Sunday, June 28, 2009

Random Sundries and Minutiae

The only thing that broke so far today was the swans neck on the pump at the left (is that pump #6 or pump #1?). Perhaps we were all letting our enthusiasm getting away with us when faced with the task of dispensing a pint of That Dark Beer. Anyway, a quick substitution from one of the two traveling pumps and we were on our way. I suspect a quick trip to the local welder, if he can be found, will make it all like new.

I had briefly toyed with the idea of traveling to England, sitting at the bar at the Woolpack, and waiting for Mr. Simpson to bring his van of bar bits round so I could purchase a replacement. After all, I had pulled in almost the Oregon minimum wage yesterday working the bar the entire day, pocketing $85 in cold cash money. Begone, wishful thinking - I'll just treat myself to some gasoline and an eggie and coffee at the Trailhead, and leave off trips abroad until I'm flush with cash and all six of my real ale pubs are in jolly happy running order.

The mild in fermenter number one was not broke today. It looked just about right for turning on the chiller, so casking up should be Monday. This is a remake of La'al Rye'un that was brewed back in December, but this time it broke - in the mash. I had been messing with the grinder to try to break up the grain a little finer, and I think I went too far. Up until this batch the mill was turning out a few unsplit grains, so I thought I'd just tighten it up a little. Too much, apparently, because the increase in the amount of dust coupled with the 20 lbs. of rye must've conspired to create a bed of glue in the bottom of the mash tun. It took a good long time, and a lot of sediment, to get the copper full. O.G came out at 1.033 instead of the 1.036 in the last batch. Smells nice, though, and I'll be giving it a taste soon when I get it all tucked away into the casks.

A gentleman who had been down here in the fall, fly fishing, was back last night. He has close connections with a hop farm up North, and he said the crops look good this year. The prices have declined a bit, which will be enormously helpful, as I'm starting to run low on my stash. Hops are much harder to come by for a little brewery like mine, as I can't carry a contract, so I will be having to knock on a lot of back doors. I may be able to acquire a bail or two in August if I drive up to get them. Trouble is, they won't be vacuum packed and I will need to figure out a way to preserve them for several months. Also, a bail is 200 lbs. and I have limited storage space. Necessity is the mother of.... etc.

Now it's time to go fix a motorcycle. No Harley jokes, please.

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.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Not a Beer Blog

This is not really a beer blog. If it were, I would not be inclined to mention things you don't want to know about our kitchen equipment. You don't realize how important these appliances are until something goes all pear-shaped with one of them. Frightening thing is, if there is a failure in any one of the major AND minor exhibits of pub technology, then you are bound to find, somewhere in the vicinity, a whingy publican.

A couple of weeks ago, on a Friday night, at 5:00 prompt, the deep fryer went on holiday. This, next to the 2 x 2 flat top grill (more to come on this subject) is a cornerstone of our little kitchen. A couple greasy hours later and the fortuitous discovery of a replacement 240V cable in the storage room, and our little electric gem was back in order. A few customers had to go without their fish and chips for a spell, but there's always the mash and gravy for a handy substitute.

Monday night featured the grill throwing sparks. This grill was one of the appliances that was left in the building when the former owners fled, and which, under evaluation, was deemed to have some merit left to it. We are currently working with a temporary propane camp stove substitute until the part, a heating element that was observed to be partially crispy upon deconstruction of the grill, arrives from some warehouse in Illinois. I get to take yet another trip to Eugene in hopes of picking up the brand new shiny replacement and getting it installed and reassembled before the lunch reservation of 20 shows up. I suspect, as I type now on Wednesday night, that the aforementioned scenario might contain a few parts wishful thinking, but what could go wrong, I keep saying.

Now let's blog about beer. With all the heavy thoughts lately about West Coast IPA's on cask, I thought I'd just hack one together today. For all the customers that come up to the bar and say, "Oh... I'll just have a pint of .... whatever", I have named it "Whatever" in order to ease the decision making process of the barkeep confronted with the unsatisfying task of making choices for others. This is my first brew with a yeast called Windsor from Lallemand, which has done something like double the prices of their dry yeast in the last year. Sheesh. It had an unusual nose to it as I waited for it to activate in my pitching pitcher (the pitcher into which I pitch the yeast into 2L of 25 deg. C wort), but we're committed now. I'll make passing mention of its progress in future editions of my pub blog, a blog that sometimes mentions beer.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Quickie Research Project

I had to drive to Portland yesterday (Friday) to take my family to the airport to visit the folks in Illinois. That gave me the afternoon and evening to do a little business-related research. My focus this time was IPA's on cask. There are a small collection of cask outlets in Portland, usually with a single handle serving one of the few breweries that bother drawing off a beer into a cask. The reason I was after IPA's was that I'm finding that the West Coast style doesn't translate well to cask. I think that the over-the-top and out-of-balance qualities are well-masked by gas and lower temperature.

