April 18, 2012

Neglected Portland Breweries: Columbia River Brewing

Portland has, what?, 40 breweries, and many are world-class, but, if we're being honest, they're not all worth blogging home about. So rather than take everyone's word on it, or rather, take nobody's word on it since these ones aren't being ballyhooed by the local beer mavens, I intend to visit them all. Here's Pt. VI in an ongoing series: Neglected Portland Breweries.

Columbia River Brewing Co, or just CRBC, isn't just on my radar, it's on my route to many of the places I walk. And with the new bambino, we find ourselves walking around a lot. From what I gather, beer geeks simply don't go to CRBC. Maybe they're miffed that the original brewpub in their location, Laurelwood, relocated 11 blocks farther up Sandy. In the New School Beer Blog's case, the reasoning is more dastardly, landing the brewpub on the McCarthyist blacklist: Enemies of the State.
So it's ironic, to put it euphemistically, that CRBC practically swept at the most recent Northwest Brewing News Reader's Choice Awards (Best Oregon brewpub, Best Oregon bartender in Lynn Burkhardt who I'd guess is owner/brewmaster Rick Burkhardt's wife, Best Golden Ale in cleverly named Sandy Blonde Ale, Best fruit beer in Rose City Wheat, & Best Belgian-style ale in Double Vision though why it wasn't Dubbel Vision I dunno). My Google kung-fu is weak today since I can't seem to find the blog post I thought I remembered wherein Ezra takes CRBC to task for ballot-stuffing in 2011, but he does squarely point the finger at Rick's daughter, Heather Burkhardt, here.

The kicker? At the biannual World Beer Cup--arguably the most auspicious beer competition since entries are judged blind and unlike GABF, it opens up the entries to breweries the globe over--five local breweries took home some hardware including some of the most celebrated and respected such as Breakside, Upright, newcomers The Commons, and aforementioned Laurelwood...and CRBC! Only one won two medals. Guess who! (Both were silvers for stouts, a coffee and an oatmeal.)

But all the above means nothing; I'm the judge and jury in this blog. Two things I like about it at the start. They kept the sunken brewhouse in the back corner from the Laurelwood days (as if they financially had a choice) and it's family-friendly. Not every brewpub in town is.

At the same time, you can come in with your mates for a few rounds of darts over pints and chips. Sorry, but Burkhardt lived in England so I busted out my British. But it serves as the perfect segue. Having visited on a Monday, and I'm a practitioner of Meatless Monday, I ordered the housemade veggie burger and got the fries on the side. Lest you think it's healthy, while the patty is made with broccoli, sundried tomatoes, brown rice, and garbanzo beans, it's also lightly fried. A crispier, more delicious veggie burger I'm not sure I've had. And the fries--being beer battered--are, no joke, easily among the Top 5 Fries/Frites in all of PDX! Nay, Top 3.

As for the beer, the most crucial element: yeah, it's OK. I meant to try the stout then, and now will certainly have to return in order to do so especially since Half Pint drinks almost exclusively stouts and porters since our I.P.Yae came along. And to keep the balance, more than ever I'm drinking more IPAs. I tried the Hop Heaven IPA at 7.5% ABV (it wasn't carbonated enough) and the War Elephant DIPA at 8.5%. They say it's their Northwest-style double IPA, which replaced Ground 'n' Pound, their British-style DIPA (8%). Oddly, I found it more perfumy than citrusy/piny, so it had the bitterness and aroma but for me, the thing I always care most about is the actual flavor. And I would've liked more than just a hint of grapefruit.

So, overall, given its proximity, its fries, the baby-changing trays in the bathrooms (you're welcome for not attaching that pic), and the fact that I know Half Pint will want to head in for the WBC-winning Stumbler's Stout (they offer half pints, US pints, and imperial pints, so she'll probably ask me to share an impy and I'll happily oblige), this won't be our new baby-centric HUB/Laurelwood, but it'll be on the rotation.

