Holiday Cheer and the Taste of Beer

Image courtesy of Pam Williams

(Welcome back to Thebeerchaser.  Since this is a long post, if you are seeing it through an e-mail, please visit the blog by clicking on the title above to see all of the photos and the narrative is not clipped or shortened.)

Happy Holidays, Beerchasers.  In what may be my last post of 2020, I will address one topic which is very interesting, yet tends to perplex and frustrate me. Let’s talk about

The Taste of Beer…..

A Portland “grunge” classic

Although this blog is primarily about bars and breweries, I often mention beers – especially those produced by the various breweries visited and which strike a chord.   

I’ve covered “basic” beers from the $1.50 Happy Hour PBRs at the historic Yamhill Pub  *1 in downtown Portland and the $1.00 draft Hamms (it used to be all day on Wednesdays…) at The Standard in Northeast Portland.

Buck pints – gone but not forgotten

*1  A November story in Willamette Week stated that this institution – at one time it sold more PBR than any bar in Oregon and in the ’90’s was no. 5 in North America – may have to close.  “General manager Kevin Hill has launched a GoFundMe campaign to save the Yamhill Pub, which is struggling financially during the most recent governor-ordered restrictions on dine- and drink-in service.” 

And conversely Janet and I enjoyed a Grolsch Premium Lager in Amsterdam’s Cafe Karpershoek in 2013 – the oldest pub in Amsterdam dating back to 1606 when Dutch sailors and merchants bellied up to the bar.

We’ve experienced some of the wonderful and innovative craft beers such as the Shanghai’d English Style IPA – a 2018 Gold Medalist at the World Beer Cup produced by entrepreneur, Adam Milne at Old Town Brewing – in Portland, Oregon where one can enjoy some of the finest micro-brews on the planet.

Janet at the bar in the Cafe Karpershoek

Now, I also remember life at Oregon State University in the late ’60’s, when the brew choices were all essentially “beer you could see through.”    I loved Schlitz Dry beer although Blitz Weinhard was plentiful on campus.  Of course, when one of the frat bros made a trip to a state in which you could buy a case of Coors – not available in Oregon until 1985 – he gained immediate popularity and new friends. 

However, what mildly irritates me are reviews – those where beer geeks – similar to some snooty wine connoisseurs – go into extravagant, grandiose and sometimes ridiculous detail describing how a beer tastes. 

That said, I realize that producing the ingredients for beer and the brewing process itself has gotten very technical and increased in sophistication to produce the outstanding mix of products from which beer drinkers can choose. 

For example, programs such as the Oregon State Fermentation Science Major have trained and educated outstanding brewers and enhanced the quality and flavor of beer immensely –  “a hands-on applied science addressing the biological, chemical and physical processes of fermented foods, including those used in the production of wine, beer, and spirits…..”

How cold was it? Sign outside Lumpy’s Landing

I’ve  progressed from not really knowing much about beer except that it’s much better really cold and in a frosted mug and have gained an appreciation for the rich history of brewing which goes back thousands of years.

“…..ancient Chinese artifacts suggested that beer brewed with grapes, honey, hawthorns, and rice were produced as far back as 7,000 BC.”  (Wikipedia – The History of Beer.)

I’m trying to educate myself on types of beer (ales and lagers – depending on the fermenting process), brewing styles, differentiation in ingredients and elements of taste.

A prime resource for beer education

There are some great online references and books such as the highly-rated The Beer Bible by Northwest author, Jeff Alworth who is also the originator of the Beervana blog. His almost 600 page book, with five appendices, could fill an upper-division college course on beer.

Lisa Morrison – also known as The Beer Goddess and a previous Beerchaser of the Quarter on this blog also wrote a good basic book on NW regional beers in 2011 – Craft Beers of the Northwest.

And after viewing the following sentence on page four of Jeff Alworth’s book, I thought that perhaps I was being too cavalier in dismissing the intricacies of beer taste.  Was I missing something when I raised a mug?

“When you sit down with a glass of beer, you do a lot more than taste it.  You will eventually put your papillae to the task, but they won’t work alone.  Your eyes take in its color, clarity and vivacity. 

Your nostrils detect sharp or subtle aromas drifting off the surface.  When you taste, you’ll be smelling the beer while its inside your mouth.  Your tongue, meanwhile, will be noticing whether its prickly with carbonation or smooth and still, whether it is thin or creamy or thick.  You don’t merely taste a beer, you experience it.”

