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."

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Locked & Loaded for the 29th Annual Oregon Brewers Festival

2015 festival tasting mug
The granddaddy of beer festivals in Oregon, the Oregon Brewers Festival, starts Wednesday and I for one am ready. Last week I made my way through the full list of 100+ beers from breweries across the U.S. and the world, identifying 49 that I'd really like to taste.

In an effort to put some organization in place I first listed them by general style/ABV, starting with fruit and sours beers, ending with a few imperial stouts (the order in which I'd like to drink them in an ideal world). While it'd be foolish to waste time going in that exact order this will help ensure that as much as I want to try those big, bold beers I'm better off waiting. Because I do in fact want to taste the beers on the list, not just drink them.

Next up, because I'm a die-hard user, I created a Wish List on Untappd. For those who haven't done so before, it's a huge time-saver for check-ins during a festival, especially for those foreign beers whose brewery or beer names might be listed slightly differently in this app than on the festival list. Keep in mind that the first beer put on the Wish List gets pushed down as the others "stack" on top of it. Therefore I entered one of the last beers I plan to drink, New Holland's 11% Dragon's Milk: Mexican Spice Cake, first. (FYI - It's far easier to do this on a computer than phone.) As with the overall list it's not foolproof but it is helpful, including to identify beers one may have already tried. I found two on my list that I'd had before.

The final step, when the listing of the trailers the beers would be pouring at was released Monday, was to assign trailer numbers to the beers on my list. In the past I've then reshuffled my list by trailer number. This year I'll be attending the festival for multiple days so left the original order intact. I won't be running from trailer #9, down to trailer #5 and then over to the International Beer Garden to stay in exact order but it will give me some guidance as I wander through the festival.

Speaking of the International Beer Garden, for those new to the festival, this is a feature that was added three years ago to be "part of a cultural exchange of ideas, knowledge and the celebration of craft beer." What's more important logistically is to understand that the 25 beers coming from Japan, The Netherlands, China and Germany will not all be pouring throughout the festival. They will rotate so don't set your heart on trying all of them unless you intend to be there from open until close all five days. Definitely take advantage of this unique opportunity though and try what's on tap while you're there.

Things to keep in mind:
- The beer starts pouring at noon each day (gates open at 11:30am).
- It is a cash-only event (although ATMs will be available...for a fee of course).
- Entrance itself is free; drinking requires a tasting mug ($7) and tokens ($1/sample).
- Besides the obvious silliness of operating a vehicle post-fest, parking in the area is horrible. And expensive. Use public transit, take a cab/Uber/Lyft or hoof it.

Oregon Brewers Festival
Wednesday, July 27 - Sunday, July 31
Tom McCall Waterfront Park, Portland
12-9pm Wed - Sat, 12-7pm Sun

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Pint & Growler Deals

This fine pint of Guanabana Gose was
enjoyed for a mere $3 at Burnside
last night.
A couple of years ago I put together a listing of deals on pints ($3 and under) and growler fills ($10 and under) around Portland and have periodically made updates to it. In the last week or so enough new deals have cropped up that it warranted a reposting and re-promotion of it.

Because I care.

Because there might be something else you want to spend money on.

Because these places are worth checking out even when it isn't deal day.

So pop on over here to check 'em out, share this vital info with your friends and let me know if there are any missing. If you see a place listed that you haven't been to, the day they offer their deal would be a great one to finally get around to checking them out.

And remember to tip your server WELL (i.e. $1/beer) because not only have they brought you a tasty beer, they've brought you a tasty beer at a great price.

And no one likes a tipping cheapskate.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Chips & Beer - What Could Go Wrong?

Potato chips and beer are a no-brainer combo that we've all enjoyed, right? We recently took that combo to the next (beer geeky) level exploring the Kettle Chips pairings that had come to our attention.

