Happy Beer

happy beerTonight I was shown the soul of beer. Beer is naturally happy. And why shouldn’t it be? Beer has arrived. By becoming beer it has reached the culmination of its efforts. Beer has grown up from barley, and undergoes the malting process. It is mashed, boiled and married to hops. Then its fermented, carbonated, and conditioned. Finally after all its toils and troubles it is enjoyed. If beer were a person it would have every right to be proud of its accomplishments. It would have every right to smile like this one.

Hopworks Urban Brewery IPX: Chinook is Tasty!

2014_0225_hopworks-72-200x300[1]I love living in the NW. So many good beers. One of the beers I tried recently is from Hopworks Urban Brewery (HUB). They have 2 locations, one on SE Powell as well as their Bikebar on North Williams. If you are ever  in Portland you have to check them out. If you live here, well there is no excuse for you not to have gone yet. HUB does a fantastic job keeping my attention with their IPX single hop series. They feature a new hop variety with each new beer. The latest in the series I tried featured Chinook hops.

Albeit a good hop, I had always thought of Chinook as strictly a bittering hop. In my experience it provides a firm bitterness with lots of pine and resin flavors. In HUB’s Chinook  IPX, I encountered the aforementioned flavors but in addition I found a bit of citrus and a slight apricot type flavor. Its a delicious beer! If you find it on store shelves give it a try and tell me what you think.

I know I will continue to pick up the IPX series beers. Outside of conducting your own single hop experiments, its a great way to get a sense of what a particular hop can do for a beer. I have done only a handful of single hop beers (Bohemian Pilsner, stouts, bitters) but never in a very hop forward style like an American IPA. After trying a couple of the HUB beers (Amarillo Armadillo was fantastic as well), I’m ready to brew one up myself. Too many beers to brew, so little time…

Burnside Brewing Co.



Though I’m almost always in the mood for a beer, what I really needed the other night was a burger. As we all know, Portland has a huge variety of brew pubs to choose from. Many of the breweries provide thirsty Portlanders with a few bottled selections available at local stores and markets. One can get a good idea of the types of beers a brewery may offer by sampling their bottled examples. Unfortunately, there is no hamburger sampler; its either word of mouth or trial and error.

I recently had a hankering for a burger and a beer, I checked out Porlandbeer.org to get a visual on where I wanted to go. Portlandbeer.org is a beer blog that has a map and list of most (if not all) the breweries in the Portland area. It makes for quick brainstorming and helps get an idea of what is closest and/or where I have not been.

I found it odd that I had never been to Burnside Brewing Co. It’s not far from home and right on Burnside so I pass it fairly often. I have tried a few of their beers (i.e. Oatmeal Pale Ale, Burnside IPA and their seasonal It Makes Reindeer Fly), but I had never been to the brew pub. I looked at their menu online at http://www.burnsidebrewco.com/ and read the description of a tasty burger. I’ll sometimes see if there are reviews available on sites like Yelp.com, but I was hungry, wanted to try something new and didn’t want to deliberate too much. Off to Burnside Brewing I went.

The atmosphere at Burnside Brewing Co. is cozy and casual. It was low lit that night but not dark like a night club. The bar is right in front when you enter and I made my way to it and took a seat. The bar tender and other staff were friendly and ready to answer questions about the menu. When I asked about their Brewery burger the bar tender shook her head in the affirmative saying it’s one of her favorites. I ordered it and added cheese and bacon. As usual I got a few beer samples to try. I ordered the Stock Ale, Too Sticky to Roll IRA, and Stout. Each beer was very tasty. The stout was reminiscent of bitter sweet chocolate and espresso.  The IRA (which is a seasonal) was very nice as well. Caramel and toffee malt flavors meld with a nice punch of floral and citrus notes from the hops. My favorite was their Stock Ale which I am happy about since it’s in their regular lineup. It’s a very nice ESB, striking a balance between hoppy bitterness and a graham cracker and bread malt profile; a truly pleasant and drinkable beer.

