Best of Craft Beer Awards 2018

This past weekend I returned to the Best of Craft Beer Awards judging in Bend, OR.  This year my wife joined me and served as a steward, helping run the competition.  This event continues to grow, surpassing 2,000 entries this year, and they announced that it is now the third largest competition in the country only trailing GABF and the World Beer Cup.  In 2016, the World Beer Cup had over 6,500 entries, and GABF in 2017 had nearly 8,000 entries.  BoCB has some catching up to do, but still impressive to be third largest.

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Last year it was extremely cold, with 3+ feet of snow on the ground.  Thankfully this year it wasn’t nearly as cold and there wasn’t as much snow.  Although, we did wake up Saturday morning to a surprise of snow on the ground from overnight.  It was only an inch or so, and over the course of the day it melted, but still a bit shocking to see this out of the hotel window.

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This year I judged an interesting range of styles.  Before lunch on Saturday I judged American Style IPA, British Bitters and then Double/Imperial American IPA.  After lunch I judged Northeast Style IPA (new category this year), Brett Beers and then Wood and Barrel Aged Strong Beers.  Needless to say, I was pretty beered out by the end of the day.  Sunday was a much calmer day.  I judged medal rounds for Fruited Berliner Weisse, Belgian Table Beers and Wood and Barrel Aged Dark Beers.  I don’t know if I paid that much attention last year to which flights were preliminary, semifinal or medal rounds, but this year I got to judge at least one semifinal and 4 medal rounds.  When they announce the results I’ll get to see which beers I awarded those medals to!

And of course this year ended again with the granddaddy of all bottle grabs.  All of the leftovers have to be destroyed (they can’t be resold since they are industry samples) and well, nothing says they can’t get “destroyed” in someones belly.  Stewards get a head start to grabbing bottles, so my wife already grabbed some nice stuff before I got out there.  With two of us picking, and more trunk space, we ended up with a tad more bottles than I brought home last year.

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Represented on the table are beers from 14 U.S. States (Mass., Washington, North Carolina, Hawai’i, California, Oregon, Virginia, Nevada, Utah, Texas, Indiana, New York Michigan and Colorado).  Also, two bottles from Bogotá Beer Company which I originally mistook as being from Mexico, but is actually from Colombia.  Very excited to try my first South American beer.

We already have specific plans to share some of this (because no way can we take care of all of it..) including some gluten free beers we grabbed specifically for friends.  Needless to say, we’re going to have some very happy friends in the next couple of weeks! Now, off to go find some room in the cellar…..

Cheers!

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Upcoming 2018 Breweries

New School Beer recently published an article called The Most Anticipated New Oregon Breweries of 2018.  I got a chance to read the article before we left for Mexico but I hadn’t had time to react to it.  I would suggest reading the whole thing, but here’s what jumped out at me.

First, several of these breweries were also listed on the Most Anticipated of 2017 list.  It’s becoming more and more apparent that city planning and permitting and licensing in the City of Portland goes at it’s own pace, and that’s very slow.  I don’t understand why that is, considering these businesses, especially breweries, bring a lot of money into the city coffers.  They should be excited to get them up and going.  But, such is the way of bureaucratic red-tape.  In at least one case, it’s been nearly fatal.  Ross Island Brewing is struggling to stay open, despite only being in business around a year, due to over a year in delays before opening.  They went deep into debt while they waited, and anyone with student loans can attest how hard that can be to get out from under.  Hopefully, Ross Island makes it (Go there and drink beer! They do good stuff!) and these other ones can survive as well.