First stop was the Alberta Street Pub. I wasn't able to get in last time I was up in May, as it was shoulder-to-shoulder and dimly lit, so I'm not even sure that they have a beer engine. Alas, it was noon, and the pub was to open at 3:00. Or was it 5:00. It didn't say on the door, and my quick little iPhone search revealed two different opening times. Same results for the Moon & Sixpence, which was to be my next stop. Change of plans.

The Horse Brass was guaranteed to be open for lunch, so I navigated my way a bit further South and East to the mid-regions of Belmont Street. It was remarkably quiet for a Friday at 12:30, so I had a nice cozy corner to work on a pint and a book. First pint was Hale's Mongoose IPA. I like this one - it is similar to my Dearth and Surfeit, but with a hoppier nose. It is dispensed sans-sparkler, as were destined to be all my pints for the day, but not with the sort of care one would expect in a southern English pub. The glass is unceremoniously placed on the drip tray, into which the liquid is pumped a vast distance from the stubby nozzle creating a thick-foamed head. Next pint, served in similar fashion, was Hop Stoopid from Lagunitas. This pint really needs to be enjoyed via keg, as the temperature and conditioning brought out some of the problems that are masked by a set of numb tastebuds.

Next, a quick walk up to Belmont Station to see if they had their beer engine installed as I had heard was to be the case. It was installed, but, guess what? Not available until 3:00. Change of plans.

One of the three Lucky Labrador establishments is in the same Portland quadrant as the Horse Brass, and I knew they had a single beer engine. It also was somewhat quiet for the middle of a Friday afternoon. The offering on cask was a guest beer. I can't remember who's it was (no jokes here please), but it was hazy and decent. I think I confused the barkeep by ordering it. He gave the pump handle and the blackboard listing the beers a puzzled look before tucking into the task at hand. Plenty of time here to knock off a couple chapters of my book and engage in some quality people-watching.

By now I had great hopes that the Moon & Sixpence would be open. Good enough, it was. 5:00 on a Friday afternoon yielded three gentlemen at the bar. I was starting to feel a bit better about slow days at the pub, although not that much better as I was also thinking about all the bills I still have to pay when I get back. The Red Seal was on, which I had the last time I was there, but also Ninkasi's Tricerahops (!!). This is an 8.8%, ridiculously hopped imperial IPA, which doesn't belong on cask. So, that means I had to have one, along with a nice Cornish Pasty. The beer was so hazy and full of particulates that you could almost spread it on a piece of toast. I was hoping the little chunks floating around were remnants of the dry hopping process. Only one pint could be enjoyed here, as Tricerahops fails miserably as a contestant for the "session beer" moniker.

One more stop before going home. My new favorite place in Portland is actually in Oregon City, viz., the Highland Stillhouse. You all should visit. Outrageously comfy atmosphere, more than 140 single malt scotches, great food, and a fine selection of beers and ales, including a couple of cask offerings. It was jumping busy, and the patio was open. It took 30 minutes for the rain to hit and force most of the patrons inside, but I managed to grab a corner of one of the canopies and took to people watching. No IPA's on the pumps, but the Red Seal was nice.

Back home, one night further along the path of life, I'm blogging and enjoying a pint of Baba O'Rye'ly, which you won't be able to find in Portland, or any great city for that matter. I get to travel back up to Portland next Saturday for an airport run, and undoubtedly will continue a bit more research in the area.

Friday, June 5, 2009

A Couple One-Offs on the Pumps

A couple new beers are finding their home on the stillage behind the bar. I have written about Whisky in a Jar on this blog, and it is now on. The second cask, in fact; the first lasted only a couple of days. The tannins from the oak chips are evident but not overpowering, and the fragmentary amount of the whisky manifests itself as more of a tickle on the tongue, provided one takes a generous quaff.

