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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Adventures in Portlandia: Day 3 - Portland

We were eager to begin Day 3 of the trip in Portland proper with the one-two punch of two of our very favorites: Hair of the Dog and Cascade Barrel House. Both were in close proximity of each other (hell, there were FOUR breweries all within walking distance just in this part of town), so it made hopping around from place to place decidedly convenient for us. But first! Yup, you guessed it. Coffee. Our first of two coffee stops today took place at Upper Left, a local coffee roaster in Portland. We ordered two cold brews and sat at their modern bar overlooking the roasting equipment. I felt like I was at a small brewery as I watched the roaster do his thing. He was kind enough to strike up a short conversation with me, which dispelled any myths about coffee drinkers being snobs or pretentious. We chatted about breweries, and I was surprised that he hadn't heard of Hair of the Dog. Coincidentally, it was our firs stop of the day.

During our one-and-only previous trip to Portland (I gave you the link to that blog last time), you may recall they were closed for a bar mitzvah when we arrived. Luckily, we had time to visit the following day, and I'm glad we did. Hair of the Dog crafts some of the best strong ales I've come across in our travels. They also make an insanely underrated DIPA called Blue Dot. If you ever see a fresh bottle on the beer shelves, do yourself a favor and buy a few bottles. 

Gotta love them dogs! 
While they don't brew a ton of different styles, they've carved out a niche for themselves over the years as a pioneer of barrel-aging and brewing tasty strong ales in the vein of... well, themselves. Founded in 1993, I was surprised to learn that Hair of the Dog only produces about 600 barrels of beer each year. This absolutely floored me, if only for the sole reason that I'd heard of them and enjoyed their beers for so long. It's refreshing to see a veteran brewery that's not all about world domination these days. 

Now, onto the beer. We perused the beer menu and realized there was much to try. Quickly, we realized that most of our afternoon would comprise of Hair of the Dog and Cascade. First up, we chose two beers: Pig Dog (from the Stone... huh?) and Cherry Lila. Upon further investigation of the beer menu, I discovered they featured a rotating roster of beers "fermented or aged in a concrete egg." The bartender (who waited on us five years ago... good memory Brewslut) informed us that this process adds interesting earthy and mineral-like qualities to the beer. Sold. Give it to me. Cherry Lila is a cherry version of their Maibock, which is also dry-hopped with Saaz hops. Two down, several to go. For our next selections, we went with the aforementioned Blue Dot as well as Bourbon Matt from the Wood. I've had a few beers "from the wood" in the past, and they have been fantastic. Obviously "from the wood" indicates the beer has been barrel-aged. Here's the description of Matt taken from the HOTD web site:

Matt was inspired by Matt VendenBerghe and Matt Bonney (Bottleworks and Brouwers in Seattle), who personify the spirit and dedication that has helped craft beer become the vibrant industry it is today. This beer was originally brewed to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Bottleworks, and will be released every few years from the brewery. Matt is made with two Munich malts, two smoked malts and two types of Belgian candy sugar. It is aged in Kentucky Bourbon and Apple Eau de Vie barrels from Clear Creek distilling.Matt is deep and lush with notes of apple, chocolate and smoke. Alcohol: 12.5% by volume.

The deliciousness that is Matt.
Finishing my pour of Matt was laborious, but in a good way. I mean after all, this is a beer to be savored. I'm really glad I got to sample this straight from the source! After checking out the bottle list, we settled on Otto from the Wood. With its price tag of a measly $1500, we couldn't afford a bottle of Dave. Because their beers are so intense and high-octane, we could only handle so much (especially given our heady itinerary). Below is the description of the beer that sucked me in to the vortex that is Otto:

Sounds pretty good, doesn't it?
And here's the pour (a half pour, anyway; Brewslut had the other half). Apparently, Otto is a variation of HOTD's flagship beer, Fred, aged in oak barrels with peaches and cherries. I didn't get a whole lot of peach character but the cherry, vanilla and oak were all prominent. Despite being strong ales, most of their beers are quite stealthy. This one weighs in at 13% but you'd never know it was so potent. Don't get me wrong, you definitely experience some moderate alcohol heat (especially after the glass warms up a bit), but Otto and Matt are deceptively smooth for their ABV.

It drink pretty good, don't it?
Another favorite from our last trip, Cascade Barrel House is home to some serious sour beers. I must admit that sour beers have been hit or miss for me over the years. Brewslut, not so much. She loves 'em! But this place is legit and I will say that I was in a rare mood for sour beers this afternoon. What better place to be when your craving sours than Cascade? Exactly.

What to choose? How 'bout all of 'em!
With such a diverse (an enormous) list of beers, we obviously had to limit ourselves to taster-sized pours of each. I opted for both of the "live from the barrel" selections: Cherry Bourbonic (a spiced bourbon barrel-aged Imperial Porter aged on sour pie cherries) and Black Light (a wheat ale aged with red and blackcap raspberries). Live from the barrel means just that: the beer is tapped directly from the barrel rather than a foreign vessel such as a keg. Cherry Bourbonic was easily a highlight of the entire trip. So damn tasty and complex! We then proceeded to dig into many other sample-sized sour treats, including: 2015 Kriek; 2013 Sang Royal (aged in Cabernet and Port wine barrels with Cab Sauv grapes); Floregon Follies #1 (barrel-aged Quad and collaboration with Dunedin); Nectarine Dream (nectarine sour ale); The Vine (white wine barrel-aged wheat ale with Gewürztraminer grapes); and Cranberry (wheat ale aged in wine barrels with cranberries, orange peel and cinnamon). I also sampled the amazing Oblique Black & White Coffee Stout, a blonde stout brewed with Oblique Coffee Roasters' Landauer blend. I foresee these blonde stouts and blonde coffee beers gaining in popularity in 2017 and beyond. Both this and the one I had at Pfreim Family were fantastic!

