2019 Beer In Review

I’m a little late on this post because I’ve been busy, which is basically the story of all of 2019. Both busy and not busy but in different ways.

Leadership:

In 2019, I served as the Competition Chair for the homebrew club, while my wife served as President. Needless to say, we were extremely busy with these responsibilities. Involved in planning every event, two meetings a month (board and general), running and planning two of the competitions plus the mid-year picnic and holiday party, it was a big deal.  The irony is that being up to my neck in homebrew club prevented me from being a homebrewer. Fewer open weekends, so I didn’t brew as much, didn’t go to as many festivals, didn’t enter as many competitions and didn’t judge as much. It was a difficult year, but I got to stretch my boundaries and everything worked out in the end.

Brewing:

This is where this year took the hardest hit. I was only able to brew three batches this year. A batch of CDA in April for our spring IPA competition, a Norwegian style farmhouse ale in August (playing around with a new yeast strain) and then another batch of CDA in September, to be ready in time for our big competition in November. That’s it.

Competitions:

Along with not brewing much, I didn’t enter many competitions this year either. The stout that I entered in Stout Bout and the Belgian Dark that I entered in NHC and Fall Classic were 2018 brews.  The CDAs and Norwegian Farmhouse got decent scores and good feedback but I didn’t win any medals this year. It felt like a bit of a letdown compared to the last two years, but of course I wasn’t entering a lot.

Travel:

2019 wasn’t quite as crazy travel-wise as 2018 was, but we still managed to squeeze in a couple small trips and one big one. We started the year with a short trip to San Francisco in January, which honestly feels so long ago I nearly forgot about it. Managed to hit up three breweries while we were there, San Francisco Brewing Co, which is right next to the Ghiradelli Chocolate shop. Primo location.  Cellarmaker Brewing, which was in SOMA near our friends apartment and Half Moon Bay Brewing which was out on the coast. Apparently, I never got around to writing a blog post about this trip. That whole busy thing. In May, we took a trip down to Southern Oregon and Northern California. We set our home base in Grants Pass Oregon which gave us access to Crater Lake and the Redwoods National Park. We found three breweries in Grant’s Pass. Wild River Brewing and Pizza, Climate City Brewing and Conner Fields Brewing. In July, we took a trip up to Tacoma, Washington to get stamps at the newest McMenamins property and finish our second set of passports.  While we were there, we also hit up Harmon Brewing, 7 Seas Brewing, Barhop Brewing (Port Angeles), Pacific Malting and Brewing, Odd Otter Brewing Co. and the McMenamin’s Elks Temple itself, which has a brewery. Lastly, our big trip in November was to New York City. We only made it to three breweries, two in NYC and one on our side trip to Philadelphia. We hit up Coney Island Brewing and Other Half Brewing in Brooklyn and then Yards Brewing Co. in Philly. We got to try a lot of the local stuff as well at bars and bottles from the store.

Looking Ahead:

We skipped it in 2019, but this year my wife and I will be returning to Bend for the Best of Craft Beer competition in early February. I’m looking forward to judging again this year. I’m also hoping to make it up to Seattle this year to judge the National Homebrew Competition regionals. I haven’t been able to make it before. I think judging something that big will be a good and useful experience, I’ve also heard it’s a blast. Judges go home with a ton of swag, or so I’ve been told. I’m not ashamed to admit my judging services can be “bought” with a nice lunch and a couple bottles to take home. That’s what’s so alluring about Best of Craft Beer. It’s also just a lot of fun.

I haven’t brewed yet this year, but I have a couple of ideas. I want to brew a Kolsch while it’s cold. I don’t have any temp controls, but the second bedroom gets down to about 62 if we close the door and don’t run the heat. Perfect for a cold fermented ale. I didn’t brew my strong Belgian this past year, but I’m thinking I’m might go for something lighter (at least in color) and brew a Belgian Golden Strong or a Tripel. I’m hoping for something that maybe doesn’t need to age as long and can be drunk fresh. I’m sure there will be at least two more batches of CDA down the line, gotta keep those coming for sure. Beyond that we’ll see how it goes. I have some ideas.

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.

74701702_10218636202230796_6305074658395815936_n

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.

72414757_10218658607670918_2693400263636549632_n

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!

74238228_10218658611471013_2264183626033790976_n

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.

75380312_10218665835251603_6019347707011792896_n

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.

75456988_10218675683337799_3669103566410219520_n

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.

76958425_10218684573400045_5237322866369757184_n

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!

75561454_10218684578040161_7137429768353349632_n

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!