Next, Southeast Portland is getting some love! Assembly Brewing which is opening at 61st and Foster is just a stones throw from IPA-bar N.W.I.P.A and is walking distance from my house.  That will be the third brewery in the area (including Zoiglhaus and Double Mountain’s Portland Pub) that’s within walking distance.  Ruse Brewing will hopefully finally open at their location on 17th Avenue in inner SE.  This is one of the  holdovers from 2017, although, they were targeting a December open so it didn’t take a huge delay to push them over.   Looking at Spring 2018 opening now, this one is certainly on my Most Anticipated list.  I haven’t had much of their beers (currently co-op-brewed at Culmination Brewing) but what I’ve had has been amazing.  Threshold Brewing sounds interesting and Montavilla is a hopping place these days.  Although, one thing does give me pause.  It says they plan to make barrel-aged beers, mixed fermentations and hazy IPAs.  All things that are super trendy right now but how long will that last? I hope they have a back up plan or can be flexible.  Some people are arguing against “flagship” beers since the Untappd and RateBeer style encourages as many new styles as possible, but a good solid Pale Ale or IPA can go a long way to cement you while still giving you room to experiment.  Case in point, Gigantic Brewing.

Lastly, while only tangentially mentioned in the article, one thing that hangs over the whole list is the 10 breweries that closed/transitioned/sold in 2017. I read, in an article that I, of course, cannot find now, that this smoothing of the peak (10 closings vs 14 openings) is not necessarily a bad thing.  It’s a sign of a market that’s maturing and stabilizing.  It’s bad, of course, for the 10 places that closed, but it could mean good things for those that live on.   I’m not an expert in any sort of business stuff but it seemed to make sense to me.  If I ever find that article again, I’ll link it here.

Three places on this list fit into that category.  First, the 10-ton gorilla in the room.  San Diego, CA based Modern Times, who has desired to be in Portland for a long time, is finally opening their Portland Brewery dubbed the Belmont Fermentorium.  The hitch is, they are opening their new place in the space formally occupied by The Commons.  A brewery that, by all outside indicators, seemed to be doing great and very suddenly shut down.  I will give Modern Times a ton of credit.  They have been very delicate about the “take over”, saying they were fond of The Commons and they aren’t “replacing” The Commons and hopefully The Commons can exist again in some other form.  The Commons still owns the building and some of the equipment that MT is leasing from them, so a steady source of income, and there are rumors that The Commons may not be as dead as previously thought.  I hope it’s true.  They had a small niche market, with sours, saisons and Belgian style beers but they were world class.  Next, we have Bazi Bierbrasserie, a Belgian focused beer bar that is being bought by Thirsty Monk.  While sounding vaguely familiar, I was surprised to learn Thirsty Monk is based out of Asheville, NC and has a location as well in Denver, CO.  Bazi was only a beer bar, but Thirsty Monk plans to install a small brewery at the location to make house brews.  They will likely also serve other commercial Belgian style beers.  The unfortunate story behind this sale is the owner needed to move back to Houston in the wake of Hurricane Harvey to help her family and be closer to them.  Hopefully, Thirsty Monk can live up to the history the place has, and it sounds like that’s the plan.  Last is Von Ebert Brewing.  This is a weird one for sure, but I feel like it will work out for the best.  The team behind Van Ebert will be the same team behind the award winning beers out of Fat Head’s Portland location.  Turns out, the Ohio based brewery is expanding operations in the mid-West including a new production brewery in Ohio and they couldn’t continue to support the franchise in Portland.  Both sides mutually agreed to end the agreement and go their separate ways.  Von Ebert is keeping the brewing team intact and restaurant employees will be given the opportunity to keep their jobs as well, so this should be a pretty quick transition, but as far the official stats go “Fat Heads” will close and “Von Ebert” will open, even though it’s essentially the same brewery.

Lots to look forward to in 2018, it’s going to be a busy year!

Cervezas de México

My wife and I just returned from a week-long visit to Baja California Sur in Mexico.  This is the southern portion of the Baja California peninsula.  We were visiting friends who live there half the year to see the sights, enjoy the nice weather and learn about the culture.

Craft beer is not nearly as prolific in Mexico as it is in the U.S.  There’s a few places scattered here and there, often in the border towns like Mexicali and Ensenada.  The main purpose of the trip didn’t involve beer, but it always works it’s way in there.

Normally I’m not a big fan of lime in beer (e.g. Corona) and especially when they don’t give you a choice (shove the lime wedge down the neck of the beer).  However the first beer I had was at a beach front restaurant eating nachos after spending an hour or so swimming in the Sea of Cortez.   In that environment, a Modelo Especial with a tiny squeeze of lime went down very well.  I had previously rated Especial as a 3.0, but bumped it up to 4.25.  Freshness and place help out a lot.

