Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Breakside Brewery - Salted Caramel Stout

Straight from my 'hood.
My NE Portland neighborhood is awesome. Oh, sure, lately we have the crazy NE Flasher running through our streets sans pants, but otherwise, it's a great place to live. I reside in the Alberta Arts District, a conglomeration of several old-time neighborhoods. The main drag is NE Alberta Street, where you'll find an eclectic--often eccentric--collection of art galleries, bars, restaurants, shops and a whole bunch of free-spirited denizens of the best part of the Pacific Northwest.

One of the shops located on Alberta Street is Salt & Straw. These fine folks are purveyors of some of the most tasty frozen delights on the planet. I'm talking ice cream, baby, and believe me when I tell you that the proximity of Salt & Straw to my front door is a dangerous, dangerous thing--well, for my waistline anyway.

Breakside Brewery is also located a fairly close distance from my NE Portland home. Not exactly walking distance, but no more than 10 minutes by bus. They serve up some mighty tasty beer at Breakside, and their food is top notch, too. So, what do Breakside Brewery and Salt & Straw have in common, besides a NE in their addresses? A beer, that's what! A collab! Here's what the Breakside website has to say about it:

Salted Caramel Stout: a collaboration with Salt & Straw Ice Cream. we add both sea salt and a specially made caramel to this full bodied stout. the finished beer is rich and balanced with a luscious caramel flavor in the aroma and mid-palate, a hint of salt in the finish, and a smooth roastiness. 6.8%

Well, hell! How could I NOT try that? It certainly sounds delicious.

The beer poured into my pint glass a solidly opaque black color with a creamy tan head. The head was more than a finger thick and stuck around for a long time. Lots of sudsy lacing was left behind as it dissipated.

Aroma was predominantly caramel. No surprise. Milk chocolate and just a hint of coffee. 

Taste delivered salted caramel, as advertised. However, the flavors are appropriately subtle in tandem with dark, roasted malt. Nothing cloying or artificially flavored in this brew. Bitter cocoa and coffee flavors rounded things out quite nicely.

Full mouthfeel. Very smooth and creamy going down the old gullet. It's an easy drinker. 6.8% ABV goes fairly undetected. 

I like it! Next time, I'm going to have some Salt & Straw ice cream with this beer! All in all, a nice, memorable, drink-all-the-time kind of stout. I'm giving Salted Caramel Stout a BeerGuyPDX rating of 3 1/2 crushed cans out of 4.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Burnside Brewing Company - Hot Chocolate Stout

"Hot" means spicy!
I've been on a stout kick lately. There are just so many tasty variations of the style to be found in and around Stumptown right now. Jealous? You should be!

I found Burnside Brewing Company's Hot Chocolate Stout on tap at Imperial Bottle Shop & Taproom the other day. If you hurry over there right now, you can have some, too! Here's what Burnside Brewing has to say about this 6.1% ABV, 42 IBU beer:

"A chocolate and habenero chile infused ale crafted in collaboration with local artisan woodblock chocolates. This "bean to beer project" is a blend of cocoa nibs from Madagascar, Ecuador and Trinidad. 10 gallons of semi sweet chocolate was poured into the kettle warm and freshly blended after an addition of ten pounds of nibs was infused with the mash. We then conditioned the beer on slightly roasted habenero peppers to create a delicate balance of cocoa and spice. You will experience a hint of heat finishing with a distinct cocoa flavor."

Sounds awesome, right? Am I right?

The beer was presented in a 12 oz. tulip glass a deep, dark brown--almost black--color. The mocha colored head rose up to a full finger thick and dissipated slowly. It sure was a pretty beer. Too bad I can never get my camera fired up fast enough to get a picture of a perfect head. Dang it!

Aroma was cocoa, coffee and sweet, spicy chiles. I'm a chilehead, so I recognized the slightly citrus, tropical pungency of habaneros right away.

Taste followed the nose. Bitter dark chocolate with espresso notes. Over-ripe, dark fruit. Just a touch of chile heat in the mix. Perfect. More often than not, chile beers are just stupid hot and the flavor of the peppers get lost in the mix. Not so with this brew. The chile flavor remained in the background and then sneaked up on my taste buds. Bam!