Pleeps digs his sours, but he's waiting for a banana sour.
After bludgeoning our palates with a barrage of sour beers, we headed to our next spot. Green Dragon, which also cohabitates the tiny Buckman Botanical Brewery, was situated in the same neighborhood as Cascade. We opted to sit outside in the courtyard area, which had a small greenhouse that customer could walk through. Green Dragon features quite a lot of guest taps and unfortunately only a handful of house beers (which also include Buckman Botanical beers). Both are cooperative breweries owned by Oregon's own juggernaut, Rogue Ales & Spirits. I settled on the Summer Wood, a bangin' wood-aged Pale Ale that exceeded my expectations. Slightly bitter with subtle oak and substantial boozy warmth, this was still quite refreshing due to hints of vanilla and citrus. It was almost creamsicle-esque in its underlying flavor. Further investigation led me to find it was aged in a Rogue Dead Guy Whiskey barrel for three days, which sounds like it was just the right amount of time. Well done! 

My kind of decor. I found this cow udderly intriguing.
The other beer, Sour Kumquat IPA, was from Buckman Botanical. As you might imagine, this was was pretty tart but still boasted a moderate hop character. Kumquats are tiny, seasonal citrus fruits that elicit spicy, woody, and - obviously - tart flavors. Sounds like the perfect fruit for a sour IPA, doesn't it? Four out of five beer bloggers agree. 

After a pleasant one-and-done visit to Green Dragon, it was off to The Commons, a relatively new brewery just down the street. This place had a great rustic vibe to it, with a lot of weathered wood, exposed brick, and high beam ceilings. Indeed, an ideal atmosphere to match its well-crafted beers. Sadly, this was the only photo I snapped while we were there:

Our only pic of The Commons. Fail!
Born out of the ashes of Beetje Brewery (a 1-barrel nano system in the garage of owner Mike Wright), The Commons emerged in 2011 with a brand new 7-barrel brew house and a new location. This eventually led to its current location in Portland's Central Eastside area complete with a commercial 15-bbl brew house. With a knack for brewing rustic farmhouse ales and sours, The Commons has established itself as a favorite among Portland's ever-growing craft beer scene. Both of the beers we samples - the Hibiscus Barrel Saison and Lemongrass Berliner Weiss - were outstanding. We wanted to try more, but we were a bit fatigued from our lengthy visits to both Hair of the Dog and Cascade Barrel House (and rightly so). But a longer stay at The Commons during our next visit to Portland is definitely in order.  

The wall at Base Camp.
Next, it was off to Base Camp. I just liked the name of this place, so it made the cut. I'm glad we stopped in, because I really liked the space and the brewery's branding. Their logo has a distinct retro outer space appeal (at least to me), which intrigued me. Brewslut was psyched they had logo patches! We decided on small pours of the following beers: 
  • Ultra Gnar Gnar, a popular IPA I found to be a bit underwhelming despite its bitchin' moniker. 
  • S'more Stout - If you like S'mores (who doesn't?!) this beer is for you.
  • R.C.T.I.D. (an acronym for Rose City 'til I Die... I don't get the reference), an Imperial Milk Stout aged on Oregon white oak with Burnside bourbon featuring coffee beans from Trailhead Roasters and Ranger Chocolate cacao husk. Damn. Sounds like the credits of a rap album!
  • Bretta Livin', an American Wild Ale brewed with apricot, provided some sour relief amid two rich, potent stouts.
Pleeps chillin' at Base Camp among his throng of fans.
Pleeps got recognized at the bar by a trio of younger guys, who we struck up a conversation with soon thereafter. Pleeps has proven to be a great natural lubricant (OK, that just sounds dirty) when it comes to talking to strangers at breweries. So he not only serves as Brewslut's photo stand-in; he also helps us meet regulars and other fellow pour travelers wherever we go. 

Roundabout this time, we were in need of some refueling. Caffeine, that is. We found another cool local coffee roaster - the aptly named Good Coffee - situated in the same neighborhood as the breweries we were visiting. In addition to drinking a lot of water while imbibing, it's also a good idea to stay awake. Coffee helps. 

We're almost done for the day... I promise! Up next, we hit a cool place called Hopworks Urban Brewery. With its bike theme and yellow logo, it reminded us of Crank Arm, one of our favorite breweries from a recent trip to Raleigh/Durham, NC. (Sorry, but you can't read about that particular trip due to the fact that I was on beer blogger's hiatus at the time.)

We perused the chalkboard and noticed a veritable cornucopia of different IPAs. Surely we had to try a few. On our agenda was four beers: Massive Peach, Survival Stout, IPX Azacca, and POG IPA. Three of the four were listed as IPAs. Massive Peach was described as "a big IPA with loads of peach." Sold. To quote Polonius, "Brevity is the soul of wit." Sadly, I've been seldom described as "wise" according to Bill's old, long-winded character. But I digress. POG was pretty damn tasty too. This one was brewed with a truck-load of tropical fruit including orange, pineapple, and guava. IPX was a single-hopped IPA featuring the relatively new American hop variety called Azacca. We've used this one quite a bit recently at Tröegs (most famously in our brand new DIPA, Nimble Giant), and it's becoming a favorite of mine. On the palate, it is a bit spicy with plenty of musky tropical fruit and hint of citrus. Despite being an American variety, it has been likened in nature to some New Zealand-bred varieties. 

Feelin' good at Hopworks Urban Brewery!

The odd man out - Survival Stout - is a year-round offering from Hopworks. Described as a "multi-grain stout," it's brewed with barley, wheat, oats, amaranth (an ancient grain rarely cultivated in modern times), quinoa, spelt, and kamut (another ancient grain twice as big as wheat and known for its rich, nutty flavor) as well as 1 lb. of cold-pressed organic Stumptown coffee per barrel. Whoa! 

Bike frames as far as the eye can see at Hopworks!

We had it in us to make one more stop before we took to the road, so it was off to Gigantic, and I'm glad to say that this was a great last stop of the night! The locals here were extremely friendly and chatty (as was the bartender), and we felt right at home chatting about everything from beer to extreme metal to travel. I always enjoy sitting at the bar and getting lost in conversation with fellow patrons. It's one of the best things about visiting local breweries while traveling. I find you can learn a lot about a specific region just chatting with the locals on the bar stool next to you. 

Beer-wise, we enjoyed poured of Scrilla (hoppy pale ale), Amerikölsch (Kölsch with Citra hops), and Pipewrench (DIPA aged in Random Old Tom gin barrels for 3 months). I'm not a gin guy at all, but I was intrigued by the Pipewrench and ordered it. So glad I did, because this beer was delicious! The botanicals from the gin barrels played nicely with the citrusy hops and subtle woody and vanilla tones from the barrel. Super complex!

