Sunday 24 March 2013

Oregon Trail

This post is part of a series, why not take a look at some of the earlier posts before reading on...

It's good for what ails you.
After what seemed like a very short 48 hours in Portland it was time to say goodbye (or should that be 'see you later') to this fair city. I was now riddled with a bastard flu virus and was unsure if drinking would form part of today's plan which involved our friends Mike and Laurie driving us down the Columbia Gorge to their home in Walla Walla, Washington. Of course the original plan was to stop at several breweries on route and despite feeling like a lukewarm sack of horse shit I'm never one to throw a spanner in the works, besides not everyone in our party was blighted with illness so who am I to be unfair to those of good health.

After breakfast we loaded up the car and I loaded myself up with co-codamol and a triple shot latte and gradually started to feel a little more human, albeit a very spaced out and highly caffeinated human. As we left the high rise buildings and bridges of Portland behind the vast expanse of Oregon started to unfold before us. It was a beautiful day with the sun bouncing off the Cascade mountain range and the towering, snow-capped Mount Hood  shone resplendently in the distance. We we soon cruising alongside the Columbia River taking in the beautiful scenes that the States of Oregon and Washington had to offer. Our first stop was at the stunning Multnomah Falls, maybe it was the revivifying spray of the falls or perhaps it was a second triple shot latte but I was starting to feel ready for a drink of the fermented variety and so we made our way towards the town of Hood River, home of Full Sail Brewing Co.

A full 24 hours had passed since I last had a beer at Bridgeport Brewing, arguably the longest amount of time I've gone in the States without an alcoholic drink but this was soon to be rectified. Full Sail are well known in the USA for their Session Lager and eyeing the menu I see that alongside regular brewery sights such as an Amber and an IPA there were German inspired Weizen and Bock beers which hinted at some of the influences in Full Sail's brewing. Despite being ready for a beer I definitely couldn't stomach a full pint so opted for a tasting flight, the Session Lager was first up and it was a solid brew, certainly more full bodied and flavourful than Budweiser or Pabst Blue Ribbon but not really my kind of beer. Next up was the Session Black Lager which was much the same as its pale cousin only with a little more body and a slightly unpleasant burnt bitterness at the finish so not something I'd drink again. 

'Vendell's Veizen' Weizen Bock was next up and it's pleasant banana, clove and bubblegum notes washed away the burnt toast notes from the Black Lager, there was also a little alcohol on the palate which gave away this beers big 7.2% ABV but despite this it was a solid brew. The Amber was equally as pleasant but I still wasn't being bowled over by any of these beers, they were solid, dependable beers for people who were finished with American adjunct lagers and ready to take the next step into the beer universe but they weren't for ardent hop junkies such as myself. I finished with the IPA which, much like the one from Bridgeport was decent enough but mute compared to some of the heavyweights I'd sampled so far on this trip. Despite this the Full Sail brews were highly accomplished, clean and well made plus my palate was potentially being restricted by the flu.

The Prodigal Son Brewery & Pub
We got back on the road and watched as the landscape started changing from lush pine forest to dry, lumbering hillside with little to no vegetation, it was remarkable how the landscape changed so quickly. Mike and my Dad both work in the wheat industry and we were heading deep into wheat country so the conversation inevitably turned to wheat, barley and of course, hops interspersed with blasts from Oasis' Definitely Maybe emanating from the stereo. Our next destination is Pendleton, famous for one of America's largest Rodeos, the Pendleton Round up and we pass the gigantic stadium on the way to our next stop, the Prodigal Son Brewery.

The tasting flight here consisted of eight different beers so my Dad and I got one to share between the two of us. I found the brews at Prodigal Son to be a little hit and miss, where the 'Beer Named Sue' was thin and tasted a lot like sweetcorn, Ella IPA was decent with an incredibly robust malt profile (arguably a little too robust for my tastes) but was loaded with delicious pink grapefruit, mango and pine resin flavours. The Max Power double IPA had far too much malt going on for my tastes with caramel and toffee popcorn notes vastly outweighing the bitterness but the Fatted Calf Sacrificial Stout was rich, full of coffee and burnt sugar nuances but a really dry finish belied the 7.9% alcohol content. The real highlight here though was the Bruce/Lee Porter which hid it's 8.1% ABV behind cleverly woven layers of coffee, chocolate and molasses, it was a treat to the taste buds.

We were running behind schedule and soon had to leave the Prodigal Son tasting room behind, I'd love to come to this place on a busy Friday or Saturday night as it's a really great use of space with big open tables and tidy little alcoves if you want a little more privacy plus the food looked great. We had one more stop to make before we hopped over the border to Washington, we were headed to the tiny town of Milton Freewater to pay a visit to what is possibly the smallest commercial brewery in existence.

