Thursday, June 25, 2009

Yet More Portland Commentary

It always takes a few days to catch up on stuff whenever I leave the business for any reason. Now that it's Thursday, and I am spending my $4 in tip money from last night on a micro-breakfast and coffee at the Trailhead Coffeehouse, I can liberate my notes from the weekend Portland airport run.

There was not as much time to spend researching as was afforded in the previous weekend's run, but I managed to check out a few more new places and revisit the old. First was the Highland Stillhouse (again) to see what was in the pumps. It turned out to be Ninkasi Tricerahops, which was way too big a beer for the first pint, or the second. Instead, I opted for a couple of Brew Dog products in bottle, which I hadn't had before and had heard a lot about. I paid too much for them, but the house needs to make its markup somehow. I thought they were nicely balanced and refreshing. The amusing commentary on the labels comes across as the Scottish equivalent to San Diego's Stone Brewing Company, with its fiercely independent, no-compromise and non-conformist philosophy to brewing.

I had been tipped off that the Full Sail Pilsner Room had cask offerings, so I headed that way next. It is located in the riverside marina area towards the south of Portland, where money obviously has its foot firmly in the door, and where rural publicans are likely to feel out of place. This one did, the immediate impression upon entering conveying the typical American-food-factory-brewery approach to having a pint and a bite to eat. The only way to avoid the flicker of the televisions was to look at my feet. As advertised, there were three hand pulls proudly mounted to the prow of the island bar, of which two were affixed to a couple of casks tucked away in some unknown location. I ordered a pint of a stout for starters. Now, as I've undoubtedly stated before, ad nauseam, that I don't like beer reviews, I am still trying to find a way to issue a brief and objective statement about the attributes of some of the offerings without the perfunctory assertion that so-and-so is just rubbish. However, how can a brewery as large and established as Full Sail (or Bridgeport) succeed in getting it wrong? Is it a matter of just not caring, or are the intricacies of tending to real ale within the large, impersonal, corporate model unattainable? I'm not much of a stout drinker, but this one was [perfunctory assertion] rubbish. It had a harsh edge to it, and not the sort of chewy body that I hope to find in a stout. This impression was assisted in its downward spiral by the visual of the barkeep filled the glass with around a dozen jerking motions on the handle. I requested a taster of the Amber on the other pump, and it had the same quality. Also, the company next to me wanted to make sure that I departed with the knowledge that they were, on a daily basis, simply exhausted with having to sit in the sun all day and throw parties all night on their 70 foot boat moored out in the Willamette. I was eager to move on.

I did manage to get a pint in at the Alberta Street Public House, having cleverly arrived after 3:00 unlike my previous misguided attempts. This establishment was refreshingly pub-like, and I entertained myself in the little cozy in the front window with a good book. Now if they could only install a nice little real ale brewery in some disused back room...

After the family was picked up from the airport and tucked away in the motel, I snuck off to one of the few Oregon Brewers Guild breweries that I had yet to visit - the 4th Street Brewing Company in Gresham just a few miles away. American-food-factory-brewery model again, but the patrons seemed to be having a good time. The brewery is showcased in glass behind the bar, between two large TV's. I tried two pints, a porter and an IPA, and didn't much care for either, being too cold, thin and gassy. The little card describing each beer informed me that the IPA was made with "over 30 lbs. of hops". This doesn't really tell me anything, does it? I mean, which hops? And what is the capacity of the brewhouse? And when are they introduced to the boil? At least I had some good conversation with the bar staff, which doesn't happen that much in some of the slicker places.

The following day found us downtown at Powell's. Since the restroom therein was being cleaned at my moment of greatest need, and the book I was looking for was not in stock, I popped out and headed two blocks North on 11th to the new shiny Deschutes place, which I knew to have two hand pulls. Sure enough, they had both pouring, and I tucked into a pint of Twilight. It was delicious and well-kept. Despite having a push-button brewery, replete with touch-screen technology, they have really succeeded in demonstrating that the big, shiny guys CAN product an extraordinary pint if they put their mind to it. The other cask offering was something dark, which I wasn't in the mood for, so I opted for the SeaFort 7, a deep red Belgian style ale. It didn't disappoint.

I'm hoping to get back up North again for my two month break around the middle of July. Any suggestions for new research sites are appreciated.


Boathouse said...

Reading your latest post drives me to want to visit your pub even more than I already did. I'm in Ohio, so it won't happen soon, but next time I'm in Portland visiting friends I'm definitely making the trip! Truly knowledgeable real ale devotees are just too thin on the ground here in this country.

Jeff Alworth said...

You should try some of the taprooms as opposed to breweries. I'd suggest Bailey's downtown (no TVs) or the world famous Horse Brass on the East Side. Bailey's has at present just one cask tap, but the HB has a couple or more. It's regrettable you didn't try the Amber at the Pilsner Room. That beer seems damn near perfectly designed for cask. And speaking of, BridgePort ESB is fine, too. You can almost always find it on cask at their Hawthorne pub.

Jeff Alworth said...

Oh, and take heart in this: the one beer on cask at the Organic brewers fest was called the people's choice. It was most certainly NOT coincidence.

Brewers Union Local 180 said...

I've been to Bailey's, where the cask sits on the floor. I have to guess that the cask doesn't contain finings.

I've commented on the Horse Brass in previous posts. It is one of my frequent stops when I'm in the area.

As mentioned in my post, I did try a taster of the Amber and wasn't that happy with it, but sometimes the atmosphere affects my mood and tastebuds in either direction.

I will definitely look up the Hawthorne branch of Bridgeport, probably the middle of this month when I get a few days off.