Pleeps visits Scrilla Villa. J-ROC, baby!
Before we retired for the evening, one of them (the metal guy) bought us a bomber of Gigantic's bourbon barrel-aged Imperial Stout... but more on that beer later! Sadly, our day had come to an end all too quickly, and we were forced to vacate Gigantic despite having an awesome time. We still had about an hour's drive to our hotel in Salem. We decided to get a head-start on our 100-odd-mile drive to Eugene the following day. Brewslut picked up a shirt from the bargain bin before we shipped off to our hotel for the evening. 

We arrived at the Quality Suites in Salem pretty late that night, but we felt we still had one more beer in us. So, we cracked open the bottle of Devil's Cuvee Kriek we picked up the day before in Hood River at Double Mountain. Nothing like a complex sour beer poured into a plastic hotel cup. We probably should have saved this for another night, but we knew we had to finish it before we headed back to PA, so what better time than the present, right? So down the hatch it went! 

Kriek out of a plastic cup?! The Devil made me do it!
Thanks for reading. Stay tuned for more of our adventures in Oregon! Up next: Eugene and Corvalis. Until next time...

Friday, August 19, 2016

Adventures in Portlandia: Days 1 & 2 - Hood River & the Columbia River

Five years ago, Brewslut and I visited the Pacific Northwest, which included Seattle and Portland as well as coastal Oregon and a few other areas. With my mother in tow, we were only able to scratch the surface of the region's mature beer scene. If you care to go down that rabbit hole, you can read about our excursion HERE.

Now, anyone who reads our blog regularly is surely aware of our mutual affection for San Diego, CA. While we've visited frequently over the last decade, we have wanted to get back to Portland and really dig into its beer culture. Portland and the surrounding area boasts a diverse craft beer landscape and an insane amount breweries, so needless to say, we had our work cut out for us. Over the weeks leading up to the trip, I assembled a pretty ambitious itinerary of breweries I wanted to hit on the trip. These include Portland proper, Hood River and the Columbia River area, Eugene, Corvallis, and coastal Oregon as far north as Tillamook. All in all, we were hoping to visit about 50 breweries over the course of just seven days. I know, right?! I thought we were up for the challenge.

Our flight was scheduled to depart from Philly International Airport around 6:30 p.m., so we had some time to spend in the City of Brotherly Love. Since we were leaving on a Tuesday evening, we were limited in our options of where to do a bit of pre-gaming. Most of the breweries in the city are either closed on Monday and Tuesday or don't open until 4 p.m. Same with a good bit of area beer bars. However, one of our old reliable favorites - Devil's Den - was open at 11 a.m. We decided to have an early lunch there before shipping off to Portland (well, Houston... we had a layover at G.W. Bush International Airport; oh, what strategery those airlines display in planning flights)!

I started off with a peculiar choice for me: a Belgian IPA from Short's called Celestial Critter. I'm typically not a big fan of Belgian yeast mixed with American hops, but I like Short's quite a bit and thought I'd give it a shot. I was pleasantly surprised. The yeast character was pretty subdued and had more of a crisp apple character than banana, clove or bubblegum. It was probably one of the best examples of the styles I've had to date (Flying Dog's Raging Bitch also comes to mind), so I was glad to have taken a shot with it. Brewslut went with Unite, a Gose brewed for International Women’s Collaboration Brew Day by the women of Yards, Victory and Malteurop, the latter an innovator in the world of malt. We also shared Ommegang Shadow Brewer, a big, chewy imperial stout before heading down the street to Hawthorne's.

Pleeps posing with our pour of Shadow Brewer.
We hadn't been to Hawthorne's in quote some time (they'd suffered through a fire a few years ago, which forced them to close for quite some time), so we were excited to see what had changed. While they added a very small bar area and reduced their take-out beer selection, not much had changed since our last visit. After perusing the coolers, we took a seat at the tiny bar and ordered a pair of beers. I opted for the oddly named Smells Like a Safety Meeting by another favorite Michigan brewery, Dark Horse, while Brewslut went with Symzonia, an imperial stout from a Swedish brewery called Omnipollo. Conditioned on Ethiopian coffee, Madagascar vanilla beans, Brazilian cocoa nibs and "carefully weighed" cinnamon sticks, this was pretty tasty. Not mind-blowing, mind you, but tasty nonetheless. 

Chillin' with my main monkey!
We had time for one more stop before we had to deal with the inevitable hassle of airport security, so we decided on the good ol' POPE (Pub on Passyunk East). I was ecstatic to see James Bean, one of my very favorite (and rarely seen) beers from Allagash on tap. This is a barrel-aged, coffee-infused strong ale, and it never disappoints. Even the description has me salivating for more:

    "James Bean is a bourbon barrel aged, Belgian-style strong ale that is infused with cold press 
    coffee, post fermentation. Coffee, vanilla and bourbon dominate the aroma. Flavors of caramel, 
    coffee, bourbon, and oak present themselves throughout this full-bodied beer. The coffee used in 
    James Bean is Speckled Ax, roasted right here in Maine. The beans used are Ethiopia Amaro 
    Gayo and are known for their lush blackberry and blueberry fruit flavors." 

Brewslut chose Grobe Teufel, a Lichtenhainer style beer (a tart, German-style wheat beer similar to a Berliner Weisse but with a hint of smoked malt) from Hardywood out of Richmond. This is a brewery I need to get to in 2017 (or sooner!) because I really like what they're doing. The smoked character was pretty subtle, so she liked it quite a bit.

At the airport, we swung by Chickie's and Pete's for a quick one, and I was surprised to see Fat Head's Headhunter IPA on tap. Bartender, we'll have two! Man, what an awesome IPA. Seriously, this is as good (or dare I say better) than a lot of the trendy New England-style hazy hop bombs that have become all the rage over the last two years. And Hop Juju? Damn, son! That's one of the best DIPAs I've ever had. PERIOD! So take that, you lucky so-and-so.