Medium mouthfeel with low carbonation. Smooth finish with the mildly bitter cocoa and spicy chile providing a very complimentary play on the palate at the end.

If you're not a chile beer fan, you should definitely try Hot Chocolate Stout. It will likely change your mind. If you LOVE chile beers, you must try it. MUST. I'm giving Hot Chocolate Stout a BeerGuyPDX rating of 3 1/2 crushed cans out of 4.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Hopworks Urban Brewery - Survival Stout

"I Will Survive!"
Man, oh, man! What a slacker I am! I haven't posted a beer review in a long time! Not that I haven't been drinking beer. Plenty of that going on. I've been having some computer issues. Finally got rid of the "laptop from hell" that I've been doing battle with for the past year and a half. Got myself a brand new HP Chromebook. LOVING it, so far. Blazing fast and does everything my rudimentary computing skills require from it. Anyway, I should be able to start getting some regular posts up on this little old blog--you know, so you two regular readers can keep up with my beer-periences.

Tonight, I cracked open a bomber of Hopworks Urban Brewery's (HUB) Survival "Seven Grain" Stout. It comes with an ABV of 5.3% and 35 IBU's, according to the label. The label also advises that the beer was brewed with barley, wheat, oats, amaranth, quinoa, spelt and kamut. Interesting. The beer also contains Stumptown Organic Holler Mountain coffee. Interestinger.

The beer poured into my tulip pint a dark brown, practically black color with a thick, creamy, mocha-colored head. That head really rose up. Two full fingers thick and it dissipated slowly. Lots of sudsy, webby lacing was left behind.

Aroma was a massive whiff of fresh roasted coffee right from the get-go. Hints of dark chocolate and vanilla in the background. Lovely.

Taste was mocha chocolata ya-ya! (I always wanted to use that in a beer review.) Big coffee and cocoa flavors. Pleasant, dark chocolate bitterness but not at all harsh. Vanilla and roasted malt at the end of every sip. Lovely-er.

Medium mouthfeel with appropriately modest carbonation. Creamy finish.

Excellent, easy drinking stout with loads of complex flavors. Some coffee-flavored beers just don't work for me. Often the coffee taste is too bitter and harsh, or it's just over-the-top. This brew is just right. Delicious! I really like it and I'd certainly welcome a bottle into my fridge anytime. Survival Stout earns a BeerGuyPDX rating of 4 crushed cans out of 4.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Zwickelmania 2014

So much beer, so little time.
I spent the majority of the day yesterday wandering the streets of my awesome city, Portland, Oregon. It was raining most of the day (status quo for February in Stumptown) but that didn't stop hundreds of craft beer lovers from participating in Zwickelmania 2014.

What is Zwickelmania, you ask, my unfortunate, beer-deprived friend? Zwickelmania is perhaps the most fantastic FREE beer event in Oregon. Breweries and brewpubs throughout the state open their doors to the general public for brewery tours and free sips of their tasty wares. A "zwickel" is a valve that brewers use to take samples of beer straight from a tank, in case you didn't know. Many of the brewers participating in Zwickelmania actually do just that, allowing visitors to taste beer that couldn't possibly be more fresh.

Of course, when you have an event that takes place all over town, traveling to each venue can be tricky. Gratefully, Rogue Brewing, Kell's Brewpub and Brewvana Brewery Tours provided shuttle buses. Though not quite perfectly timed and at a cost of $5, the shuttles were probably the best way to get from brewery to brewery. (We did end up in a taxi and a Car 2 Go at one point.) I always seem to meet the nicest people on the buses and I've made some lasting friendships. Plus, it's just a helluva good time packed like a sardine with fellow craft beer enthusiasts.

The bus is a must.

What's the BEST thing about Zwickelmania? I'm not going to lie, it's the free samples of beer at dozens of Portland's best breweries. This is the annual opportunity for brewers to meet their fans and put their latest and greatest beers in the spotlight. Many did not disappoint. I was most impressed with Burnside Brewing's Hasselhoff Brau--because, well, it lives up to it's namesake in boldness and unabashed audacity. Hopworks put out quite a spread, which included a freebie brat and kraut plate. Commons Brewery was also a big hit and their tasting room was banging when I was there.
Straight from the tank to your tummy.