However, after looking up the definition of “papillae” (a small rounded protuberance on the tongue) and realizing that I don’t really think about the prickly nature of beer while quaffing, I realized that I should not alter my own approach. 

Beer expert, Jeff Alworth at the Benedictine Brewery structure raising in 2017

I really love beer, but a major factor in my enjoyment is the social interaction with companions while imbibing.  That and drinking in the ambiance and unique character of each dive bar and brewery I frequent. 

Focusing on “mouthfeel” which is defined on page 599 of The Beer Bible as “Qualities of beer other than the flavor; includes body and amount of carbonation,” would detract from my Beerchasing experience.

I also respect those home-brewers who want to enhance their expertise and those in the brewing industry where it is a bonified occupational qualification to possess this technical knowledge.  And there are national and international brewing competitions such as the World Beer Cup.

It’s the world’s largest beer competition and labeled as “The Olympics of Beer.”  In the 2018 competition, there were 295 judges, three-fourths of them from outside the United States and beers from over thirty countries.

One can also choose to become a:

“….beer judge and work your way up the ranks evaluating beer to the Grand Master level. The (goal is) to remove as much of the subjectivity involved in evaluating beer during competitions as possible by giving all certified judges the tools needed to objectively evaluate the beers they judge.” https://winning-homebrew.com/evaluating-beer.html

But many of the beer reviews one reads in publications are pretentious and questionable.  My favorite example was so ludicrous, I saved it from five years ago. The reviewer, from a Portland weekly newspaper, was describing a new Gose beer introduced by an Oregon coastal brewery:

“”The first sip of the brew was like tasting the salty foam just as a large wave crests off the Oregon Coast.”

“Gasp – Gurgle – Glub – I think I have salt in my lungs….” (Off Lincoln City, Oregon)

I haven’t seen any more reviews from this columnist who most likely drowned while pursuing his next review, but there are others which also struck me as set forth below.

Small anti-hero??

Perhaps this is the challenge of those who pen reviews – trying to be creative and interesting, thereby using superlatives and hyperbole to capture the readers’ interest.  It happens with book and movie reviews too, as exemplified by this review of “The Joker” which hit theaters in 2020:

“Joker is so monotonously grandiose and full of its own pretensions that it winds up feeling puny and predictable.  Like the anti-hero at its center, it’s a movie that is trying so hard to be capital b – Big, that it can’t help looking small.” 

Let’s take this example from a Willamette Week’s Parker Hall 1/22/19 review of Day Runner IPA from Portland’s Threshold Brewing.  Now perhaps more sophisticated beer experts could truly discern the flavor he describes but take a look:

Rub your hands together and then give a “high” five…..

“A blend of Columbus and Ekuanot hops brings piny tar and tropical funk furnished by a tiny bite of freshly baked sourdough that makes your mouth water for the next sip, it smells like your hands would after an afternoon trimming Portland’s second favorite intoxicant. 

It’s a welcome and decidedly West Coast interpretation of the style that melds classic lupulin bite with deep hop flavor….”

Now remember, the reviews I’m talking about are not those in beer geek periodicals, but newspapers and publications for a general audience.   Heater Allen – a wonderful family brewery  in McMinnville, Oregon, gets a number of raves for its beers including this one from the 2014 Willamette Week Beer Guide where its Isarweizen was rated number six out of the top ten Beers of the Year.

“If you’ve only guzzled Widmer or Blue Moon, prepare yourself. This beer will thump your nostrils with the smell of clove and then strike your tongue with the taste of banana.  It’s creamy and crisp, something like chewing a slice of Juicy Fruit gum – in the very best way.”

“So sweet, you can’t help but chew” – and in the very best way!

Now while brewing creativity is a good thing, one reader argued about restoring some sanity in his clip entitled, “Holiday Ale Festival Gone Amok” when he described a disturbing trend in the annual Portland event in 2018 as:

“The festival’s hallmark has always been wonderful strong, winter ales and cask conditioned brews. Just the thing to blast me out of my IPA rut. But this year the festival got too cutesy and lost its way. The so-called stouts all tasted like milkshakes or Snickers bars.  The ales were so fruity that a better name might be the Kool-Aid Festival. 

And then there are the sour beers. There are probably some folks who actually like this stuff, but how many sour beers does it take for the rest of us to learn what we truly don’t like? Let’s take the Holiday Ale Festival back to its roots and put great winter brews back where they belong.”