I won't bore you with the details of our flight (including uneventful layover in Tejas), but I will say it was pleasant enough. Upon arriving in Portland and walking off the plane, we were excited to stumble upon Laurelwood Brewing's Public House. Since we had about an hour's wait until we picked up our rental car, it was a decidedly convenient and serendipitous finding. Even better was the fact that Portland exercises stringent pricing on beer, so you won't pay any more than you would at a brewery in the city. I went with the flagship Workhorse IPA, which hit the spot after being trapped in a speeding airborne tube for several hours. Brewslut opted for a limited Gose, which was also quite tasty. Both offerings were solid and proved a good start to to our official first day (as it was now past midnight as we drank our first beer in Portland). A good omen, indeed, as we were able to chalk up  double digit brewery visits on our inaugural day in Oregon.

After a good night's sleep at our hotel, it was off to Hood River. Our 75-minute trek included a beautiful scenic drive along the Columbia River. I wish the interstate roads in PA were as breathtaking as what we experienced along the way. Green landscapes and rocky crags decorated the scenery, which made for a quick, leisurely drive. All in all, it was probably my favorite drive of the entire trip.

We decided to hit the furthest place from our hotel and work backwards, but when we arrived at our first stop - Logsdon Farmhouse Ales - we found we drove to the production facility, which did not allow visitors. So, we did an about face and headed into the town of Hood River. First on the agenda was a stop at the granddaddy of the Hood River beer scene - Full Sail.

But first thing's first; we needed coffee! There's certainly no shortage of local coffee shops and roasters in Oregon. As a matter of fact, they seemed to be as abundant as the breweries we were visiting. My goal (aside from hitting 50 breweries) was to visit at least one local coffee roaster each day of the trip. Google to the rescue! We settled on Doppio for some iced coffee before heading to our Full Sail.

Founded in 1987, Full Sail has been a staple of the Oregon beer community for years. We planned our arrival to coincide with opening, so we could maximize our playing field for the day. Lucky for us, Hood River is a relatively small town packed with a wealth of small breweries.

Full Sail boasted a wide variety of beer on tap, as well as a full bottle shop and a few limited releases. I love the smell of hops in the morning, so I went with the one-two punch of Full Sail IPA and Hot Pursuit, an Imperial IPA. Both were very good and a great way to begin the day. We ended our visit with a small pour of a tasty bourbon barrel-aged wheat wine, which was a highlight of the trip. I rarely see wheat wines on beer menus when we travel, but when I do, I will typically order it. This one was aged in Wild Turkey barrels for 10 months. This rich honey-colored treat featured plenty of oak and vanilla character amid a chewy caramel base with hints of toffee, marmalade, and dates. Yum!

Pleeps gettin' his wheat wine on!
We were off to a great start for our first day. Full Sail was better than I had anticipated. I felt like I was in San Diego the whole time we were there. I'm not sure why, I just got that particular vibe from the location and the ambiance. Our day was just getting started, and it was time to move on to brewery #2 of the day.

If I had to pick a favorite brewery for Day 1, it is probably Double Mountain (although #4 was a very close second... or even a tie)! Double Mountain came with a very high recommendation from Deuane, so it was on my list of places we absolutely had to hit. My thirst for hops continued, so I started with Molten Lava DIPA, a 9+% citrusy hop bomb. Brewslut chose the Randall Knife, an IPA brewed with Mosaic and Citra hops with Kolsch yeast. God damn! I was soon wishing I would have ordered a full pour of this succulent ale. Mosaic hops have such a distinct flavor, and the addition of Citra really pushed it over the edge with an ass-load of orange and tangerine. This sucker was easily on my Top Ten list of the entire trip!

Wall of artistic beer signs at Double Mountain. Reminded me of Mac's Hoagies (RIP).
We were enjoying our visit so much that we decided on two more pours - more IPAs - Vaporizer and Subcontinental IPA, the latter a collaboration with Portland Brewing Co. (a brewery we weren't able to squeeze into the itinerary). Seems as though I was working backwards from DIPA to IPA to Pale Ale (albeit a hoppy one with Challenger hops). Subcontinental was actually the official beer of Portland Beer Week 2016. However, I found it to be my least favorite of the bunch. Still enjoyable, but lackluster compared to the other stellar offerings.

From Double Mountain, we took a short uphill stroll to our next destination, Big Horse. After walking two blocks uphill, we were required to walk an additional few flights of stairs to get to the brewpub. This was fine with us, as we wouldn't have many opportunities to exercise or exert any kind of effort, save for lifting beer to our pie holes. Upon our arrival, we perused the floor plan, located the bar, planted ourselves on two stools, and ordered a pair of beers. This place reminded me of a ski lodge with lots of wood and a warm feeling about the air. The selection at Big Horse was pretty scant compared to our first two stops, so we opted for Lazuras Pale Ale and Nightmare Stout. Both were good but not memorable in the grand scheme of things. Still, the space had some charm and the bartender was friendly and talkative, so we were glad to have stopped in for a beer.

Brewslut and I outside Big Horse.
Logsdon was just down the street, but they weren't opening for another hour, so we headed on over to another of Deuane's recommendations (although I believe he'd never visited) - Pfreim Family. Pfreim is relatively new to the scene. Opening in 2012, Pfreim handcrafts artisanal ales inspired by classic Belgian brewers while recognizing their homegrown Oregon roots. Match made in heaven, right? Upon arrival, I commented to Brewslut that the place reminded me of Greenbush Brewing out in Sawyer, MI. This place was right up my alley. Cozy bar, lots of locals, and good conversation. Oh yeah, the beer was pretty good, too. Not just pretty good, but pretty freaking phenomenal, in all honesty! There were too many good-sounding beers on paper, so we had to get sampler trays. All in all, we tried a wide variety of beers running the gamut of a kettle-soured mango Berliner Weisse to a golden coffee ale. Everything was enjoyable! The Gose was spot-on, the Frambozen (a raspberry Lambic style) was mouth-puckering, and the aforementioned Golden Coffee Ale was a highlight of the day. I enjoyed this much more than the similar Calm Before the Storm by Ballast Point. The guy next to us (who we talked to for a while but whose name escapes me) was also digging this one quite a bit. It reminded me of straight cold brew coffee with a hint of vanilla cream. Man, this was an awesome beer! I enjoyed it so much that I ordered us a full pour to share. I rounded out my sampler with a blonde IPA that was solid as well. We mentioned to the guy sitting next to us that we were off to check out Logsdon next, and he said he'd meet us there. Sometimes a third wheel is a welcome addition to a duo.

