Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Short Blog Entry Concerning Excessive Monetary Extraction

It is not the purpose of this blog to furnish negative commentary on fellow breweries/brewpubs, but two separate conversations delivered over the bar yesterday were still in my slowly decaying cortex even this morning.

It seems that a certain brewery establishment in Newport is charging $6.75 (!) for a pint, which may or may not even contain 16 oz. depending on which piece of glassware was apprehended for the job. In case you missed that, that's six dollars and seventy five cents (another !). Anyone have a problem with that?

And, a limp fragment of trucked-in fish the size of a McDonalds hash brown freed up $13 worth of space in the patron's wallet. Why?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Chemistry and Physics

It was a week ago when I took off to Portland for the Firkin Fest at the Green Dragon. The festival was Saturday, but I wanted to go up early, not only to get the stillage and casks set up the day before the festival, but also to have some time off. As is typical, when I return I find that all the work has piled up such that it takes several days before I can find a moment or two to write. The nice part is that a number of empty casks had piled up over the weekend, which means that I needed to brew more ale. The not so nice part is that there is mounting desk work, including taking a peek at the ol' bank account to see how it might stand up against the stack of bills.

As the Local 180 was the only brewery dispensing out of handpulls, we were sent over to a corner like a naughty schoolboy. I was quite happy about this, as there was adequate space to rest two firkins and to set up the portable pub pulls, and to have elbow room for schmoozing during the festival. The other casks were all lined up on the bar and dispensed by gravity. I was in early Friday morning for the setup, as I needed to make sure the casks could settle before tapping. I returned Friday evening to vent, tap and taste. When I arrived Saturday morning for the final check I discovered, to the horror of anyone setting up a proper real ale festival (especially in the UK), that the firkins had been rolled on mere hours earlier. In fact, they were being tapped less than an hour before the festival opening. I suspect that none of the ales were true real ales, but were instead production brews destined for kegs which were simply drawn off into traditional firkins. Someone please correct me if I'm wrong. The keystone broke on one of the casks during tapping, and the offending vessel was hauled out into the street for keystone replacement. Another left it's mark on the ceiling when the spile was driven home. Fun.

There were two open sessions with space for 200 participants. The first session seemed about half full, so it proceeded at a nice pace, and I got to work the entire three hours pulling beers and flapping my gums. For the second, an enthusiastic volunteer took over for me for the last hour and a half so I could do some sampling. This is the part of the story where I must resist the temptation so say I liked so-and-so beer, or that Widget Brewing Company's Numpty Porter was rubbish (although Bridgeport's Raven Mad Imperial Porter was scrummy, and I don't even drink much porter). Instead, what captivated my little gray cells was how much better all the beers I got to sample were when liberated from the cask at a reasonable temperature and without all the gas. I have much praise for American brewers' understanding of the chemistry of brewing. The variety of styles and flavors is outstanding. The trouble I'm having, though, is with the physics of beer. For ales, there is much lost in insisting that they be served cold and full of giant, obnoxious bubbles. This simply numbs the palette and rules out any hope of appreciating the subtleties and mouthfeel. It is my continuing hope that an appreciation for real ale will increase, and I'm attempting to promote the style one proper pint at a  time.

While not dealing with the festival, I trolled around looking for real ale outlets in Portland. The offering from Tugboat was quite nice. The pint of Racer 5 I had at the Horse Brass, while a banner pint when I had it in December with Dave Bailey of the Woolpack Inn, had lost most of its conditioning - still nice to have though. I finished at the Rock Bottom, where there were two offerings on cask. I noticed that both casks were equipped with breathers. I can't remember the style of the first pint I had (no jokes please), which was delightful to come across in keg country, but I recall that the stout I had second was starting to turn just a little. The barkeep merely nodded at me when I mentioned this, and I imagined him ticking the snob checkbox on my entry in his POS.

Before and after the main Portland segment of my trip, I stopped at the Highland Stillhouse in Oregon City. I love this place. In my book it rivals the aforementioned Horse Brass pub in its likeness and atmosphere to a British pub. I have hopes to someday drive up a firkin or two for a mini-festival.

Some other nice commentary of the Firkin Fest can be found here and here.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Six Months Old

NO! Not the pub - the pub has been open more than seven months. This is about an old friend of mine who recently has made her appearance. (HIS appearance? What gender is beer?)

I had promised to roll out the last cask of Tanninbomb, my oak-aged old ale, on St. Patrick's Day. This is cask number eight out of eight, and has survived over six months with 2 oz. of oak chips drifting about aimlessly in the firkin. ABV is 6.2%, prior to casking. I wonder what it is now.

Anyway, I tapped it a bit before the appointed date so my sister could taste it on her visit before she left to go back to NY. Yep. That's the reason; so my sister could taste it. I might've had a wee dram myself just for history's sake.

It is delicious. Another nameless individual, being a pub member, had a sample last night during Scrabble madness from the unmarked pump handle and made the comment that the flavor was flirting with the qualities of a liquor. This has caused me, nay, even forced me, to have another sample while I write this blog entry.

I wonder how long it will last. I estimate that there are about 60 to 65 imperial pints left in the firkin. While it is a Tuesday night, which are generally slow, I will be curious to see if there will be a statistically significant draw.

So why the two bottles in the picture? It is because I was shamed into bottling some for posterity, and also for additional incentive to someday return to Cumbria when I am, for the first time in my life, flush with cash.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Muscles Flexed at the Firkin Fest

It's big beers again; I have to admit to being a little disappointed. Not that the beers listed aren't going to be any good - I'm sure they will be spectacular mostly - but whatever happened to subtlety in this country? What I'm talking about is the Oregon Brewers Guild Firkin Fest 2009 in Portland next weekend. It was nice that I was asked to participate, since this is what I do - authentic British cask-conditioned real ale, liberated naturally from 9 UK gallon firkins.

Check out the list. It's all typical big muscle stuff that we've come to expect from the Pacific Northwest, and this comes across to this ale snob as out of balance. Let's be different, but not just for difference's sake but for the sake of authenticity and variety. Not only are we the only participants with ABV's below 5%, but we get to bring two (!) casks. Other differences that I hope will become apparent to the punters is that the owner and brewer is serving (instead of volunteers), and that beer engines with <gasp> sparklers will be employed. This will be a lot of fun. I haven't had a day off since the 19th of January, so I'm due for a little breather away from the daily spectacle.

But, alas, subtlety. Sigh. I had hopes for a nice pint of a dark mild, or a fruity bitter, or a simple porter that doesn't have to posture about with a mocha-laden 5.2% ABV. I think I'm due for a trip back to England - anyone want to run the pub for a few weeks?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

I've Been Thinking

Yep. Again. The brain is awhirl. This time with the idea that I might update my website because a) I haven't and b) it sure needs it. But that takes time, of course, and who has that? But if I tinker with it a little it might appear more brilliant, or less not-brilliant. So, I think the News page is going to go away and become my blog instead. Then I can post more stuff on the blog and appear more prolific.

Here is today's news item. The last cask of Tanninbomb, the oak-aged old ale, is going to be tapped on St. Patrick's Day. It will be six months in the cask, with an ABV of 6.2%. Actually, it will be tapped and vented a couple days before, and then made available to the public on St. P's. I will be taking late night sips to make sure it is just right beforehand.