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.

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Seattle Beer Scene

Perhaps it’s because I live in Portland and so I’m keyed in to every small detail of the Portland beer scene, especially comparisons to other regions, but it seems to me that Seattle doesn’t get a lot of hype as a beer town.  Perhaps it does and I just miss it, but at least to me it seems like an unknown waiting to be explored.

My wife and I just returned from a short weekend trip up to Seattle.  The purpose of the trip was a college soccer game and hanging out with family, so not at all a beercation, but since we were headed up that way, I offered to ferry homebrew samples up for one of the last competitions of the year, the Joint Novembeerfest and Puget Sound Pro-Am.  Yeah, it’s a mouthful.  I had a short list of a few places I wanted to hit while we were in town.

We started at Reuben’s Brews in Old Ballard.  A friend of ours from the PNWHC works there and we made it a point to stop by while we were in town.  Unfortunately, it was the Saturday before Halloween and they were PACKED! The dining room is small, and there’s a little bit of outdoor seating but it was pretty cramped.  We both got one beer each and found a table.  The Life on Mars IPA and Black Imperial IPA were both solid, we enjoyed them while we decided where to head to next.  One thing that really impressed me about that Ballard neighborhood was, even though we didn’t get a chance to go anywhere else, there was NW Peaks Brewing, Peddler Brewing, and Lucky Envelope Brewing all within a 4 block radius. *Update to add: There was also a Lagunitas Tap Room in the neighborhood, which I just discovered is the old location of Hillards Brewing.  We got cans of Hillards as a giveaway at the first PNWHC 2 years ago and I thought it was really good. Sad to discover they are no longer in business. Apparently, they got bought by Odin Brewing and then dissolved.

After leaving Reuben’s we decided to walk up to Ballard Way where we had seen a couple of good looking restaurants while we were trying to find Reuben’s.  We ended up at the MacLeod’s Pub.  Known for their fish and chips (which were excellent) they also had an interesting selection of Scottish beers including McEwan’s and Belhaven, plus a list of 250 scotch whiskeys.  After some google sleuthing we discovered the Belhaven was made in Dunbar, Scotland, which is where one side of my wife’s family hails from.  Needless to say we had to try them.  The Scottish Ale on Nitro was OK, but it had a strange tartness to it, and seemed overly malty bordering on oxidation. We keep trying them, but it turns out neither my wife or I are big fans of beers on Nitro. Just not our jam.  Next we tried bottled versions of the Twisted Thistle IPA, their version of an American Style IPA and the 90/ Wee Heavy.  Both of those were quite good.

Our last stop of the night was close to our Air BnB, in Kenmore, called Nine Yards Brewing.  They were much more laid back and less crowded than Reuben’s and we discovered that this was a local hangout for Washington State fans. (U of Washington is IN Seattle, so the WSU fans/alums are in enemy territory).  We decided we would hang out a while and watch most of the game.  This gave us a chance to try several beers there.  It’s nice when places offer a 6-10 ounce short pour that’s a bit more than the typical 3-4oz “taster” but not a full pint.  Most of the bars we went to in Seattle called this size a Schooner, which is ironic to me because that brings up in my mind a giant Stein.  I’m not sure why.  Wikipedia tells me in Australia and the UK a schooner is smaller than a pint, whereas in Canada a schooner is a large mug, usually two US pints (32 ounces) but I can’t imagine where I would have heard either of those two references before.

Nine Yards started out a little shaky (in my opinion) but then improved as the night went on.  I got adventurous with my first beer and ordered a Marzen, which was good, but not great.  Next, I had noticed a couple of Randalls on the wall filled with fresh cut fruit.  I found the infusions on the menu and ordered the wheat with orange and it was incredible! The aroma was like squeezing a fresh wedge of orange, and the flavor was a subtle citrusyness added to the base beer.  I followed that with a Mosiac dry hopped pale ale that was really nice and then finished with a roasty milk stout that was really good.  The game started to get a little ugly in the wrong direction so we called it a night.