Pleeps agrees: Golden Coffee was da bomb!
After an enjoyable visit at Pfreim Family, we backtracked to Logsdon Farmhouse Ales. A Belgian-inspired brewery, Logsdon was founded in 2009 on the family 10-acre estate, complete with the huge red barn where the actual brewing takes place. They also host a variety of farm animals and even grow their own cherries on-site to use in their sour beers. Kriek, anyone? With a penchant brewing for sour ales, we allowed for a sampling of a few choice offerings. I decided on the trio of Wilde Appel, Oak Aged Bretta, and The Conversion - Series 2 (a sour Witbier). The Wilde Appel, a cider, was made using a blend of local Oregon-grown apples with wild crabapples. Then, the cider was aged in oak with a wild yeast strain. The Oak Aged Bretta is made with Seizoen Bretta aged to develop a unique woody character. Our tagger-along mentioned he'd join us at our next destination, which was actually in the state of Washington. Score! Two states in one trip!

We took a slight detour across the Columbia River to the small town of White Salmon, WA for our next stop: Everybody's Brewing. Upon scanning the beer menu, a low ABV sour red ale brewed with hibiscus caught my eye. Plus its name was kind of cute and memorable: Sprinkles. Brewslut chose Cash Stout, a pretty tasty oatmeal stout and one of its core beers. We sat at the bar and soon our third wheel rolled in. However, after a few minutes, he got a phone call, excused himself and we never saw him again. Perplexing, indeed. Nevertheless, we were on a mission! I must admit that I had to seek out some Google images to jog my memory about this place. Once I did, however, the visions came flooding back. OK, maybe not flooding... trickling, perhaps. After this one-and-done stop, we headed to stop number... um, by this time we lost count.  

We arrived at Walking Man after a 20-odd mile drive along the Columbia River on the WA side for another non-Oregon brewery visit. It was a pleasant day, so we decided to sit outside on the patio. I'm typically an indoor guy, but something provoked me to enjoy a bit of sunlight at that particular moment. I went with another lighter option, this time a beer called Littlefoot ISA (ISA meaning "India Session Ale"). Brewslut took to the Chocolate Cherry Stout. I think we ordered a snack here too, but since there isn't an app called something like "Unsnackd," I can't recall what we ordered. Sometimes my mind is a sieve.

Chug monkey: Pleeps after taking a huge gulp of my Littlefoot ISA.

In an effort to squeeze in one more brewery along the river, we consulted our trusty map and list of breweries and came across Thunder Island. By now, we were back in Oregon but still along the beautiful Columbia River in the town of Cascade Locks. We got there a few minutes before last call and just chillaxed outside at a picnic table enjoying the weather at dusk. We chose a pair of IPAs for our "last beers" of the day: Galaxy Pale Ale and Dry Creek IPA. I opted for the Galaxy but actually preferred the Dry Creek a bit more, if only for the bolder aroma. Both were fine offerings, though. There were even some ducks wading about in the water a few feet from us, which made me smile.

Thunder Island at dusk. We made it just in time before they closed!
It was soon time to head back to Portland after an eventful day in Hood River and along the Columbia River. We ended the night at McMenamins Edgefield, which was near our hotel for the evening. McMenamins is a popular brewpub chain throughout Oregon and Washington since 1983. In addition to beer, they also craft their own cider, spirits, wine, and coffee. Wow! They have about a dozen locations just within the Portland city limits. Their schtick is renovating old building and turning them into brewpubs. Except "schtick" in this context is a good thing. Some of the McMenamins locations were among the coolest places at which I've ever enjoyed a beer. It was a long day, but we were good for one more each. Brewslut went light with a Gose cleverly named Boom Gose the Dynamite. Me? I decided it was a good idea to end our first day of ten breweries with the tasty Mango Unchained Double IPA. End with a 9% DIPA after a full day of drinking? Sure, why not? I'm a professional, right? Don't answer that.

Stay tuned for more Adventures in Portlandia! Up next: Day 3 - Portland, Phase 1. 

Friday, July 29, 2016

Magic... Under Where? now available!

Many of my readers (all seven of you) are probably aware of my Ffej of July party/festival/shindig/thingy that I stage each year. For the past few years, Al and Terry of Pizza Boy Brewing have been beyond generous in brewing and donating beer for the event. Past FOJ beers have been available on tap at Al's of Hampden, but none have ever been packaged for off-premise consumption...


I'm happy to report that this year's FOJ beer, Magic... Under Where? is now available in 6-packs of pounder cans at Al's shop in Enola, PA! 

This dank-ass Pale Ale was brewed with 3lbs. of Simcoe hops per barrel for an intense smack of citrus fruit and pine. It's proved to be a smash hit at FOJ14, and the keg kicked very quickly. I was only able to get about six ounces! 

At any rate, you might want to pick up your cans ASAP, because it likely won't last too long. Thanks again to Al and Terry for providing another awesome beer for this year's FOJ attendees!  

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Sometimes Beer and Ice Cream Don't Mix

For those of you who follow The Pour Travelers blog, you probably have read about our weekends trips to nearby Millmont, PA, where we enjoy a few quiet, beer-soaked days in seclusion. OK, while maybe not entirely in seclusion, our little excursions to the chalet DO include jaunts to a few nearby breweries. We typically rotate Saturday drives to State College and Williamsport based on what we’re feeling, as both are about an hour’s drive from the chalet. After our previous two visits to the chalet (one was so cold that we didn’t feel like going outside; the other, we were just too lethargic to bother leaving the chalet), we decided to head to Happy Valley, my alma mater. Most friends who know me know of my disdain for Penn State (I won’t go into specifics), but I still have a soft spot for the town of State College itself. Our visits always seem to drum up a few vague memories from my college years back in the mid-90s. Yes, I know… I’m old.