Continue on to Dragon's Gate Brewery...

Friday 22 March 2013


Read about my earlier Portland misadventure before continuing onward...

So I guess those of you who've been eagerly reading each part of this epic American adventure are expecting another serious dose of beer based carnage on the mean yet clean streets of Portland, right? Well I'm afraid on this occasion I'm not going to be able to fully oblige. I awoke the next morning after a healthy amount of sleep, arguably due to the exhaustion brought on by the excitement caused by my first go on a bottle of Pliny the Elder. To start with I felt fit as a fiddle, we were up early and after a brief walk around town, a chance encounter with an actual bonafide rock star and a gallon of great coffee we arrived at the legendary Voodoo Doughnut. We stood in line for over 20 minutes to get our hands on some of these famous sweet treats, I plumped for the Bacon Maple doughnut having tried the Rogue beer that was based on this recipe only a few weeks earlier. It was far too sweet for my savoury British palate but I forced it down nonetheless, crossing one of the 'must do when in Portland' activities off my list.

Apologies for the lack of beer pics, here's some doughnuts instead.
Next I indulged my other hobby with a visit to Pro Guitar Shop, I spent over an hour in here testing gear whilst my Dad had a quick snooze. By the time I had finished rocking out and spending far too much money I was suddenly feeling decidedly ropey, at the time I thought it might have just been a touch of remaining jet lag and we headed to the BridgePort Brewery tap room for some lunch. The BridgePort bar and restaurant was in an elegantly converted warehouse in a former industrial district not far from the banks of the Willamette river, we were escorted to a table and soon my Dad and I were once again joined by our friends Mike and Laurie. 

I worked my way through a platter of tasters but I was definitely suffering from PPS (post-Pliny syndrome) as none of these beers were really hitting the spot. Highlights included their IPA which had fruity, earthy, 'British' notes to it but was accompanied by a healthy dose of citrus. The big Old Knucklehead Barleywine elegantly combined stewed fruits and caramel with a citrusy hop bite and Hop Czar, a beautiful double IPA which I first tried at last years Great British Beer Festival was my favourite of the bunch. The beer was good but the real winner during my visit to BridgePort was the pulled pork roll which was smoothed in a delicious BBQ sauce that used their IPA as a base. After several tasters I plumped for a pint of the IPA which paired beautifully with the rich, smokey meat and intensely flavoured sauce. The beer is top notch here but the food is the real highlight so I recommend it as a great place to grab some lunch whilst on a beer crawl in this fine city.

Despite it being super tasty I couldn't finish my food, the room was spinning and I'd gone from feeling a little ropey to being fully hung, drawn and quartered. It would seem that a nasty dose of the Flu had entered my system and sadly at 3pm I retired to my hotel room bed where I remained for the next 16 hours. We had tickets to see Eels (hint, the earlier rock star experience was with the bearded front man of this band) and had planned to hit Hopworks brewery before the show. Sadly while Mike, Laurie and my Dad went out on the town, I was confined to my sleeping quarters, bummer.

I woke up the next morning feeling like I'd been run through a mangle, my Dad it seems had been suffering from the same affliction and didn't drink a drop at either Hopworks or the theatre where Eels had been playing. I did make it down to breakfast and forced down a plate of eggs and bacon but at this point was unsure whether or not drinking more beer would be part of today's agenda. At this point Laurie very kindly presented me with a bottle of Hopworks D.O.A. or 'Deluxe Organic Ale' which she had picked up for me from the brewery and had thought that this beers name was comically relevant to my current situation. I brought this bottle back to the UK with me and in lieu of the beery activity that should have taken place had I not fallen ill I've decided to give it a review.

Are you Landlord in disguise?
Hopworks Urban Brewery arrived on the Portland scene in 2007 and pride themselves on being an environmentally friendly brewery that uses sustainable energy sources and locally grown, organic ingredients in their beers. This, along with some seriously hip branding combines to make Hopworks a quintessential example of a Portland brewery so you can probably imagine how disappointed I was not being able to pay them a visit. D.O.A. weighs in at 6.9% and is described by the brewery as being an 'American Strong Ale' and a 'cult classic' amongst their fans so I was eager to get this open and see what all the fuss is about.

