That shit’s made in New York City!

So we just returned from our trip to New York City (including a day trip down to Philadelphia) and let me tell you that was indeed an “experience”.

The first thing we realized quickly is NYC is MASSIVE. I’m not sure you can absorb the scope of how big the city is until you’re in it. We had originally set out a plan to try to make it out to all 5 boroughs and realized that was a logistical nightmare. Thanks to some gracious friends, we were staying in Midtown, a block away from Times Square, in the middle of everything! However, that meant that getting out of Manhattan was a CHORE.  We made it out to Brooklyn because there were a couple things out there high on our list, but any plans to visit the other boroughs fell to the wayside quickly.  Even knowing in advance that it’s a 1.5-2 hour subway ride from Midtown to the Bronx, it doesn’t sink in until you’re at the place where you have to decide to leave where you’re at currently and take a long trek across town just to see something else for an hour or two and then come back. We decided it could wait for (hopefully) future visits. Being winter and the sun setting at 4:30 PM didn’t help either.  It’s hard to want to go out to look at a botanical garden or park when it’s dark and cold outside.

The second thing we realized, and again this is a thing you can “know” in advance and it still smacks you in the face, is that everything in NYC is really expensive. We knew it was going to be spendy, but for whatever reason the beer stuck out worse to me as being out of proportion with everything else. Maybe it’s because beer is so cheap in Portland (trust me, $5 pints don’t exist ANYWHERE else) or maybe it’s because I was paying attention to it. Even the wine and mixed drinks didn’t seem that bad.  For whatever reason, a $10 pint of beer vs a $14 glass of wine vs an $18 cocktail, the cocktail actually seemed like the best “deal”. Prices also varied wildly depending on the location.  Some places had $7 pints, which seemed almost “normal” while some places had $12 short pours (10-12oz). I know taxes are high in NY on things like alcohol and tobacco, but that didn’t explain all of the pricing.

So with all that said, we only made it to three actually breweries, two in Brooklyn and one in Philly, but at the bars and restaurants we did our best to order something local.

Since we were staying with friends who had a kitchen, we went to the store to pick up some things to make breakfasts and bag lunches so we weren’t eating out every single meal.  This also gave us an opportunity to get some beer for the house.  Over the course of the week we picked up two six packs.  The first was Brooklyn Brewing’s Black Chocolate Stout. This Russian Imperial Stout was super smooth and creamy but also packed a wallop at 10% alcohol.  Very tasty.

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The other sixpack we bought was Sixpoint’s The Crisper.  This was a pilsner which paired very nicely with homemade sushi.  Sixpoint is also based out of Brooklyn.  Turns out that’s where a lot of the NYC breweries are.

Speaking of Brooklyn, about halfway through our trip we took a day and spent the majority of the day in Brooklyn.  We took the train down to Coney Island, the far southern edge of the Borough and worked our way back up. The Coney Island boardwalk was deserted since it’s off season and was below freezing that day, but still cool to see. Attached to the baseball stadium, a block of the boardwalk is Coney Island Brewing Co. They had a nice taproom with a glassed in brewhouse and it was pretty much deserted when we got there (they had just opened). We both got flights so we tried 8 of the 10 beers they had on, so mostly everything.  We tried their flagship Merman IPA, Mermaid Pilsner and Cinnamon Toast Kolsch (which was interesting), they also had a dark lager, a barrel aged rye barleywine, a light lager called “Killer Rye Life”, a blond stout appropriately called “The Illusionist” and lastly a citrus sour that wasn’t too abrasively sour.  All in all they were all solid beers.  My favorite was the barrel aged barleywine, but the dark lager and KRL were both really good.

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The next brewery we stopped at, also in Brooklyn, was Other Half Brewing.  Other Half is one of the more “well known” NY breweries. They are one of the breweries that has special can releases that are much sought out and the Yelp reviews warned it might be very busy, line out the door type busy.  It was crowded when we got there, but thankfully it wasn’t too slammed.  Other Half is a very different type of brewery from Coney Island. Nearly everything on the menu was a high alcohol double IPA or strong stout. They were also more expensive, which I kind of expected. $7-8 for a 12oz pour, rather than the 6-7$ pints at Coney Island. We got one of their Double Dry Hop series IPA’s and then three stouts.  It was cold that day and not really a good IPA day.  One of the stouts was made with coffee and coconut, while one was made with Mounds and Almond Joys and one was aged on Vanilla.  They were all good, but the coffee coconut one was the best.  I was hoping to visit the Brooklyn Brewery while we were down there, especially after having the Black Chocolate Stout, but they weren’t open the day we were there and we didn’t make it back down that way when they were open. Oh well, maybe next time!

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The next day, while we were exploring Hell’s Kitchen and the Chelsea Market area, we found a local beer bar called Beer Culture.  They had a huge beer selection both in draft and bottles/cans from all over the place, but mostly focused on local.  Tried 4 beers there, two were from NY and one was localish.  Down by Law by Iconyc Brewing (Long Island City) and Lace em Up by Torch and Crown (Manhattan) were the two local ones, while the hazy IPA from Tired Hands was close-ish (Pennsylvania).  The fourth one was from Pipeworks, which sounded familiar but is from Chicago. Ironically enough, while we were there I noticed there was a Portland Timbers scarf hanging behind the bar. Talking to the guy behind the bar he mentioned he had a friend who lived in Beaverton (small world) and someone had left the scarf and he hung it up and forgot about it. Said it had been up there for 2 years or so.