As I was savoring the samples, the bar tender brought me an amazing burger with fries. Everything was cooked perfectly. The fries were a good gauge. Not shoestring but not wedges either. The burger was a thing of beauty! Big, juicy and flavorful. They cook the meat in duck fat and serve with grilled onions. The cheese and bacon made it amazing; the bacon adding a nice, smokey complexity. Is there anything that bacon can’t go with?

I am a fan of Burnside Brewing Co. The food is tasty and the atmosphere is, fun and comfortable.  I can only judge by the burger, but their food seems on par with their beers. That is saying quite a bit as their beers are fantastic! If you you haven’t been to Burnside Brewing Co. you need to make your way there!

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.


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.



It Was All About the Wine

November 6, 2013

It was all about the wine!

Wait, what?! Isn’t this a beer blog? Yes it is, but I have wine to thank for my love affair with beer. I attended Pacific Union College in Angwin, California which is in the mountains of Napa Valley. PUC is a Seventh Day Adventist college. Adventists are staunchly opposed to alcohol consumption. So naturally they put a couple thousand kids in a world famous wine region. Good idea.

While in school, the best job I had was working for a winery in Rutherford called St.Supery. The winery is right in the center of Napa Valley. I worked in the sales room and conducted facility tours. Best college job ever! One of the perks of working in a winery, (besides the fairly constant buzz), is the inter-winery discount.  Not only did I get my employee discount at St. Supery, but other wineries in the Valley extend an industry discount and free tasting. I was able to afford to try all the fantastic wine in Napa Valley on a very humble budget. In addition, I regularly traded wine at other wineries. The variety of wine available to me was fantastic. So what happened? Well unfortunately, I moved on to a “better” job that was not related to wine. With the change of the job also went the aforementioned discounts. I was immediately faced with the prospect of paying $30 to $100 for the delicious Napa Valley wines I had previously enjoyed on the cheap. Lets be honest, good wine is cost prohibitive for most people. Yes people spring for $50 + wines occasionally (myself included). However if you are an everyday wine drinker, I suspect that unless you do pretty well financially (well done and good for you), or are in the industry (again well done and good for you), you are not buying a $50 wine for a Tuesday night pizza dinner.

Enter beer

While working at St. Supery we had a holiday party. A co-worker brought a magnum of a beer called “Fred” from Hair of the Dog Brewing Company in Portland, Oregon. I was intrigued by the fact that a beer was in such a large format bottle. Upon reading the label I also found it odd that the beer contained 10% alcohol by volume. What kind of beer was this? When I tried it I couldn’t believe it was beer. It was yellow but nothing like the yellow fizzy beers I had at college parties. It was rich and sweet but very drinkable. It was so complex I couldn’t describe it. I kept going back to sample the beer in light of the fact that there was an array of old library wines available for tasting.

For me, “Fred” was the launch pad for my craft beer expedition.  It was that beer I recalled when staring at the wines at Sunshine Foods in St. Helena, California (a fantastic grocery store and deli with an exceptional wine and beer selection). I stood there dismayed by the prices of some of my favorite wines. I just didn’t want to part with that much of my hard earned cash. Then I turned around to see the beer selection.  They didn’t have “Fred” but there were various interesting bottles. Some were capped, others had corks. Some were from far away with names like Chimay and Omergang. There were also local beers from places like Bear Republic and Lagunitas.  I realized that due to the economy of wine, I could not afford best wines in the world, but I could certainly access the best that the beer world had to offer.  From then on I was hooked on beer (figuratively speaking, not in the passed out in an alley sense).

I still really like wine and will drink it on occasion but I find that the vast flavors and styles of beer offer a broader spectrum from which to choose. Styles ranging from pale golden lagers to black stouts, made in places like Belgium or the U.S and everything in between, beer offers something for everyone. The fact that I can leave price almost entirely out of the equation isn’t bad either.