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