The town we were staying in (El Sargento) didn’t have a big grocery store, but several small C-stores.  The one we shopped at the most was called Oscaritos and it was closest to the house we were staying there.  We went there almost daily to pick up vegetables, local cheese and other things for cooking at the house.  It was there that I found a series of beers from Cerveza Fuana. This brewery is located in Mexicali, which is up on the border of Baja California and the U.S.  So not “local” for El Sargento, but at least from Baja California. They had four beers in the case.  Mala Vida Belgian Blond (4.25), Penelope Coffee Porter (4.5), Nox Arcana Imperial Stout (4.0), and Tristan Blonde Ale (3.75).  Unfortunately, most of these beers had some serious age on them.  The Belgian had good yeast character with some oxidation, the Imperial Stout was sweet and boozy, but pretty tasty.  The Coffee Porter had held up the best, with good flavor and only slight oxidiation.  The Blonde Ale, unfortunately, didn’t really have any strong flavors to hide the oxidation.

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On another trip to Oscaritos, I picked up a six pack of Bohemia Vienna lager, Obscura (4.0).  This beer is made by Cervecería Cuauhtémoc Moctezuma.  One of the two macro breweries that have pretty much a monopoly on Mexican beer.  The other is Grupo Modelo, makers of the Especial I had earlier.  This brewery is in mainland Mexico but it’s at least a Mexican beer.  This beer was decently good, but a little sweeter than I would have expected for the style.  A lot of Mexican beers are based on German styles, but I’m sure they’ve tweaked them.

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On the next to last day of out trip, we happened to be spending a second day in Todos Santos.  Something I had missed the first time, there was actually a small craft brewery called Todos Santos Brewing.

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This was mostly an American style craft brewery with several varieties of IPA and Pale Ale, accented by a Stout, a Red Ale, a Brown Ale and a few others.  I settled on the Chuck Norris Red Ale (4.75) and my wife got the Midnight Oil Double Black IPA (4.25).  The hop profiles on both were fantastic.  Very American/New World style.  The owners are from Australia originally, so I’m sure they throw in some New Zealand and Australian hops that are all the rage now.  The Black IPA was on Nitro, which was a little unfortunate, but it was still good.  Neither my wife or I really care for beers on Nitro and it’s sort of out of place on an IPA anyway.  To my palate, nitro beers tend to be a little sweet, lacking the carbonic “bite” of carbonation.  That’s fine in a creamy Irish stout like Guinness, but for an IPA you want that bite. All in all, very good, friendly staff, great service.  It’s out of the way, but if you’re ever in Todos Santos, B.C.S, I highly recommend you stop by.

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The last beer I had on the trip was actually in the airport on the way home.  San José del Cabo is a really small airport and the one choice for a sit down place to eat was a sports bar themed in Corona dressing.  They had beers from Grupo Modelo, and the two draft options were Modelo Especial and Negra Modelo.  My wife and I both opted for the Negra Modelo (4.5).  Negra is a dark Vienna style lager similar to the Bohemia Obscura, but quite a bit better.  I’ve enjoyed Negra here in the States on a couple of occasions, but fresh on draft at the airport in Mexico was a very enjoyable experience.

Another interesting thing that I noticed was that all of the C-stores, and even some of the small cafes were completely decked out in beer logos.  A lot of the C-stores had their name painted on the side of the building, but the light up sign on a post would be a beer logo.  The three I saw most often was Pacifico, Tecate and Modelo.  Restaurants would also have logos on chairs, tables, napkins, etc.  It seemed as if each place was “branded” by one of the breweries.

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This logo was painted on the side of Oscaritos, and as you can see the whole building is decked out in the blue and yellow of Pacifico.  The other C-store down the street was completely decked out in the red and black of Tecate.  This seemed to be the way all of the stores were decorated.  (Car shops were also completely decked out in white and green with a Quaker State logo on the side, so it wasn’t just breweries who advertised this way).

So there we have it, a small sampling of some beers from Mexico!