D.O.A. pours a beautiful, bright shade of burnished copper, there's a lovely clarity to the beer which shows off it's near perfect level of carbonation. A sticky, off-white head forms at the top of my glass and I breathe in a host of aromas including freshly cut grass, nettles, blackberries, gooseberries and a hint of lime. The earthy, forest fruit scents I get from this beer are usually what I would associate with a great pint of British best bitter so I quickly take a sip to see how these aromas translate onto my palate. On tasting the first thing that hits you is the big malt base, flavours of toffee, butterscotch and caramel combine but don't get a chance to overwhelm you before subtle notes of gooseberry, elderflower, blackberry and redcurrant mingle to produce a dry, juicy bitterness.

I sit and contemplate this familiar mix of flavours whilst I work my way through the 22 ounce bomber and then it hits me. This beer has a lot of similarities with a trusty pint of Timothy Taylor Landlord only with all of those flavours being turned up to their maximum, American style. I'll be honest in saying that I like my bitter beers to be fresh and packed full of citrus flavours so this probably isn't a beer that I'd seek out again in a hurry but it is one I enjoyed and would certainly never say no to another pint if I was offered one. I'm not sure if Hopworks had intended to brew an American style version of a classic British best bitter but with D.O.A. they've succeeded. I only wish I'd had the chance to try some more of their beers now that I've seen what they're capable of but I'm sure I'll return to Portland at some point in the not too distant future and when I do, Hopworks had better be ready.

I'd like to give a HUGE thank you to Laurie for this bottle of beer, it really cheered me up when I thought my trip might have been ruined. When it comes to meeting new people and making new friends nothing brings people together quite like beer.

Now join me for a trip down the Columbia Gorge where I attempt to 'drink myself better.'

Sunday 17 March 2013

In Search of Pliny, Part 1 (The Elder)

Bored? Backtrack and read more of the adventure here!

Our party of four exits the cab and heads towards the entrance of Higgins, a relatively small but smartly presented restaurant near our hotel in the Southwest Quadrant of Portland, Oregon. We were met by a server who was impeccably dressed, she was even wearing a tie, A TIE and we are immediately escorted to a table. I look around and feel a little under dressed for such a smart establishment, I also feel a little light headed thanks to topping up yesterdays healthy helping of beer with a great deal more and the tiny hands of jet lag are starting to gently massage the back of my eyeballs. Food will help with the tiredness though, I think to myself plus I'm really looking forward to trying some local seafood being so close to the Pacific Ocean.

Pliny the Elder, not a bad drop.
We are handed both food and drinks menus, the latter induces a wave of excitement, not only is the beer list extensive and excellent it also recommends beers to be paired with the meals. I pinch myself, am I in the future? I most certainly believe that beer and food pairing is the future for restaurants (without meaning it should replace wine, that's just madness). A great example of this food pairing was De Struise Pannepot with their dessert menu, I was impressed enough to see Pannepot so far from home but this pairing option was the icing on the cake, so to speak.

Our server returns and tells us this evenings food specials, I can't resist ordering the Dungeness crab cakes for my main. She then informs us that they have a special beer in stock that isn't on the menu due to it's limited availability and they only managed to get hold of a couple of cases for the restaurant, that beer of course as the title of this post suggests is Russian River Pliny the Elder.

It's silly to get excited about something as simple and everyday as beer but I can barely control the spasm of excitement that flows through my body at this moment. I was finally going to try the beer that had been at the top of my wish list for over a year and most importantly I was going to try it fresh. I must confess I've had a small taste of Pliny before but the bottle was at least five months old and hadn't been stored properly. On this occasion it tasted a little mouldy and vegetal so I wrote off this experience and decided to judge it when I finally tasted it fresh as the brewer intended. As I've said before American style IPA is my favourite style of beer and so I hold beers such as Pliny on the loftiest of my beer geek pillars.

My Dad, who like me had not had this beer before also ordered one and soon the two large bottles were brought to the table with accompanying glassware and we got stuck in. Let's gloss over the label, sure it's distinctive but if it wasn't for the reputation this beer had it would hardly leap off the shelf now would it? I check the date and note that this bottle is a mere 19 days old and so falls into the mega fresh category that a beer such as this needs to. I pour the bright, golden liquid into the glass and note how clear and luminescent it is as the low light of the restaurant catches its edge. The aroma is something else, I often struggle with defining clear descriptive scents in many strong IPAs but every single aroma molecule stood proudly on it's own and I immersed myself in it's glorious stench. Everything you'd expect from a great IPA was here, huge juicy lemons, limes and grapefruit, hints of guava and passion fruit and a whole pine forest of resinous wonderment, I'd not even tasted this beer yet I was already singing it's praises.