April 12, 2012

The Drinking Games

How old were you the first time you had a beer? I was 8. It was literally an accident, a misunderstanding, but I was 8 years old when I went into the minifridge in the family den and pulled out what I thought was a soda, but one in a silver can, or I guess you'd call it a Silver Bullet. My dad found out, not because he found me drunk, but because he found a half-drunk can of beer back in the fridge. Can you blame a guy, 8 or 38, for not liking Coors Light?

A news story tonight talks about actors Josh Hutcherson and Alexander Ludwig, apparently from a movie based on a book aimed at the 21- demographic called The Hunger Games. But the story focused not on being hungry, but on their, well, drinking games. Both actors are 19, and both are alleged to have imbibed alcohol. Hutcherson went on record (OK, he went on TMZ) and said, "I think the age to go to war is 18, so I think the drinking age should be 18 as well."

I agree. Do you?

I'm not saying I think Americans age 18-20 should break the law. I'm saying the law should be changed to allow them to drink legally. I'm not going to say I think they already do drink; we all KNOW they do. Dollars to d'oh, nut brown ales, we all had some beers in that age range ourselves. And not very good craft ones at that. (Although, in my defense, I got bit by the better-beer-bug when I was studying abroad where I was well above any legal drinking age, so it was hard to come back to school and A: not drink beer and B: not splurge on better beer even when my friends thought I was mental for spending more on bombers than they spent on 40s!

My son's 17 3/4 years away from turning 18. I seriously hope I don't have to wait 3 years longer to take him to a bar for his "first" real beer.

April 1, 2012

Neglected Portland Breweries: Widmer Brothers Brewing Co.

Portland has some 40 breweries and counting. Many are world-class, even out-of-this-world, but not all.

Sometimes I beat myself up for not having been to every single brewery in town. I intend to visit them all, but if we're being honest, the ones I haven't checked out yet are the ones that generally have no Beer Geek Brownie Points. Here's Pt. V in an ongoing series that included Tugboat, Philadelphia's Steaks & Hoagies, Max's Fanno Creek, and the Broadway Grill & Brewery: Neglected Portland Breweries.

It seems that this town has short attention spans when it comes to breweries. Sure, Upright just had a packed house for their 3rd anniversary this week, but let's see if anyone shows up for the 4th. Everyone's gaga over Gigantic and they haven't even opened yet. And it's fair to say that at less than year out of the starting gate, Occidental Dunkel is the Pliny the Younger of Beervana. The longer in the tooth, the more neglected the brewery. An Eighties Flashback reveals Oregon breweries like Full Sail, Deschutes, Rogue, Bridgeport, MacTarnahan, and the McMenamin Bros. debuting, but where are they now? Add to this list yet another pair of brothers, Kurt & Rob Widmer, who have all but descended into fermented obscurity.

While big brewing companies advertise during the Super Bowl or World Cup, you're only likely to see Widmer Bros. at a Blazers game thanks to having a pilot brewery at the Rose Garden Arena, or at a Timbers game, if you can even find the Widmer Brothers Southern Front bar at JELD-WEN Field.
As with the other breweries we've looked at in the Rose City, perhaps there is something in a name, for a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but names do count. Philadelphia's doesn't have the word "brewing" in their name. Broadway Brewery doesn't have a brewery. There's no Max at Max's Fanno Creek. Perhaps if the real brothers Widmer came up with a catchier name for Widmer Bros. that really stood out with some personal pizzazz, say, Craft Brew Alliance.

Now onto our visit to their brewpub in industrial NE PDX. As with most hidden Gasthauses, their tap offerings have been known to run on the common, well-trodden side like a Hefeweizen, Prickly Pear Braggot, and most recently, a mundane Spiced IPA I cleverly dub ChaiPA (and by that I mean like the tea, not the Hebrew word for living). Apparently, they had to resort to letting some homebrewers come in and help save this one. Finding IPAs in Portland is as easy as shooting fish in a barrel, so to prove this point, there's actually seven different shots at an IPA, most they were too lazy to devise a catchy name and merely dubbed things like X-431 IPA or X-467.

To eat, despite having a bountiful menu, I ordered a large plate of "Widmer sisters potato salad." I'll give them this much, it's the best potato salad in town!