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The next day we took a bus down to Philly to visit friends there and see the sights.  Hit up several of the big tourist spots, the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Christ Church, etc.  While we were waiting for the Edgar Allen Poe house to open, we hit up Yards Brewing which was a couple blocks away. They have a really cool space, with an open high ceiling dining area with long picnic tables and windows looking into the brewery space. Very German beer garden/festhaus kind of feel to it with flags and banners hanging down.  Between the three of us, we got all three flights they offered, which covered a good chunk of the menu.  The Historical Flight included beers based on recipes from Washington, Jefferson and Ben Franklin. The Signature flight included their flagships, Loyal Lager, Brawler (English Mild), Philly Pale ale and Signature IPA.  And the hop harvest flight included their Hazy IPA, Mosaic Fresh Hop IPA, “The Answer” Session IPA and a IPA with Spruce that benefited the Make the World Better foundation, started by former Philadelphia Eagles player, Conner Barwin.

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Before we left Philly, we stopped at the Reading Terminal Market, which was close to the bus terminal to take us back to NYC. Had to get a cheesesteak before we left! We found a place in the Market called Molly Malloy’s that had cheesesteak as well as local beers. Tried three beers while we were there, all IPAs ironically enough, one from Tröegs Brewing (Hershey, PA), Sterling Pig Brewery (Media, PA) and Stoudts Brewing (Adamstown, PA).

Of course, it wouldn’t be NYC without the melting pot of nearly every culture on Earth. While we were there, we ate Thai food, Korean food, Italian, Japanese, classic Soul Food (Afro-Caribbean), Israeli, and probably a couple others I’m forgetting.  This gave me the opportunity to try a few international beers that I might not have otherwise had the chance to try. The first was at a Korean Chicken joint in Hell’s Kitchen, named Hell’s Chicken. They had Hite Lager, which is a South Korean beer. Ironically labelled in Untappd as an American Style Lager, it’s a clean crisp easy drinking lager.  It was quite tasty and my first beer ever from South Korea. Also, the Korean Fried Chicken was amazing! Imagine fried chicken drumsticks tossed in a sweet/spicy Asian sauce sprinkled with crushed cashews. The second one I got to try was at a Thai restaurant in Brooklyn, the Beerlao Dark Lager, which was my first beer from Laos. It was a little sweet for the style, but still very nice. It was a brown lager, in the style of a Vienna or dark Mexican lager (Modelo Negra) which is a style I’ve recently discovered that I really like.

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The last was not a new beer, but presented in a new style. One of our last nights there we went to a Mexican restaurant that had a drink called a Bulldog. It’s a margarita with a beer upended in it. In this case, a Corona.  Not only was it fun, but the flavors worked remarkably well! One of our friends who can’t have gluten ordered the French Bulldog, which was the same thing, but with a small bottle of Champagne instead of the beer, which was also really tasty!

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Well, that pretty much wraps up our adventures in NYC. At least the beer part! Similar to the Denver trip, 38 unique beers from 10-12 different breweries just barely scratches the surface of the beer scene in NY.  Ironically, there are no breweries at all in Manhattan, they are all out in the outer boroughs.  Torch and Crown is opening a taproom that was supposed to be open by the time we got there, but it isn’t yet.  That makes it harder to make it out to places, at least if you are staying in Midtown.

Until next time, Cheers!

The hits keep comin’ and they don’t stop comin’…

I haven’t posted on here in a long while and it’s a little bit sad that this is the post that I come back to.

It’s been a rough couple weeks, nay, months in Beervana.

It started in September, when Cider Riot announced that it was up for sale due to some upcoming debt payments and investors getting antsy about losing money.  They have now announced that they’ve run out of time and will close Nov 9th.  Cider Riot was known for being a stickler for “real” cider. Dry, English and Irish style ciders made with European apple varieties that opposed the sweet fruit ciders of things like Angry Orchard and others. Unfortunately, being to tight in a niche can be very risky.  I’ve had the pleasure to meet Abram and he’s a stand-up dude and it’s only fitting that he was going to stay true to his vision to the bitter end and not try to make products for the sole purpose of making money. He didn’t “sell out” so to speak.

This was followed by the closures of two (or more) meaderies.  Nectar Creek closed it’s pub and production facility on Oct 5th. It’s an unfortunate reality that mead is a very expensive product to make. Honey is not cheap.  It’s also unfortunate that they had just recently moved into a larger facility.  I’ve seen this trend happen too many times to count, hot sales, maxed out production, expand and then die. Whether it’s from taking on debt, or sales suddenly dry up or any other multitude of reasons it seems to happen fairly often that right as a brewery takes that next big step the reward for that is a big fall.  I was very fond of their “Nectarade”, a lemon-lime mead that was super refreshing.

I had heard a rumor that Honeywood Winery, which makes traditional high alcohol mead/honey wine, had closed but now I can’t find anything about it. So maybe the rumors of their death has been greatly exaggerated.

