Portland Beer Tour

So last Saturday, some friends and colleagues of mine and I met in Portland Oregon to look for some good beer. There were three of us: one from academia (we’ll call him “Joel”), and two from the craft brewing industry (myself, and “Sarah” for the purposes of this article). Sarah was on a Voyage of Discovery to find out what kinds of sour beers are being made and which ones are popular, but we also wanted to discuss the current state of sensory science in our own organizations as well as across the brewing industry. A Summit of Sensory Scientists, I guess you could say.

Now, sour beers are really not my preferred style of beer so my goal was just to find some beers and food that I enjoyed. I would have no problem trying the sour beers, but I certainly wasn’t going to be ordering any for myself. I also didn’t go into this trip with the idea that I’d analyze, or even remember, each beer I tried, but I did want to form some general opinions on the bars that we visited, and some of the food and beverages that they served. Below is a general overview of the places we visited, and what we thought about the products they offered.

The first place we visited was the Cascade Brewing’s Barrelhouse. I ordered a Test Flight IPA for myself and found it to be quite nice: a clean and drinkable IPA with a nice and floral hop aroma. We also ordered a series of beers from their sour beer lineup: the Kriek was a tooth-enamel destroying sour beer with a fairly subtle cherry flavor – it was alright; Nightfall is their blackberry sour which was decent; and whichever of their cranberry offerings we had was not that exciting. Our group’s favorite of the sours was probably the Sang Rouge, a moderately dark beer with a milder and mellow sourness and a pretty rich and complex flavor profile. I believe it was this beer that Sarah bought in 3 large bottles.

Other Highlights: the pulled pork sandwich, and noticing that their 750ml bottles of beer have stated alcohol contents on the labels which go to 3 decimal places. Service was on the slow side as it was difficult to get the attention of the Shel Silverstein look-alike behind the bar at times, despite not being very busy. Overall grade (beer, food, ambiance): B+

Next up, we headed over the Hopworks Urban Brewery. We happened to show up during Happy Hour, so we ordered a bit of food on the cheap: some awesome warm and doughy pretzels (with not enough delicious cheese sauce) and some bruschetta which was a bit uninspiring. For beer, we ordered a sampler platter, which serves 3-4oz glasses of each of their 10 main beers. Pilsner: sulfury and corny, but still clean and drinkable – pretty decent. Pale ale: my favorite here, balanced with some citrus hop aroma, maybe slightly catty. ESB: not terrible, but nothing to write home about. IPA: big brother to the pale ale it seems, more catty, more Simcoe-like citrus hop aroma. 7-grain stout: too much coffee flavor for me personally, but not bad. Organic ale: similar to the ESB but a bit on the grainy side, uninspired. Porter: a smooth and quaffable chocolatey/roasted offering. Helles: more sulfur, very basic, not bad I guess. The alt and Abominable Ale I do not remember. Sorry.

Highlights: Cheap Happy Hour prices. Overall grade: A-

Our last stop on the east side of the river was Upright Brewing. Just a bare-bones tasting room here, right in the middle of their basement brewery. We had a tasting rack of 5 of their offerings. Four: this wheat beer seemed too clear for the style, and had a harsh character to the bitterness – not awful but not great. Five and Six: the Farmhouse ale and the dark rye were actually fairly similar in that they both were quite tutti-fruitti (Juicy Fruit bubble gum, estery, ethyl butyrate) and had some medicinal phenol characters. Seven and “other”: I think these were a Saison and an Engleberg Pilsner, both of which did not stand out to us as being particularly good.

Highlights: realizing there were still plenty of places to visit. Overall grade: C+.

Back to the west side of the Willammette River we stopped at Bailey’s Taproom, which was a scant 2 blocks from our lodging. A nice selection of beers on tap here, with a low-key and relaxing environment. We ordered a Pelican IPA which was as good as I remembered, a Logsdon Farmhouse Kili-Wit (as in “Dave Logsdon”, yeast master of Wyeast) which wasn’t bad as phenolic Belgian-style beers go, and the Lagunitas Fusion 7 [censored] Red ale, which was big and robust and was thankfully much fresher than when I’ve had it from the bottle.

