New Christmas Toy: The Blichmann Hop Rocket

hoprocket
I must have been really good this year. I got a beautiful Christmas gift from the Mrs.: A Blichmann Hop Rocket. I felt pretty childish and giddy upon opening the box. Oooh so shiny! Anyway, I can’t wait to put this into use! I plan on brewing something hoppy, an IPA or pale ale. Maybe an India Red Ale type beer. I look forward to tasting the hop character in the finished beer.
I have wanted a Hop Rocket for a while for a few different reasons. It goes without saying I want to get more hop flavor and aroma into my beers. Beside the obvious, I look forward to the filtration aspect of the Hop Rocket. I brew with whole leaf hops and use hop spider type device. I make decent beers this way but I actually prefer pellets. I would use them if not for the mess I end up with in the carboy. I have a flat bottom kettle. Even though I whirlpool at flameout, lots of particulate matter ends up in my wort when using pellets. I also bought a plate chiller a few batches ago, and solids in my chiller is something I don’t want. I plan on using hop pellets during the boil then pumping through the Hop Rocket on the way to the fermenter. I hope to get the increased utilization with the pellets, and the fresh hop aroma and flavor from the whole leaf hops in the the Hop Rocket. Best of both worlds! I’ll post the results and review after my first trial run. It should be fun!

Uptown Market: An All-In-One Craft Beer Haven

Hmmm…I need some dry malt extract, a couple ounces of hops, and some tubing. I would love to have a pint while shopping for my home brew stuff…Maybe a couple bottles of beer to take home for later. The wife would probably like a bottle of wine too.  Sigh… I’ll be running around all afternoon. Oh wait, I can do it all at Uptown Market!

I go Uptown Market every now and then for random home brew items. It’s owned by,Stuart Ferris, and AJ and Chris Shepard and located on Scholls Ferry Road just before SW Allen Blvd. I love this place because they are not only a bottle shop selling 700 plus beers, but  a wine shop as well. The cherry on top is that in addition to the beer and wine, they carry an assortment of home brew supplies as well. They may not have as big a selection of home brew supplies as other shops in the area, but it’s a convenient location and open later than all the other local shops. If you are in the middle of a brew session and realize you need some dry malt extract to increase your gravity a few points, you can run by Uptown Market, even if its 8:30 PM.

I recently I had a break in the schedule and went in to Uptown Market to have a pint.  I was happy to see they had expanded their tap selection. There are 18 beers on tap plus they had a firkin of Firestone Walker  porter available. I stopped there because I had read recently they had plans for a brewery. Knowing the location, my curiosity was peaked because it’s small. The once former convenient store (7-11 I believe) is already filled with a fantastic selection of beer and wine plus the bar. So where would they put a brewery?

I arrived at Uptown Market with this question in mind. Upon entering, their friendly staff showed me the tap list which included a lineup of northwest heavy weights like Barley Brown’s, Boneyard, Crux and The Commons. Right when I said, “Are you guys brewing now too?” I received a very quick response from someone at the bar. It was a young man with dark curly hair sitting at the bar and working on a laptop.  He said, “Yeah we are brewing here. You wanna see the brewery?”  Wow, I didn’t even have to ask. Fantastic!

Turns out the enthusiastic young man was named Jason Rowley and is the brewer at Uptown Market. He led me through a door to the back and into a small room. The little space housed two 8 barrel fermenters, a 3 barrel fermenter, a mash tun and a 7 barrel boil kettle. It struck me as a big, well organized homebrew set up. Instead of 5 or 10 gallon capacity like mine though, Jason can do over 200 gallons at a time. Jason showed me the equipment and told me what he was brewing. The whole time he had gleam in his eye. A pride and excitement about what he was brewing. Jason has a very global view of beer. He told me he wanted to focus on English style beers but also mix it up with some Belgian styles as well.

