopped beer was spot on.

Course #2
Course #3
Pistachio fried rock crab, hulled barley risotto, lemon oil with Coalition Sangria Bretta

The beer, a collaboration with Enso Winery, is a big hit with me on its own but was taken to another level when paired with the delicate crab flavor that was encased in a crispy pistachio crust. Complimenting that crispiness was a perfectly cooked, tender and creamy "risotto" made from hulled barley (similar in size to Israeli couscous) instead of the traditional rice.

Course #4
Braised oxtail, charred onions, eseputna mash, green oak, cilantro with Base Camp Fresh Hop Town Saison

The first fresh hop beer for me this season is also one of the best I've had from Base Camp. A Saison, generally not a style I enjoy, was brightened by a substantial amount of hops, transported from the fields at Goschie Farms to Base Camp's brewery by bike. The fall-off-the-bone tender oxtail, potato foam (aka eseputna mash) and gravy were delicious on their own, yet even better paired with the beer.

Course #5
Goat barbacoa, fried squash blossom, avocado, sour cream with Mt. Tabor Crown Point Porter

As with the previous course, what the plate lacked in color was more than made up for in the flavor - brown goodness, my, oh, my! Here, however instead of being accompanied by a bright beer, the roasty porter with both a delicious aroma and pleasing mouthfeel was the perfect match and made for the best pairing of the night. (For those wondering why Mt. Tabor, which had been located in downtown Vancouver was included, the exciting answer is that they will be opening a taproom at 124 SE 11th Avenue possibly as soon as next weekend.)

Tomas Sluiter, Culmination
Course #6
Panna cotta, honey comb, blowtorched berries, pear with Burnside The Riveter

Getting full and perhaps a bit tipsy as the dinner rounded the corner into the home stretch, this pairing wasn't as spot on as the previous ones. The dessert on its own absolutely rocked however and it was fun to try this collaboration beer made by my favorite Burnside brewer, Natalie Baldwin, and Do Bongers of Oersoep Brewing of the Netherlands.

Course #7
Vegan banana ice cream, buttermilk caramel, pear chips with Alameda Stubs Old Crow Hazelnut Porter

The final course, like the previous one, didn't offer a pairing that was on par with the savory ones but at this point it was all gravy (well, not literally, that was back in the fourth course). A lightly sweet end to the meal topped off a wonderful evening surrounded by people that make and enjoy good food and drink.

If you haven't been to a Beer Belly dinner yet, consider this my push for you to do so. As an added incentive all of the dinners benefit a charity (this one for the Children's Cancer Association) so you can eat, drink and do good all in one delicious package.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Wading in Hop-less Waters

I'm a beer drinker. It's what I most enjoy, it's what I'm most familiar with and I know how to drink it (I'm looking at you, hard alcohol, you throw me for a loop most times we meet). That being said I'm particularly open to trying wine when I can do so to learn what I like. Mostly this happens at a friends' houses when someone else is drinking it as I'm not committed enough to shell out for a bottle (or even a glass) for something that I might not like. Then there are times like Monday night, The Solo Club's grand opening party, when I get invited to sample an establishment's wares gratis. 

Located in the ever growing restaurant and bar scene in NW Portland, I've driven by their location, next to Besaw's (a sister restaurant) countless times in the course of work and have been watching as the space progressed. Last Friday and Saturday they offered soft opening dinners that a few friends attended, reporting back about the beautiful space and tasty morsels. Having been their now myself I can confirm both and while I was somewhat hesitant to check out a place that has only 1 beer tap I figured it never hurts to keep an open mind, it would help my wine education and besides, I don't have to have beer everywhere...right?

We'll start with the food, because it's never a good idea to drink on an empty stomach.

Mini, open-faced tamales

Fried chicken biscuit sliders

Umami brown butter popcorn, tea brined egg,
salmon jerky, kimchi, pickles, seaside potato chips
Without exception all of the food I tried was delicious, so good that I'm granting them a pass in my book for not having more beer.

So if there isn't beer, what did I drink? Two cocktails - one containing coconut bourbon (fun but boozy) and the other with mezcala (super smoky aroma but less so in the flavor, thankfully, that would be great with a big plate of meat), two wines - a rose and Quinta da Aveleda Vinho Verdi (which clearly impressed me enough to snap a picture of the label) and Portland Cider with bitters (of which their were three - Woodland, grapefruit and Orleans).

