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Friday, September 2, 2016

Adventures in Portlandia: Day 4 - Eugene & Corvallis

After a productive day in Portland, it was time to head south to Eugene. We'd be spending much more time in Portland during the last few days of our trip. From what I'd heard about the town, it was likened to a west coast version of Asheville, NC. With a name sounding more like it belonged to your dorky uncle who wears checkered shirts, outdated slacks, and has a bad haircut than with a hip, Bohemian-style town with a penchant for attracting hippies with counter-cultural ideals, we were curious to see what Eugene had to offer. And we're all about digging deep! With only around 156,000 citizens, Eugene is still the third largest in all of Oregon. When all is said and done, they have more than enough breweries to keep the thirsty citizens of Eugene quenched. Although its official slogan is "A Great City for the Arts and Outdoors," we were more interested to dig into its beer culture.

First on the agenda today: Oakshire Brewing. It reminded us of the new NEPA brewery we'd visited recently called North Slope. However, the beers were much better at Oakshire. Overall, I'd probably go as far to say that Oakshire was my favorite brewery we visited in Eugene. With lots of beers on tap that sounded great, we opted for sampler trays. We typically share one tray, but we decided to each get one, as it was early enough in the day and we would be confined to a pretty small area, as Eugene isn't too terribly big of a town. With so many breweries, though, you'd think it was the size of Philadelphia!

Breweries always employ artistic folk!
My sampler flight contained the following beers:
  • Watershed IPA, a core beer and its flagship IPA.
  • The Perfect Storm DIPA, brewed with 7 different varieties of Pacific NW hops.
  • Overcast Espresso Stout, another core beer, this one features locally roasted coffee that is cold-brewed at the brewery.
  • Sun Made Cucumber Berliner, another core offering combining melon juiciness with a hint of refreshing cucumber.
  • Vintage 2015 Barleywine
  • Vanilla Oak Barleywine, their standard barleywine soaked in oak chips and vanilla.
Pleeps loves flights!
What a way to start off our day! Everything we sampled was great, and we hoped that all of the breweries in Eugene would be this solid. That's the problem with starting out on such a high note. Where do you go from there? Perhaps it was a good omen. We'd have to wait and see.

Coffee and goats... right up my alley!
As soon as we pulled up to park the car before heading into Oakshire, I looked up and saw a sign for Wandering Goat Coffee Co., which was situated right across the street. Well, I guess we wouldn't have to search Google for a coffee spot in Eugene! There was no way we weren't stopping here for coffee!

I was wearing my goat shirt that day, too. How serendipitous!
This place was very metal and goth-like compared to the typical hipster or yuppie establishment. I felt right at home. It was almost like a hole-in-the-wall bar in a major city, except they served coffee. I actually think they had a liquor license, because I noticed beer for sale in a cooler adjacent to the main bar area. Either way, the name of the place had "goat" in it, so naturally I loved it!

Outside Hop Valley. So green!
After getting my goat on with some tasty coffee, it was time to hit up Hop Valley. Upon entering, I took notice of some really cool merch adorning the walls. We parked ourselves at a high-top table near the bar and took a gander at the beer menu. With tons of IPAs on tap, I said, "Looks like samplers again." Overall, we really liked this place. The beers were all very good, and I enjoyed THE BEST chicken pot pie I'd ever had (seriously... I kid you not)! Hop Valley also had the distinction of employing the cutest bartender of the trip. Aside from being quite attractive, she was also chipper and super friendly, too.

Sampler flight at Hop Valley.

We ordered our flights at the bar and returned to our seats each with a tray of six different beers. Here's the run-down:
  • Citrus Mistress, an IPA brewed with grapefruit peel. This one was quite possibly my favorite!
  • The Oneness #8, a single hop IPA brewed exclusively with El Dorado. 
  • Alpha Centauri, a big DIPA with intense pine and citrus notes. 
  • Proxima, a straight-up IPA brewed with eight different hop varieties. 
  • Alphadelic IPA, a true Northwest-style IPA. 
  • Delicate Thunder, a sessionable Pale Ale with hints of orange marmalade and passionfruit. 
My selections. I just liked this picture, that's all.

Notice a trend? All in all, it was a great flight. I'm also glad we decided to eat, because the food was bangin'! After we'd returned home, I heard from a friend that MillerCoors actually bought out a majority stake in Hop Valley. I won't generally go out of my way to visit a brewery that "sold out," but I won't boycott them either. As long as they still make good beer, so be it. Case in point: Goose Island Bourbon County Stout. 'Nuff said.

Ninkasi taps.