To demonstrate how the trend to get a sweet confectionary flavor has escalated, let’s look at a few more.  Ten Barrel Brewing released The Last Blockbuster which was described as “having a light body and smooth finish with nuances of red licorice.”

“Nuances” of Red Licorice……

And here’s another one that I’ve saved about Priem Brewing (Hood River) Vienna Lager

“The relaxed toastiness, gentle caramelly sweetness and elegant body that define (this Vienna Lager) are all present, as are deeper notes of liquid toast, caramel apples and hints of toffee. A swallow brings out smooth cashew butter and dried, herbal hops balance the semi-sweet finish.”

The composer would judge the symphony of flavor as “classical”?

Now, Pfriem references the beer as a “malted symphony that would make Mozart proud….” and the review above was even in Draft Magazine, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen “liquid toast”.  (Although the Urban Dictionary defines “liquid bread as “A beer with a high specific gravity at the end of fermentation resulting in a dense beer.”)

It also sounds like this reviewer would get the same eclectic taste by stuffing the entire contents of his Halloween bag in his mouth in one gulp.

After griping about this brewing pattern, I’ll end the comments about beer reviews on a more positive and healthy note (except for the “chocolate milk” reference below).  While I’m not a great fan of stouts and porters, I did like the description of Most Premium Russian Imperial Stout from Gigantic Brewing – another Portland brewer. 

It was also in the WW 2014 Beer Guide and was favored as the 10th Best Beer in 2014: “In a beer scene lacking in big, bottled Imperial Stouts, Gigantic’s might be the czar.”  

“Thick as chocolate milk and black as the Mariana Trench, it masks its 10% ABV in a complex, aromatic palette of flavors, intermingling touches of raisin and prune with deep caramel and nuts.  It’s dense and robust, not to mention, dark – like a Russian winter’s night.” 

We need to add some raisins and nuts

For accuracy sake, I would also point out that while one would expect the Mariana Trench which reaches depths of 36,000 feet in the Pacific to be black, the hue in its ocean floor is actually “….a yellowish color…because of all the decaying plants and animals, animal skeletons, and shells that are continuously deposited there.”  

(If you’re wondering why I’m quoting from  2014 published reviews, it’s because I’ve been meaning to write on this topic since that time….)

Scriptural Guidance?

Since this is the Christmas and Holiday Season, I thought there might be a Biblical reference – from the Holy Bible versus the Beer Bible -which would provide some direction on the issue of beer flavor and taste – and I discovered one.

Proverbs 20:1 states: “Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise.” 

A brawler…..

A “brawler” would hardly be perceived as a brew with “nuances of red licorice” or a “gentle caramelly sweetness” or for that matter, “creamy and crisp – like chewing a slice of Juicy Fruit Gum.”  This – in contrast to an imperial stout or porter, both characterized by their dark color and full body.

The gold standard probably being Guinness Draught, which Guinness states is “distinguished by its legendary stormy surge upon pouring.”  That and a brew such as Smuttynose Imperial Stout can definitely be considered as “pugnacious.”  (Perhaps those who prefer dark beer can consider this as Old Testament Divine Guidance.)

The Beerchaser’s Favorites

Since I talked about beer itself – rather than breweries in this post – I’ll end by offering my five favorite Oregon beers (in no priority).  And hats off to the beer aficionados who are into the more esoteric brews.  But I graduated from an aggie college and have less refined and expansive preferences based on my education at Price’s Tavern in downtown Corvallis.

I am not offering any flamboyant or eloquent rationale except, “I really like them!”

Black Habit

 1.  Black Habit Brown Ale – (7.8%) the flagship beer of the Benedictine Brewery at the Mount Angel Abbey and Seminary brewed by Fr. Martin Grassel

2.  Sticky Hands IPA – (8.1% – 110 IBU) Block 15 Brewery in Corvallis 

3.  Oakshire Amber Ale – (5.4% – 24 IBU) from Eugene’s Oakshire Brewing 

4. Shanghai’d English Style IPA – (6.5% 65 IBU) – Portland’s Old Town Brewing

5.  Buoy IPA – (7.0% – 70 IBU) from Astoria’s Buoy Beer Company 

But I Can’t Forget….

And I would be remiss without this honorable mention.  Now, I realize that this American lager is a Wisconsin – not an Oregon beer – from the brewery founded in 1844 and unfortunately now produced by Miller Coors, but it’s still a great beer. 

Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR) – (4.74%)  Pabst Brewing Company

An outstanding honorable mention

Besides, in Thebeerchaser’s opinion:

“PBR tickles the olfactory epithelium with a pleasant and satisfying aroma and provides a hint of the forest on a fall day.  And the smooth malt-infused taste this sophisticated pilsner gives mid-palate is memorable.  

Topping it off is the no-nonsense hoppiness which creates an emotional mouthfeel similar to the crest of a wave breaking in the Pacific off Lincoln City, Oregon at high-tide.  PBR is tantamount to the Nectar of the Gods!”  (Don Williams 2020)

Christmas and Holiday Blessings from Thebeerchaser

And may all your shots be Pfizer rather than Vodka!

A Good Way to Get Back to Your “Roots”…..

Roots is a new establishment that had its grand opening May 18th in the Palisades Marketplace in Lake Oswego.   This not-for-profit public house has interesting and unusual trappings, but is not unique in Oregon.

The Oregon Public House reviewed by Thebeerchaser in a 2015 post asserted that it was the world’s first non-profit pub when it commenced operating in 2013 and even got national publicity on their mission.

Shortly after that in 2014, Ex Novo Brewing, opened its doors claiming to be the country’s first nonprofit brewery.

A Willamette Week article, described the two as follows:

“The nation’s first nonprofit brewery opened around the same time as the nation’s first non-profit beer pub in a rash of Obama-era do-gooderism, at a time when people could make a difference without braving tear gas.  Even if you didn’t know these were pints with a purpose, you’ll love…..” (Willamette Week 3/2/17)

Now in these days of intense competition in the micro-craft industry, there are a lot of establishments that are not making a profit – albeit not intentionally – so let’s distinguish the objectives of the those above and the new Roots Public House in Lake O founded by Derek and Katie Abbott.

Their goal is to make a profit – just that whatever financial returns are derived, are directed to select charitable (or sometimes governmental) organizations.   The model allows the patron to select the organization which garners the overage on his or her pint.  (You place a token in the appropriate jar.) Katie Abbott said that the Oregon Public House (OPH) was an inspiration for their plans.

Roots has identified four areas in which their efforts are focused:

  Education          Hunger          Arts          Literacy

The four recipient organizations when we visited this month are below.  These may change at some point in the future but will be restricted to local causes:

Lake Oswego School District Foundation          Lakewood Theater

Tualatin  Food Pantry          Lake Oswego Library

Customers have a choice which worthwhile cause to support.

Those who are suspicious or possibly have a cynical view of human nature, may dismiss this benevolence based on creative accounting.  For example, do the owners get a substantial salary which would be considered an expense and deducted before the bottom line figure.  Roots pledge is “We give 100% of our profits to local charities.  You GATHER, we GIVE.”

OPH is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit while both Ex Novo and Roots are LLC’s which allows them to maximize deductions.  Katie and Derek currently do not take salaries although all of their staff are obviously compensated – former Lake Oswego or Lakeridge High School students who are now college seniors or graduate students and work during the summer or part-time when school is in session.

Regardless of the manner in which they accomplish their motto – for OPH it’s “Have a Pint – Save the World”) and at Roots, it’s “Gather and Give”  – Thebeerchaser’s position is that the individuals behind these establishments, even if taking a salary, are working for far less than they otherwise would be taking home in order to promote worthwhile philanthropic endeavors.

A great looking family…..

Katie and Derek Abbott have a good story – Texas natives who moved to Oregon in 2002 to complete graduate studies – they both have backgrounds in education and Derek is a math and AP statistics teacher at nearby Lakeridge High School where he has taught for fifteen years.  Katie at one time worked for Marylhurst University.  Falling in love with the Northwest, they decided to plant their Roots here.

A homebrewing hobby ultimately led to the desire to have their own pub.  They built out the bar area (about 250 square feet)  themselves including the attractive woodwork starting in April which “took us about six weeks to complete – generally two hours per evening and on weekends about five hours per day.”

Woodworking is a family venture….

Their are plusses and minuses to their location.  The bar itself is tucked into a niche one sees to his left when walking into Palisades.

There are five tables and the bar has four seats to drink one of their beverages – a cozy environment but one which can also accommodate a community gathering.