I found out through a Facebook post (as these things happen these days) that Hi-Wheel Fizzy Wine was closing.  They are having a Funeral Party, appropriately tomorrow on Diá de los Muertos, to celebrate the end and serve up as much as they have left before they close on November 9th. They made light sessionable cider like “wine” from citrus juice. Very unique product and will be missed.

Then some of the big names started dropping.  23 year old Portland stalwart Lompoc announced it was closing.  Sadly, in this case, this was a “not surprised, just disappointed” kind of announcement.  They closed the Hedge House 2 years ago (which reopened as Little Beast) and then a year ago they got pushed out of their NW 23rd location in favor of apartments.  This seemed like an “only a matter of time” situation but they tried to tough it out. Another one of the Portland “legacy” breweries that’s struggling following the closing of Bridgeport Brewing.  The Oaks Bottom Pub in Sellwood will remain open and sell out the rest of what is left of the Lompoc beer and then transition to a neighborhood pub selling local beer from other places.  I’ve been to Oaks Bottom three times, the first two times were great and the third was unfortunately awful.  I’d be willing to go back but I don’t live on that side of town anymore.  I won’t rule it out if I’m in the neighborhood.

Speaking of Sellwood, Laurelwood brewing got bought by the company known as Legacy Breweries (which is partially owned by, or whose first brewery purchase was Ninkasi) and they are closing the Sellwood Taproom.  Laurelwood brewery will still exist, just not in Southeast anymore.  That neighborhood is taking a beating as far as breweries go.

Within a few days of the Lompoc announcement, Rock Bottom announced that is was closing it’s Portland pub in Downtown.  Rock Bottom is a national chain, and so for some people this might not be a “big loss”, but it can still act as the canary in the coal mine, so to speak.  The back and forth story goes that Rock Bottom claimed the building owner “didn’t renew the lease” while the building owner claims that Rock Bottom “chose not to renew” and honestly both of those can be true.  If the rent got jacked way up (double or more) which seems to be happening a lot here recently, certainly Rock Bottom could have “choosen” to not renew the lease, but also feel like they weren’t given a choice and are being forced out.  It’s a both/and kind of situation.  Whether people “miss” it or not, it’s still a dark portent for the Portland beer scene as a whole.

And then just yesterday, of all days, Coalition Brewing went off into the dark night with just a whisper. Coalition was one of the first, if not THE first, to get approved for adding non-pyschoactive CBD to beer.  Dubbed “two flowers” in reference to hops and hemp/marijuana, they’ve been selling it for years while others were trying to figure out to enter the space. They were CBD before CBD was cool. They were also known for their super hoppy IPA, Space Dust.  The Coalition location will re-open as Gorges Brewing, so it’s not all quite doom and gloom.

You’ll have to forgive me if later tonight there’s a tear in my beer as I go through my “Breweries Visited” list marking several more with the *Now Closed marker.

 

Tacoma Washington

Last weekend my wife and I spent the weekend in Tacoma, Washington for her birthday. Tacoma is about a 2.5 hour drive north of Portland, not quite all the way to Seattle.  The original inspiration for the trip was to visit the newly opened McMenamins Elk Lodge, which we needed to get stamps from to finish our second set of passports and become Cosmic Tripsters once again.  Following our trip to Crater Lake and The Redwoods, we decided to also drive up to Olympic National Park and continue our National Parks exploration. Despite having other plans, when you work at a brewery and write a beer blog it’s hard not to include beer tourism. We managed to visit a whopping seven breweries over the weekend. Tacoma was bigger than I expected and there was more to do there than I expected and we’ll certainly make a return trip at some point.

The first day we visited the Tacoma Museum of Glass, which was pretty cool and featured a lot of art from Tacoma native Dale Chihuly, known world wide for things like his chandelier at the Bellagio and on several cruise ships as well as large displays in Seattle and other cities.  After dinner (poké!) we hit up two breweries within walking distance of downtown Tacoma.  First was Harmon Brewing. Located right on Pacific Avenue we walked in and sat at the bar. It was hopping, but not super crowded.  My wife ordered the Double IPA “To the Dome” which is a double reference to the Tacoma Dome arena nearby and a double IPA going to your head. I ordered the GABF medal winning Puget Sound Porter.  We got served in plastic cups, which seemed to be either a bar thing or dealers choice from the servers, we couldn’t tell.  The beers were good, but it was loud and crowded and after one beer we decided to move on.

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Classy AF.

We hiked up the hill (literally) to 7 Seas Brewing and this place was really cool. It had a modern sort of hip open-warehouse vibe, but it’s built in the old Hiedelberg brewery (part of Columbia Brewing Co, who also made Olympia and Rainer before they got bought by Pabst).

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They were playing a recorded live Queen concert, for those of us who weren’t at the Queen + Adam Lambert show that night in the Tacoma Dome.  We didn’t find out about it until we were on the way up. Oh well.  The beer here was excellent! My wife really liked their CDA, which she is really picky about, and I got a seasonal limited run IPA and their year round double IPA (Ballz Deep.. yeah that’s the name) which were both solid. My wife followed up the CDA with a hibiscus brut IPA that was really floral and complex and quite tasty.