At Ninkasi Brewing, our next stop, we decided on full pours as their selection wasn't as extensive as neither Oakshire nor Hop Valley. However, we chose wisely, because both beers exceeded my expectations. I've had Ninkasi on one or two previous occasions and wasn't wowed with their offerings. The two beers we ordered - Maiden the Shade and Hop Cooler - were damn tasty! Both were IPAs (surprise) with distinct flavors. Maiden the Shade was a lighter summer-style IPA brewed with eight different hop varieties (perhaps a bit too much Amarillo for Brewslut). Hop Cooler was bright and tropical with notes of orange and tangerine.

Pleeps is always one to pose with a beer.

Overall, we enjoyed the vibe of Ninkasi and reminded us of San Diego's Pizza Port for some reason. They had a sweet dog-friendly patio out front and a relatively small interior tasting room with high ceilings and plenty of colorful branding and merch options.

Up next on the itinerary was Falling Sky. I must admit that I hadn't heard of any of the Eugene breweries prior to our trip with the exception of Ninkasi. Upon entering Falling Sky, I saw the potential. I liked the long community tables and atmosphere of the space. I also dug their logo. Even the name was cool. The beer? That's where it gets tricky. We shared a sampler tray of the following beers:
  • Fallen Sky Juniper Rye, an Amber Ale with notes of juniper and spicy rye.
  • ACBW Biggest Small Porter, an American-style porter brewed for American Craft Beer Week.
  • Exposure IPA, dry-hopped with Mosaic, Simcoe and Cascade.
  • Polar Melt Pale Ale, brewed with Glacier hops.
  • Chester Copperpot ESB... great name, but they lost the key to One Eyed Willie with this one.
  • Robin's Honey Kolsch, a Kölsch style ale brewed with honey (reference to Christopher Robin from Winnie the Pooh... he's got nothing on Eeyore!)
Falling Sky sampler flight.

These ran the gamut of pretty good (the juniper rye) to undrinkable (Chester Copperpot). The latter was a real disappointment because I was so excited to see that name on the beer menu, as both Brewslut and I are huge fans of the movie Goonies. Unfortunately, this was a bit of a diacetyl mess. I didn't HATE the other beers, I just felt their weren't up to snuff with what we'd had on the trip thus far. Hey, they can't all be great! Honestly, I think we would have the place a bit more if not for the circus of little mongrels sitting at the community table behind us. Do you remember the TV show Romper Room? If you do... congratulations, you're old. NOTE: The following was drastically edited after I calmed down a bit.

To make matters worse, there was a toddler's birthday party going on at one of the community tables. Wait a minute? Where am I?! I felt like I was at a bowling alley or Chuck E. Cheese. Now, I understand why beer-loving parents take their kids to breweries. I get it. But a toddler's birthday party?! Come on, parents! You may want to re-think your birthday plans for your infant to toddler-aged child. There were no fewer than six little rugrats taking up valuable drinking space, and - here's the kicker - they made a mess too. "Eh, whatever... the staff will clean it up. That's what they're paid to do, right?" And honestly, all of this hostility isn't really geared towards the children, it's the parents. Kids don't know any better. I was a little asshole when I was a kid (it can also be debated of me as an adult), just like 98% of kids today, 10 years ago, and most likely into perpetuity. In my advanced age, I've come to realize that kids are just like adults: there are a few good ones and a whole lot of shitbags.

Little mongrels and oblivious parents aside, it was coincidentally our least favorite place of the day. Sadly, I couldn't drink my beers fast enough to get out of the infant zone. Suddenly I had that Cars song "Shake it Up" stuck in my head, because if I felt one more diaper bag brush up against me, I was going to grab the nearest baby and shake it! Not really, but you catch my drift.

OK, enough grumpy old man rage. Let's get back to our regularly scheduled program.

Our next stop was Coldfire. I always like something with the same name as a Rush song or reference, regardless if it was the intention of the brewery. We arrived at a busy time of day, but we eyed up two vacant seats at the small bar up against the right wall of the crowded room.

Coldfire sampler flight. Pleeps dug into the box of games at the bar!

They had lots on the menu, so another sampler flight was in order. Here's the run-down:
  • Red Saison
  • NW Ale, flagship Pale Ale offering. 
  • Pale X Series: Galaxy, a single-hopped Pale Ale with Galaxy hops.
  • NW Pale w/ yuzu fruit (see below for a description of yuzu fruit).
  • ISA, an India Session Ale (aka Session IPA).
  • Imperial Stout
Not very clever with the beer names compared to some of the other local competition. Still, the beers here were all solid and quite good. The one that stuck out was the NW Pale with yuzu fruit. I was unfamiliar with this particular variety of fruit, so it piqued my interest. According to my buddy Wikipedia, yuzu is a citrus fruit originating in East Asia. It has the appearance of a grapefruit and is believed to be a hybrid of a sour mandarin and an Ichang papeda (a slow-growing, fruit-bearing plant also of Asian origins). Yuzu fruit added a tart grapefruit-like character to the beer with hints of mandarin orange. Surprisingly, I liked the straight-up version a little more, but it was nice to sample both side by side and compare similarities and differences.