As it turned out the nearby Plaid Pantry had five of the seven varieties on the pairing sheet and were conveniently offering them at 2/$2.50. After grabbing the five from the sheet and throwing in Buffalo Bleu for good measure, and to get to six bags, we were off to meet up with a veteran pairing friend (he's been along for the ride for Girl Scout cookies, Halloween candy and breakfast cereal) at our favorite watering hole.

Each pairing had both a general recommended beer style as well as specific beers named. It came as no surprise that the specific beers mentioned weren't necessarily available in our market but it was nice to see that they were spread out across the country (Cigar City, Bell's and Deschutes to name a few). With that in mind we knew we'd have to use our own judgment if none of the specific ones mentioned were available or if they were beers we simply would prefer not to drink (which shall remain nameless).

Per our usual pattern we opted to start off with the pairing that had the mildest beer which was Sea Salt & Vinegar with ESB. Chris grabbed a Fuller's ESB and although fine with the chips, neither really did anything to enhance the other. As we continued we went back to those chips with other beers, finding that Arch Rock Gold Beach Lager was the best of our selections and that Sam Smith Organic Lager was also a good choice although it managed to cancel out most of the vinegar flavor of the chips.

Up next was Honey Dijon, suggested to be paired with a brown ale/nut brown ale, for which we went with AleSmith Nut Brown. Nothing amazing there but going back to the recently opened Fuller's ESB we were pleasantly surprised with the result, the Dijon providing enough kick to keep the ESB from being cloying.

Chip #3 was Backyard Barbeque for which an American IPA was suggested. All of us being IPA fans, we tried out multiple ones - Block 15 Sticky Hands, Claim 52 Fluffy IPA, Lagunitas Hop Stoopid - as well as the Ale Smith Nut Brown, both previously mentioned lagers and Sam Smith Taddy Oatmeal Stout. The standouts were Sam Smith Lager, which allowed some nice smoke from the chips to come out in the front, and Block 15 Sticky Hands, a powerful beer that was well matched with the powerfully flavored chip.

Passing the halfway point of the pairing it's safe to say we were starting to get the feeling we'd be salt-logged the next day but were having too much fun to quit. The Jalapeno chips were also recommended to go with an American IPA. Both the Sticky Hands and Sam Smith paired very nicely, with the latter's sweetness mellowed by the bite of the chip. Personally I'd have easily downed a pitcher of the beer and a couple bags of chips. Also acceptable pairings were Gold Beach Lager and Hop Stoopid, a big beer that the chips helped to keep in check my consumption of by intensifying the hop bite - not something for everyone.

Down to the final pairing from the sheet, Salt & Fresh Ground Pepper with an American Pale Ale, it appears from my notes that we realized we already had plenty of beers open and no pale ales available that we really loved. Therefore we went back through what we had open with Chris commenting that overall this was the best chip to pair with a variety of beers. Sam Smith Lager, as with Jalapeno, had its sweetness balanced by the Salt & Fresh Ground Pepper.

Finally we were down to the "wild card" chip - Buffalo Bleu. A wonderfully intensely flavored chip, it was well matched with Sticky Hands and went surprisingly well with ESB and Gold Beach Lager. I had been concerned that the chips would bring forward too much sweetness from the ESB but to the contrary it actually brought out the bitterness in it quite pleasingly. In the case of Gold Beach Lager my concern was that it would be overpowered by the chips, but no, it simply mellowed some of the lager characteristics and was easily one of my favorite pairings. I could see this combo being a great accompaniment to any brew day or BBQ-ing.

In the end it was another fun way to play with beer and food and I'm thankful to my tasting partners as well as the friends that helped us finish off all the chips. It spawned a related idea, a Crunchy Salty Snack Bracket, that if we go through with it will include things like Combos, Snyders pretzel bites, Gardettos, Cheetos, Funyons and all manner of horrible-for-you, salty, deep fried goodness. Please don't tell our doctors about this.

WARNING: Attempts at conducting a similar pairing may result in a salt hangover. It is a real thing. Proceed with caution and at your own risk.