The following day we drove up to the Olympic National Park which was pretty incredible. It was partly cloudy but we got to see most of the Olympic Mountains from up on Hurricane Ridge, so we called that a win.  The Olympic Peninsula is not the easiest place to get to, but if you’re in the area I highly recommend it. Leaving the park we stopped at Barhop Brewing in Port Angeles (the town you go through to enter the park) and this one was a disappointing stop, thankfully the only one. We walked in and sat on the back side of the U shaped bar, which apparently was a mistake, even though several other patrons were on that side.  We ordered our first set of beers, the Ediz Point IPA and the Citra Sonic IPA which were both really solid and we mulled over the food menu.  We already had dinner plans, but after some mountain hiking needed a snack. We decided on what we wanted and a second round of beers and then crickets… the servers walked past us several times without acknowledging us at all. We waited… and waited.. and finished our first beers.. and waited with empty glasses. Finally, we managed to snag a server and at that point we paid our tab and left. Really a shame because the beer was good, but I guess you don’t need good service when you’re the only game in town. Our time is worth more than that.

That night for dinner we went to the RAM Restaurant and Brewery in Lakewood, near our AirBNB. RAM is a nationwide chain, but they operate in a similar manner to McMenamins. They have 2-3 core beers they brew at every location and then beyond that the local brewers are free to experiment on small batch beers.  There’s a small 5-10BBL system at each location.  We had gotten a coupon to the RAM during our visit to the Museum of Glass and the RAM had a beer on tap (a Kolsch) that the proceeds of the sales went back to the MoG. My wife ordered the Kolsch, which was nice, and I got the Big Red IPA, one of their core beers.  For round two, I ordered the hilariously named “Buttface Amber” (to which the barkeep replied “What did you call me?”) and my wife got the RAM cider (which was made for them by Locust Cider out of Woodenville). I also tried a sample of their Belgian Wit.  They had several Belgian inspired beers on the menu which makes me wonder if that’s a favorite of the local brewer. The food was also really good.

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Our final day in Tacoma we started the day up at the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, where nary a drop of beer was to be found, but we knew that night we’d be having dinner and doing our stamp collecting at the McMenamins Tacoma Elks Temple. This building took a long time for them to finish and several of the pictures on the wall reflect the condition they found the building in and all the work that was required. Apparently it was mostly gutted and covered in graffiti and trash on the inside. Seeing the area it’s in, that must of been an eye sore at the end of a busy shopping district.  I think it took a long time for McMenamins to be able to buy the building and get permission to revamp it, but I bet they are happy now that it’s opened.  It’s pretty amazing and shockingly I was too busy gawking I didn’t take any pictures at all.  The Elks Temple has it’s own small brewery in the basement and we tried several beers while we were there. The Wizard Cat IPA was really good, as well as a Belgian Tripel and a Belgian Pale Ale.

Bonus: It’s not beer, but the basement bar of the Elks Temple is a Tiki bar and I got a Hurricane and they served it in this ridiculously fabulous octopus glass, which was made out of clay and was actually quite heavy! This is the ONE picture I took at McMenamins.

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After dinner, we walked down the famous Spanish Steps and across the street to Pacific Malting and Brewing Co. which reopened in the same building as a pre-Prohibition brewery of the same name. There was a live band in there playing 1920s-1930s Blues which was cool, and we got a taster flight to try several of their offerings. The Summer Wheatly (Citrus Pale Ale) was probably the best, followed by the Mama Bear Milk Stout and the Grit Porter, although the porter was most “stout-like” than the stout.  The Boss Hoss IPA was decent, but the Dragonball Hazy IPA was not very good. Kinda sad, but still mostly a winner.

Just a block down from Pacific was Odd Otter Brewing Co. We popped in and sat at the bar and there was live music here as well, and we quickly realized it was open mic night. These were just normal people, patrons of the bar, who brought in a guitar and sang one to two songs and then passed the mic to someone else and they were good! I ordered a glass of the Hibiscus Rosé Saison, while my wife got a taster flight. We tried a small batch Blueberry Wheat, a dry hopped Pale Ale, an IPA, a Schwarzbier and a nut brown ale. They were all really solid except the Schwarz which was too roasty and dry to be enjoyable, which is a shame since it’s a style we’ve both recently discovered we liked. We finished with a small taste of a guest cider (Ace Cider) which was a Raspberry, Strawberry, Blackberry blend and it was delightful.

So that concludes our whirlwind tour of Tacoma Washington.  At some point we will go back and actually stay at the Elks Temple, which is one of the McMenamins hotel properties.

Cheers!

 

Exploring Southern Oregon

For Memorial Day weekend and my birthday, my wife and I took a trip down to Southern Oregon.  Our goal for this trip was to visit Crater Lake (Oregon’s only National Park) and then venture down into Northern California to see the mighty Coastal Redwoods.

Our home base for this trip was Grants Pass, OR.  A small-ish city of about 34,000 people, right along I-5 in the heart of the Rogue River Valley.  In true Oregon fashion, even tiny Grant’s Pass has 4 breweries.  We managed to make it to 3 of them.