As for Pleeps, well... he was in quite the jovial mood by now and got into my Imperial Stout. It didn't end well for him, as you can see below.


After a fun visit to Coldfire, we were off to our next stop on the list. Claim 52 had one of those brewery names that intrigued me. There had to be a story, right? Upon further investigation, I discovered that the name Claim 52 refers to the donation land claim settled by pioneer William Luckey in what is now part of South Eugene and where the brewery's first recipes were developed. Pretty cool, eh? I thought so. They also had some cool beer names, such as Fluffy, Frumunda Fruit, and Horchata-be-kidding-me. The latter, a Berliner Weisse based on a drink several types of traditional drinks know as "Horchatas." Again, my trusty sidekick Wiki informed me of this as well as the fact that these drinks are "made of ground almonds, sesame seeds, rice, barley, tigernuts, or melon seeds." You don't see that every day!

More fun chalkboard art at Claim 52.

Aside from the Horchata beer, we rounded out our sampler flight with Frumunda Fruit (IPA), Area 52 (DIPA), and Fluffy (aromatic IPA with hints of passionfruit, mango and citrus).

Surprisingly, Pleeps was pretty spry by the time we got to Claim 52.

Up next, we swung by Viking Braggot to see what they were all about. The tasting room itself was dark and reminded me of a warehouse-style brewery in California. I imagined the dimly-lit ambiance would be appreciated by a group of vikings after they'd just finished plundering a village of unsuspecting peoples... in THATCHED ROOF COTTAGES!!! Sorry to get derailed by my good buddy Strong Bad.

With a penchant for brewing braggots (obviously), sours, and interesting beers with non-traditional ingredients, Viking Braggot featured numerous selections brewed with different kinds of honey, which were all listed on the chalkboard along with ABV, IBU, etc. If you're not familiar with the term "braggot," it is basically a form of mead made with both honey and malted barley. Think part mead, part beer. The style isn't too common among American craft breweries, which means the probability of finding one on a draft list somewhere is pretty scarce. Viking Braggot, however, takes pride in hand-crafting distinctive ales with honey, organically grown grain, and a variety of ancient herbs. While they had a variety of other styles available, I had to dig into some more interesting sounding selections on the beer list.

Taps at Viking Braggot (courtesy of Google Images)

The first one that caught my eye was a Grapefruit Pineapple Braggot. They had a pretty vast assortment of beers, the majority of them brewed with honey to keep within the realm of the braggot style. The use of honey sweetens the pot considerably, although I feel it kind of mutes the hop character a bit. This one had more pineapple character than grapefruit (perhaps because it is a sweeter fruit and the honey brought it to the forefront). I rounded out my 5-beer sampler with the following selections:
  • Battle Axe, a dry-hopped DIPAbrewed with light wildflower honey and lots of "C" hops.
  • 5k Runner's Brew, a limited IPA-style offering with hints of pepper and citrus rind. 
  • Fenrir, an American-style Stout utilizing a regional blend of wildflower and orange blossom honey. 
  • Kriek, a Belgian-style barrel aged cherry ale. 
Up next on our agenda was Steelhead, and I must admit that I had to Google them to jog my memory. As I was writing this, I seem to recall having reviewed Steelhead Stout many moons ago back in my Beer Advocate review days. (Aaaah, the good old days when I used to sit in the corner with a pencil and notepad and wax poetic about the aromas and flavors that weaved their way across my palate like a labyrinthine maze.) Poetry aside, the place reminded me of a non-descript brewpub chain from the 90s. Turns out, they ARE a chain, with multiple locations throughout Oregon and California. I think I knew this already. Maybe not. :-) Either way, I always have doubts about a brewery when they have stuff like Miller Lite or Budweiser also available as alternatives to their house beers. I'm pretty sure I spotted one or two macro tap handles near the back of the bar. I can see having some craft guest taps, but I'm always a bit skeptical when I see this. Fortunately for us, Steelhead's pretty were pretty good.

Interior of Steelhead (courtesy of Google Images)

We ordered a pair of pints to share: Twisted Meniscus, a NW style IPA brewed with honey malt and seven different hop varieties; and Guavalicious, an unfiltered IPA brewed with tropical guava fruit. While we worked on our beers, we eventually got a hankering for some grub, so we perused the menu. I noticed fish tacos (another thing I'm hesitant about getting outside San Diego city limits), but I thought, "Why not?" They were actually quite good and hit the spot.