The next day before we left town, we met a friend for lunch up in Snohomish at the Trails End Taphouse.  For being a random, hole in the wall joint, they had an amazing beer selection.  The taps were mostly Seattle/Washington centered, but a couple Oregon offerings and then some really unique stuff like Founders Breakfast Stout and Firestone Walker Parabola (2013).  They also had a really awesome bottle selection, both for on premise and take home.  They had a lot of pretty sought after stuff such as Firestone Walker, Almanac, Founders, Bells, Stone, way too many to list.  Two bottles in particular caught my eye and then I had to make a really tough decision.  I had to decide between Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout (KBS) and Fremont Bourbon Barrel Aged Dark Star.  They were roughly the same price, but realistically I could only get one.  Part of me thought I should get the KBS since I never really knew when I would see it again, but the other part of me said I should get the Fremont, since I was specifically hoping to find Dark Star while we were in town.  I struggled mightily over this while we ate (great food too!) and watched the Seahawks game.  When it was time to go I bit the bullet and chose the Fremont.  I hope I made the right choice, but on the other hand, I’m not sure there’s a wrong choice in this aspect.

So, short trip but got to experience some local Seattle flavor.  Cheers Seattle!

Changing of the Seasons

Fall snuck up on us this year.  Two weeks of a 90+ degree heat wave followed by 2 weeks of 45 degrees and raining.  Welcome to Oregon.

Fall is also a fast moving time in the beer world.  Fresh hop season has come and gone.  By it’s nature, it’s very fleeting.  Blink and you miss it.  Despite the short time span, I feel like I saw a huge increase in the number of fresh hop beers this year.  Several breweries I visited had multiple fresh hop offerings, which I don’t think I’ve seen before.

The highlight of the season has to be Level Beer‘s Fresh Hop Ready Player One.  Fruity, piney hop flavors play nicely with the funky saison yeast.  They actually had two versions, one draft and one canned, with different hops.  The draft was more hop forward, the canned version more yeast funk forward.  Both were good, but I preferred the funky can version.  They also had a Fresh Hop Let’s Play pilsner that was solid, and a fresh hop Belgian Pale that went so fast I missed it.

Also, Breakside’s Fresh Hop What Rough Beast was a winner.  Very nice hazy, dank IPA.  Green Dragon Brew Crew’s Fresh Hop Sophie was nice, but interesting.  Made with Rogue’s proprietary Revolution Hop, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it.  I also greatly enjoyed the Pyramid Fresh Hop Outburst.

Most of the draft fresh hop is probably gone by now, but there are some bottle offerings out there.  Today at the store I saw Sierra Nevada Celebration and Double Mountain Killer Red.

Oktoberfest has come and gone as well, which is a shame.  I’m disappointed I didn’t get to try more of the Oktoberfest offerings, especially from Sierra Nevada and Ninkasi.  I think I saw the Sierra Nevada still out there, but it probably won’t be for long.  Oh well.  I did have a Sam Adams Oktoberfest while I was in Anaheim back in September, but it’s not quite the same when it’s 80 degrees and sunny.

Winter beer season exploded onto the scene this past weekend.  Just in the last three days I’ve seen Ninkasi Sleigh’r, Deschutes Jubelale, Widmer Brrr, Pyramid Snowcap, Pelican Bad Santa and Full Sail Wassail.  I grabbed a 6 pack of the Bad Santa today at Trader Joes, although I went there hoping to still find some Oktoberfest beers.  Last year was the 30th Anniversary of Snow Cap and this year is the 30th Anniversary of Jubelale, so these are some very well loved and appreciated beers that have stood the test of time.

The other good news is now it’s dark beer season again! Time to break out some of those bottles that have been hibernating in the cellar, many since last year.  There’s some Goose Island, Deschutes and Culmination in the near future.  Watch for tasting notes for those.

As it says in the Dos Equis commercials, Stay Thirsty My Friends!

2017 GABF Winners

Apparently, I missed the 2016 awards, at least as far as the blog is concerned, but looking back at the 2015 Awards post there were 17 medals from Oregon, 8 medals from North Carolina and the distribution was 9 Gold, 8 Silver and 8 Bronze.