The first one we made it to was Wild Ride Pizza and Brewing. Grant’s Pass is the original location and they also have a second location in Cave Junction.  We had already eaten lunch so we just popped in for a beer, but we did get an appetizer called a Torta, which was layers of cream cheese, sun-dried tomatoes and pesto, with crackers and bread.  It tasted like the best lasagna filling I’d ever had.  I’d wager a bet their pizza is damn good.

Between tasters and pints we tried 5 beers. Two of their flagship IPAs, one was a standard IPA and one had citrus peel in it, the citrus one was very good.  We also tried a brut IPA which was good but had a lot of yeast phenolics that I don’t think it was supposed to have and we tried their version of a CDA (called Black Hops IPA) which was OK, but more roasty and chocolatey and less hoppy than I would prefer.  I finished with the Double Eagle Imperial Stout and to me that was the winner. Rich and dark and creamy. I don’t know when (if) we’ll be back in Grant’s Pass, but Wild Ride Pizza would certainly be on the return list.

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The next place we went to was Climate City Brewing, which we went to for dinner.  Located in an older, historic part of town and housed in the former home of Rogue River Brewing Company which opened in the 1880’s and closed during Prohibition. We also tried 5 beers here with dinner in a combination of pints and tasters.  Again, very IPA heavy, which is the new normal. We tried the Savage IPA and Nookie IPA, pretty much the same beer with different hop profiles, we also tried the Citradora Stong Ale which was a Citra dry-hoped pale ale that also had Lemon Verbena tea added to it. Very strong lemon flavor. Very interesting.  The Fireside Dark Ale was a very malty, English style beer that was pretty good. I got a small taste of the Bourbon Bigfoot Porter which was very whiskey heavy. Nice, but suited for small pours.  The winner for me was the Brutylicilous Brut IPA.  A great example of that style, very dry and clean which a HUGE fruity aroma.  In fact, I misheard the server and thought they said “Fruitylicious” which would have fit just as well.  The food was passable for pub food. Nothing special but not terrible. Some of the beers were better than others, but it has a neat atmosphere and if your in town it would be worth stopping by.

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The third place we went to for dinner the final night in town was a restaurant called The Haul. Owned and operated by the folks from Connor Fields Brewing it serves as their official taproom (the brewery is on the outskirts of town and not open to the public). This was the place to be. It was hopping when we were there and it had a very modern, hip vibe (I hate to use the word hipster, but it was a lot of steampunk and long beards). Their beers mostly range through farmhouse styles and Belgians but they had a couple clean beers like an American Pale Ale and a Blonde Ale. The beers were all solid, but the food was AMAZING. I got the Thai Pie which was basically Pad Thai on a pizza, chicken, peanut sauce, carrots, green onions and cilantro. Wood fired pizza and the crust was amazing. Honestly the crust was the best part.  My wife got the Bo Ssam sandwhich which had Korean pork and kimchi on it. Also, very interesting and tasty.  The Haul also has a “secret” speakeasy upstairs that serves mostly cocktails.  After we ate we went upstairs and had a drink before we headed home. I forgot to take any pictures here but if you’re in Grant’s Pass I would highly recommend it.

Bonus non-beer stop:

On the way out to Crater Lake we drove through the Rogue River valley and saw signs for several wineries.  We looked a few up online to see what the had to offer and decided to stop at Kriselle Cellars for a tasting flight.  They offered mostly red wines, but had a handful of whites.  The address is White City, OR but it’s pretty much way out in the middle of nowhere north of Medford.  If we hadn’t driven by it, we would have never known it was there.  I wasn’t a fan of their white wines, but I also don’t drink a lot of white wine anymore.  They had some solid reds.  My favorite was the Cabernet Franc, which is a varietal I’ve heard of but not sure I’ve tasted.  It surprisingly beat out the Tempranillo, which is a favorite of both my wife and I.  They also had a really good blend called Di’Tani which contained all five of their reds blended together.

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I don’t know when we’ll be back in this area again, but we already know we want to return to Crater Lake when there’s not so much snow still up there, and we want to go back to the Redwoods as well, although we’ll likely stay in Northern California to be closer to the Redwoods when we go back.

If ya can’t beat em…

The big news in the brewing world this week is the Boston Beer purchase of Dogfish Head Brewing.  Billed as a “merger” as the Dogfish crew will join the Boston Beer board and continue to help run Dogfish Head, it still involved Boston Beer paying for DFH in a mix of stock and cash and paying off Dogfish’s private equity investment so they will be wholly owned by Boston Beer. Based on the BA guidelines, the combined entity will continue to be considered “craft” since it’s a craft brewer buying another craft brewer.

I’ve written on the blog before about the BA definitions of “Craft” in my 2017 post “The war goes on..” Since that post, they adjusted the definition again to include “non-beer” products like seltzers and FMBs (flavored malt beverages), which seemed to favor Boston Beer almost exclusively.  And for me, that’s where the rub lies.

Compared to most people in the craft community (or at least the vocal minority), I have an “unpopular opinion” when it comes to Sam Adams/Boston Beer.  Not about the company themselves, but more about this ridiculous idea of “craft” beer versus the big “industrial” brewers.  Where it breaks down for me is the fact that Boston Beer IS a giant multinational conglomerate.  They are the 4th largest brewery in the country and in my opinion, literally no different than AB In-Bev or MillerCoors.

