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Snowshoes and Beer

A day in review: Sunday. Going snowshoeing with friends and new acquaintances under the guise of “Veggie Supper Club.” It’s rad. But most of the usuals dropped out, or rather, puked out due to illness, while others were out of town or over-socialized for the weekend. Whatever the reasons, nine people still managed to make it to Gold Lake Snow Park and crunch their way to a “warming” hut (note to y’all: you must make it warm yourself. Otherwise it’s just a hut).

Before departure into wild white yonder, popped a bottle of Harviestoun’s Ola Dubh, 2007 vintage. Ebony in a glass. Kinda snuck it into the ranger station lodge while we were snacking on bleu cheese biscuits and spicy green beans. Drank around a hot wood stove, like black tea made of old whiskey wood and burnt liquified raisins. It aged well,  but gave the sense of loose skin over a once meaty body. Continued to warm after leaving the lodge.

Two miles later around a picnic table under a roof beneath three feet of snow, surrounded by banks of snow and icicles, eating kitchen sink quinoa salad, olive bread, and ginger cookies, a bottle of Cascade Blackberry 2007 (interesting year) gushed from its waxed top into several small plastic glasses labeled “unbreakable.” Sour, tart, acidic, lemony aromas left cold rings around my nostrils and champagne bubbles on my palate. Assessment: opened none too soon, a little too late. Not the best for winter hikes.

Speaking of a little too late, Haand Bryggeriet’s Nissefar, a Norwegian Holiday Ale, should have been opened six months ago! But I’ve opened it this evening. It smells old, but good, like a cedar box with trinkets inside. Spices, probably traditional cinnamon and clove, maybe some juniper or spruce, float on some alcohol notes with a hint of almost-good oxidation. It too has lost some body over the years, but gracefully. A testament to the hardiness of beer and clean brewing.

Deathmatch 10/21: Scottish 80/- vs. Irish Red

This is a tale of two beer styles. Born on different islands in the east Atlantic, the two share enough similarities to be grouped in the same category in the BJCP Style Guidelines, yet are two different birds. In one corner (to keep the metaphor rolling), O’Hara’s Irish Red; in the other, the Scottish 80/- (shilling): Fearless Scottish Ale. . . wait, who the Fraoch%&$ is that???

Fearless is a brewpub located southeast of Portland in Estacada. Their beer list, surprisingly, has only one IPA. They claim to use magic derived from the Clackamas River in their brews, so I’m not sure we can trust these guys. This is a new arrival at the Bier Stein, so I figured I’d give it a try. When I got home, I saw the O’Hara’s sitting on the top shelf of the fridge and knew there was about to be a serious throwdown. It is game day, after all.

After digging in the garden, preparing beds for shallots, leeks, and a jerry-rig winter hoop house, I decided to quit and judge some beers. LET’S. ROCK. Get your game face on, ’cause Bob Costas doesn’t like blank stares.

I started out with the Fearless. It comes in a pint can for around $3. I’m not afraid of cans, and neither should you be. The Scottish pours a crystal clear amber color with a large, off-white, fizzy head that sticks around longer than you’d think– this ain’t no malt soda. Nor is it a Pacific Northwest version of a Scottish ale. Malty, bready, toasty aromas greet my nose like being stabbed by one of the horns on the Fearless logo’s Scottish clansman’s headgear. Its rich melanoidin, caramelly goodness is accented with a Bob Ross brushstroke of earthy peat– enough to let you know it’s there without shouting “you’re sniffing dirt!” Hop aroma is way backstage, lending a tinge of fruitiness to the team (every team should have some). Much like the aroma, the flavor packs a fullness without being too sweet for its style; this is impressive given the brewery’s specs: 1.018 final gravity, which would leave any IPA with a cloying, saccharine feeling in your mouth. This may be too much for a hop-head, but I appreciate this beer for two things: its balance and its balls. I’ll back that up: malty beers have a bad rep in these parts, what with the region growing most of the world’s hop supply and all, but a beer like this that showcases different malt characteristics than your typical lager is nothing to snort at. Also, I love breweries that do more than hop-bombs in all fashions; hoppy lagers, hoppy Belgians, hoppy sours, quadruple hoppy IPAs are in every DariMart. A good old-fashioned Scottish Export 80/- is nearly impossible to find outside of its motherland. It takes some balls to brew it so close to the hoppy hub of Portland. It takes even more to can it, a process that many beer lovers are still loathe to accept. Fearless’ beer did not taste like a can! It was great, and I’m glad to have had the opportunity to check out a fresh example of the style.

