Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sampling Session - March 30, 2012

At the end of March, five of us met at Lefty's on a pleasant afternoon for a sampling session that focused on stouts and porters.

The two best of the day: Närke Kaggen Stormaktsporter (2007) and Bell’s Black Note Stout. Kind of a battle between solid tradition and brash, multifaceted youth.

Närke Kaggen has an amazingly complex aroma: thick hunks of chewing tobacco, deep veins of chocolate, cherries, and dark ripe fruits. A great unabashedly Old World stout. Unrestrained but classic. Black Note (a blend of Bell's Expedition and Double Cream stouts) had a huge bourbon and vanilla nose, and rich sweet flavors of raisins, vanilla, as well as strange burnt rubber notes. Too much seems to be happening at once, but then it blends into a perfect subtle aftertaste.

The barrel-aged Rasputin gave off aromas of mild sweet chocolate, with some yeast and vanilla notes. It was very strong, with big sweet malt flavors. The bourbon notes really began emerging in mid palate.The bourbon, chocolate, and vanilla flavors are well integrated -- but it's maybe just a touch too sweet.

Founders Porter was pitch black, smoky, and full of chocolates scents. Coffee and chocolate flavors blended in a very well-balanced medium body but somewhat sticky.

Marshal Zhukov’s Imperial Stout had a thick coffee aroma, with a hint of chlorine. Darker than the Dark Force, with a high elegant lacing around a thick dark head. Burned hardwood flavors with very syrupy chocolate. An almost shockingly thick viscous body which rolls around in the glass like motor oil. A bit over the top, but still great stuff. 

Three Floyds Black Sun Stout exuded a piney hop aroma with some dark chocolate (like a black IPA). Pitch black with a creamy dark head. Flavors of chocolate, wood, some citrus, and a bitter aftertaste. 

Goose Island Bramble Rye Bourbon County Stout had a huge dark fruit aroma, with wine and berries. Fruit flavors start blooming in mid palate and ripen in final. Also a touch of candy and cough drops. Smooth and just a bit fizzy.

Average Ratings -- 50-point scale -- (five raters)
45.5     Bell’s Black Note Stout  10.5%
45.5     Närke Kaggen Stormaktsporter (2007) 9%
41        Three Floyds Zombie Dust (American Pale Ale)  6.2%
40.5     North Coast Old Rasputin Anniversary Bourbon Barrel Aged 
           Stout XIV 11.5%
40.25   Founders Porter  6.5%
40        Weihenstephaner Korbinian (Doppelbock) 7.4%
39.5     Cigar City Marshal Zhukov’s Imperial Stout  (2011)  11%
38.5     Three Floyds Black Sun Stout (dry stout)  5.25%
38.25   Goose Island Bramble Rye Bourbon County Stout  12.8%
37.5     Southern Tier Imperial Oat  11%
36.25   Mikkeller Texas Ranger (Spice/Herb/Vegetable)  6.6%
34        Bell’s Porter  5.6%
33.75   Russian River Redemption (Belgian Ale) 5.15%
32.75   Extraomnes Donker Imperial Coffee Stout  8.5%
32.25   Dick's Imperial Stout  7.5%
31.75   Nøgne Ø Tiger Tripel (Abbey Tripel)  9%
27.27   XO Beer Cognac (Bière de Garde)  5.9%

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Seattle: Brouwer's Cafe

 I had a free day in Seattle, due to a flight cancellation. After an early flight from Portland and a nap at the airport hotel, I headed out to Brouwer's Cafe, one of the more highly-touted beer spots in town.

It's a large open two-story place. Maybe 20 bar stools, 10 tables, and 4 large booths. Another 10 tables visible upstairs through an oval-shaped opening in the ceiling.

Overall, I was a bit disappointed. The tap selection wasn’t as extensive as I’d been led to believe. Well, yes, they did have a ton of barleywines -- 31 in fact, which were the remnants of 60 they had for the recent Hard Liver BW Festival, most priced at $5 for 6oz. and $7 for 12oz. Who should complain, right?
I ordered glasses of two:  Lagunitas Olde GnarlyWine '07, which was superb, and Stone Old Guardian '07, which wasn't.

However, the rest of the tap list consisted of beers you might see in many bars -- eight Belgians, two from California, and one each from Colorado, New York, Missouri, Ireland, Germany, and England). The exception, and a decided highlight, was Pliny the Elder on tap and in bottles. The bottled beer selection, on the other hand, looked impressive. They also had 59 single malts and 28 other types of whiskey, as well as 13 wines.