Boston Beer is a publicly traded company with a market capitalization of 3 billion dollars and nearly a billion dollars in annual revenue. They have several brands under their umbrella, including Sam Adams, Truly Sparkling Water, Angry Orchard Hard Cider, Twisted Hard Ice Teas, The Traveler Brewing Co and Coney Island Brewing. They are nationally distributed and can afford to advertise during the Super Bowl. There is no other BA defined “craft” brewer who is even remotely close to this level.  Now they’ve reached the point of buying craft breweries to pad their portfolio and increase their “street cred”.  No different than AB InBev buying Wicked Weed.

Now, I want to be clear, I don’t mean this as a judgement statement.  I want to present this as a statement of fact.  Simply what Boston Beer IS. To me, it’s neither good nor bad it just simply is. What I want to highlight is a tendency in the beer community to bash on AB InBev for using it’s size to push other products off the shelf, bash them for making “mocktails” like Bud Light ‘Ritas and Mikes Hard Lemonade etc, and especially for bashing them when they buy your favorite local brewery, and yet Boston Beer does all of those exact same things and yet they are the crown jewel in the BA Craft portfolio, the feather in the cap if you will.  To me, that’s hypocritical.

The BA has made it clear, doubling down on the logo deal, that the ONLY thing that matters is ownership.  Not product line, not innovation, not local interaction, not distribution, not advertising etc.

This is my opinion and I understand it’s not going to make a lot of people happy, but Sam Adams is not craft. A giant company pumping out 5 million barrels of nationwide distributed industrial lager is exactly what those of us in the “craft” are fighting against.
To me, a local 10,000 barrel brewery that pushing the boundaries with 10 or 12 different beer styles, rotating seasonals, experimenting with sours or barrel aging, THAT is craft. Even if it’s a brewery like 10 Barrel or Wicked Weed who is owned by the big boys.  If I walk into a bar with limited choices, I would choose a 10 Barrel (ABInBev) or Hop Valley (MillerCoors) beer over Sam Adams.  I don’t hate Sam Adams, but I’m not likely going to choose a light amber lager if there are more flavorful options like an IPA or a Stout. Especially, if they are the same price.  If the Sam Adams is on special or a lot cheaper, sure that might influence the decision.

To be transparent, I work for a brewery that does not fit the BA definition of craft, because of our ownership situation, but I held this position before I started working here.  Does working for a “conglomerate” color my opinion on this? Of course it does and I wouldn’t claim otherwise, but my experience is at a small local brewery (less than 60,000 barrels) who is involved in the community and constantly innovating and to me that fits more into “craft” than ownership.

In the end.. it should just be about the beer, man.

Burnside lives! …Sorta… For Now..

When Burnside Brewing closed back in February, it was ugly.  Leaked employee emails about not getting their last paychecks, padlocks on the doors and a note that they hadn’t paid rent in three months, announcing they were closed for a snow day and then never opening again.  Lots of rumors, and to my knowledge still no official announcement from the Burnside Crew.

The Oregonian dropped a bombshell on Friday that really flips the Burnside story from negative to somewhat positive.  Apparently, famed Danish brewer Mikkeller (who also has locations in New York and California) is going to take over the Burnside location in a series of pop-up pub situations as they try to navigate the regulatory hurdles to open a permanent brewery/restaurant in that location.

There’s a couple of really juicy tidbits in this story that caught my eye.  The first is that Mikkeller and restaurant partner Chefstable have purchased all of Burnside’s physical assets (brewery equipment, bottles, kegs etc) and paid off all of Burnside’s debts. Not only is this a huge windfall for the Burnside crew, of course, it also signals that the Mikkller crew is all in on this location.  Technically, they probably paid way more than they would have for a blank empty location.

Also, in the agreement is that Burnside keeps all of their “soft” assets. Names, trademarks, etc.  So, in theory, Burnside Brewing could reopen in a different location and start up again.  Not sure how likely that is, but it could happen. The Burnside “brand” still lives somewhere out in the ether. This, according to a follow up story from New School Beer.

A lot of the discussion around this is how well Mikkeller will fit in to the crowded inner Southeast Portland space, but I think they’ll do just fine. What is interesting to me is that Portland has been considered a “beer destination” for a long time, from the point of view that people come here for the beer.  That is starting to flip (and is a direct byproduct of the beer tourism) to a “brewery destination”, i.e. breweries are looking to expand and they think “Well, we have to have a place in Portland.”  It was relatively close to the old Burnside location where San Diego brewery Modern Times took over the old Commons location (the Commons also retained their names/rights etc and are rumored to reopen at some point). Even small local breweries are getting into the act, Vagabond Brewing out of Salem just recently opened a Portland taproom.

2019 has been a rough year for the local beer scene.  Hopefully this is a little ray of light to offset some of that bad.  There will still be more breweries that struggle and close. Such is the nature of business, but hopefully some places will continue to grow and shine.