Those beautiful aromas translated wonderfully onto the palate, just as with the aroma each flavour was incredibly clearly defined and easy to identify but the main reason that it tasted so good was because it was clean, bright and above all perfectly balanced. I'm not sure how the brewers at Russian River manage to support such juicy fruit flavours on what seems like such a fragile scaffold of malt, this is clearly the work of master craftsmen. Even after you swallow those rich, juicy citrus and pine flavours sing their chorus on and on, begging you to take your next mouth full.

Hype is a terrible thing and can often ruin moments such as these but not on this occasion, as far as I'm concerned fresh Pliny the Elder deserves every ounce of praise that it is so often burdened with. Is it the best beer in the world? Well I couldn't possibly answer that but as an IPA fan it's most certainly in my top three. What's certain is that there is a massive level of skill that goes into crafting this beer and it's not surprising it's so sought after. I'd be wary of anything over three months old though as this beer is ALL about that intricate network of hop resins that need to be alive and well for this beer to sing its song.

As I sip away at this beer, savouring every moment, I think to myself that I've tasted a beer similar to this before. It might surprise a few of you to say that this beer is in fact Thornbridge Halcyon, arguably another of my top three beers. It's the fresh, bright and clean characteristics in both of these beers where those similarities are to be found. If you are seeking Pliny over here in the UK but your efforts are in vain, pick up some Halcyon because this will be fresh and not have journeyed thousands of miles without proper refrigeration and those wonderful flavours will still be there for your enjoyment.

I finish the beer and stare at the half empty plate of delicious Dungeness crab cakes sat in front of me. Perhaps it's the excitement of finally having a Pliny, perhaps it's the jet lag and masses of beer catching up with me but I'm falling asleep in my seat and despite it still being early I admit defeat and head back to my hotel for a well deserved kip, a box full of half eaten crab cakes tucked safely under my arm.

In the next part it's all about to go horribly wrong...

Thursday 14 March 2013

An Afternoon Amble Around Portland

Read about our lunchtime visit to Hair of the Dog brewery here...

So my Dad and I plus our friends Mike and Laurie who had driven down from Walla Walla, Washington to join us for a couple of days in Portland had finished our tasting session at Hair of the Dog Brewery, checked in to our hotel and stepped out in the early afternoon to explore more of the city of Portland. We were staying in the Southwest Quadrant of the city a mere ten minutes walk from downtown and a stones throw from a handful of great looking breweries and bars. We didn't have any plans set in stone but there were several places that had been highly recommended to me so we decided that these were the best bars and breweries to check out.

Portland, Famous for really well designed signs
We wandered towards Broadway and I took in the surroundings, tall modern buildings are occasionally flanked by older, more beautiful ones and there's a slightly more relaxed vibe here than in Denver (if that is at all possible) which being the only American city of similar size I've visited I instantly began comparing it to. We turned a corner and saw a row of street food stands, the epic Powells bookstore stood proudly across the street and we dipped into an independent record store just for a quick look around before we headed onward for a beer.

At the end of the block with the record store stood our next destination, Henry's 12th Street Tavern which boasts a mere 106 beers on tap. The turbulent hangover I was suffering from this morning seemed all but a distant memory and I peruse the menu before plumping for a Ninkasi Total Domination IPA. It's a pleasant enough IPA, lovely citrus notes mingling with a little toast like quality from the malts but when I taste what I my Dad is drinking, the Ninkasi Tricerahops Double IPA I find myself wishing I'd ordered one of those instead as huge waves of grapefruit and pine cascade over my palate, it's a true delight and a beer I hope I don't have to wait too long to taste again.

We stay for just the one in Henry's as we decide we'd rather hit a brewery tap than just sit in a bar and so we walked a short distance to the Rogue Brewery bar. Rogue, who are based in the nearby coastal city of Newport are surely well known by all beer geeks on both sides of the Atlantic by now. They have been championed by several craft beer destinations in the UK, most notably Brewdog who often showcase Rogue beers on keg and in bottle in their chain of bars. I've personally never been bowled over by their beers, I find their flagship Dead Guy Ale far too sweet and unbalanced but a couple of their IPAs have made me smile when tasting them. It's one thing trying beer that's travelled several thousand miles but another completely trying them close to the source with all of those essential hop oils still whole and intact so I was expecting big things from one of the Northwest's biggest hitters.