After an intense kickboxing session with our personal trainer, we went home to get cleaned up and headed off to my happy place – Selin’s Grove Brewing Company. “The Pub,” as us locals call it, is a real diamond in the rough. I won’t bore you with all of the details of my love affair with this place; I’ll just say that it’s a special place. Summer into the fall season is always my favorite time of year to visit the Pub. Their amazing Kriek is usually flowing by mid-June and there’s a good chance that the IPA is on tap (or even better, on the hand pull)! To my delight, both beers were on tap during our visit. I’d also wanted to try the new Summer Solstice Dubbel, but it had kicked. This is a lighter version of their winter anniversary ale brewed with orange peel and coriander. We also caught wind that a new stout would likely be added to the tap roster on Saturday. Lucky for us, a trip to chalet more often than not includes a return stop to the Pub on the way back home. Aside from the beer, we always run into great folks at the Pub, and this time was no exception. As usual, some good ol’ conversation resulted in more beer as well as our late departure, so we didn’t arrive at the chalet until around midnight. So it was a nice evening that looked something like this: IPA > Stealth Triple > Phoenix Kriek > Scottish Ale + Cold Brew Coffee on nitro. #winning.

Rise of the Phoenix!

After a hearty breakfast the following morning, we pointed our compass to Happy Valley and headed off on the hour-long drive. But first, a quick stop at one of our favorite coffee shops and breweries in the quaint town of Millheim. We always make it a point to stop in to Inglebean for a quick visit. We enjoyed some tasty iced coffee while I tried my best to remember the chords to a few Rush tunes while I strummed the house guitar. I’ll stick to drums, thank you very much.

Just up the street is Elk Creek Café and Aleworks, a place we’ve been frequenting since it first opened its doors in 2007. The beer, food and service here have always been top-notch, and I always look forward to our stop here. On this particular visit, we enjoyed two seasonal offerings: Yarrington’s Best Bitter (named after head brewer Tim Yarrington) and the Penn’s Valley Pilsner, an honest to goodness German-inspired Pilsner lager. I always enjoy Elk Creek’s traditional ales on nitro our cask (they offer fantastic low ABV English milds and bitters from time to time). Both beers hit the spot, and we were soon ready to ship off to Happy Valley.

Yarrington's Best Bitter. Look at that crown!

First on our agenda once we rolled into the valley was to hit up a recent favorite of ours, the aptly named Happy Valley Brewing Company. We’d visited a few times in the past and have been routinely impressed with their offerings. The vibe of their artwork and atmosphere of the pub both have a barnyard theme. For some reason during this visit, I gravitated to a Belgian-style Pale Ale (not one of my favorites) because it was a beer I hadn’t tried yet. To my surprise, it was quite tasty! Typically, I find the Belgian yeast too overpowering, but this beer (HopGoblin) offered a nice interplay of spicy Belgian yeast, bubblegum notes, and citrusy hop flavor. Brewslut opted for one of their year-round offerings, the Phyrst Family Stout (named after a long-standing family band of the nearby Phyrst Pub on Beaver Avenue).

Brewslut suggested we stop at the Creamery for a quick ice cream cone. Usually, I’m the one who has to beg to stop for ice cream, so I jumped at the chance. For some reason, I was in “too truthful a mood” and made inappropriate jokes while standing in line. I even tried to photo bomb a wedding party photo, which had congregated just outside the Creamery on the sidewalk. After perusing the menu and noticing they discontinued my favorite flavor (Sandusky Blitz), I opted for the Coffee Chip, while Brewslut went with the Mint Chip. The Creamery offers a “one-size-fits-all” cone at a single uniform price. What they apparently forget to do, however, is train their staff on the appropriate size of the ice cream scoops topping the aforementioned cone. Take a look at this hoodwink:

My long-standing disdain for PSU Football flared up to a level where I could no longer control myself and I went on a bit of a tirade (unfortunately for the people around us but fortunately for Brewslut, who thought it was amusing).  The rambunctious, foul-mouthed, video-game-playing little kid in me reared its ugly head, and I found myself setting off a string of obscenity-laden phrases that I can’t even recall a mere few days later. I eventually shook it off and was maybe even a little embarrassed (hard to believe, right?) but I can safely say that next time, we’re going to Meyer Dairy!

After navigating through the altered streets of the PSU campus, we arrived at one of my favorite bars in PA… maybe even the country. Zeno’s Pub is so cool that I feel like an idiot every time I visit because I never hung out there during college. Ah, the humiliation of not getting into beer until my late twenties! But I digress. No trip to State College is complete without a stop to Zeno’s. Fortunately for us, Zeno’s was having a rare Belgian beer event when we arrived.  In the grand scheme of things, I wouldn’t say I’m a huge fan of Belgian beers. I prefer American craft beer. Not only do I prefer the flavor of pungent in-your-face hops, but I have trouble pronouncing the names of Belgian breweries. However, I suppose I was in the mood for something different on this day, because I went with a flight of four Belgians: Westmalle Tripel; Dupont Avec Les Bons Voeux (a super saison); Flanders Fred (a collab between De Proef and Hair of the Dog); and a 2011 vintage of De Halve Maan’s Straffe Hendrik Heritage (a delicious oak-aged Quad).

My Belgian flight at Zeno's.

Combining our efforts, Brewslut and I only chose one repeat (Flanders Fred), so I was able to try these other three gems: Gouden Carolus Cuvée van de Keizer (a strong dark ale); Orval (the quintessential Belgian pale); and finally Liefmans’ Goudenband (a Flanders Oud Bruin).

Beer aside, I also enjoy the bathroom literature Zeno's offers.

Next, it was off to Otto’s Pub & Brewery. Keeping with my Belgian theme, my first selection was Pallet Jack, a relatively new Belgian-style Pale Ale. It was pretty tasty, although I preferred Happy Valley’s HopGoblin a bit more. Also new to us was Triple D IPA. Triple D?! We’ve had and enjoyed Double D on numerous occasions. How can anybody not enjoy some Double Ds in his face? Drinking this was as easy as motorboating a serious set of funbags. I found the 10% ABV to be well-masked and the intense hop profile was supported by a sweet but not cloying malt presence. Good stuff! We also make it a point to grab some snacks here. We opted for the vegan chili and shared tofu wings and chicken thighs with a selection of tasty tipping sauces, our favorite being the spicy peanut sauce.