Zwickelmania is also the perfect opportunity for real beer nerds to get behind the scenes looks at the machinations of their favorite breweries, and maybe even ask a few questions of the brewers. Those big, shiny tanks sure are pretty, aren't they? If you've ever wondered exactly where and how your beer is made, you'll have your chance to find out--next year.

Unfortunately, there's absolutely no way you could ever visit every single one of the dozens of breweries and brew pubs participating in Zwickelmania. Hey, if you could do it, you're a better beer drinker than me. I think I only made it to half a dozen or so. 

Still, I had an absolutely awesome time, as always. Oh, and unless you've forgotten that this was all going on in "Keep it Weird" Portland, I have to bring up one the most Portlandia things that happened yesterday. We had a moped gang invasion. Yes, a moped gang. Dozens of moped riders decided that their favorite mode of transport--vintage mopeds--was the best way to get around rainy Portland. And you know what? I think they were right! Although they did leave a rather fresh "lawnmower" aroma behind at every brewery they visited.

Invasion of the Mopeds

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Put A Head On It!

Purty, purty beer!
How many times has this happened to you? You're at a bar or restaurant, having a good time with your pals; you're in a really good mood and you order a beer on tap. All is right with the world--la, la, la--then the waiter brings your beer to the table. The glass is filled all the way to rim with absolutely zero head. Zed, nada, zilch. Nothing but a few dots or flecks of foam at most. Noooo!

Any craft beer aficionado worth his/her salt, will tell you that an expertly poured beer, with an appropriate head, is an important part of the beer drinking experience. Indeed, unless you're a beer-bonging frat boy, the appearance of your beer is almost as important as how it tastes.

Many believe that a thick, foamy head preserves and enhances the aromatic properties of a quality beer. Beer should be served in appropriate, clean glassware and never out of the bottle or can, unless it's a cheap, adjunct lager. Ideally, a head should be anywhere from 1 to 1 1/2 inches thick. Some folks describe the head in terms of  "finger thickness", as in the width of an average human finger.

As previously stated, appearance is important to people who truly appreciate good beer. Just look at the photo above. I don't know about you, but the creamy, thick, sudsy head on that Fort George Vortex IPA is making my mouth water. It's beautiful, ain't it? Now, think about that over-poured, sloppy mess I described in the first paragraph. Technically, you'd be getting more beer. Perhaps the bartender thinks he's doing you a favor. God, help him.

Of course, some beer styles don't come with a big, foamy head. You should understand the natural state of the beer you ordered before you start griping. We could get all into bottle carbonation, CO2, firkens, nitro taps, etc., but that's for another day, and I'm certainly no beer scientist. What we're talking about here is your run of the mill, standard, craft beer, poured from your run of the mill, standard tap.

The big question is this: what do you do when that headless wonder arrives at your table? Do you drink it anyway? Do you send it back? Do you throw the glass across the room and start screaming like Scarface? "Say hello to my little friend!"

Personally, I have no problem sending a beer back and asking the bartender to put a head on it. Perhaps the bartender is new and doesn't know how to pour a beer from a tap. It takes practice to do it right. That newbie might as well practice on my beer. Of course, it sometimes depends on where I am at the time. I'll be more forgiving if I'm at a restaurant, especially if it's a busy night. However, if I'm at a taproom or a bar that purports some degree of beer expertise, you better believe it's going back until it looks pretty.

I was a local taproom the other day and the brewtender actually told me he wasn't going to serve me the beer I ordered until he got a perfect pour. I'll be darned if it wasn't absolutely gorgeous when he brought it over. I'm thinking the keg was just tapped and the foam was a little out of control. Still, his professionalism was greatly appreciated--with a big tip.

What do you think? How important is a good-looking head on the beer you drink?

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Crux Fermentation Project - Off Leash Northwest Session Ale

A new leash on life?
Whenever my daughter comes to Portland, she brings her old papa some beer. Hey, I'd be tickled to death to see her anyway, but a bag full o' brewskis makes her visits just that much more exciting.

