First Look: Astoria's Buoy Beer
The principals in the brewery are a group of guys who had various things to bring to the table (story here), including Dan Hamilton, a homebrewer with a penchant for lagers. They brought in Kevin Shaw, a brewer whose professional experience dates back to Star Brewing in the mid-90s. He also brewed for Bert Grant, got a degree at Siebel, and then went on to work for 14 years at BridgePort. The focus on lagers is the hallmark of Buoy's line (at least now), and they have a helles, pils, and cream ale on tap now, and a dunkel is apparently part of the regular rotation (but not on now). There's a pale but--shocker!--no IPA. (Given that Astoria and Fort George are so close and so closely identified with hops, this may be an astute move.)
Buoy clearly emphasizes lagers. They prefer classic, unadorned old-school lagers in their traditional presentation. No 38-BU dunkels here. I really hope they sell, because these are rare beers in Oregon (which is exactly the reason I'm worried they won't). In addition to the lagers, they have a pale, a porter, and a red. My notes:
- Helles. The malt is nice and bready, but quite light--one has to bring attention to notice it at all. The hops are delicate and lightly spicy, just as you would expect, and there's a mineral component that reminds me of Bavaria. The surprise is that it's a fruity beer, too--berry, perhaps, and definitely banana. I think isoamyl acetate (the banana) probably gets you drummed out of the Munich brewers guild, but it's subtle enough that the overall presentation here isn't hurt by it. And I tried more than a few Franconian helleses that had odd esters floating about.
- Czech Pils. It looks and smells just right--although the hops are not especially pronounced in the nose. At first sip, the malts really pop nicely, too, but then the hops come in fast and sharp. Czechs talk a lot about "soft" bittering, and a lot of them use first-wort hopping to try to get a softness. Perhaps this version is too dry, but the 35 IBUs throw things a bit out of balance.
- Pale. An impressive beer keyed by vividly piney hops. It has excellent balance, with rich, saturated flavor. As I was drinking it, I started thinking about what kind of conifer was I tasting. Was it really pine? Maybe juniper. Cedar? Sweet spruce? There's definitely a touch of dank as well. Both the pale lagers were clear and bright, and I was happy to see the pale was cloudy in the Oregon manner.
- Cream Ale. This doesn't seem to be part of their regular line-up, but it is their most impressive beer. You want a cream ale to have a sweet, approachable palate, but in order for it to be a satisfying session ale, it's got to end with a crisp snap. This one does that, and has a lovely touch of corn sweetness in the middle (I'll probably learn there's no corn and lose all credibility--wait, I have no credibility. Never mind.) I had a pint and the last sip was as refreshing as the first.
- NW Red Ale. A chewy, spicy, caramelly beer with a somewhat jagged, ragged finish. Okay but not especially memorable.
- ESB. Seems like it has a great recipe, with lots of bready malts topped by soft hopping--but it was overwhelmed by diacetyl. The brewers may have been trying to leave a dollop of diacetyl in, but this was way too much.
- Porter. Chalky black malts greet your tongue, but they're not supported by anything. The mid-palate is hollow, and it stays chalky and charred throughout. There is a bit of berry ester that works well, but I could use a few more crystal malts to add body and sweetness.
|Oysters above and fish and chips below.|
I'm a fish and chips fan, and I love both Bowpicker's and Fort George, both of which serve tuna F&C. At Buoy you get a choice of salmon or rockfish, and I went the latter. The breading was delicate and not greasy (critical), but it was the fish that stood out. Flaky, flavorful, and moist. I could have eaten a pound of it. The fries were crisp and salty.
Sally had pan-fried Willapa Bay oysters with jalepeno jam. By the description, I expected it to be an overly-fussy misfire, but no. The jam had only a trace of fire, and that balanced the sweetness. Both drew out the succulence from the oysters. Impressive. If there's a drawback to the menu, it's portion size. The fish and chips are hearty, but the oysters weren't a complete meal. If she didn't have my fries to snack on, Sally would have had to get a side. That makes it a fairly spendy outing--but worth the price.
Overall, a strong debut, and I expect it will only improve as rooms and recipes come on line and get refined. Since I make it to Astoria pretty often, I will be happy to check in and report back. I'll throw a few extra pictures below the fold for those who admire my beautiful iPhone handiwork.
|The unfinished river-view room.|