One big negative point is that they don’t have sampler sets. Another was that the service was fairly slow. The staff (four people) seemed to be very busy and not terribly friendly, rushing around at their tasks, even though the place wasn’t all that crowded. It took a bit of time to place an order. The food menu looked much better than regular pub grub, though I didn’t order anything. I've heard that the fries, the mussels, and their other Belgian dishes are especially good

Be sure to have a look at the reproduction on the back wall ("The Bitter Draught" by Adriaen Brouwer). Then get back to your beer.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Portland II: Bailey's Taproom

After visiting Hair of the Dog and Cascade Brewing, and recovering from that, the next evening I went to meet fellow blogger, Red, at Bailey's Taproom. Red publishes the always-interesting and punningly-titled blog, オ州酒ブログ ("O-shuu-shu Blog"), in which he writes about a wide variety of  Oregon beer, wine, and spirits-related topics. Later on, my nephew, who works in Portland, joined us there.

Bailey's is a great bar in a great beer town. 22 taps (all good and often rotating), many of them featuring Oregon beers, and some of them nano-breweries you probably haven't heard of before. Also a serious selection of bottled beer.There’s always something new on tap, even for the most experienced and far-ranging craft beer fans. There is minimal attention to decor, but that’s okay --it’s basic and comfortable. There is no wait service; you go to the bar and order what you want from the friendly and very knowledgeable staff. Decent prices, too. $7.50 for five samplers. There is also a cool electronic beer menu board above the bar. A must if you are in downtown Portland.
Tap Menu Board above the bar

Click on the link below to see Red's blog post (in Japanese) on Bailey's Taproom, which he calls downtown Portland's best beer bar: ダウンタウン・ポートランドのベスト・ビール・バー

Finally, here's a useful resource for Portland beer-hunters: the Beervana blog's "Best Pub Crawls." There are four on the blog site, each describing the major pubs to visit, along with some optional bars, stores, and restaurants along the route. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Portland: HOTD & Cascade Brewing

I have family members in Oregon and I get out there two or three times a year. I always try to spend a few days in Portland, exploring familiar beer places and trying out new ones. Last month I had a couple of days in Beervana and, on one wonderful afternoon-evening, went to the Hair of the Dog Tasting Room and Cascade Brewing Barrel House. The next evening was spent mostly at Bailey's Taproom. Finally, the day before I was to return to Japan, I had an e-mail from the airline company, saying that my Seattle-Osaka flight had been cancelled, giving me a free day to explore a few spots in Seattle).

The Hair of the Dog Tasting Room is always a treat. It has a large, airy, semi-industrial yet pleasant decor, with very friendly staff and a comfortable atmosphere. Seven HOTD brews were on tap. They were offering a sampler of four (Greg, Blue Dot, Fred, and Adam) for $7. Bottle of earlier vintages were available for consumption on premises only (e.g., first vintage of Adam (’94) for $75). This place is a must for beer lovers in Portland. Some of the very best beers in town made by one of the finest brewers around. 

Last time I was in Portland, the Cascade Brewing Barrel House was a couple of weeks away from opening, so this time I made sure to visit. It's just a ten-minute walk from HOTD. This is the place for aged sour beers; they had many types to try -- some aged 12. 16, or 24+ months.

 The bar area is spacious, and there is a large patio full of tables out front right on the street. They had 22 taps going. Bottle sales, too -- and they also sell bottle-shaped bubble wrap packs for those who are traveling. I had samplers of the Blueberry Bourbonic. L'agent Orange, Sang Noir, and Pater, all great. The first two of these were one-time-only single casks, 55 gallons fruit- infused and aged. I also picked up a bomber of Sang Royal to take back to Japan.

Monday, April 16, 2012

"Buying Beer Online" Revised and Updated

During the past month, I spent some time revising the "Buying Beer Online" section of The Tokyo Food Page.
This is a fairly extensive listing of places that sell Japanese microbrews, including several general-purpose shopping sites (such as Rakuten), specialty beer shops in Japan (such as Good Beer), and the retail shopping sites of over one hundred Japanese breweries.

I first created it three years ago, and it really does need periodic updating. This time I had to revise 20 URLs and delete six sites. Most of those deleted sites were from "omiyage" beer makers, generally sake brewers who create beers for local tourist markets and whose products will not be sorely missed. I also added nine new sites, including a few new brewers, and added a couple of breweries to the "Great Micros" section.

Take a look at the revised site HERE