After a one-and-done visit to Steelhead, we decided to hit up another McMenamins on our way out of town. This time, it was the East 19th Street Cafe location. Being a chain, they have a few of the same beers on tap at all locations. However, they do give their brewers some latitude and allow them to flex their brewing muscles and stretch out a bit. Of course, we never really saw anything unique or über-crazy on the beer menus, mostly variations on styles like IPAs, Pale Ales, and Stouts, as well as a Gose or something slightly off-kilter. Still, every beer we had was well done. Plus the ambiance of these brewpubs was enjoyable.

Interior of McMenamins East 19th Street Cafe location.

We settled on a pair of pints: Dog Days Double IPA for me, and Ruby, a light ale (and one of its core beers) brewed with 42 lbs. of Oregon-grown and processed raspberry pureé per batch, for Brewslut. I must say for a brewpub chain, their beers were solid across the board and we were impressed with each of the locations. McMenamins has really carved out a nice niche for themselves in the Pacific NW region. Next time, we hope to spend the night at one of its locations that offer overnight accommodations.

After our pints at McMenamins, it was time to shove off from Eugene and get a head start on our drive to Lincoln City for our day of coastal driving and brewery hopping. Earlier in the day, we had decided to stay in Corvallis, home of Oregon State University. Fun fact: Corvallis is the westernmost city in the lower 48 states with a population greater than 50,000. Upon further investigation of our hotel's location, we discovered it was about a mile from Block 15 Brewing Company. Score!

I'm embarrassed to say that I was unfamiliar with Block 15 prior to the trip. What a travesty, because this place may have been my very favorite place of our entire trip (if not #1 then certainly tied with Great Notion). Again, the beer menu sounded so appetizing that I wanted to sample as many offerings as I could. Keep in mind, this was the end of a looooong day of brewery hopping in Eugene. Nevertheless, I'll say it again. We're professionals. Well, we don't get paid for this, so I guess we're not. At any rate, we're far from amateurs!

Our only pic from Block 15. We were enjoying the beer too much!

Here's what I sampled during our visit. Check out this laundry list of amazing beers on tap!

  • Peach Pit Wit - A Pinot Noir barrel-aged Witbier? Wha-wha-whaaaaaat?! Oh yeah, this one was conditioned on a shit-ton of juicy peaches. As if that all wasn't enough, they blended a young batch with 3- and 4-year aged versions to arrive at this amazing concoction. God damn, was this a great beer! Pithy, peachy, and puckery! 
  • Ferme de la Ville Provision - Tasty and complex Farmhouse Ale brewed with rye, wheat, golden naked oats and local honey. This one was blended with various barrel and Brett matured ales aged between 9 and 12 months, then cellared for an additional 3 months. Labor intensive!
  • Anthem of the Sun - A delicious, thirst-quenching sour golden ale brewed with citrus peel and dry-hopped with Amarillo, Azacca and Citra. I'm salivating about this one as I type. Really enjoyed this beer!
  • Peach Punch (You in the Eye) - Cool Phish reference, bros! This summer IPA packed with fruity hops, peaches and apricots is a collaboration with Portland's Great Notion (my other favorite brewery of the trip) and was undoubtedly my favorite beer of the entire trip. I had it four times over the course of the week. Can't say enough great things about this beer. 
  • Fluffhead - Another Phish reference! This hazy IPA, despite featuring English yeast (not my favorite) boasted tons of Mosaic, Azacca and Chinook hops for a blast of tangerine, papaya and spruce. 
  • Cassidy - Another Farmhouse Ale, this one aged in Sauternes barrels with Brett and spring flowers. This was my first encounter with Sauternes, which is a French sweet wine from the Sauternais region of the Graves section in Bordeaux... all places I've never been, nor could point out on a map. Of course, we did do a Chateaux tour of the French countryside on our honeymoon, but that was back in 1999... a lifetime ago!
  • Sticky Hands - described as a "hop experience" ale, this sticky, resinous DIPA is packed with tons of Pacific NW hop buds. 

I seriously could have closed this place down, but I was at the point where I didn't even want to drive the mile back to our hotel. I could have drank myself into Peach Punch oblivion, but it was time to retire for the evening. I wanted to buy a shirt, but the one I really liked was not available in my size. Oh well. Not like I need any more beer shirts! Back at the hotel, we capped off an amazing day with a bottle of Oude Kriek from Pfreim Family that we picked up earlier on the trip in Mt. Hood. Mmmmm!

Stay tuned for more adventures in Portlandia. Next up... scenes from Coastal Oregon including visits to Pelican and De Garde, among others. Until next time...



1 comment:

The Pour Travelers thank you for reading about our beer travels!