Today, she brung me a bottle of Crux Fermentation Project's Off Leash Northwest Session Ale. In case you're new to craft beer lingo, a "session" beer is typically one with an ABV below 5%. A lower alcohol level means you can drink more of them, like in a session. Get it? There you go.

Off Leash comes with an ABV of 4.5%, 45 IBU's and it's brewed with Citra, Centennial and Crystal hops. I got mine in a pint bottle that was picked up at Market of Choice in Eugene, OR. The kid tells me it was on sale for $3.99. What a good shopper!

The beer poured into my tulip snifter a slighty hazy, golden orange color. The bright, white head dissipated quickly and a thin cap of sudsy lacing was left behind.

Aroma was grapefruit and pine. Tropical fruit. Pineapple and guava. Not much malt in the initial nasal uptake.

Taste was grapefruit and orange. Very mild, bitter hops bite. Pineapple. Sweet malt.

Medium mouthfeel with a dry finish. A little bit thin at the end.

This is clearly a "session" brew and what I would call a beginner's IPA. That being said, it's successful at what it's supposed to be. Probably more fitting as a summer brew. I'm sitting here drinking the stuff in the middle of a freak Portland snowstorm, so it's not working for me at the moment. Still, it is a very tasty beer. My wife took a sip and declared it "good". That's a lot coming from her. She prefers wits and hefes above all other beers and usually shuns hoppy beers.

I'm giving Off Leash a BeerGuyPDX rating of 3 crushed cans AND a Droolie. The dog was grooving on the smell.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Growlers, Growlers, Growlers!

Fill 'er up! Empty 'er out!
Although Oregon has some fairly strict laws when it comes to hard liquor sales, our beer (wine and cider, too) growler fill rules are some of the most unrestricted in the country. Here's a handy-dandy outline from the OLCC: click here 

Cool, huh? Of course, many less beer-enlightened states don't allow growler fills from taps at all--if they pour you a beer, you drink it there, or else. Other states allow fills, but the pouring establishment must supply the container. Bummer, other states! We have it good here in Oregon.

Basically, any retail store, bar, brewpub, or winery with an appropriate OLCC license can fill any refillable, securely-covered container that holds under two gallons. Most growlers hold either 64 or 32 ounces of liquid. Your typical growler is a simple, brown glass jug with a screw on cap. However, there are many different kinds of fancier, more reliable growlers available, such as the Lifeline 50/50 Insulated Growler

Growler fill stations are popping up all over the place. In addition to the usual suspects--your local brewpub, brewery and taproom--grocery stores are finally starting to get into the act. 

Fred Meyer (Freddie's to the locals) is large retailer here in the Pacific Northwest. My neighborhood Freddie's has a large inventory of housewares, furnishings, hardware and appliances, along with everything you'd expect in a full-sized supermarket. It's kind of a one-stop shop. Fred Meyer has always had a fairly well-stocked cold case, and they recently took it up a notch by installing a growler fill station right in the middle of the beer and wine section.
Now pouring...

The set-up at Freddie's is fairly simple, but slick as can be. There are two separate batteries of taps. 16 different craft beers are available, most from well-known, popular Oregon breweries. 64 and 32 ounce fills. An empty growler--complete with the Fred Meyer logo--costs $4.99. Of course, you can (and should) bring your own clean growler every time. The actual filling has to be done by a store employee with an OLCC service permit.

I found a very good selection at Freddie's. The prices aren't cheap, however. A 64 ouncer runs from $9.99 to $15.99, depending on the brew. Still, you're paying for the convenience, so I'm not grumbling too much. I'm hoping that when the novelty wears off a little, the prices will become a little more competitive. The occasional sale price would be nice, too.

When I first started drinking craft beer, way back in the late 1980's, it was difficult to convince the liquor manager at my neighborhood supermarket to stock my favorite brews. I certainly would have never imagined that one day I'd be able to wander into the grocery store and find more than a dozen taps of fresh, delicious craft beer available for take home growler fills. Amazing!

Every so often, I read some doom and gloom article predicting the looming "saturation point" of the craft beer industry. Supposedly, the bottom is going to drop out and every craft brewery is going to go out of business, leaving us with nothing but Bud, Miller, Coors to choke down. I don't see that happening anytime soon.