My experience with Mikkeller is very limited.  I’ve had four of their beers, but the first one was certainly a doozie.  The first Mikkeller beer I had was Black (Grand Mariner Edition) at the Festival of the Dark Arts.  It was an imperial stout aged in Grand Mariner barrels and clocked in at 21% alcohol. That was a beer that when I saw it on the menu I just had to try it, but was also very glad it was only a 3 ounce pour. I can’t imagine drinking much more than a few sips of it.

The Mikkeller pop up is scheduled to open in June and then run till the end of the year, when it will close again with the hopes of reopening permanently.  One of the articles also mentioned that Mikkeller has to find out what the building owner intends to do with the space. So, it seems they have an agreement for the short term, but the owner may still decide to sell the space or tear it down.  My assumption when Burnside closed was that it was going to be bulldozed for condos, like basically everything else in Portland (especially inner Eastside). This keeps the location intact. At least, for now.

2019 Best of Craft Beer

The last couple posts have been pretty glum, so it’s time for some happy news.  We weren’t able to make it out to the judging this year for various reasons, but when I started seeing Facebook and Instagram posts of winning beers it made me really happy to see a lot of places that I know people. It makes me proud as an industry peer to see our local places winning awards and being recognized for the greatness we already know is there, but now gets shouted on a bigger stage.

By virtue of the judging being held in Bend, OR, the entries are very West Coast heavy, but they do get entries from all over the country and even some from outside the US. It’s really nice to see how our local breweries stack up against the rest of the industry.

(Presented in Alphabetical order since that’s how the results sorted)

10 Barrel – Bend, OR: 10 Barrel took home 5 awards this year, Gold medals in Imperial Red Ale, Fruit Wheat Beer and South German Style Wheat, plus silvers in Berliner Style Weisse and German Style Pilsener.

Alesong Brewing and Blending – Eugene, OR: Alesong took home three medals, including Gold AND Silver in Experimental Beer or Other Strong Ale for wine barrel aged and tequila barrel aged beers respectively, and a Gold in Mixed Culture Brett Beer.

Ancestry Brewing – Tualatin, OR: Ancestry only took home one medal, but it was Gold in a classic style, Irish Red Ale. Very impressive.

Back Pedal Brewing – Portland, OR: Back Pedal took a Silver in American-Belgo Style ale for a Belgian Style Pale Ale.  I don’t know much about Back Pedal, but I’m pretty sure they also run the Pedal Bar tours around town and then started brewing their own.

Baerlic Brewing – Portland, OR: Baerlic also took home 5 medals.  Gold in American Style Black Ale for their Dark Thoughts CDA (One of the few CDA’s still in regular rotation around town), Silvers for Classic French and Belgian Saison and Dortmunder Style Export and Bronzes for British Bitters and International Style Pale Ale. Quite the spread of styles!

Bend Brewing Co. – Bend, OR: Bend Brewing adds to their impressive medal wall with a Gold in Export Stout and a Bronze in Berliner-Style Weisse with Fruit.  The first time I went into BBC and saw the wall full of GABF and World Beer Cup medals I thought to myself “How have I never heard of this place?” Quietly doing solid work out in Bend.

Boneyard Brewing – Bend, OR: Bend mainstay Boneyard picked up four medals, Silvers in American Style Fruit Beer and Belgian Style Lambic and Bronzes in Belgian Style Lambic and Imperial Red Ale.  Seems like they can do more than just IPAs, although their IPAs are amazing.

Breakside Brewing – Portland/Milwaukie, OR: Breakside took home a stunning 8 medals. 6 from the main production brewery in Milwaukie and 2 from the original Portland pub.  Gold medals for Contemporary Style Gose, American Style Lager, International Style Pale Ale and German Style Schwarzbier.  Silvers for American Style Sour Ale and American Style Strong Pale Ale. Bronzes for American Style Sour Ale and German Style Pilsener. Quite the haul!

Brothers Cascadia Brewing – Vancouver, WA: Bronze medal for Session India Pale Ale. I’ve driven by their place a couple times but haven’t made it in yet. Someday that needs to be fixed.

Gigantic Brewing – Portland, OR: Surprised to see Gigantic only take home one medal, but it’s a Bronze in German Style Koelsch. Craft lagers are starting to take off and Kölsch is a very competitive category right now.

Golden Valley Brewery – McMinnville, OR: A Silver medal for English Style Summer Ale. Another brewery that is very quietly cranking out quality stuff.

Immersion Brewing – Bend, OR: Immersion took home 4 medals. Gold for a California Common, Silver for Imperial Red Ale and Bronzes for American Style Stout and German Style Schwarzbier.  Less than 3 years old, a relative newcomer onto the Bend beer scene making a splash already.

Loowit Brewing – Vancouver, WA: Literally just across the river in Downtown Vancouver, Loowit took home two Silver medals. One in Irish Style Red Ale and one in German Style Doppelbock.

Mazama Brewing – Corvallis, OR: Mazama (named for the collapsed volcano that created Crater Lake) took home 4 medals.  Gold for Belgian style Dubbel, Silvers for Bohemian Style Pilsner and German Style Marzen and a Bronze for American Style Barleywine.

Migration Brewing – Portland, OR: Migration also only took home one medal, but it was a Gold Medal in American Style Strong Pale Ale which is a very competitive category. The BA guidelines are razor thin between Pale Ale, Strong Pale Ale and American IPA (they all overlap) so this is basically an IPA category which are always huge.

