April 30, 2015

Back at it Oregon -- 2015 Part 1

I sure seem to be on the road tasting beer a lot recently. This time my wife and I took an early anniversary trip to Oregon (Portland, Hood River and Bend) where we flew into Portland and drove to Bend through Hood River and around the wondrously enormous Mount Hood. We scheduled the trip prior to realizing that CBC (Craft Brewers Conference) would be held the prior week in Portland and we would be landing into the end of CBC week. That meant lots of traffic that weekend all over Oregon but also some cool events in Portland we could slip into. Like the other recent trips, we spent more time enjoying beer and less time on brewery tours hearing about the four ingredients in beer so I will try to compact my notes about this trip into information that might be interesting for readers but also catalogs my adventures for my own recollection. We did spend some time touring Deschutes in Bend and a particularly special visit to Ale Apothecary that I will spend a little more time discussing. I'll stick those at the end if you are just waiting for more brewing knowledge. But for now we start at...

Portland

Deschutes Portland Pub

If you read the posts about my last whirlwind tour of Oregon then you already know my wife and I are big fans of Deschutes and spend a lot of time drinking their beer and eating their food. I won't spend too much time gushing over Deschutes (I did plenty on the last review posts) but the food, service and beer really makes it a worthwhile stop. The Deschutes pubs feature the standard line up as well as releasing their own limited run of beers, such as the collaboration Kiss from a Rose farmhouse ale with rose hips and brett and oatmeal pale ale on nitro. With CBC in town there was a special set of offerings and we snagged an incredible pour of 2012 Abyss.

The Commons

The Commons moved to a new location near Belmont Station and Cascade's Barrel House which will give them far more space for both brewing and drinking. There isn't much seating at the new location and with the combination of CBC and Friday night it was a packed house. Still, the beers are great and there is always a good mix of beers on tap for anybody looking for Belgian and German beer styles. Many of the beers made available in the taproom are one off beers or indeterminately available so you never know what you might find on tap. This time I had to hit some saisons with both a rye saison and a saison with experimental hops that I failed to identify.

Our favorite beers from our sampling were:
  • Bourbon barrel aged Little Brother quad: I'm not often a fan of bourbon barrel aged beers because I find the bourbon tends to be too heavy handed. This beer is well done with a portion of the batch aged in Heaven Hill barrels and then blended back with non-barrel aged beer to balance the flavors. The bourbon was present but did not overwhelm the fruit flavors and phenols present in the base beer.
  • Mimosetta: A collaboration with Green Bench Brewing in Florida, this farmhouse ale is 100% brett fermented with kumquats, producing a dry beer with restrained acidity from the fruit but plenty of citrus and tropical fruit character that tasted expectantly similar to a mimosa.
  • Highest Common Denominator vermouth barrel aged doppelbock: I can't say the combination of herbal vermouth and malty bock ever occurred to me but it really works. On its own vermouth is intensely herbal but diluted it brings a woodsy, herbal character that isn't terribly far away from some of the continental European hops. The combination of the slightly boozy doppelbock and vermouth produced a cocktail-like beer with a depth of flavor most cocktails could only hope for.

Cascade Barrel House

Barrels of deliciousness at Cascade
Our trip to Cascade's barrel house was doubly valuable because Cascade was running its sour and wild invitational where we snagged some excellent beers from Cascade and other sour brewers. Thanks to the invitational we were able to try out great beers from Block 15, 7venth Sun and a couple Lost Abbey beers I have long been on the hunt to taste (Cuvee de Tomme and Framboise de Amorosa). Framboise de Amorosa is probably the best raspberry beer I've ever had and among the best fruited beers I've ever had.

Cascade's fruit beers are nothing to snuff at with great fruit offerings like apricot, elderberry, cranberry and black cap raspberry. Cascade served up some of their aged fruit offerings which I tended to like less than the fresher fruit beers. Some fruit beers held up better than others and none better than the 2013 Manhattan NW which is a spiced blonde ale aged in bourbon barrels with tart cherries and nouyaux that not only tasted similar to a manhattan cocktail but held up great fresh and distinct flavors. We also tried Aviation Tartini which is a blend of sour blond and wheat ales barrel aged with gin botanicals from Aviation Gin. I'm not a big gin drinker but I enjoyed the herbal character in this beer as it is far more subdued than gin.

Before leaving Portland...

I'd also like to recognize the excellent Belmont Station in Portland. We didn't have a chance to drink in the tasting room at Belmont Station but we unloaded a good chunk of cash in the bottle shop where the selection was extensive and the service was helpful without being overbearing. We picked up some tasty beers such as J.W. Lees Harvest Ale aged in port barrels, Hacker Pschorr's excellent doppelbock Animator and Logsdon Oak Aged Bretta.

Hood River

Hood River's best known brewery is probably Full Sail, with operations on both sides of I-84 running into town. Full Sail proudly boasts itself as "independently owned" although it's going to have to paint over that signage with its recent acquisition by a private equity firm. What's interesting about Full Sail is that nowhere we went in Portland, Hood River, or Bend had Full Sail on tap and I can't recall seeing it in the bottle shops we visited. It's probably out there--somebody is buying all that beer they brew--and we didn't go into too many bars not connected to a brewery but it seems like a brewery almost thirty years old would have a larger footprint in Oregon more similar to Deschutes. From what we saw it's easier to find Full Sail in Dallas than it is anywhere in Oregon, minus Full Sail's tasting room. We passed on Full Sail to go across the street to...