Cozy ambiance with the Lammers

Some pub enthusiasts might prefer not to have their favorite watering hole in a grocery.

Palisades Marketplace, however, is a cherished community store with long-term and friendly staff that has a tradition of supporting the community.

It has a great deli and bakery within shouting distance of the bar and an excellent selection of wines. Katie stated that they have been a great partner.

Big enough for a community gathering

Palisades Marketplace – a community tradition in Lake O

Besides, there are subtle, but practical advantages to picking up a growler of your favorite beer or just having a pint at the bar when you make the trip to pick up a quart of milk or the organic veggies you forgot for your stir-fry dinner.

Roots has an impressive lineup on tap for a small operation with14 diverse micro-crafts, two hard ciders, a hard seltzer, two wines, three Kombuchas and a few non-alcoholic offerings.

There is certainly a case to be made for Katie’s assertion, “We have the best selection of draft beers in the area.”  And at $5 and $6 their pints are very reasonably priced. ($1 off at “Happiest Hours,” which are from 6:00 to 8:00).  Don’t be surprised to see a special whenever you pop in including some nights when wine is featured.

Currently, their food selection at the bar itself is limited to snacks such as pistachios, chips and salsa, chex mic and Bratwursts. (However, remember you can get that corn dog or macaroni salad by walking a few feet to the deli…..)

I have to admit, Thebeerchaser will return for a Happiest Hour when a beer and a Brat can be rung up for only $10.  Roots is open every day from 2:00 to 8:30 although they may cut back slightly during the winter months.

Janet and I joined our good friends, Michael and Pat Lammers, on a Saturday afternoon and I had one of my favorite IPA’s – Sticky Hands IPA (8.1%) from Block 15 Brewery in the great town of Corvallis.   

Michael – a dark beer aficionado opted for the Great Notion Double Stack Imperial Stout notwithstanding that “…it is fermented with an irresponsible amount of maple syrup…” and it has an 11% ABV…

Janet and Pat both enjoyed a pint of the Breakside Sugar Cube Hazy IPA (5.6%) because they wanted to try a hazy brew and to assuage some of Michael’s guilt for the sugar consumption in his beer…..

Derek and Katie are striving to make their establishment a community gathering place with events such as trivia nights on Tuesday for which they have regularly drawn 30 to 45 people.   It’s family oriented and minors are welcome.

They have also partnered with the Ceramics Dept. at Lakeridge for a “Plants and Pints Night” where for $20 participants consume their favorite beer, get a hand-made ceramic with a class taught by Nicole Forbes from Seven Dees Landscaping and chose the appropriate succulent plant to take home. All proceeds go to the school.

 

We were served by Sophie French, a delightful young woman who works at the pub during the summer while attending the University of Portland where she will be a senior and majors in Human Biology.

She is also a member of the notable UP Women’s Soccer Team and has had an outstanding record in both high school and intercollegiate soccer.  Her one year at the University of Idaho, she made the Big Sky All-Academic Team.

An amazing scholar athlete

Sophie and her twin sister, Lille according to a 12/3/15 article in the Lake Oswego Review “Twin Sisters Pull Off Rare Athletic Feat,” were well known for their diverse achievements in sports.

“Growing up, Lakeridge twins Sophie and Lillie French played virtually every sport that was available to them.  There was basketball, soccer, swimming, water polo, baseball, softball, tennis and track in their childhood.”

Not only a great athlete, but an academic all-star

And by the way, if you check out Roots’ website, which is very well done, don’t get confused in your Google search — there is a Root Public House in Flagstaff, New Mexico that looks interesting, but requires either a road trip or some airline tickets……

So how has the first three months gone for the two young entrepreneurs?   In response to this question, Katie replied, “Well there hasn’t been one time when Derek and I both wanted to quit on the same day!!”  

She stated that their intent is to expand to more locations so other communities have the opportunity to support their local community and share the fellowship a public house provides.  This  has been an ongoing faith journey for them.  “We love the way this helps us give back to the community and the community has loved it to this point and given back to us.”

Regardless of whether you are running low on foodstuffs and need to resupply your pantry at Palisades Marketplace, you should make a point to hit this new venture. Show your support for this wonderful couple.  They radiate enthusiasm and their efforts to “Gather and Give” and make their community and state a better place are commendable.

Besides, when doesn’t a Bratwurst fit into the plan……..?

Roots Public House      Palisades Marketplace    1377 McVey Ave.    Lake Oswego