“Beer, if drank with moderation,
softens the temper,
cheers the spirit and
We’re excited to be contributing to “Eat Drink Films”. Check out our review of Speakeasy’s Payback Porter.
We recently spent a week in Portland, with most of our time devoted to exploring the city’s inspiring array of breweries, beer bars, and bottle shops. Our first couple nights were spent at a hotel in downtown Portland, one which was conveniently located a half-block away from Bailey’s Taproom, the best beer bar we hit during our visit. Of course, Bailey’s Taproom does not lack for competition, and while we were not able to hit every highly lauded suds palace on our wishlist, a few of our personal favorites were Belmont Station, Imperial Bottle Shop, APEX, and The Beer Mongers.
One of the many great things about Portland is that every place that serves beer also serves food, so every brewery in the city is basically a brewpub. It was no surprise to us that Upright, Cascade, Hair of the Dog, and Deschutes ruled the Portland scene, but that didn’t make the beers any less sublime. The more unfamiliar breweries that really impressed us were Base Camp, Burnside, and Hopworks Urban Brewery (HUB). A pilgrimage to Hood River to visit Full Sail and the magical Logsdon Farmhouse was our only out-of-town trip, and it was more than worth the effort.
Here is a list of the 10 best “new to us” beers that we tried during our trip to Portland. It is tempting to just award all ten spots to the litany of magnificent Cascade sours that we consumed over the course of a couple hours at their Barrel House, or to split the spots evenly between the heavy hitters like Upright and Hair of the Dog, but we are limiting ourselves to one beer per brewery. All beers were consumed at the brewery, unless otherwise indicated.
Purchased at Curtis Park Market ($6.99/22 oz. bottle) and poured into pint glasses.
This “smoked double porter” from Mendocino Brewing Company pours a black tea-like dark brown with a slight sandalwood head, while the nose mixes burnt kindling, savory smoked bacon, and just a little bit of Band-Aid. That slightly medicinal aroma is thankfully absent on the palette, and instead the first swallow offers waves of maple, candied nuts, and some chocolate flavors, with a second charge dominated by bitter wood smoke. The smoked bacon component is also present, but Talon mostly contrasts that maple and praline sweetness against birch and hickory woodiness, and the result should please fans of this style.
Purchased at Pangaea Bottle Shoppe ($8.99/22 oz. bottle) and poured into mini globe glasses.
This “black rye kölsch” is the first entry in Stone’s “Spotlight Series,” the winner of a blind tasting contest whose entries were sourced from Stone’s own brewers. It pours a glossy, minor key black with a mid-sized sawdust head, and offers a welcoming nose of chocolate-y coffee, licorice, and black bread. Sprocket Bier is surprisingly light and crisp on the palette, and also quite thirst-quenching, with the coffee and roasted nut bitterness riding in only on the finish. The yeasty brightness of the kölsch is counterpointed by the beer’s dark and roasted qualities, and the whole thing is harmonized by the presence of rye, which also adds a nice snap to the aftertaste. It is an excellent intersection of chocolate, coffee, yeasty dark bread, rye, and nuts, and it consistently maintains a light and lovely mouthfeel.
Purchased at Final Gravity ($19.99/25.4 oz. bottle) and poured into tulip glasses.
This bourbon-barrel aged sour ale from Kansas City-based Boulevard pours a ruby-tinged rust color with a mid-sized beach sand head, and a fair amount of flotsam in the body. Sour fruit aromas sock you in the nose, including SweeTarts, pineapples, tart berries, and red wine. A big tartness also asserts itself on the tongue, but the beer finishes pretty clean, with grapefruit, slightly immature strawberries, green apple, and even lime coming to the fore. Some of the barrel makes its way onto the palette on subsequent swallows, but the most accurate analogue to the beer is a sour apple-flavored Jolly Rancher. We cellared this beer for 14 months before uncorking, and I did not recall it being this fruit-driven and boldly tart in the spring of 2013, nor this distinct and nuanced. My suspicions were seemingly confirmed by the bottle itself, which includes icons indicating low fruitiness and medium sour-ness, although many Beer Advocate reviewers from the time of release mention green apples, tart berries, and the like. Either way, this beer is fantastic, and should hold up in the cellar for at least another year.
Purchased at Capitol Beer and Tap Room (16.9 oz. bottle) and poured into mini wine glasses.
This barrel-aged saison from Denmark brewery Amager pours an apple butter color with a thick white head, and a subtly smoky nose of burnt leaves, cigar ash, and wood. There were not any saison-like notes on the nose in my glass, and it was surprisingly bready and nearly quad-like on the first swallow, fading into dark fruit and caramel, with a woody bitterness in the finish. Smokiness is generally a red flag for a saisons, and it seems fairly certain that this beer was infected, although it’s unclear at which phase the infection occurred. During brewing? During barreling? During bottling? Somewhere in transport? In my fridge? Whatever the case, the beer still remains pretty interesting and drinkable, with notes of brown sugar, apple, scorched wood, and a whiff of hard alcohol, with a finish of bitter kindling that is the only truly unpleasant part. It should also be noted that although this beer was poured evenly between two small glasses, Darcey’s glass did not have that distinctly smoky nose or the woody finish. Hers was more flowery on the nose, similar to chamomile tea, with a bit of a lemony flavor coming in at the finish. I would rate my glass 2 ½ toasts and Darcey’s glass 3 ½ toasts, so I will split the difference at 3 toasts.
Purchased at Taylor’s Market ($9.99/25.4 oz. bottle) and poured into tulip glasses.
This third Game of Thrones-themed beer from Cooperstown, New York-based Ommegang pours a rusty red with a massive, persistent, off-white head. Through the thick froth, you can make out an interesting nose of dark fruits (especially plums) and chili peppers, along with some notes of Belgian spice. Although this hoppy Belgian red ale has been spiced up with the addition of Ancho chiles (as well as spelt and rye), there is no major heat on the tongue or in the throat, just a consistent chile flavor accenting the base taste of apple, plum, and berry. Fire and Blood is far more drinkable than you would expect from the description, offering delicious but relatively restrained Belgian-style flavors with a lot of depth and nuance.
We were very happy to receive an invitation to the soft opening of the new Ruhstaller tasting room last week. They only opened their doors Thursday through Saturday, and there was not a lot of signage to direct us, with only a stencil of Ruhstaller’s cigar-chomping “Jimmy” logo to let us know we had the right building. Once inside the underground facility, which is dubbed The Swiss Rifle Club in a nod to Jimmy Ruhstaller’s personal history, we got in line for beers. The tasting room is sectioned off into two separate areas – the bar area, which is dominated by a large communal table, and a more living room-like lounge area. There is a lot of Ruhstaller-related memorabilia both new and old in the décor, including a large display of their trademark burlap-wrapped bottles. When we visited, they were not pouring the entire Ruhstaller selection, but rather were informally test-marketing several varieties of a house red ale called Swiss Rifle Club, as well as a Belgian-y saison and a brown ale. Unfortunately, we could not find any information about when the tasting room will be open to the public, but the Friday night soft open was very well attended.