This year, I was able to watch/listen to the live feed of the awards ceremony and got to cheer and hear them as they were announced.  This year there was again a large number of Oregon awards and a good amount of North Carolina awards including a couple of multiple award winners.

Starting with Oregon;

Breakside Brewing – Portland, OR
Bronze Medal – American IPA (408 entries!)
Bronze Medal – Rye Beer
Bronze Medal – American Style Strong Pale Ale (182 entries)
Bronze Medal – Fruited American Style Sour Ale (105 entries)

Goodlife Brewing – Bend, OR
Gold Medal – American Style Wheat Beer

Sunriver Brewing – Sunriver, OR
Gold Medal – American Style Wheat Beer with Yeast
Gold Medal – Imperial Red Ale
Small Brewing Company of the Year

Logsden Farmhouse Ales – Hood River, OR
Silver Medal – Belgian Style Fruit Beer

Ground Breaker Brewing – Portland, OR
Gold Medal – Gluten-Free Beer

Flat Tail Brewing Co – Corvallis, OR
Gold Medal – American Style Sour Ale

Alesong Brewing and Blending – Eugene, OR
Bronze Medal – Brett Beer

Full Sail Brewing Co – Hood River, OR
Silver Medal – American or International Style Pilsener

Base Camp Brewing – Portland, OR
Gold Medal – Speciality Saison

Three Creeks Brewing – Sisters, OR
Bronze Medal – Session Beer

Zoiglhaus Brewing – Portland, OR
Gold Medal – German Style Pilsener

Coldfire Brewing – Eugene, OR
Silver Medal – Double Red Ale

Now for North Carolina;

Lynnwood Brewing Concern – Raleigh, NC
Gold Medal – American Belgo-style Ale
Silver Medal – American Style Pale Ale (199 entries!)

New Sarum Brewing – Salisbury, NC
Gold Medal – Herb and Spice Beer (145 entries!)

Currahee Brewing – Franklin, NC
Bronze Medal – Coffee Stout or Porter

Bond Brothers Beer Co – Cary, NC
Silver Medal – American Style Sour Ale

Sycamore Brewing and Cannery – Charlotte, NC
Bronze Medal – Light Lager
Bronze Medal – American Style Lager or Malt Liquor

Foothills Brewing – Winston Salem, NC
Bronze Medal – Bohemian-Style Pilsner (93 entries!)

Wedge Brewing Co – Asheville, NC
Gold Medal – German Style Maerzen

Lonerider Brewing – Raleigh, NC
Bronze Medal – German Style Doppelbock or Eisbock

Olde Mecklemburg Brewing – Charlotte, NC
Bronze Medal – South German Style Hefewiezen

Hillman Beers – Asheville, NC
Bronze Medal – Belgian Style Dubbel or Quadruple

BearWaters Brewing Co – Canton, NC
Bronze Medal – Belgian Style Strong Speciality Ale

Duck Rabbit Brewing – Farmville, NC
Silver Medal – Scotch Ale

What an impressive showing.  16 individual medals + Small Brewing Company of the year for Oregon and 14 individual medals for North Carolina.

The medal breakdown for Oregon is 7 Golds, 3 Silver and 6 Bronze, while North Carolina took home 3 Gold, 3 Silver and 8 Bronze.

Into the Woods Part 4

The hot weather has held on for way too long, but still we have managed to sneak a few barrel aged specialties into the rotation.  Helping to fight the “dark and thick” component is a few barrel aged beers that aren’t stouts.