Now. O’Hara’s Irish Red. Just below the Scottish 80/- on the BJCP thing you find Irish Red. How could this be? It’s not even from the same country! Now when some of us hear Irish Red, we think of Killians Irish Red, the college-level Irish red. That is, cheap and cold– too cold to appreciate. O’Hara’s is a bit more refined, and does not appear to be owned by a large conglomerate. It is, in fact, a prime example of the style. And it comes in a bottle, which may have given it an unfair advantage in this deathmatch except that it did not come in a pint-sized bottle. 11.2 oz, folks. Really? Yes.

The O’Hara’s doesn’t pour quite red. But frankly, I don’t give a damn. Red is hard to achieve, and light brown with hints of ruby will do just fine for the discerning eye. Toffee and toast, sweet cream butter and a kernel of corn greet the nose cleanly and without gusto, much like a good light lager: refined, yet unobtrusive. But these are wine words. This beer, this style, is kind of boring. It’s not bad. It’s actually quite pleasant. On the malty side, slightly toasty with moderate bitterness, this is a beer I could drink all day without batting an eye or waking up pre-dawn with the cranial sponginess of a late-evening Flanders red binge. No, this beer is clean an easy, like a good… moving on.

Hello beer world!

A beer blog in the Pacific Northwest?! Who’d’a thunk it…

Well, since we’re all so aching, we Eugeniuses, for hipness to trickle down from Portland I figured I’d start a blog on the joys of Pabst Blue Ribbon. Why do people drink it? Because it won a Blue Ribbon at the World’s Fair back around the turn of the century? Wrong! It never won a blue ribbon– that contest was fixed, probably on both sides, by the A-B guys and the Pabst guys, and in the hubbub of judges resigning in shame, prams bouncing down stairs, and women fainting with their forearms pressed against their foreheads, Pabst declared itself the winner, made itself a commemorative plaque, and began distribution in college towns across the nation. (read Ambitious Brew by Maureen Ogle)

The joy part of this conversation lies in the style: American Lager. Its emergence as the beer of the working class (i.e. the majority) is natural; uncomplicated, refreshing, and a great alternative to water; what’s not to love? The problem is that the enterprising German expatriates and their close offspring that heralded the demise of the ale industry are gone, replaced by even more distant descendants-cum-marketing executives who favor low-cost over high quality.

Well here I go ranting on a blog. What I meant to say is that there is hope for the lager in America– Heater Allen’s fine selection, from Schwarz to Pils, show that the appreciation for heady, bready grain aromas and the tightrope walk of hop balance aren’t lost over international waters. Victory’s Prima Pils could be the turning point for a hop lover who eschews any hint of malt. And dare I mention Anchor Steam, the first historical landmark after thousands of miles on the beer highway? OK, Anchor Steam isn’t an example of American lager, but props to it anyway.

I’m drinking a homebrew, the spring-for-summer inspiration of a friend for whom I’m goat sitting while typing at his computer; staring out the window at flies performing geometric patterns; listening to the goat, Honey, from whom I will extract a quart of another delicious liquid in a few minutes. It’s an American Lite Lager: light body, light flavor, light color, light keg. Delicious pre-dinner beer. While milking I’ll switch to the IPA, which he claims is never under 135 IBU. Bollocks, it’s delicious. Super hop flavor, which for me means no grapefruit whatsoever. Just pine and citrus, with a hint of peonies or something. After dinner, his Oude Bruin Kriek. Are you jealous yet? Drooling? Yeah.

At work today I sampled (ha!) the New Belgium Imperial Berliner Weisse. How dare they! Imperializing a renowned lunchtime liter! It’s good; as I described to a server for her conveyance to customers: “like dipping toast in lemonade.” I’m a big fan of making non sequitur comparisons like this, like describing Zach Galafainakis as the child of Robin Williams and Charles Bukowski. The beer is tasty, though it naturally lacks the … er … lack of body characteristic of this redheaded stepchild of a German beer style. It’s a mouthful (TWSS).

This has been my first blog post. Thank you. I hope to accelerate production of words ideas, and possibly videos in the coming months, to gain a small but thirsty audience, and to lend my voice to this new collective (literally) consciousness (totally fake).