Into the Woods – Part 5

Happy New Year! The holiday season brings out the special beers from cellars and collections and this year is no different.  Cheers to 2018 with these special brews.

2017 Hopworks Kentucky Christmas: The whiskey barrel aged version of their Abominable Winter Ale.  Aromas of dark fruit, light oak, light whiskey.  Flavors of dark fruit, heavy oak character, lingering tannins and a surprising hop bitterness.  I’d prefer more whiskey character, but still good.  (4.5 stars)

2017 Pyramid Bourbon Barrel Snowcap: This year’s barrel aged version of Snowcap.  Aromas of dark fruit, sherry, faint whiskey.  Flavors of dark chocolate, apple, Christmas spices.  Interesting this year, but maybe not quite as good as last year.

2016 Worthy Dark Muse: Barrel aged Imperial Stout.  Aromas of dark fruit, whiskey, faint chocolate.  Flavors of dark fruit, whiskey, brown sugar and coffee.  This was really delicious. My wife picked this up at a white elephant bottle exchange and it was quite a lucky draw.  (4.75 stars).

2017 Anchorage Brewing Time Waits for No One (Batch 2): Port barrel aged Imperial Stout.  This was was pretty interesting, but a little heavy on the port character for my tastes.  Gave it an odd flavor.  Super rich and thick, jet black like India ink.  If you like port this might be for you.  (3.75 stars)

2016 The Breury Mocha Wednesday: Tasted this at a party, so didn’t take full notes, but my first experience with The Breury and this stuff was amazing. Very balanced, coffee not too strong.  The price on their bottles always gives me sticker shock, but obviously some amazing craftmanship going into this.  (5 stars)

De Garde Saison Mélange 3: Blended farmhouse ale aged in Gin and Vermouth barrels.  A departure from the usual stouts and barleywines, but this was incredible.  Very well balanced, lightly tart, good gin character.  I don’t like gin at all, but I tend to like gin barrel aged beers.  Bizarre.  This was one of our blind picks off the beer wall at Brews for New Avenues and it was an absolute winner.  (5 stars)

Cheers! More to come this year for sure.

2017 Beer in Review

There’s still a few weeks left in 2017 but all of the major beer events are over for the year.  Competition season has wrapped up, festivals are long since over, our homebrew club holiday party was this past weekend putting a bow on the club year as well. This past year was pretty interesting when I looked back on it even though some things didn’t go as planned.

Brewing: I didn’t brew as much this year as I have in the past couple of years.  I am brewing today what will be my 8th and final batch of the year, a repeat of my Rum “Barrel” Aged tropical stout.  For comparison, I brewed 12 batches in 2016 and 11 in 2015.  However, what I lacked in quantity I made up for in quality.  As I outlined in my Competition Review post, I managed to win 8 awards with three different beers.  2 Bronze and 3 Silver for my Belgian Dark Strong, 2 Bronze for my Belgian Wit and a Silver for my CDA.  I have some lofty goals for 2018 so hopefully this momentum continues.

Judging: I also didn’t judge as much this year as I have in years past, which was unfortunate but things just didn’t line up as well.  I started the year with a really unique opportunity to judge commercial beers at the Best of Craft Beer Awards in Bend.  My wife and I will be returning to BCBA in 2018, myself as a judge and her as a steward.  Besides schedule, another reason I didn’t judge as much is I got more involved in the administrative side of competitions, serving as Cellarmaster at SheBrew and Judge Director for both Heart of Cascadia and Fall Classic. This year I took the 10 week BJCP styles class offered by the OBC and took the tasting exam in June.  I wasn’t happy with my score, but I did increase from a 68 to a 76 and increased my rank from Recognized to Certified.  I re-took the tasting exam again in November and have not received my score yet, but based on talking to the proctors afterwards I feel really good about how I did.  I’m nervous about taking the written exam, but I am hoping to eventually make National rank.

Travel: The highlight of this year had to be the trip to Denver.  15 breweries in 4 days and that just barely scratched the surface of the beer scene there.  New Belgium was awesome, I can’t recommend strongly enough doing the tour there.  Our friends who we were visiting there have now moved back to Oregon, which is great, but now that means we need another excuse to go back.  Someday, I’d like to attend GABF.  We also visited new breweries in Astoria (Reach Break), Salem (Xicha) and a couple places in Seattle (Reuben’s Brews and 9 Yards).