Monkless Belgian Ales – Bend, OR: Another newcomer to the scene, focused on Belgian style ales and they took home a Silver medal in Belgian Style Dubbel.

Mt Tabor Brewing – Portland, OR: Mt Tabor took home a Bronze medal in Australasian, Latin American or Tropical Style Light Lager, which I believe is a fairly new category.

Old Town Brewing – Portland, OR: A while back Old Town took on the big dogs (AB InBev) and won.  A brewery that seemed to be forgotten suddenly had a huge swell of support. Score one for the little guys.  Old Town collected 3 medals, a Silver for German Style Schwarzbier and Bronzes for English Style Pale Ale/IPA and Irish Style Red Ale. That’s a local sweep for Irish Style Red Ale.

Ordnance Brewing – Boardman, OR: I have two friends who work here so it’s hard not to get excited to see them take home three medals.  A Gold in American Style IPA (125 entries!!) and silvers for American Style Lager and Oatmeal Stout.

Oregon City Brewing – Oregon City, OR: We were at OCB recently and saw the award for their Cherry version of Coming to Fruition fruited sour, this time it’s the Marionberry versions turn with a Silver in Mixed Culture Brett Beer.

Pelican Brewing – Tillamook, OR: Pelican took home two medals this year. A Gold in Golden or Blonde Ale for Kiwanda Cream, which is not a shock and a Silver in Wood and Barrel Aged for the Queen of Hearts Barrel Aged Saison.  Also, not a surprise.

pFriem Family Brewers – Hood River, OR: pFriem is another surprise to only take one medal, but it’s a Gold in a classic style, German Style Pilsener.  Having had it before I can concur that it is World-class.

Rogue Ales and Spirits – Newport, OR: Rogue picked up a Gold medal in Honey beer for their Honey Kolsch.

Rosenstadt Brewing – Portland, OR: Rosenstadt focuses on classic German styles and took home a Bronze medal for Munich Style Helles.

Silver Moon Brewing – Bend, OR: Silver Moon took home a Silver medal in American Style IPA and a Gold in Brett Beer.  I wonder if American Style IPA will be a local sweep as well.

Stickmen Brewing Co. – Tualatin, OR: A small pub brewer, but that doesn’t mean they can’t make good stuff.  Stickmen picked up a Bronze in Belgian Style Pale Ale.

Stormbreaker Brewing – Portland, OR: Stormbreaker has been around for a while, but I feel like they’ve had a resurgence lately with some strong offerings and award recognition.  Stormbreaker snagged 4 medals, a Gold in American Brown Ale, Silvers in German Style Altbier and California Common and a Bronze in Juicy or Hazy Pale Ale.

Sunriver Brewing – Sunriver, OR: Sunriver grabbed a Gold in American Style Wheat Beer for their Fuzztail, which is one of their flagship offerings.

The Ale Apothecary – Bend, OR: Ale Apothecary took home a Bronze in Experimental Beer or Other Strong Ale. A lot of their stuff is barrel aged or blended so Experimental is probably right in their wheelhouse.

Three Creeks Brewing Co. – Sisters, OR: Three Creeks took home a Bronze medal in Scotch Ale. Three Creeks does really good stuff and is starting to get recognized for it which is exciting.

Three Mugs Brewing – Hillsboro, OR: Three Mugs is another place that flies under the radar, way out in Hillsboro, but they have had great success. This year they took home a Gold in Strong Ale or Old Ale for Biggie D’s Strong Scotch Ale which is a favorite among the regulars.

Thunder Island Brewing – Cascade Locks, OR: If you blink in Cascade Locks you’ll miss it, but how classically Oregon to have an award winning brewery there? Thunder Island took home two Silver medals, one in Classic Irish Stout and one in Golden or Blonde Ale.

von Ebert Brewing – Portland, OR: Another relative newcomer to the Portland scene, but started with an experienced crew from the award winning Fat Heads Portland outpost, von Ebert sprang up when Fat Heads decided to not continue it’s Portland franchise and now they are independent.  von Ebert took home a Bronze in American Style Light Lager.

Widmer Brewing – Portland, OR: One of the OG Portland breweries, Widmer continues to crank out winners.  A Bronze medal in American Amber Ale for year round Drop Top Amber, a Bronze medal in German Style Altbier for their Alt (which is the first beer Widmer ever made) and a Gold medal in Coffee Beer for Creme de la Cafe, which I’m assuming is one of their small experimental pilot batches.

Wild Ride Brewing – Redmond, OR: Wild Ride took home two medals this year, a Bronze for American Style Light Wheat Beer, and a Gold in Field Beer for their Nut Crusher Peanut Butter Porter.

Worthy Brewing – Bend, OR: Worthy Brewing pulled out two awards, a Silver for International Style Pale Ale and a Gold for Chocolate or Cocoa Beer for Peace Pipe Porter. Having had the Peace Pipe before I can attest it is VERY chocolate heavy.

So that rounds out the winners from Oregon and Southwest Washington.  There were also a lot of winners from the Seattle area and California.  You can check out all the medal winners HERE at the Winners page of Best of Craft Beer.

Cheers!