Lobo Amarillo – Alameda Brewing (Tequila Barrel Aged DIPA) – Starting with a non-stout is this interesting offering from Alameda.  This is a tequila barrel aged version of their Yellow Wolf Double IPA.  This beer packs a punch! Very strong tequila character, hints of lime and salt that I started to wonder were added, or were just my imagination, but basically tastes almost like a margarita or just a straight tequila shot.  The hops get covered up, so it loses a lot of it’s IPA character, but it’s still enjoyable.  (4.0 of 5 stars)

Bourbon Barrel Aged Spitfire – Santiam Brewing – This one was from the Salem Mini Tour, the barrel aged version of their English Amber.  It still had a good malty character of the amber, but with hints of vanilla and coconut from the oak and good bourbon flavor.  (4.75 of 5)

Spiced Apple Porter – Oakshire Brewing – So this is another Inception style beer with many layers.  So, a cider company aged a cider in a bourbon barrel.  Then they gave that barrel to Oakshire.  So the “Cider barrel” started life as a bourbon barrel.  We have a sweet vanilla and cinnamon aroma with hints of apple and some good bourbon notes.  The flavor is slightly roasty with apple, cinnamon and oak notes.  To be perfectly honest, the base porter gets completely lost within the layers of bourbon and spiced cider, but it makes a good canvas for a delicious beer. (4.75 of 5)

Hellshire VII (BBA Russian Imperial Stout) – Oakshire Brewing –  This is a massive beer, clocking in at 13.75% alcohol.  Huge bourbon character, lots of vanilla.  Super smooth with no alcohol burn, this beer could get very dangerous.  Some dark coffee-like roast came out as it warmed.  Simply phenomenal.  (4.75 of 5)

Bomb! – Prairie Artisan Ales (Bourbon Barrel Stout) – You know you have good friends when someone decides to share a major tick like this.  My buddy broke this out on his birthday, as well he should, but also decided to pour it around.  The bottle says coffee, chocolate and ancho chiles.  I don’t get the heat (which is fine with me) but the chocolate and coffee shine through.  Rich and decadent, but also surprisingly drinkable for 13%.   A 2 oz pour was plenty, but it could be dangerous in larger quantities.  (4.75 of 5)

Helldorado – Firestone Walker Brewing –  I got to try this one at the Proper Pint grand opening.  Firestone Walker bills this as a Blond Barleywine.  I described it to my friend at the Grand Opening as a “Bourbon Barrel Aged Triple IPA”.  The logic was this; triple IPA is a nonsense style but, some people do use it for big 11-12% hoppy beers like Boneyard’s Notorious.  Once you get into 12% alcohol and 100 IBU you’re in American Barleywine territory, but with a lighter color and a focus on El Dorado hops, this one leaned more IPA to me, even in the fictional sense.  Whatever you want to call it, it’s damn tasty. (4.75 of 5)

Salem Mini Tour

On Sunday, my wife and I went to visit friends in Salem, Oregon who just happened to be the same friends we visited in Denver.  They’ve now moved back to Oregon after completing a PhD internship and we were celebrating their return. So what else would be on the docket but a brewery tour, right?

Salem is much smaller than Denver, but has a growing beer scene.  Currently, there are 5 breweries in the city, with at least one more opening soon. We made it to three of the five on our mini tour.  Three that happen to be very close together on the same side of town.  Gilgamesh, Santiam and Salem Ale Works.  Vagabond and McMenamin’s Thompson Brewery and Pub are the other two in town.

We started at Gilgamesh because our friends told us they had good food, and did they ever! It does lean heavy on pub favorites like burgers, but they were good.  We tried the stoney fries (bacon, cheese, chipotle sour cream), the mac attack (mac and cheese with bacon and pulled pork) and the happy hour sliders.  Those were all great, and had some pretty good beers to wash them down.  Hoot Attack ISA (funny story behind the name and logo), Vader Coffee CDA, and Hoppy Farmer, a barrel aged sour saison.

Next stop was Santiam Brewing, and this time instead of a pint we decided to split their large taster tray (10 samples).  My wife remarked that she was having Denver flashbacks at this point.  The beers at Santiam were solid, but not remarkable.  They didn’t really blow us away.  While they were good, they were just missing that oomph.  You could tell the beers they spent a lot of time and effort on, the raspberry pale that tasted like a bite of fresh berries, the Bourbon barrel aged version of their English Amber, and of course, the classic Pirate Stout, Rum barrel aged with coconut.  The rest didn’t seem to have had as much attention paid to them, which was a bit disappointing.  Again, not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but just middle of the road.  “Serviceable”.