We arrive outside the rather grotty looking building that houses the Rogue tap room after a short walk from Henry's via a brief stop to pick up a triple shot Americano to pep myself up. We step inside and take a seat at a sticky table that clearly hadn't been cleaned for some time, it's adorned with tatty menus and a bottle filled with hops and malt in a dire attempt to show what a beer is made of but the ingredients in the bottle are so rotten and stale that it's almost enough to put you off beer for life, almost. We wait a little and eventually a server arrives to take our order, I was disappointed that she didn't have all the answers to my questions about the beer on offer and in the end I choose a flight of five Rogue beers that I hadn't tasted before at random. We wait for another while and I take in my surroundings, this pub is in desperate need of a deep clean, a lick of paint and some new upholstery, it's a far cry from the sleek, modern design of the Brewdog bars that champion Rogue beers on UK shores.

Eventually our flights arrive and I get stuck in, first up is the relatively well known Juniper pale ale but I find all the flavours far too muted and watery and I can barely taste a hint of the Juniper that this beer promises. The rest of the beers in my flight continue to disappoint, the Double Chocolate stout in particular falls flat on its face thanks to it tasting of foul, synthetic chocolate syrup, being very thin and not stout at all. The one saving grace is the delicious glass of Brutal IPA my Dad was supping away at, it was arguably one of the better Rogue IPAs I've tasted with delicious notes of orange, lychee and pine resin being underpinned by a healthy, rich malt base. Despite this I left feeling a little dejected and probably won't rush out to buy a Rogue beer if I see them again, there was no sense of pride in this pub and that reflected in their beers, not a place I'd recommend if visiting Portland. This pub also houses one of Rogue's distilleries but we didn't hang around to taste any spirits as there were plenty of more nearby bars to investigate. 

I was so busy taking photos of signs that I forgot to take any photos of beer
Thankfully our next destination could not have been more of an opposite experience, a mere hop, skip and jump from Rogue is the grand old building that houses the elegant Deschutes Tap Room. Where the Rogue bar was half empty, Deschutes was heaving, there was almost an hours wait for a table if you wanted food, and people were swooping like sparrow hawks as soon as a free table became available at the bar. Luckily, my Dad and I are excellent table swoopers and we spot two ladies finishing a late lunch and lunge towards the table. After a spot of polite conversation, something that comes much more easily in America than it ever will in England the table is ours and we get around to ordering some beers. After so many tasters and lots of walking about I'm ready for a full pint and I opt for a glass of Creative Juice, a 6.1% ABV IPA limited only to Deschutes own bars. It's supremely zingy and refreshing, waves of lemon and mango all cascading together in a dry, moreish finish, it's exactly what I wanted and it lasts me all but a few minutes. 

After that palate livener I'm ready for a bit more tasting and custom build a flight from the large range of Deschutes beer available on tap, some of which is brewed using the in house microbrewery and sold exclusively in the pub. I then proceed to try a lot of excellent beers and I won't bore you to tears with details of all of them but a real highlight was the Hop Henge 'experimental' IPA. I'm not sure what was experimental about it but it was a real hop heads dream, the beer was rich with raw, vinous hop resins and left a supremely bitter finish that sang for minutes after you finish your last sip. The other real treat was the Obsidian Stout which is one of Deschutes' core beers except this was being served from a cask under gravity. It was a pleasure to have a cask beer that was done properly in the United States, I've been to a lot of places in the USA where a cask or 'firkin' as they often prefer to call it is done as a novelty but this brew in particular I felt was really enhanced by the cask conditioning. Rich notes of coffee and bitter dark chocolate mingled with a bit of caramel and a little grassyness from the hops, it's an excellent stout and it capped off a great experience at the beautifully laid out Deschutes bar which is definitely worth a visit if you ever find yourself in Portland.

One thing that differentiates the USA from the UK is that you don't just get bars, EVERYWHERE serves food from bar snacks through to full meals which as a Brit can get a bit irritating when you just want a beer and keep getting asked if you want to see a food menu. Despite this the four of us hadn't eaten yet and although the food being served in Deschutes looked simply wonderful we had been recommended to visit a restaurant called Higgins and so we called a cab and headed off on our merry way. Little did I know that one of my beer geek dreams was about to be fulfilled...

Friday 8 March 2013

Hair of the Dog

Find out just how I got myself in this damn mess in the first place...

The tasting room is a 100% must visit when in Portland
My alarm is going off and my phone is vibrating away still clutched loosely in my hand, it's 5am and I'm catching a plane to Portland, Oregon in a couple of hours time. It's clear that I managed to get as far as setting my alarm before collapsing in a heap but I never managed to actually get in to bed. I hit the snooze button and manage to grab a glorious nine minutes of half sleep before I throw myself into the shower and get ready to leave. Yesterday I 'accidentally' imbibed far more of the ale than I had intended to but when you're on holiday in the USA for only a week and there is a plethora of fabulous beer begging to be drunk a beer geek really has no chance of taking it easy.

