Eric's Beer Blog

My online journal for beer (and other drinks) tasting, brewing, tourism, and general musings.

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Location: St. Paul, Minnesota, United States

Friday, June 15, 2007

Portland, Day Two and Day Three

Since Day One was the day I flew into town, I didn't do too much. But Day Two was my first full day, and I had big plans. I decided to begin with a Portland institution, Rogue. They actually brew their beer in Newport, Oregon, but they have a nice pub in Portland, not too far from my hotel. Since the weather here has been beautiful all week, I set out to walk there.

I was not expecting to stay too long at Rogue-- after all, I've had most of their beers, since they're distributed nationwide, and while they're reliably good, I've never been blown away. I decided to order a sampler of the draft offerings. I started off with Dad's Little Helper, a malt liquor clearly meant to be a boozier version of a lawnmowing beer. Fairly light in color and not terribly complex in flavor, it packs a good alcoholic punch (7% or so). I should mention that the nice bartender actually started everyone who walked in with a free sample of this beer. So my actual sampler followed. Brutal Bitter, not so brutal, really; Kells Irish Lager, couldn't remember having tried this before, eh...; Imperial Red Ale, clearly lots of alcohol, a good dose of hops, tasty; and Shakespeare Stout, a classic, dark and thick and yummy.

What made me stay longer at Rogue than I had originally planned, besides the very friendly bartender, was the previously-unknown-to-me presence of Rogue microdistilled liquors. Turns out that Rogue's rums are made right here in Portland, upstairs from the pub, and that they offer a sampler of each of the liquors, and that there was a tour coming up about an hour after I arrived. So I ordered the sampler and stayed for the tour.

Rogue makes 4 spirits: a white rum, dark rum, hazelnut spice rum, and spruce gin. The bartender told me she wasn't sure how much she was supposed to pour for the sampler, so I think I got a bit more than Rogue would like. All were very good. I've had Dogfish Head's spirits at their microdistillery in Rehobeth Beach, Delaware, and loved them. It seems clear to me that microdistilling is the next great thing in American drinking, and that microdistilled spirits are to regular stuff what micro beers are to Bud. I especially liked the hazelnut spiced rum-- it has ginger as well as nuts, and it has a lovely earthy quality. Very nice. The gin is also quite good and would make an awesome gin-n-tonic, I imagine. The guy who gave the tour said that they're in the process of gaining distributing rights in Minnesota, so I'll keep my fingers crossed for this stuff to be available back home soon.

I rolled out of Rogue later and tipsier than planned, and walked to my next stop: BridgePort. This is another Oregon institution, calling itself Oregon's oldest craft brewery. It's a huge building, featuring a large bakery as well. They make a lot of beer, so I again ordered a sampler. I inquired whether the cask ales I had seen advertised were available on a sampler, and the bartender replied that she could put them on. I figured that I'd get 5 or 6 beers, including the casks. But no-- the sampler came out on a big tray with 13 beers! I had my work cut out for me...

I had the Haymaker Extra Pale Ale, Blue Heron Pale, ESB (draft and cask), Ropewalk Amber, Beertown Brown (also draft and cask), Hop Harvest (a seasonal), Old Knucklehead (barleywine), IPA (draft and cask), Black Strap Stout, and I guess one other.... it goes without saying that my notes were failing by this time. I liked the ESB, especially the cask version, the Hop Harvest, and the IPAs. And I had some great conversation with a man who sat down next to me-- about beer, books, politics, and other stuff. Mostly books and beer.

I really overdid it a bit on this day-- I was not feeling so well that evening, or even the next morning. So I took it easy on Day 3 to save energy for Days 4 and 5!

Day Three

As I mentioned, I was a bit out of sorts this day, so I did some reading in the morning and early afternoon and relaxed.

Then in the afternoon I did make it to one brewpub: the New Old Lompoc (odd name, the story of which you can read on their website). I had 2 pints here: the IPA, made with Centennial hops (just OK-- there are high standards for IPA in Portland, after all), and the LSD, or Lompoc Strong Draft. A cute name and a good beer-- 6.9%, quite dark, made with some smoked malt to give it a pleasant smokiness and a good bit of complexity. The owners or brewers of this place are big Red Sox fans-- they advertise that they have every Red Sox game available on TV and there were a group of Sox fans watching while I was there. So I relaxed with my beer and watched the baseball... unfortunately the Sox were getting beat.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Portland, Day One

Beervana USA
Eric’s Tour of Portland
Day One (Monday)

I arrive while Daniela is in class, midafternoon, so I begin my tour straight away. I consult to see if I can find a bar or brewpub reasonably close to the hotel. I succeed. Henry’s 12th Street Tavern is a few blocks away, and incidentally, close to Powell’s World of Books (one of America’s greatest bookstores, don’tcha know). Henry’s is housed in a large brick building-- I discover later that it used to be the Henry Weinhard brewery. I take a seat at the nearly empty bar and am presented with the beer list (can be seen as a PDF here). It contains over 70 drafts. Wow. Nearly all of them are West Coast beers, and in fact, the vast majority are from Oregon. This means that almost all are new to me-- and anyone who has been to a beer bar with me knows that this is a rather rare occurrence. The only problem is that Henry’s, for reasons surpassing understanding, offers their beer in chilled pint glasses, even setting them on a little shelf of snow on the edge of the bar. This results in beer which is much too cold, and I spend a good bit of time with each of my first 2 pints grasping the glass with both hands and warming it up as best I can. Before my 3rd pint, I ask the bartender if I could get a non-chilled glass, and he readily complies.

I have a good time, drinking my beer and thinking about what I’ll order next-- so many choices! The list is full of breweries I’ve never even heard of: Amnesia, Elysian, Terminal Gravity, Mac & Jack’s, Laurelwood, Ninkasi, Indian Pelican, Skagit River, Walking Man, Eel River... A few I have heard of but never had: BridgePort, Full Sail, Deschutes. And just a few I know: Dogfish Head (the only East Coast brewery with more than 1 beer on the list; both 60- and 90-minute Ale are here), Victory (Prima Pils), and a few macro beers for the tasteless-- Bud, Bud Light, Bass...

All the beers I drank were on the “seasonal” part of the list-- I figured they were ones I’d be less likely to find elsewhere in Portland. I began with the Amnesia ESB. Amnesia is a Portland brewpub/micro and one I’d hear more about as my tour went on. It will merit its own stop later in the week. A nice ESB in the English style-- not too hoppy, lots of fruity ale flavor, drinkable but suitably complex. The hops emerge a bit more as the beer warms up from its arctic chill. A good start.

Next up was the Elysian Avatar Jasmine IPA. Yep, apparently it’s brewed with jasmine, which gives it some interesting exotic flavor and smell. Also not very hoppy-- I am on the West Coast, aren’t I?-- but a nice beer for summer drinking.

Third was Widmer Brewmasters’ Release W’07. My bartender explained that this is an annual brew made by Widmer Brothers which is made in a different style each year. Apparently the top brewers assign a style to the junior brewers, who then come up with a recipe which is tweaked by the top brewers and then brewed. This year’s is a Pale Ale made with all Cascade hops (that's what the bartender told me-- turns out he was lyin'..) It wasn’t a very pale Pale Ale-- I believe it was the darkest of the beers I had. Nice hop flavor and a stunning grapefruit bouquet right at the outset, with a hint of pine too. The beer tastes more balanced than the smell suggested. A good beer.

Day 2 was much more beer-filled than day one, so stay tuned!