Job:  June marked 1 year at my job at Portland Brewing, so now I’m at about a year and a half.  Things are still going well.  I’m hoping I might have an opportunity next year to do some Siebel training courses. If I do I’ll be sure to write about it here. I’m still learning a lot and the networking opportunities have been pretty crazy.  I’ve been doing some testing for smaller breweries in our lab and it feels really good to help out other members of the community.  There is really a lot more cooperation for us than competition.  At least in Portland.

Looking Ahead: 2018 looks to be pretty interesting, starting the year out with a trip to Mexico and returning to Best of Craft Beer, then over the summer we’re going to be travelling to Houston to work as volunteers at a large event there and then visit family in Austin, so another “not beer” related trip, but we’ll squeeze a few places in, especially in Austin.  The National Homebrewers Conference is coming to Portland next year, sadly the same weekend that we’ll be in Houston so we’ll miss it, but we’ll get to help with some of the set up and I plan on judging the preliminary round of the competition which will be in Portland this year as well.  Also, next year it’s my wife’s turn on the Board of the OBC, serving as Secretary, so our club involvement will ratchet up yet again after taking it kinda easy this year.

So, cheers to 2017 and here’s to 2018!

2017 Competition Recap

I sometimes joke about not being a competitive person, at which point my wife looks at me sideways like “Really?” I think I associate competitive in my head with that guy or girl from high school who played seven sports and went to a private college on a tennis scholarship. I didn’t play sports growing up, but was in the marching band and competed both in marching and concert bands. In college, I played video games, did Ham radio competitions, started playing fantasy football and hockey and then eventually got into distance running.  So naturally, I started entering competitions almost immediately after starting homebrewing.  My first entry was my second ever batch and my first medal (a new brewer award) came on my 5th batch.

The 2017 Competition season has come to an end and it was very interesting and successful, although it didn’t start out that way.  I didn’t have any success in the early competitions, including a crushingly low score for my Cascadian Dark Ale in the NHC Regionals. Decent scores at KLCC, Spring Fling and Heart of Cascadia, but no medals.

I’ve won a few medals here and there, but I entered 2017 with a plan.  That plan didn’t totally work out, but what happened in it’s place was still pretty great.  In December of 2016 I brewed a Belgian Dark Strong. The original plan was to bottle condition for nearly an entire year and not break it out until the Fall Classic in November. My curiousity got the best of me and I tasted it after 6 months and it tasted awesome, so I decided to enter it into the State Fair.  It didn’t medal, but I got some good feedback on it.  Around this same time, a couple of my homebrewing friends tasted it and gave me some feedback and at this point I knew I wanted to re-brew it and make some changes, so I was no longer trying to hold on to this until summer of 2018.  I started entering the BDS into competitions to start getting more feedback.

The first competition I entered it into was the Lane County fair, along with my Belgian Wit that I had made because I had most of the ingredients already on hand.  They started out in different categories but due to being a small comp they combined all the Belgians together and I ended up competing against myself. The Dark Strong took third place in the combined Belgian category.

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I found it humorous that they mailed my my $4.00 premium as well.

For the next couple of competitions the BDS and the Wit were all I had ready. It was too hot for me to brew during the main part of the summer (June, July, August).  The next event was the Rocktoberfest Competition in Redmond.  I sent in the BDS and the Wit and this time, they stayed in separate categories and I happened to take 3rd place in both.

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I was getting pretty excited at this point.  To have the same beer medal multiple times was pretty amazing.  Little did I know at the time that that trend was going to continue.  The next competition was the Sasquatch Homebrew Competition in Eugene.  This event had a limited number of categories, but one happened to be Trappist, so I sent in the Belgian Dark Strong.  This time it took Second place.  Even while it was winning medals it still seemed to be improving with time, another testament to the bottle conditioning process.

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Huge ribbon from Sasquatch.