The last stop was Salem Ale Works.  I had heard of this brewery through a pro-am brew that a friend did, but I haven’t had much else of their stuff.  These beers really blew us away.  We had a NE style IPA, which I’m not a huge fan of but this one was really good.  A pale ale with an interesting blend of hops in their rotating Sgnarly series, a light refreshing summer ale with the hilarious name of Frisky Marmot, and the Cast Iron CDA which was dark and slightly chocolaty with a huge hop presence.  The waitress (who turned out to be a sales rep) did an amazing job describing the beers to us, and what was in the glass matched exactly what she said, so she did a great job selling us on the beers!  We didn’t eat anything at SAW, but the food coming out of the kitchen looked great so we’ll have to try that next time we’re in town.

So a super quick trip, but hit up a couple of the Salem hotspots.  I would recommend all three, but especially Gilgamesh for great food and Salem Ale Works for great beer.

Brews for New Avenues

This past weekend was the 6th annual Brews for New Avenues.  This year was the second year my wife and I attended and it’s really a blast.  The brewfest benefits New Avenues for Youth, a nonprofit combating youth homelessness.  Youth homelessness, and homelessness in general, is something my wife deals with in her professional life, so it’s a cause near and dear to us.  A lot of homeless youth are LGBT/Gender non-comforming who have been kicked out of a home or running away from a non-supportive family structure.  It’s a very high risk population so anything we can do to help we’ll try.

BFNA is a little bit different from other brewfests as they focus a good bit on older, cellared bottles of beer donated by patrons or companies that are then auctioned in both a live and silent auction. Oh, and then there’s the beer wall.  The idea of the beer wall is you pay a 10$ donation to grab a bottle off the wall.  At first, I thought “Well if you’re not the first 10 people in line you’re not going to get anything good” assuming people would cherry pick stuff like Westy 12, Bruery Terreaux etc.  Turns out the BFNA people were smarter than I gave them credit for.  It’s a blind grab! The beers are in paper bags and you just have to pick one for them to get for you.  The first year we went the bags were numbered, this year the columns and rows were labeled with street names, so you ask for the bottle at 7th and Burnside.  This event last year is what started my cellar, as mentioned in the earlier post The Beer Collector.  The Lompoc Barrel Aged Special Draft (2009) didn’t make the post since we had already drank that one, but the Ruse Multibeast, 10 Barrel 16 Barrels (2013) and Sound Brewing Barleywine hung around for a while.  Based on the variety and the ages, I assumed most of the bottles were donated by collectors.

This years grab lacked the same variety, but it made up for it in sheer quality.

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2012 Misson Street Anniversary Ale (a Trader Joes brand, which is a little odd, but so be it) and THREE from deGarde! We ended up with Eponyme, Saison Melange #3 and Bruinette.  Since deGarde does a special beer just for the fest, I get the feeling they donated a couple cases for the wall rather than a collector, but I’m surely not complaining.  In my opinion those three are worth way more than 10$, so those were great pulls.

There’s great draft beer on of course as well, a good bit which is one-offs just for the festivals, so that’s always fun to try.  This year there was a brewery from Belgium and one from Canada, so that was cool.

The highlight of the night has to be the live auction.  Things get really crazy and stuff sells for insane amounts of money, but it’s for a good cause, so I think people are willing to be generous.  They have all kinds of super special rare bottles, like unlabeled blends from Cantillon, bottles from Hill Farmstead, giant 3 liter magnums in wooden boxes engraved with the New Avenues logo.  Several single bottles sold for over $8,000. Just with what we heard it had to be well over $100,000 total in the auction.  They posted on their Facebook Page  that they raised just under $240,000.  That’s astounding!!

My wife said she hoped one day we could be in a secure enough financial spot to go crazy and donate $2,000 to the cause for one of the auction bottles, but until then, we’ll just keep giving what we can.  Whether it’s $20 or $100… every penny counts.

On the one hand I want to encourage everyone to support this great cause, but on the other hand I don’t want next years fest to be to crowded.. sooooo…… OK, just kidding, please support it.  They do great work.