stout

They currently have 1 house brewed beer on tap, a dry stout called Stop Work Stout. The name comes from the numerous hold ups they experienced in opening the brewery which was originally slated to be up and running in July. The beer has creamy coffee flavors that meld well with a toasted malt presence. It finishes clean and dry with a lingering bitterness that makes it very drinkable.  In the fermenters were an oatmeal red ale and an India Session Ale. Jason allowed me to try the ISA from the fermenter. It was well-made with a pleasant bready character and aggressive hop bitterness. It definitely tastes like an IPA, but at around 4% abv it’s a beer you can drink a lot of and not regret it in the morning.  Jason is very critical and though he is happy with the first beers coming out, he looks forward to fine tuning and adding more beers to the lineup.uptownmarket

Uptown Market is a great spot. It’s run by friendly and welcoming staff that is quick to offer help. It has a comfortable feel with tables in and outside, to accompany the small bar space.  Plus they have it all; home brew supplies, beer and wine to go (including kegs), a wide array of beer on tap, and fresh beer brewed on premise.  It seems they have successfully created the all in one craft beer hangout in Beaverton. If that’s not enough, they are donating 50% of brewery profits in the first year to various charities like Children’s Cancer Association (CCA)Dress For Success,Girl Scouts of Oregon & SW WashingtonOregon Humane Society

You absolutely must check out Uptown Market. It’s a fun place and we can expect more good things from them in the near future.

 

Top 5 Rules for Attending the Holiday Ale Festival (or Any Other Festival)

 

2013 Holiday Ale Festival

I did it! I survived a full week at The Portland Holiday Ale Festival! I managed to attend each day as well as the Brunch (which I highly recommend). There were a great deal of amazing and interesting beers to try and I tasted a good many of them. I met a lot of interesting people throughout the week. It was entertaining to note the reaction of other attendees when I told them I had been there each day of the festival. Some seemed envious; others seemed to wonder how it was possible. A few looked at me in such a way that made me believe they were genuinely concerned about me. Well not to worry. My liver is still intact (I think).

I have gone to this and other beer festivals before but never have I gone for so many days in a row. It’s not impossible, but in addition to pacing yourself and drinking water, there are rules to follow if ever you want to attend an entire beer festival like the Portland Holiday Ale Festival. These rules are for those beer lovers who want to go several days in succession and remember all the beers your try. I’ll outline these rules in ascending order of importance. The rules are simple and as follows:

Rule #5 Get the small pour

Most festivals will give the opportunity to buy either a small taste or a full glass. I recommend the smaller taste. If variety is the spice of life then I want to try as wide an assortment of beers as possible and truly spice up my time spent at the festival. If you happen to attend on a particularly busy night when the lines are long, then maybe get a full glass. Just be sure to have friends close by so you can try their beers. I like to taste as many different beers as possible. Getting a full pour minimizes the opportunity to try the wide assortment of beer available. After all, isn’t the point of a beer festival to try different beer?

 Rule #4 Go early

Many beer festivals are only on the weekend, some are just 1 day. In either case, get there early. If you go when the event opens, you will not miss out on the best beers. Often the best beers run out quickly so be sure not to miss out. If the festival spans several days, go on opening day, especially if it’s during the week. I went to the Holiday Ale Festival on opening day right when they began pouring. Not only did I have the pick of every beer with no lines, but I also got to hang out with several different people in the industry. If you want more of a backstage sort of experience, make sure to go early.

 Rule #3 Take Notes

Taking notes is extremely important at a beer festival. It does several things for you. It helps you to get an idea of why you like what you like. If you can describe the traits of the beers you enjoy, you gain a sense of what flavors you like. In beer, (just like any food or beverage), there is a lot of overlap in the various styles. If you know what flavors you appreciate, you can more easily identify other beers you may like but have not tried. It helps to manage indecision encountered at the store or bottle shop when looking to try something new. Taking notes also helps you remember what you liked and why. When there are 40 plus beers to try, by day 2 or 3 the names begin to sound the same and it can be difficult to remember what you tried, let alone whether or not you liked the beer. Take notes to keep track of what you had and what it tasted like. Did you love it? Was it just ok? Or did you have to dump it? Was it fruity or bready? Tart or smooth? All the information you can record will help you discover new breweries or gain a deeper appreciation of your favorite brewers’ artistry.