Double Mountain

Double Mountain doesn't get too much chatter itself although the brewery is putting out some interesting beers. The bulk of Double Mountain's line up is hoppy beers that fail to rate highly on the rating sites because they aren't imbalanced beers or chasing whatever the hop of the month is. The hoppy beers focus on the classic hop flavors of the pacific northwest with heavy pine and herbal notes mixed with citrus. The rest of the beer selection is fleshed out with some brewpub staples, an interesting mix of Belgian beers and most interestingly their excellent steam beers. The food, by the way, is nothing to complain about.

This trip we sampled some interesting beers:
  • Biere de mars: This malty biere de mars is brewed with the Ardennes yeast which gives it a peppery character. It was an interesting representation of the style. It was probably my least favorite of the four beers we had because it was the least interesting of the options and not because it wasn't a great beer.
  • Pale Death Belgian imperial IPA: The heyday of Belgian IPAs may be over but Double Mountain is unforgiving in continuing to put out the style. This hefty 9.3%, 93 IBU imperial IPA is probably the most similar to the current demand for tropical fruit-forward IPAs with big tropical fruit flavors but more balanced than many other DIPAs. The Belgian yeast character is present and the malt can still be identified in the beer. The balance in a beer this big with that much bitterness is truly exceptional.
  • Gypsy Stumper IPA on cask with simcoe hops: One thing I really like about Double Mountain is the opportunity for cask ale. This cask ale is Double Mountain's standard IPA with its tangerine and forest character smoothed out in the cask with simcoe hops. I'm not a huge fan of simcoe but it worked out well here with simcoe rounding out the pine forest character in the base beer.
  • Eight & Easy Cali Common: For its recent eighth anniversary Double Mountain released a California Common, continuing its excellent steam beer offerings. This pale steam beer was fermented in the 60s with a Bohemian lager strain and the result is an interesting blend of apple, pear and tropical fruit. It is tough to relate this beer to Anchor's flagship but in my opinion a far superior beer.
  • Tahoma Kriek: Tahoma Kriek is an interesting take on kriek. The surprise starts with the pour. It's completely blond. This kriek is a 10% Belgian blonde aged with ranier cherries, which are yellow with pale flesh. The beer is aged for thirteen months with the cherries and brett lambicus. It is not what you expect from a kriek. The sourness is more subdued due to the lack of lactic acid bacteria and the cherry flavor is more gentle. Ranier cherries have a softer, sweeter flavor with an interesting caramel note that comes through in the beer. B. Lambicus helps along the cherry flavor and adds a layer of funk. It's not my favorite kriek but it's an interesting kriek and I'm glad I got to try it out.
  • Devil's Kriek: Devil's Kriek is what you expect. Red, sour, funky with big cherry flavor. The base beer is a Flemmish red ale which brings along acidity and funk to the party. This kriek was then aged twelve months on Bing cherries. Unlike tart cherries the Bing cherries do not add as much acidity and retain some sweet flavor, producing a beer that is certainly more tart than the Tahoma Kriek but not quite as sour as many other krieks on the market. It's pleasantly sour and balanced. Many krieks with Bing cherries develop that unpleasant cherry medicine flavor but this kriek completely avoids that problem. A really well made kriek and worth hunting down.

Solera Brewery

Solera is actually a little south of Hood River in Palmdale but it's close enough to get lumped in here.  Solera has such an interesting mix of the local working class population and beer tourists enjoying great beer and great scenery. I'm still blown away by the beers they brew and the fact that a sour brewery survives in a place without a snobby craft beer scene to support it. On this visit we were lucky enough to hit:

  • 2013 kriek: Significantly more sour than either Double Mountain offering with a huge cherry flavor. 
  • Heavy Heart wee heavy: A nice malty contrast to the other beers. 
  • Good Smoke smoked porter with cherrywood-smoked malt: Good Smoke is assertively smoky but not undrinkably so. The cherry flavor is present and the smoke is a touch harsh compared to beechwood or oak but it is a great smoked porter if you are in the mood for some smoke.
  • French Tickler grisette: A nice light Belgian ale with rustic and complex yeast character and light grainy flavor makes for an easy drinking 4% beer.
  • In Bloom saison with citra and oats: A saison with citra's expected passionfruit flavor and a silkiness from the oats. It's a good saison although I'm not a huge fan of citra in my saisons.
  • Sublime sour blonde with keffir lime leaves: Easily the best Solera beer we sampled, this sour beer is moderately sour with lime-forward citrus flavor. The lemony acidity pairs naturally with the lime-flavored oils from the keffir lime leaves. The lime flavor is present but does not dominate the beers and adds a gentle sweetness. This has definitely inspired me to play around with keffir lime leaves. If only I trusted that I could grow a keffir lime tree...

Before moving on...

Now is as good of time as any to talk about a few random beers that I tried in various places worth calling out:

  • De Garde Tableau Rouge: De Garde makes some great sour beers at extremely reasonable prices. It's almost mysterious how they are selling these great aged sours at half to a third of what many others are charging. Sure, some of the beers are lower ABV than other sours but grain just isn't that expensive. Tableau Rouge is a 5% ABV red sour with firm acidity, moderate funk and pleasant cherry and berry fruit notes.
  • De Garde Petit Desay: Petit Desay is a tart saison fermented in foeders at a low ABV with a complex mix of saison yeast character with a nice balance of both esters and phenols hyped up by solid acidity.
  • Gilgamesh Mamba: Mamba is hopless--so by legal definition it is not a beer--bittered and flavored with a combination of black tea and tangerine. It is an interesting ale, perhaps we should call it a gruit, with articulate tangerine and black tea flavors. 
In the next part I'll get to work on my time in Bend and probably put in a third part discussing some brewing with Deschutes and Ale Apothecary.

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