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 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.