Soon enough, it was time to skedaddle back to the chalet. But first, a quick stop at Rusty Rail Brewing Co. in Mifflinburg was in order. I must admit that this new brewpub has been hit or miss for us. Given its close proximity to the chalet, we always stop in whenever we visit the area. The building itself is quite impressive, and I must admit that I was hugely impressed with the place on our first visit. Since then, we’ve eaten there and had poor service, and the beers have been all over the map (some good, some mediocre, and some not so good). Since our last visit, Rusty Rail started a limited, small-batch series called Side Track (similar to Tröegs’ Scratch Beer Series or St. Boniface’s Offerings). I settled on a Blood Orange Pale Ale, the first beer in the series. Brewslut opted for #3, a mango wheat ale. Mine was decent, but she was less than thrilled with her selection, unfortunately. At any rate, we will continue to frequent Rusty Rail if not only for the atmosphere. But I do hope they eventually step up their game in the beer and service departments, because the place itself truly is a gem.

Back at the chalet, we enjoyed a nightcap including Welcome to Scoville (an IPA brewed with peppers from Jailbreak Brewing) and Smuttlabs: The Stallion (an imperial stout aged in wine barrels from Smuttynose Brewing). The former came from a random variety case brought to Tröegs and passed around to co-workers. I was able to snag a can of this and a DIPA. We enjoyed the DIPA more than this one. The latter I received as a result of beer bartering with Smuttynose on our recent trip to New England. It’s always good to travel with local beer. Lucky for me, I’m typically swimming in free beer from Tröegs, so I always have a good selection in tow.

More often than not, we pay a second visit to Selin’s Grove on the return trip home. I was thrilled to see not only the brand new Roasted Oat Stout on the wall, but also IPA on handpull (super fresh and delicious) as well as the Summer Solstice Dubbel on tap, which must have returned on Saturday at some point. Two new beers for me! Of course, I slid a Phoenix Kriek in there, as well as more Oat Stout blended with the nitro cold brew coffee. I always joke that I love the soup at Selin’s Grove as much as the beer (no joke, actually) but now I have a third thing to look forward to when we visit: the cold brew! God damn is this stuff tasty! We also had lunch, and I think it was the first time I’d ever ordered a salad from the menu. (Note to self: Must do that again… and be sure to add the smoked salmon!)

After another enjoyable visit to the Pub, we headed to Al’s of Hampden (Brewslut’s part-time employer), as we’d seen a pair of beers hit tap lines a few days prior: Juicebox and Gypsy Tears. Both are from SOLE Artisan Ales (a new brewery I wrote about recently). After my experience with Kushy Clouds, a damn fine Pale Ale, I was eager to try these beers. It seems they’ve been benefitting from some internet hype lately, too. Thankfully, both beers were still available when we arrived at Al’s, so we quickly ordered. Terry was hanging out and was also nice enough to let us sample the then-fermenting Magic… Under Where? IPA brewed especially for my Ffej of July shindig. He also poured some Magical Brettanomyces Tour #3 from Trinity, a brewery we’d once visited during a trip to Colorado (NOTE: They’re located in Colorado Springs). We rounded out our visit with the amazing new beer, Amoré Shark, a Triple IPA aged in wine barrels, and another Trinity offering: Seven Day Sour. The fact that I still had money on my Al’s gift card made the visit even sweeter!

Afterwards, we enjoyed some Tröegs back at Julie and Eric’s house, where we recorded a podcast interview dedicated to our Rush tribute band, Solar Federation. If you like Rush, check us out. If not… well, just keep coming back for the beer porn!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Official FOJ14 Beer... Revealed!

I have the unique privilege of knowing a lot of people. Fortunately for me, I've got some friends in high places. For whatever reason, most people seem to like me. I'm just one of those guys who likes to be liked, I guess (even though I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who'd love the opportunity to send me a bag of edible dicks in the mail some day). Of course, I’d likely reciprocate to those very same people, so no harm no foul, right?

The craft beer industry is a pretty tight knit group, and two of my favorite people happen to cohabitate at the same brewery.

Al Kominski, proprietor and face (God help them!) of both Al's of Hampden and its sister brewery, Pizza Boy, is one of the most generous people I know. He's also one of the most honest (to which anyone who follows him on social media can attest). To illustrate Al's generosity, let's go back to the very first time Brewslut and I set foot inside the original Al's location on Wertzville Road in Enola, PA. 

We had first learned about Al's self-proclaimed "hole-in-the-wall" pizza joint by way of a billboard advertisement on Rt. 11/15, not too far from my place of employment at the time. None of my beer circle friends had heard of it, yet the billboard boasted "Mix-n-Match your own six-pack!" While this practice has become commonplace in PA over the last few years, it was virtually unheard of a decade ago. Brewslut and I decided to pay a visit to Al’s one day after work.

Al's of Hampden wasn't much to look at back then. As a matter of fact, it was about as "hole-in-the-wall" as you can get. But the thing that drew us in and kept us coming back (aside from the great beer selection) was the staff, namely Al himself.

Only we didn't know who Al was the first time we'd set foot inside his modest establishment. Here’s our first impression of Al:

We walked in and we’re greeted by this little guy with a big personality. He said to us, “You two look like you like good beer!” He then proceeded to hand us a bomber of Terrapin’s then-unreleased Depth Charge, an espresso milk stout. “I have a whole case of it but it’s not registered to sell in PA yet, so you can have it.”

Allow me to reiterate… this is my first interaction with Al.

Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to remain in Al’s good graces. Brewslut has held a part-time “beer wench” position at Al’s for the last 5+ years, and Al has been responsible for most of the beers I serve at my annual Ffej of July festival since then. Over the years, I’ve seen his business prosper, and I’m proud to say that I discovered this place for my group of beer friends.

Al and I at the old shop. Photo taken with my old shitty flip phone.
Then there’s Terry.

We first met Terry Hawbaker when he was brewing at Bullfrog Brewery in Williamsport, PA through our mutual friend, Deuane. Unless you’ve been living in a bomb shelter for ten years, you know Deuane. EVERYBODY knows Deuane. Even if you think you don’t know Deuane… trust me, you know him. Terry knew him well enough to brew a beer for him during his tenure at Bullfrog. The name of the beer? Yup, you guessed it: Deuane.

But enough about Deuane. Let’s talk about Terry.