It's not going to be my new go-to place, in part because the NW location isn't particularly convenient and in part because I really do prefer beer. But I'm definitely keeping this on my radar to suggest to friends who are equal opportunity drinkers and/or love tasty food. In a town (and an area of town at that) that is known for vast beer selections The Solo Club is setting themselves apart by focus on other libations and great food. I wish them the best and look forward to visiting again and starting today you can check them out, too.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Picks from Day One of the Organic Beer Fest

Day one of the Organic Beer Fest is behind us, a scorcher at that, with another warm day on tap before we come into perfect beer festival weather this weekend. Before we get into the beers let me just say that if you have the time and can bear the heat, go today. Yesterday the festival was sparsely populated and I expect today's heat will keep those with lesser constitutions away until the weekend, meaning a beer festival that feels like it's for you, not you and hundreds (or thousands) of friends.

Enough about the heat, let's talk beer! Of my list of 17 beers I had planned to try there were a few hiccups in the plan - two didn't arrive (Dogwood Brewing Organic IPA and Wandering Aengus Golden Russet), two were more expensive than I was willing to pay (Pinkus-Muller Organic Munster Alt and Samuel Smith's Organic Strawberry, two and three tokens respectively, and being poured out of bottles) and a fifth that I was on the fence about that a friend confirmed was fairly true to style and I was pretty sure wouldn't be my cup of tea (Coin Toss Half Penny). What that meant, however, was that I was able to slide in one that I had considered, Loowit Guenhwyvar Session Ale, and get through my list in one day.

I'm pleased to say that there were no stinkers in the bunch that I tasted. The ones I liked least were based on my palate and style preferences and I noted on at least one of them that while I didn't love it, I'd guess that there will be plenty of people who will enjoy it. So no "avoid this" beers this time around, just the top three that tickled me.

Two Kilts Manbun IPA
I'll admit that the name and that it's an IPA, one of my favorite styles, were the reasons this was on my list. Plus the Two Kilts guys are cool. This 6.9% beer is easy drinking with a man-stanky aroma that fits the name and makes me smile. If you like your IPAs stanky as well make sure to try it.

Laht Neppur Strawberry Cream Ale
This brewery has been hit or miss with me and while I don't like to be a girl ordering a "girly" beer I'm always interested in fruit beers. This is possibly the most well made strawberry beer I've had, lacking the "farty" quality as Mag refers to it that seems to be prevalent when strawberries are involved. The aroma is of fresh, not quite fully ripe strawberries, but of those that have the promise of being delicious very soon. The flavor follows with a refreshing quality perfect for the summer and might entice me to sit down with an entire pitcher for myself. At 5.5% that wouldn't even be overkill.

McMenamins Crystal Brewery Rose City 'Til I Rye
I admit that I tend to give McMenamins on the whole a bit of a short stick when I think about their beers which is unfair because certain brewers are turning out some great stuff. A fan of rye beers in general, this one is a great use of the ingredient in a very sessionable 4.4% beer.

Keep in mind that I tasted only 25% of the beers that are available at the festival. There are likely some other great ones being poured and of course, your palate may be much different than mine, case in point being Old Town Cardamum's the Word. My friend, who has BJCP certification, really enjoyed this beer. Me, who has an aversion to cardamom, had a sip and that was more than enough for me. So go, have fun and try what sounds good to YOU. Because it's all about you...ok it's all about the beer but whateves. Cheers!

Organic Beer Fest
Overlook Park
Friday & Saturday 12-9pm
Sunday 12-5pm
Tasting mug $7, drink tokens $1 each

Monday, August 22, 2016

Short List for the Organic Beer Fest

Summer is flying by, a bit to my dismay but it also means that the Organic Beer Fest, now in its 12th year is just days away (formerly called the North American Organic Beer Festival). Of the bigger beer festivals in town it is my favorite for both the great location at Overlook Park and the number of interesting beers that show up year after year.
After a perusal of the 55 beers that will be on tap during the four-day event I've come up with a reasonable 16 that I'd like to try for various reasons.