Highlights: the huge flatscreen display behind the bar with a price list for their available offerings, even showing how much remains in the keg. Overall grade: A

We noticed that Tugboat Brewing Company was right across the street, so we helped each other up and made our way over there next. A quaint, dark, and quiet pub, this place doesn’t look like much. We ordered the 13.5% abv Chernobyl stout (didn’t taste like 13%, but big in flavor nonetheless), the Hopped Red ale which was reminiscent of Deschutes Cinder Cone Red (pretty good), and I think third was the Czech Bitter, or perhaps some German-style lager. Joel, who digs European lagers and pilsners, loved this beer and we found it pretty true-to-style. We also ordered some nachos which, while not the greatest nachos in the world, were readily eaten.

Highlights: chilled ambiance, good beer, reading random passages from random books off the shelves. Overall grade: A

Our final stop for beer for the evening was the Deschutes pub. Nice ambiance here as well, like a large and spacious hand-carved lodge. The evening was getting late, so Sarah called off any further beer drinking for herself, but Joel and I both ordered the Hop Trip, mine on draught, his on cask. Both were fine beers, but we speculated on the differences in perceived bitterness. It seemed like the cask beer was more bitter than its draught counterpart. We wondered if the slight pain from the carbonation in the draught version distracted from the bitterness, or whether the bubbles tended to lower the surface area of the tongue that the beer had contact with, while the flatter cask version sat right on your tongue longer. At any rate, these beers were tasty, as was the food: sweet potato french fries, some kind of german sausage, and some spicy Thai chicken wings which will make your face melt off.

Highlights: I’m amazed I can still see straight by this time. Overall grade: A-

Finally, we drop Sarah off at the hotel room because she’s passing out and Joel and I decide to go for a walk to Voodoo Doughnut. We get there at about midnight and the place is packed, with a line just about out the door. A few minutes later, we’ve made it to the counter and we find out that many of our first choices are out of stock, including the infamous “Cock and Balls”. I order a Neapolitan cake doughnut and a Maple Bacon bar. Joel ordered a chocolate/peanutbutter/rice krispie conglomeration, among others. All the doughnuts were good, although I recommend eating any Maple Bacon bars soon after ordering them, as the fat on the bacon will eventually get rather gooey and gross if you let it sit, say overnight.

Highlights: informing some Cock-and-Balls-seeking customers outside that they were out of them, and being met with wails of despair.

So, that’s the essence of our tour. We discussed a a great many things regarding sensory science, and the brewing industry, from shelf-life studies, to training panels for various tasks, to the coming World Brewing Congress (in Portland, next summer, see link to the lower left), and more. It was a good trip with good food and good beer, and I’m glad I was able to join my friends and colleagues.

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10 responses to “Portland Beer Tour

  1. Having looked at the Voodoo Doughnut online menu (with pictures!) I now see that I did not receive a Neapolitan doughnut like I requested. Rather, it was an Arnold Palmer doughnut (vanilla frosting, with lemonade dust). I was wondering why they called the one I got a “Neapolitan”…. short answer: they don’t, they just screwed up.

  2. How did you miss Portland’s greatest brewer, Hair Of The Dog?

  3. Very interesting to see a professional review the beers that amateur bloggers are always talking about. I have tried Upright a couple of times and did not think they were anything special and really don’t understand all they love they get. Glad to see that it isn’t just me.

    Bailey’s is the shit.

  4. Seriously? You have an amazing memory. You didn’t even take notes! As for Upright, I think this is a hipster response to a shit beer. Breweries in Portland are like coffee shops and yoga studios. I am not complaining. I love the variety, and I love hipsters. However, because there are so many, everyone seems to look for the next best thing, even if the next thing is not the best thing it builds the stigma that it is because it is obscure. I don’t think Upright will grow beyond Oregon unless they get their act together.

  5. I think your discussion on perceived bitterness in cask beer is very interesting. I have always hypothesized that it is the yeast in solution in the cask that could be causing a detectable bitterness, as that beer is presumably cask conditioned. I base this on my observations drinking from the same cask for several days in a row, the beginning and end of the cask would have more yeast and would be significantly more bitter. Is the perception of the carbonation influenced by the length of time on the tongue?

  6. Graham Anderson

    I agree that the yeast in suspension are causing the difference in bitterness. Humulones coat yeast cell walls quite effectively, and you can notice a huge change in bitterness before and after you clear your beer. Carbonation may also play a role in perceiving bitterness, but high carbonation usually balances sweetness to some degree, shifting the balance toward bitterness, not the other way around.

  7. Really interesting point about humulones and yeast. Would you say that yeast itself is bitter? I believe it is as well. So in conjunction to being “sticky” for hop compounds, it also adds bitterness. And I agree that carbonation mitigates sweetness, and it certainly helps to offset low RDF beers.

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