As we drive to the airport my Dad and I watch the Sun rise over the high plains and illuminate the snow-capped Rocky Mountains and I begin to realise just how bad my hangover is. My Dad has lived out here for over two years and so he's used to the 5000 foot altitude but as my head pounds and my stomach churns I quietly curse Colorado for its lack of oxygen which makes it seemingly impossible to recover from overindulgence in reasonable time. We breeze through security, even the triple shot americano and breakfast bagel fail to get me kick started but we make our plane in plenty of time. I sit for most of the journey with my head between my knees praying that I don't release any chunder which would only serve to escalate this already dire situation. We fly over beautiful, snow covered peaks as we head to the pacific northwest, the flight lasts just over two hours and before long we touch town in PDX.

As we step off the plane I take a deep breath and taste oxygen, glorious oxygen and instantly feel revivified, the large bottle of coca-cola and dose of co-codamol seems to have kicked in too, I feel like I could take on the world, almost. We are met at the airport gates by my Dads friends Mike and Laurie who are joining us in Portland for a couple of days and later in the week will be driving us down the Colombia Gorge to their home in Walla Walla, Washington. 

For now the only place they are driving us to is a brewery and that brewery couldn't have a more appropriate moniker, Hair of the Dog. Before I came on this trip I asked the Internet what the best places to go in Portland for a beer are and Hair of the Dog appeared at the top of almost everyone's recommendations, it also just happens to be placed very handily half way between the airport and our hotel. We park our car just behind the tasting room where there is a wonderful view of Downtown Portland and the Willamette River in the distance (pronounced Wil - AMIT apparently) and the building is smartly emblazoned with the brewery's excellent branding so is nice and easy to find.

We head inside the spacious structure that looks like it might have been used as a shipping warehouse by its former tenants but now it's smartly dressed up with a u-shaped bar and plenty of large tables scattered about the place. The decor is clean and simple and the walls on the far side are adorned with some very cool merch which punters like me simply can't resist splurging their hard earned cash on. The four of us take a seat at the bar, although I'm recovering I still don't feel up to a full pint and while Mike and my Dad order lunch with their tasting flights Laurie and I just choose just a few tasters to start with. 

Hair of the Dog prove that beer can be as elegant as wine
An empty bottle of Cantillon Gueuze sits idly on the shelf next to me and I gaze at it for a few seconds before my tasters arrive in elegant small stemmed glasses that look like they would be more at home in a wine tasting room than a brewery. The first glass contains a beer called Ruth, an American style pale ale that exudes aromas of citrus and freshly cut grass. The first sniff of this beer lifts my senses and I know instantly that this tasting session is going to either repair me or ruin me completely. As the first sip slides easily down my throat and hints of lemon and pine mingle on my palate I start to feel much better, so much better in fact that I flag down the barmaid and immediately order one of the sausage sandwiches which Mike is busy munching away at. 

Beer two is Blue Dot, Hair of the Dog's double IPA and it's a much more intense version of Ruth but with a more pronounced malt character, hints of garden herbs and a citrus bitterness which is more on the side of grapefruit than lemon. It's a lovely beer and it further strengthens my resolve. I was starting to feel much more human again and soon began devouring my sandwich as I worked my way through the remaining selection of beers in front of me. Fred is a 'Golden Strong Ale' and gives a large nod in the direction of this brewery's European influences, I can't for the life of me detect much of the 10% alcohol content behind the veil of honey malt and lemongrass. It's subtle and complex, something you'd enjoy late on a summer's evening as the sun disappears behind the horizon and you fancy switching from something refreshing to something altogether more challenging, top stuff.

The fourth and final taster in my flight is a beer that I'm very excited about as several people encouraged me to seek it out while I was in the North West, it is of course Hair of the Dog's strong old ale 'Adam.' There is much about Adam that reminds me of a great imperial stout despite it technically not fitting in to this genre of beer, rich aromas of toffee and molasses and a not indiscriminate amount of booze fill the nostrils and translate beautifully onto the palate. Hints of leather and smoked meat creep up on you as this beer gradually warms to room temperature, it's a true delight and one to savour and age further if you ever manage to get hold of a more than a couple of bottles. I hang on to my tiny glass of this delicious beverage for as long as I can before I finish my lunch, the food is good here, so good in fact that Mike decides to order another sandwich and I can't say I blame him. Hair of the Dog have lived up to their namesake, I am healed of my self-affliction and I'm ready to discover what other delights Portland has in store for me.

