Purchased at Pangaea Bottle Shoppe and poured into mini tasting glasses.
This dark pumpkin beer was aged in pinot noir wine barrels, and it pours a Dr. Pepper dark brown with a tight, soda fizz head. It has that unmistakable “Almanac sour smell” of sour candy, citrus, wood, and wine, causing my mouth to instinctively pucker, although there is a little extra roastiness on this particular brew. The fall/pumpkin aspect breaks through on the first swallow, lending an unusual depth of flavor to the beer, with wine tannins, candied pumpkins, and autumn spices coming to the fore. The taste of red wine settles on to the palette far more impressively than any pumpkin or spice flavors, making this a suitable substitute for red wine with your turkey dinner or fall dessert.
Purchased at Pangaea Bottle Shoppe ($16.99/22 oz. bottle) and poured into an oversized wine glass [cage of emotion].
This “barley wine aged in oak bourbon barrels” is from Coronado Brewing in San Diego, which of course in German means “a whale’s vagina.” Old Scallywag pours as silky smooth as the beard of Zeus, a clear and dark maple with a tight tan head. The aroma is a formidable scent. It stings the nostrils…in a good way, with waves of bourbon, dried and dark fruits, roasted nuts, barrel wood, brown sugar, and maple candy enticing the nose like a jazz flute solo. I wanna be friends with it. It’s delicious on the first swallow, more English than American barley wine, with brown sugar sweetness, wood bitterness, and a bready texture dominating up front, and ending as clean as a nice pair of slacks. Some apple and tea enter the picture as the beer rests on the tongue, and the overall effect is not unlike a wood-fired apple pie drizzled in scotchy scotch scotch. Beer drinkers assemble!
Purchased through Rare Beer Club (25.4 oz. bottle) and poured into tulip glasses.
This unusual offering from London-based brewers Meantime pours a dark, muddy amber with an almost nonexistent white head, with a thin halo of off-white foam circling the inside of the glass (we initially thought the beer was skunked). The nose promises a tart, caramel apple-like sweetness, with crisp green apple playing off of burnt toffee and caramel aromas. That interplay between tart and sweet is also present on the first sip, which offers much more carbonation than suggested by the flimsy head and brackish body. Meantime Weizen Double Bock gets richer and less tart as it warms, rounding out the flavor profile with black pepper, wood, brown sugar, red apples and other red fruits, and wine tannins.
Gifted by Nick M. and poured into globe glasses.
This imperial stout “infused with cacao nibs and aged in bourbon barrels” was brewed by Nashville, Tennessee-based Blackstone, and it pours a thick, oily black with a sliver of a brown head. Black Belle has an exceptionally rich and dessert-like nose of dark chocolate-covered coffee beans, toasted marshmallow, cola, and some booze. The alcohol is even more upfront on the first swallow, but the magic of Black Belle is that it expertly manages to offer all of the flavors of hard alcohol (i.e., chocolate and coffee take more of a supporting role to vanilla and toast) without any discomforting throat burn.
Purchased at Curtis Park Market (22 oz. bottle) and poured into tulip glasses.
This “Dynamic” India Pale Ale from Walnut Creek-based Calicraft Brewing was “brewed with blackberry root and orange peel,” and it pours a murky tangerine color with a sizable off-white head. Dried fruit and a honeyed sweetness are the first to appear on the nose, with apricot and cantaloupe especially prominent. There is an unusual, seltzer-y flavor on the first swallow, along with a very definite berry and bitter root presence, and it ends with some nice citrus and pine bitterness. As more is consumed, the bitterness on the first flavor movement becomes less and less pleasurable, too closely resembling cocktail bitters, although the pine and citrus finish still satisfies.
Purchased at Final Gravity ($11.99/25.4 oz. bottle) and poured into goblet glasses.
This “bourbon barrel aged Belgian dark strong with sour cherries and cocoa nibs” pours a dark and brackish espresso brown with a marshmallow-like, sawdust-colored head. Hard alcohol and barrel wood aromas assert themselves on the nose, with dark cherries, dark chocolate, and some citrus peel on the periphery. Wood and alcohol take the lead on the tongue as well, although here those flavors are given depth by the cocoa nibs, as well as a little bit of tartness from the cherries. Still, the most robust flavors (freshly cut wood and bourbon neat) seem to come straight from the barrel, and the fact that the Portland-based brewery The Commons used a Belgian dark as a base may have given the alcohol-soaked staves more to latch on to. Brotherly Love has a powerful firewater character, but there is also some nuance and craft, and despite being a little overwhelming, the flavors of this beer are still quite good.
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.