On Monday I rolled on Baba O'Rye'ly, a special bitter at 4.9% ABV. This has a range of crystal malt, with sparse amounts of the higher Lovibond malts for a hint of the caramely (is that a word?) flavors, and a dash of Black Patent for spice. It also has 20 lbs. of rye, and was dry hopped with E.K. Goldings. I vented this ale on Tuesday, satisfied with the slight puff from the shive. Wednesday morning I tapped it and then tried it that evening. I was not satisfied with the flavor, having too much of an isinglass problem yet. Same on Thursday, but not so pronounced. I tried to help the problem along by drawing two gravity pints and drinking them. Today, Friday, it was just slightly above decent. I put it on tonight, and am enjoying a pint whilst I type.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Exhaustion Almost Has a Flavor

It's been many weeks since my last confession. Puzzling, because the interval between now and my last post contained a highly anticipated respite from the daily beating - viz., three days (two nights) off, astride fair Chromio, questing Northwest Oregon for a worthy pint and an establishment of quality and dark nooks in which to consume it in the company of a book or a an enlightening and intelligent conversation. I had taken a few notes while away, both on flat bits of highly compressed and processed tree, and in the more dubious recesses of my slowly decaying cortex. There were to be a series of blog entries to follow; well crafted sequences of constrained verbiage to be chucked into the digital slough.

And that's all fine and good, but it's not where I am. I'm examining a phenomenon, a beast that almost manifests itself as a funny, elusive taste in my mouth, which is too complex and rich to describe unless you, yes you, the reader, immerse yourself in the life of a pub owner. My friend Premises Supervisor Dave writes about similar stuff at his rural inn in the Lake District of England. He permitted me a taste of the life, and I'm still rolling it around in my mouth like a cask-strength single malt whisky from Islay. Peat's not for everyone.

I know that there are many of you out there who have dreamed of opening and running your own brewpub. I've talked to you. You can be recognized by your nervous tick, by the pace and rhythm of your conversation, by the elusive reflection in your eyes reminiscent of a board-room pie chart: one part crazy, two parts mad. I may not, at the moment, be able to offer a reason why, but I still say to you, "run with it."

Are you running? Good. Good to hear. While running, herein lies a mere taste of what you might encounter along the Road to Exhaustion and the Best and Worst of Times.

- Revolving credit is evil. When credit card companies, upon which you have based a portion of your unexpected startup costs, can raise your rates from 7.9% to 29.99% without asking for permission, you will be entitled to the privilege of living with a rock in your gut until you can find a way to expel or digest it.

- The menu has been revamped to actually reflect the original vision of a "Pub Menu". For you American's, unfamiliar with British or Irish pub life, read that as "Cafe Menu". I want it to be simple and on a chalkboard and to not create the impression of being a restaurant. I know I aggravate my customers and my staff by my seeming bullheadedness, only to continue to affirm to myself that I have specific ideas of what this pub is to be.

- We have great reviews on TripAdvisor.

- More often than not the first thing I hear upon arriving in the morning is a complaint of some sort or another. I haven't failed to notice that sometimes I'm the source of the complaint. Lately it has been the cost of running the kitchen. It shouldn't cost as much as it does and I wish I didn't have to solve the problem any more than the next guy. Problem is, if I don't solve it, I ultimately wind up commuting and programming computers for Some Other Guy, like the days of yore. I would also have to start buying beer again, and it would be cold and fizzy and in a bottle.

- You don't want to, ever, ever, try to please everyone. No matter what you choose to do, you will annoy, puzzle and confuse some portion of the public. But I know, less and less theoretically, that success is not based on statistics, but on quality, personality and commitment. And cash flow. Stupid cash flow - who invented that? Probably some Harvard MBA or something, or a (gasp) economist.

- I have equity investors to appease real soon, who wish to convert labor into cash in various and seemingly impossible degrees of expediency. I'd like to comply, but the business at 9 months is not even profitable yet.

- Water. Simple, but people want it hot, cold, and instantly. When we're having a busy evening, it would be useful for this natural product to be self-serve. I've spent part of the day trying to solve this problem, and don't have a good answer yet. I think I'll just buy a bunch of picnic water coolers and rotate them through the walk-in cooler for the moment, as I can't get into the idea of paying for bottled water that I have to pay for and pick up in Springfield once a week.

My next post will be about butterflies and bunnies. These butterflies and bunnies will be enjoying real ale and reading a book or enjoying an enlightening and intelligent conversation, hopefully in an unlikely and incongruous real ale pub in a small ex-logging/mining/railroad town in the Oregon Cascades.