Before we leave though my Dad spots a beer on the menu called 'Matt' and insists we order a bottle despite it being twenty dollars for just 12 fluid ounces. Matt is an 11.5% ABV strong ale that's brewed with copious amounts of German malts including some smoked malts and has Belgian Candi sugar added to the brew to really get that alcohol level up. It's then aged in both Bourbon and Apple Eau de Vie barrels which allows this beer to become mysterious and complex, just like a good Matt should be. We pour the bottle, which is a 2010 vintage, into four glasses and I take in the huge aroma of green apples and black treacle. There's a tartness to Matt as notes of sour cherry tangfastics and cooking apples mingle behind rich vanilla and burnt sugar bitterness. It's a truly remarkable beer, maybe not the ideal tipple for drinking at lunchtime when you're suffering from a raging hangover and you've another full day of drinking ahead of you but I might never get another chance to try it so the chance simply had to be taken. The empty bottle found it's way into my suitcase and came back with me across the Atlantic to sit proudly on my desk, the smell of this beer still lingers in the bottle several weeks later.

So, we finish our Matt and make our way to the hotel, join me next time for an afternoon amble around Portlandia, if you will...

Saturday 2 March 2013

Here's to taking it easy

Read about how I eased myself into the day before reading on...

So if you're just tuning in, I'm back in Fort Collins, Colorado and I'm feverishly attempting to adjust to mountain standard time before I fly to Portland, Oregon (and adjust to pacific standard time respectively) early tomorrow morning.  My Dad and I maybe drank a little more than I should have at lunchtime, one double IPA quickly became three and then a hefty yet thoroughly enjoyable tasting session went down at Black Bottle Brewery. We were going to have a quiet night in but had been promised a share of some special bottles by Michelle, the bar manager at the Mayor of Old Town and so this evenings plans suddenly hinged around these beers.

For me, few beers match fresh Odell IPA
After about an hours rest we called a taxi and made our way back into a bustling Fort Collins. Our first stop was my Dad's local watering hole, Odell Brewery, I mean how can we not go to Odell's while I'm in town, it would be foolish, nay utter madness not to pay them a visit. My Dad walking through the doors of Odell's is akin to any scene that Frasier Crane enters the bar in Cheers, cries of 'hi Frank' ring from the bar and pints of super-fresh IPA are being poured before we've even had the chance to say hello. Tonight people were queueing outside the door to get in but this is my Dad's local and there's no chance in hell of him standing in line so he scoots around the side door and strolls effortlessly towards the bar and skillfully avoids us a twenty minute wait for a beer.

We stroll outside and enjoy our IPAs in the evening sun, Odell's is pumping, there are people of all ages spilling out the doors, some playing a friendly game of cornhole and a local band are in full swing on stage, hell there's even a guy painting a portrait of them while they play. There's no less than 20 beers on tap today, favourites from their core range are joined by seasonal and one off specials and a few pilot brews. My Dad orders me a glass of Amuste, a brand new 9.3% imperial porter that's a limited release available only on keg and in 750ml bottles. Amuste's unique twist is that it uses juice from Tempranillo wine grapes as an adjunct and then is aged for 12 months in red wine barrels. The aroma is intoxicating, rich mollases frivolously dances around with rich summer fruits and a hint of alcohol. 'Bloody hell' were the only words to come out of my mouth after my first taste, I took another sip... 'Bloody hell' I say again, this stuff was good, it was as if someone had taken a glass of (decent) red wine and topped up my glass of black treacle and licorice rich porter with it. The remarkable thing was that all of the flavours from the rich porter to the vinous berries and the slight sourness from the barrel were in in perfect harmony. I take another sip 'sweet Jesus' is the next exclamation that comes to mind, I buy a bottle to take home and fully plan to lay it down for a year to see how all these crazy flavours merge and mellow over time.

I'm feeling a little tipsy, but no matter, I can pace myself, I do this sort of thing all the time and once I've got some food in my belly I'll be right as rain. Oh, but we must get some tasters in before we go, a new pilot IPA? Sure! Some coffee stout? Seems like a good idea to me... 'Ok let's get some food' and so we headed off for pizza at Old Chicago which has well as carbohydrate laden products also offers over 100 different brews... help.

I almost immediately decide to plump for a beer I've had before and trust wholeheartedly, Avery IPA, this Boulder based brewery has never let me down before and this pint is rich, fresh and chock full of resinous pine and grapefruit. While at dinner I try and work out if I prefer the Avery or the Odell IPA, I simply can't decide and the only logical conclusion is to order another pint of the Avery to see if that sways my decision but the waitress brings me a can of Shift by New Belgium by mistake (it was what my Dad was drinking.) I didn't really fancy a lager but Shift is no ordinary lager, in fact its bouquet of lime and lavender surprises me as I dive in to take a huge gulp. At this point I open up my phone and go to type in some tasting notes but all I end up writing is 'probably the best lager in the world'  and I think it just might be, too.