The next event was a new event called the Salem Harvest Classic, run by Capitol Brewers in Salem.  I once again submitted the BDS and the Wit and managed to double dip again.  This time, 2nd place for the BDS and 3rd place for the Wit.  I felt like I was picking up steam coming into our club competition, the Fall Classic.  I was out of bottles of the Wit, and now that it was cool enough again, I brewed up a American Pale Ale and another version of my Cascadian Dark Ale.  The CDA scored well but didn’t medal, and my Pale Ale had a carbonation issue so it didn’t do well either, but lo and behold the Belgian Dark Strong took second place.  After 4 years of entering the competition, and being heavily involved in running it the last 3 years (including two years of labeling the medals) I had finally taken home a Fall Classic medal.  I’d say this one certainly meant the most.  Everyone there was so excited for me to win, and that kind of support is what makes the hobby run.  Also, late that night when we finally made it home, my Salem Harvest Classic medals had come in the mail and were waiting for me.

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I was now out of Belgian Dark Strong bottles to enter, so it’s run was over, but when it was all said and done, two bronze medals and three silver medals.  I’ve already brewed the 2018 batch and it’s currently doing it’s thing in the bottles. The first entry for that batch will be the NHC Regionals in April so we’ll see how it does then.

The last competition of the season was the Joint Novembeerfest and Puget Sound Pro-Am.  I entered the pale ale and the CDA into this competition and the Pale Ale got a decent score and good feedback but no medal. The CDA, on the other hand, took third place in Specialty IPA, which is always a very competitive category.  I was extremely happy with this result.  The two other medals I’ve won with my CDA were in custom categories for CDA only.  Specialty IPA includes all the new styles like Red IPA, Belgian IPA and New England Style IPA.

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Before 2017 I had four medals (1 bronze, 3 silver).  Now I have 12.  That’s very impressive.  I didn’t take first place in a category or win best in show or anything like that, but I tripled the number of ribbons and medals hanging on my wall and I’m pretty stoked about that.

I have two goals for 2018.  Understandably, there’s a good chance this won’t happen, but isn’t that the point of setting goals?

First, I want to get on the scoreboard of the Oregon State Homebrewer of the Year.  Not win the whole thing, or even finish top 10, but just get my name on there.  To score points in OSHBOTY you have to get first place in a category, so by default that means one of my goals is also to score my first gold medal in a category.

Second, I want to advance a beer to the finals of the National Homebrew Competition.  To do that, you have to medal in your category and score 30 plus points.  Again, I’m not looking to win anything in the finals, but just to have the chance. Taking first place in the NHC regionals would accomplish both my goals at once, so fingers crossed!

So there we have it, a look back on the past year and a look ahead to next year.

Xicha Brewing – Salem, OR

Over the holiday weekend, I had the opportunity to visit one of the newest breweries to open in the state, Xicha Brewing in Salem.  We were visiting friends in town and one of them was friends with the head brewer, so of course we had to check it out.  Apparently, the crew running the place are all West Salem natives and have a huge backing of community support.  They weren’t that busy when we got there on the early afternoon of Black Friday, but apparently most nights they’ve been slammed and it was hopping by the time we left.

They’ve been open less than a month so the beer selection is somewhat limited, but still very solid.  They had five beers on when we were there.  An IPA, a pale ale, an Amarillo dry-hopped pale ale, a porter and a variant of the porter with Hatch chilies.  I believe we tried all of them aside from the standard pale ale.

The beer is solid and I expect it to continue to impress, but the reason you want to go here is the FOOD.  Cooking for them is the owners of Pura Vida Cocina in McMinnville, and it’s really unique Latin and South American food.  It’s similar to Mexican but with some unique twists.  I got Sopes, which was a crispy masa cup with their guava BBQ chicken, black beans, cheese and pickled cabbage.  It was really good and very different than anything I’ve ever had.  My wife got the daily special which was Venezuelan style shrimp arepas, which are a stuffed masa dish similar to a empenada but usually served open faced rather than fully closed (at least the two times I’ve seen them).

They are tucked away in an industrial park, but it’s well worth searching out.  I’m already looking forward to going back.  I literally cannot recommend it enough.