Another shitty flip phone pic. This one was taken at the release
of Sunny Side Up at Little Amps Coffee in Harrisburg.
 Most folks in my beer circle know that I’m quite partial to barrel-aged beers. Imperial stouts and barleywines soaked in bourbon or rum barrels give me plenty of wood (in more ways than one), and sitting stalwart at the top of my list of “favorite barleywines of all time” would certainly be Terry’s Barrel Aged Old Toad Barleywine. Brewslut and I liked Terry’s beers so much that we (OK…she) joined the Bullfrog mug club even though we live two hours away from the pub.

Over the years, we’ve followed Terry on his brewing adventures after he vacated Bullfrog, including a brief stint at the Farmer’s Cabinet in Philadelphia. Even though I don’t believe in that astrology nonsense, the stars were indeed aligned when Terry and Al met. Their Wonder Twin powers were activated! Terry became the head brewer of Pizza Boy shortly after Al got the brewery up and running at the original Al’s location. I was fortunate enough to help bottle a few of the very first releases, including Permasmile and Intangible (the latter would become the name of Terry’s sour side project brewery, iNTaNGiBLe aLeS).

As you can probably imaging, the practice of shit-talking among brewers runs rampant in the craft beer industry. While its intentions are good-natured and fun, it is also a feverishly competitive sport. I believe it could someday qualify as an Olympic event. As a result of considerable verbal bitch-slapping among our circle of friends, a few years back we decided to host the inaugural IPA Challenge at Ffej of July Goes to Eleven. I teamed up with Terry, while Al and my buddy Dan got together. The competition was simple: brew the better beer. Terry has proven himself to be the king of the competition, which eventually morphed into him brewing the official beer for FOJ.

And this leads me to the crux of this already long-winded blog. I’m pleased to announce that this year’s FOJ beer shall be dubbed:

Magic… Under Where?

I’ll bet you’re thinking to yourself, “Huh?!”

Let me provide a brief explanation. (Brief... heh heh.)

It took me a while to come up with the “theme” for FOJ14. After a quick Google search on the significance of the number 14, I was delighted to find that Joseph Smith, the person responsible for the creation of one of the dumbest religions on the market, had his “vision” that would ultimately lead to the creation of Mormonism at the ripe age of 14. Knowing more about Mormons than one who isn’t a practicing Mormon should know, Brewslut took to the task of enlightening me on some fun Mormon facts. For example, as children they are forbidden from slow dancing with a member of the opposite sex at school dances. They also are not allowed to drink caffeinated beverages. They love green gelatin. But perhaps my favorite on the list is a certain wardrobe custom, whereby they wear a type of unflattering underwear called “garments.” I’ve seen pictures, and these baggy white atrocities can make even the most unfuckable sea donkey that much more unattractive. These are sometimes referred to as… I kid you not… magic underwear. Hence the name of this year’s beer. (Editor’s Note: I really wanted to name it Hamster Style but got out-voted. If you don’t get the reference, Google it!)

So expect this crushable, low ABV Simcoe hop bomb to please the masses at this year’s festivities. I know I’ll be drinking the shit out of it! 

Terry concocting the recipe for Magic... Under Where?

Monday, June 6, 2016

When Music & Beer Collide

Until recently, Brewslut and I have spent several of our wedding anniversary weekends attending Philly Beer Week. Sometimes my band schedule interferes with our drinking plans. However, this time my two passions crossed paths when The Heavy Push (one of my many bands) was asked to perform at this year’s Bonifest.

For those of you who are not familiar, Bonifest is an annual festival organized by Saint Boniface Brewing Co. in Ephrata, PA. Brewslut and I attended last year and had a blast, so we had already planned to attend in 2016. Turns out the event had been scheduled on the actual day of our 17th anniversary. Dain (my buddy and one of the co-owners of Saint Boniface) asked if one of my bands wanted to play. The wife was cool with it, and since I was going to be there anyway, I might as well make some scratch, right?

The goat shirt!
To compound matters, my other musician friend Corty Byron (with whom I perform in a Doors tribute band called Ride the Snake) asked me to fill in for his drummer that evening during the final band slot of 6 to 8 p.m. I’d pulled double duty many times before, so it was no big deal. There were plenty of friends attending so Brewslut wouldn’t feel too neglected. Plus I had plenty of downtime between sets to imbibe and shoot the breeze with her and our peeps.

Bonifest festival grounds (ie. their parking lot)
We’d checked out the beer list in advance, and I was stoked to see a bunch of special firkin tappings on the schedule for the day. I was able to get a taste of the bourbon barrel-aged Hegemony Imperial Stout, which was pretty damn amazing, as well as the habanero spiked cream ale, a variation of one of its Offering Series. Unfortunately, I missed the chance to sample the Citra dry-hopped Paideia with blood oranges, which tapped while I was on stage and sold out in less than 15 minutes. Quite a feat! Brewslut said it was awesome. Happy anniversary to me? Hmmm…

Brewslut in the lounge position.
I was also ecstatic to see the Berliner Weisse on tap throughout the day, which is probably in my Top 3 Berliners of all time. Seriously folks, it’s THAT GOOD! Mike (another of the owners) was kind enough to get me some woodruff syrup from his personal stash to complement the tartness of the beer. If you are unfamiliar with woodruff syrup, I won’t bore you with a lengthy description. You can read about it here on Wikipedia. I also downed a couple of Shandys, a concoction comprised of equal parts Berliner Weisse and lemonade, which made for a refreshing thirst-quencher while getting some aerobic exercise on stage (ie: drumming).

Somewhere in the middle of the day, I meandered inside the tasting room and saw another of the Offering series on tap – Molasses Porter. I had this on a previous visit and enjoyed it quite a bit, so I obviously had to order one, right? It offered a nice contrast to the hoppy Paidela and tart Berliners I’d consumed throughout the day. Speaking of Paideia, I also enjoyed a few cans of this gem throughout the day (which by the way drinks amazing well from aluminum). The batch on hand was super-fresh and bursting with citrusy hop goodness! This is their flagship beer, and for good reason too. Pick up a 6-pack next time you see it in the coolers at your local beer shop.

Some nice cans!

Cheers to the fine folks at Saint Boniface for organizing such an awesome event. In addition to enjoying some great beer throughout the day, I’d like to offer myself a well-deserved pat on the back for kicking some serious ass during both bands’ sets. It’s a joy to be able to do what I love while doing something else that I love with the people I love. Is that rampant use of the word love? Perhaps. But you can never have too much love… and I love it when music and beer collides!