We finish our pizzas, well I finish half of mine because it's huge and I'm full of beer but I feel as if I've had enough sustenance to continue onward. It's past 8pm, thankfully I don't yet feel the claws of jet lag behind my eyes and so Dad and I once again begin a march towards the Mayor of Old Town. It's busy in the Mayor and there's no spaces left at the bar so we join Michelle at a table and I immediately order a beer I'd had my eye on earlier in the day, Bear Republic Cafe Racer 15. Racer 5 is probably one of my favourite beers on the entire planet so the chance to try an imperial version that's been brewed to celebrate 15 years of brewing at Bear Republic is one I welcome and embrace willingly. Racer 15 has a much bigger malt profile than its little sister and those digestive biscuit and toasted bread flavours support a huge amount of Citra hops that produce flavours of lemon, grapefruit and pine needles without ever giving away its 9% ABV. It's divine but it falls short of the Lagunitas Sucks I had at lunchtime by about the breadth of a gnats wing, they are both sublime beers but Lagunitas takes the crown on day one.

I  most certainly wasn't getting a rum deal on this occasion
The first beer that Michelle brings us is a bottle of Rumpkin from Avery Brewing, an imperial pumpkin ale aged in rum barrels and spiced with nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger that weighs in somewhere between 15 and 18% ABV. I'm a little wary as pumpkin beers just aren't my thing but when Michelle produces a bottle of 14 year old Balvenie Caribbean cask single malt whisky to pair with this beer things start to get really exciting. The Mayor only gets its hands on a single case of 24 twelve ounce bottles of Rumpkin a year and they retail for a princely $20 a bottle. At this point I'm hoping the sense of privilege doesn't outweigh my sense of judgement when it comes to judging this beer but of course at this point that's not possible because my sense of DRUNK is outweighing my sense of judgement. Cinnamon, five spice and ginger all start to groove around my nostrils on a bed of funky molasses, notes of oak and alcohol join the party but it's when taking a sip of the Balvenie Caribbean cask that the party really gets started. Notes of oak and vanilla merge with a wave of warming booze and... well, here's to taking it easy.

It truly was a special beer and I really enjoyed it despite it not being something I'd normally order. Michelle then produces a bottle of New Belgium Transatlantique Kriek as soon as we finish draining the final delicious dregs of Rumpkin from our glasses. The story of this limited release Belgian style lambic begins in Brouwerij Boon in the Lembeek region of Belgium where tanks of their regular Kriek are shipped across the Atlantic and into the capable hands of New Belgium Brewmaster Peter Bouckaert. Bouckaert then brews a full bodied golden lager which when finished is blended with the Kriek to form a completely new beer. It pours a deep cherry red colour as you'd expect and produces a pink fluffy head with a bit more vigour than a regular Kriek. The nose is awash with sugar and cherries, the extra carbonation from the lager giving this a little lift too. For an 8% ABV beer this most certainly does not drink like one with it's tart, slightly sweet cherry flavour hiding all traces of alcohol from me. There is a hint of rounded sourness but it's not so sour as to put you off if you're not a fan of the style, in fact it's dangerously drinkable and my glass is gone in next to no time.

As I sway gently back and forth on my stool I look to my left and to my delight I've still got half a glass of Racer 15 that in all the excitement I've completely forgotten about. My Dad goes to call a cab and is told that we'll have to wait around an hour and the last shreds of hope of me getting an early night disappear into the ether. Michelle asks if I want another beer and because I'm being sensible I say something along the lines of 'I've had enough beer but I really fancy a whisky' she asks me what kind of whisky I like and I vaguely remember saying asking for something 'rediculously peaty' and soon she returns with a very large glass full of Ardbeg (don't ask me to tell you which one, this isn't a whisky blog), a wonderful way of rounding off a completely sensible day of drinking. Thanks again to Michelle and her brilliant team at the Mayor for yet another fantastic evening and for sharing all of those wonderful beers.

Eventually the cab arrives and we bid the Mayor adieu, for now at least. It's way past midnight and I have to be awake in less than five hours in order to successfully catch my flight to Portland. I somehow manage to slip my pyjamas on, lean over to plug my phone charger in... then I pass out.

Did I make my flight on time? Find out in the next scintillating instalment!