There are those from breweries I have a particular affinity for:
54°40’ Brewing Chaga-lug Chaga-lug (mushroom porter with vanilla and maple syrup)
Yachats Brewing Cetacea (a Saison with Szechuan peppercorns)
Montavilla Brew Works Organic Warp Session Ale

There are those that I've never had beer from:
Dogwood Brewing Organic IPA
Fortside Brewing Co. Ripple Effect

There are those whose style, name or ingredients have caught my eye:
Two Kilts Manbun IPA
Golden Valley Buzzed Barista (coffee infused blonde ale)
Hopworks Urban Brewery IPX Azacca (a newer hop I've found I enjoy)
Vagabond Brewing Into the Wild IPA

Then there are those that I'd like to try but will be come optional if I run out of time or steam:
Samuel Smith's Organic Strawberry Ale
Lahat Neppur Strawberry Cream Ale (might be a fun back-to-back tasting with Samuel Smith's)
Kells Brew Pub Blood Orange Summer Wheat
Wandering Aengus Golden Russet (a 9.3% cider that I suspect will be smooth as heck)
Pinkus-Muller Organic Munster Alt (not many alts being made and this one is from Germany)
McMenamins Edgefield 2016 Hogshead Whiskey Pavol (barrel-aged Baltic Porter)
McMenamins Crystal Rose City 'Til I Rye
Coin Toss Brewing Half Penny (rice lager)

Next up will be to create my notes sheet that I'll use at the festival (on 8.5 x 11 card stock for easier table-less writing) and adding these beers to my Untappd wish list. Then it's game on!

Organic Beer Festival
Thursday, August 25 - Sunday, August 28
12-9pm Thursday, Friday and Saturday
12-5pm Sunday
Overlook Park
Tasting mugs $7, drink tokens $1 each

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Observations from Day 1 of the Oregon Brewers Festival

One of the many beautiful & tasty
beers to be had
Wednesday dawned overcast and dreary but by the time the parade was marching across the Hawthorne bridge to open the 29th Annual Oregon Brewers Festival the skies had cleared and a stunning summer day was upon Portland.

During the couple of hours I was able to attend I sampled 16 beers, starting off with Berliner Weisses and fruit beers before moving to a couple of hoppier beers and settling into the area of the International Beer Garden to try as many of the beers on tap at the time that were on my list, knowing there would be a good chance they wouldn't be available tomorrow.

Of the Berliner Weisses I tried (about half of the ones I hope to), Uber Osten from Terminal Gravity was my favorite. The 4.8% beer is balanced and just right for the style. Along a similar style vein, Nancy Cherrygan from Sasquatch offered up a bit of tartness, plenty of cherry flavor and was a beauty to look at. At 6.9% I might get myself into trouble if I were allowed to drink as much as I want of it (which would be plenty).

While I didn't have much in the way of hoppy beers I was impressed with Organized Love IPA from Riverbend, one of the newer breweries on the Oregon beer scene. In the International Beer Garden both the IPA from North Island Beer and No. 10, a 7.5% imperial IPA from Shiga Kogen Beer, are worth trying (if they're available when you're there).

Finally, two big, dark beers that were on my list were definite winners: New Holland Dragon's Milk: Mexican Spice Cake and Lost Abbey Serpent's Stout. The former is just what it sounds like, a liquid version of a spiced cake, and it is stunning. Serpent's Stout is a blended beer, with a portion being aged in bourbon barrels, which comes across without being overpowering and finishes with a coffee/dark chocolate aftertaste. Both are 11% beers so drink with caution but if I was looking for something to slowly sip while wandering the grounds I'd splurge on a full glass (4 tokens) and enjoy every last drop.

- Bring water (it's allowed), use the rinse stations or buy a bottle from one of the food vendors.
- Drink water. My rule is "drink your swill" and by that I mean that I carry a water bottle so that I can dump some in my tasting mug between each sample. It not only rinses it but drinking that beer-ish flavored water helps keep me hydrated.

- Visit the International Beer Garden early on and continue to check back periodically as the beers will rotate.
- If there is a line for New Holland or Lost Abbey (both in trailer #2) the wait is worth it.

- It's going to be a warm one so take advantage of the shaded areas and/or the "free rain."