Beer Sherpa Recommends
"Beer Sherpa Recommends" is an irregular feature. In this fallen world, when the number of beers outnumber your woeful stomach capacity by several orders of magnitude, you risk exposing yourself to substandard beer. Worse, you risk selecting substandard beer when there are tasty alternatives at hand. In this terrible jungle of overabundance, wouldn't it be nice to have a neon sign pointing to the few beers among the crowd that really stand out? A beer sherpa, if you will, to guide you to the beery mountaintop. I don't profess to drink all the beers out there, but from time to time I stumble across a winner and when I do, I'll pass it along to you.
No beer sounds better on paper than a fruit stout--and that's where I first encountered the idea. It appeared in the recipes section of Charlie Papazian's classic Complete Joy of Homebrewing (in print since 1976!), and seemed so obvious. What goes better with cherry than chocolate? Alas, no beer more often fails to live up to our expectations than a fruited stout. I have had maybe five in the last twenty years that were good, but none that fully lived up to the simple obviousness of the concept--until now.
In Zen Buddhism, satori is the moment of sudden enlightenment when the mind realizes its own true nature. The Satori Award honors a debuting beer that in a single instant, through the force of tastiness and elan, produces a flash of insight into the nature of beer. I award it for the beer released in the previous year (roughly) by an Oregon brewery (roughly) for a regular or seasonal beer.
Imagine you were looking out over the 4pm darkening sky as the wind rattled bare tree branches together like dry bones. The cold seeps through the window, creating a pocket of chill around you that won't dissipate until May. What you want is something hearty, smooth, and comforting. There are many ways to chase the damp and dark from your spirits, but none surpasses a mug of doppelbock for pure warming potential.
The idea of a session IPA is irresistible: all the intense flavor and aroma from a traditional IPA without all the booze (and calories, if you care about that). The problem is that they're hard to make. With a standard IPA, brewers have a very solid foundation to work with--lots of malt body and often a touch of caramel flavor--onto which they can build stories and stories (or layers) of hop bitterness, flavor, and aroma. The sweetness and body provided by the malt make it possible to nuke the beer with hops and have the whole thing work.
If you're headed south on I-5, you go almost all the way to Eugene to get to Agrarian Ales. It's about five miles north of the city and also five or six miles along double-lane roads that lead into large fields of crops. Agrarian is among them, and indeed is one of them--a farm with patches of vegetables, grain, and small plots of hops. It's one of the growing number of true farmhouse breweries, and it has aspirations to make some of Oregon's most interesting beer. It only took me a couple years, but I finally made it down over the weekend
No marketing professional was consulted in the naming of mild ale. Who wants "mild?" It doesn't tell you anything at all about the beer (unlike, say, "bitter" or "pale"), except the suggestion that you will be bored by it. It's almost like a warning: nothing to see here, move along.
The city of Portland has been sweltering in a record-breaking heat over the past few days. Our records never impress anyone, but consider that the average Portlander is like a salamander. We require soft, downy clouds, moderate temperatures, and lots of liquid to stay alive. So a 100-degree June day is, to the Portlander, an existential threat. We hiss at the devil sun when it delivers these blows
If you're a certain kind of drinker, the name Block 15 evokes one of the state's buzziest of hoppy buzz beers, Sticky Hands (currently scoring a titanic 4.43 on BeerAdvocate). If you're a different kind of drinker, it might call to mind Super Nebula, a stout (4.18). Or maybe you like yourself some balanced, sophisticated wild ales, in which case Block 15 makes you think of Turbulent Consequences Peche (4.39) or Golden Canary (4.26). To me, Block 15 has always said saison, which is why I included Ferme De La' Ville Provision (4.14) in The Beer Bible. In other words, Nick Arzner's little Corvallis joint does a lot of different things very well.
Gigantic Brewing has one of the more interesting approaches to beer in America. Their regular line of year-round beer consists of exactly one brand: IPA. Everything else they make appears just once (almost all of them) or annually (Massive! is the only example I can recall of a recurring beer.) They number each new release and contract with a well-known artist to create the label. Sometimes they even have an associated musical tie-in.
Upright Brewery recently convened a media event to introduce the specialty beers they'll be releasing throughout the year. Upright, for those of you who may not know, is a small brewery that--well, let me tell you an anecdote by way of introduction. During the event we were sampling one of the beers and Willamette Week's Arts and Culture editor Martin Cizmar asked founder Alex Ganum how he planned to market the beer.
In what counts, in Alworth-world, as lightning-quick response time, I managed to make it out to recently-opened Culmination Brewing within two weeks of the grand opening. I had heard some good things and knew a bit of founder/brewer Tomas Sluiter's work at Old Market. But of course, every time a new brewery opens, you hear good things. People are nice and they are hopeful. So I toddled down yesterday to assess matters for myself.
Last week I glanced up against the subject of cask ale, and by chance I managed to end the week by encountering an actual glass of the stuff when I had dinner at Deschutes. Bend's finest is one of the last refuges of cask ale in the city, and you can always find two handles devoted to it when you stop in. Rarely, though, do they offer something in the English mode--a low-alcohol, low-hop session beer. As a traditionalist, I love these the best. (Though Ron Pattinson, when he was in town a while back, swooned over the Fresh-Squeezed IPA on cask. It was also on cask last Friday, and I admit I was impressed. Still think the flavors don't go through the full transmutation of smaller beers, but still, mighty impressive.)
The following post should be treated something like a public service announcement for travelers to the Czech Republic. The beer I'm about to recommend can't be had for any price in the US, and isn't entirely easy to find even in Prague, near to where it is brewed. And yet, should you find yourself in Prague, this is the beer you should seek.
Yesterday's post was, I suppose, a bit of a distraction on one point. Although I used Gigantic's newest beer to illustrate a wholly unrelated point, I didn't much discuss the beer itself. Now to rectify that oversight. Very often, you come to understand a beer the less you know about it. The Green Dragon, where I sampled the Gigantic, has a great taplist that, perversely, gives the drinker zero information beyond a name. They don't even list the ABV. That leaves you with nothing else but your nose and mouth to figure out what you're drinking. It makes a session a bit more random, but when you find a gem, it also happens to make the experience more rewarding.
We come now, tentatively, incrementally, languidly, into the warmer months. (As I write this, a charcoal batting of clouds clings to the city like a death shroud.) As we do, we come to the season of session beers--light, balanced, refreshing. I know some of you will allow me to pry your cold, dead fingers off your bottles of IPA only ... well, never. Happy drinking. For the rest of you, I have a perfect suggestion that functions simultaneously as a liquid aeroplane: the wonderful new Helles from Pints.
This is a slightly sneaky post. While I do come to praise Köstritzer, I also want to celebrate the opening of the Stammtisch Bar on NE 28th and assure folks that it's as good as billed. They have a spectacular line-up of 18 (!) German biers on draft. For this post, I was forced to choose from among some of my faves--a Schlenkerla (Helles), Ayinger Maibock, Andechs Hell, Schneider Edelweiss, to name just a few.
I'm thinking of this because I love to make recommendations. I was slotted to take some friends-of-friends from North Carolina out on a pub crawl last night, but they had to cancel. Too bad: I was really looking forward to guiding them along so that they walked away thinking--as they should--that Portland has the best beer on the planet. I was to be the beer sherpa.