 Rule #2 Participate

At most beer festivals, there are additional events you can attend. Things like brewer’s dinners, special bottle openings, presentations etc. are often available. These events offer the opportunity to meet the people behind your favorite beverages as well as your peers. You know; the extra nerdy, geeky beer fans like you. At this year’s Portland Holiday Ale Festival, I had the pleasure of attending the Sunday Brunch. There was an array of beers there, none of which were available at the main festival. In fact the best beers I tried all week were there at the brunch. When you see extra events offered at your favorite beer fest, it would behoove you to attend. Yes it may cost you some additional money, but if you are indeed a beer enthusiast, you won’t be disappointed.

And finally,

Rule # 1: Go with friends.

When you go with a group, there is an economy of scale working for you. It becomes much easier to try more beer. When everyone gets different beers, you can try each other’s samples. Each person gets multiple different tastes for the cost their individual sample. In addition, going with a group reduces your time in line. The amount of time it would take to try the same number of beers you can try with a group is significantly reduced.  Going with a group is an advantage to be sure but the main reason to go with a group is it’s just more fun. As the old adage says, “The more the merrier.”  When you go with a group, there is of course comfort found in good company, but additionally, the varying viewpoints  found when discussing the beers can lead to better understanding and perspective. A fun and educational beer experience? Sign me up!

Brewery Review: The Commons Brewery

IMG_1184For home brewers the thought of one day going pro is a constant siren song tugging at the imagination.  Visions of a taproom with hand crafted beers satisfying the thirst of paying customers dance in home brewer’s dreams at night. For most, this might be a farfetched fantasy, but for others, it’s an inescapable destiny. For Mike Wright, The Commons Brewery in Southeast Portland is the realization of such a dream.

I found my way to The Commons Brewery after reading several articles regarding nanobrewing. You will of course have heard of numerous microbreweries, but what is a nanobrewery? There doesn’t seem to be a definitive number to describe today’s nanobreweries. Generally speaking it’s any liquesced, professional brewery operating on a 4 barrel system or smaller. For the sake of perspective, that’s scarcely more than an ambitious homebrewer. Most small brew pubs are between a 7 to 10 barrels capacity. So what about the Commons Brewery? Well in the beginning, Mike Wright was able to get federally licensed on a 1 barrel brew system, in his garage. When I read about his brewery the wheels started turning. Hmmm, I have an unattached garage…

At any rate, the brewery was originally called Beetje (pronounced Be-Cha), which means “little bit” in Flemish. It was not long before Wright out grew his little bit of garage and moved into a larger commercial place with a 7 barrel system. Brewing commenced in 2011 and he has been pumping out delicious brews ever since.  I recently had the opportunity to visit and taste some of the fine beers being brewed at The Commons. Before tasting the beer though I had to know why the name change? I was informed by the gentleman tending the bar it was because no one could pronounce Beetje. Fair enough.

Now for the important stuff: the beer. The Commons specializes in farmhouse ales. It’s a fantastic juxtaposition considering their urban location. The tasting room is cool, casual and right in the brewery. For anyone interested in brewing science, it’s a great opportunity to drink the beers in the middle of where the action is. You can see water in buckets bubbling from submerged blow off tubes at the feet of gleaming stainless steel fermentation vessels. It’s the perfect place for the beer aficionado to geek out.

There are several beers in their year round line up as well as a number of seasonal offerings. I tried a sampler of 4 beers, all of which were delicious. The 2 that stood out to me were Flemish Kiss and their Pilsner. Flemish Kiss is a Belgian pale ale dosed with Bretanamomyces in secondary fermentation. The result is a very drinkable beer with floral and fruity flavors married with a pleasant earthiness. I could drink a lot of this beer. The Pilsner was also tasty. Made in the German style, it had lots of bread and biscuit flavor with a firm hop bitterness which led to a crisp dry finish.

If you are looking to try some unique and fantastic beers you need to go to The Commons Brewery. It has already garnered many accolades for the beers being brewed there from Willamette Weekly’s Beer of the Year (for Urban Farmhouse), to a silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival for Flemish Kiss.  It is a unique place that offers the opportunity to relax and drink where the beer is crafted. In addition, it has a social atmosphere conducive to meeting new people. The Commons has proven to be a welcome addition to the vibrant Portland beer scene.