Archive for May, 2008

Smoky the Beer

May 29, 2008

I hate smoke. As I sit here in my apartment writing this, it’s wafting in through the open window, making the air thick with stink, dirtying my window sill, contaminating my clothes, and burning the insides of my nostrils. I’ve never understood why anyone would enjoy the taste of that noxious stuff on their tongue… that is, until I tried the Alaskan Smoked Porter.

Unlike other ‘smoke beers’ I’ve had (or rauchbiers, as they’re called in their homeland), this porter is more than a one-trick pony. Sure, there’s the smoky wood taste coming through, and yes, it’s dry, but it’s balanced ever so delicately on roasted malts with little hints of chocolate and coffee and just a twinge of sweetness. Body-wise, it’s as thin as a porter should be, not delving too deeply into thicker stout characteristics, and aside from the smoky flavor, it remains a fairly subtle and mellow drink; it doesn’t hit you over the head with big flavors. Even so, this is a beer that was made for sipping.

The version we have on tap at Bailey’s right now has been aged since 2006, and I think this accounts for some of the subtleties. It remains smooth all the way through, but you keep picking up on different nuances the longer you spend tasting it; that’s usually a sign that you’re dealing with an aged product that has had time to pick up additional flavors and work them into the overall character.

Apparently, this isn’t a beer for everyone. It’s a love-‘em-or-hate-‘em type, I’ve been told. That was in evidence last week when a couple ordered a taster tray and they couldn’t get through half a 5 oz sample between the two of them.

Bottom line is this: if you’re strictly an IPA fan, or like your beers light, mild and creamy, this probably isn’t the pint for you. But if you’re the adventurous sort and dig the darker end of the beer spectrum, give it a shot. While cigarettes aren’t allowed in Bailey’s, you can smoke this beer all you want.


Secrets of the Taproom

May 27, 2008

Part 2: Take a Beer Flight

Most of us aren’t used to options. We figure that when we go into a bar, there will be—MAYBE—one or two beers we’d consider drinking. A quick scroll over the list and the mind usually starts crossing off possibilities pretty quickly. The first to go is all that macro schwill. If you’re lucky, there might be two or three reasonable—though often predictable—choices remaining.

The goal at Bailey’s is to shut your brain down with great options and send indecisive shudders down your spinal column as you start to order one beer, only to realize that there’s another on the list that looks just as good.

But we’re not completely without mercy. That’s why we’ve got a little something we call “the taster tray,” but you can call it “the beer flight,” or “the sampler” if you’re completely hopeless.

Here’s the deal. You choose any 5 beers that pique your curiosity, and we give you 5 oz samplers of each of them for just $7. You want all IPAs? Go for it. All the strong ales, barley wines, and imperial stouts? Be my guest. All the light summery stuff—wits, wheats, creams, and lagers? Enjoy.

While an extensive sampler like ours is pretty commonplace at most brewpubs, it’s fairly rare at beer bars and taprooms that carry a variety of different breweries. That means you’re not just getting the full range of beer styles, but also the entire gamut of West Coast brewing. So go ahead and pit your favorite breweries against one another. Sierra Nevada vs. Elysian, North Coast vs. Alaskan… you get the idea. Who wins? You do, of course.

But if narrowing down your options to 5 beers is still too difficult, here are my choices for this week’s perfect taster tray:

  1. Deschutes Cinder Cone (Nitro)
  2. Sierra Nevada Southern Hemisphere Fresh Hop Ale
  3. Hair of the Dog Blue Dot Imperial IPA
  4. Alaskan Smoked Porter
  5. North Coast Brother Thelonious

Taking One For The Team

May 23, 2008

Most people seem to think that being a bartender is a pretty great job, especially at a place like Bailey’s. What they fail to realize is the level of sacrifice one makes day in and day out to know everything that passes through those tap handles. And as usual, that tyrannical boss of mine isn’t making it any easier. I came in this past Monday to catch up on a few new beers that had just been put on. Sixty ounces later, I’m stumbling out of the bar at one in the morning, shaken, but at least feeling confident that I knew what beers were what and which were my favorites and which I could in good conscience recommend to all you beer loving patriots out there. But by the time I had recovered from my Monday night gauntlet and arrived back at Bailey’s on Thursday to start my usual shift, what did I see? Six—count ‘em six—new beers on tap. In two days’ time?!

Geoff does this to me all the time. As soon as I’m caught up, he pulls the rug out from underneath me by selling a whole lot of beer and then putting new, fresh, delicious beers on tap to replace them. And all of a sudden, I’m right back to where I started. Thanks a lot, you despot!

There’s six new beers on tap that I haven’t tried: Deschutes Cinder Cone Red (Nitro), North Coast Brother Thelonious Belgian Dubbel, Elysian Avatar Jasmine IPA, Alaskan Smoked Porter 2006, Pike Naughty Nellie Golden Ale, and Hair of the Dog Blue Dot IPA.

You see my dilemma.

How can I do my job without knowing these beers backwards and forwards, inside and out? How can I look a desperate customer in their sweat drenched face and tell them I don’t know whether the Blue Dot or the Elysian Avatar is the better IPA because I haven’t tried them yet? How can I lock eyes with a thirsty stranger and admit that my knowledge of the Alaskan Smoked Porter or the Brother Thelonious is based solely on my experience trying them in the bottle several months ago? I can’t, beer god damn it. I can’t.

So what I’m going to have to do is come in tonight and try these six new beers, and maybe have an extra couple of pints of the Anderson Valley Summer Solstice and the Sierra Nevada Southern Hemisphere afterwards to wash it all down. And then maybe chase that with a snifter of the Train Wreck.

I hope you folks appreciate the sacrifices I make for you. I really do.

Beer Styles Defined

May 21, 2008

Part Two: For Lack of a Better Name…

“Strong Ale” is probably the dumbest name for a beer style out there… and also one of the most inexact. Chances are, if someone hands you an IPA in a blind taste test, you’d pretty quickly recognize that it’s an IPA; same with a stout, a barleywine, or a hefeweizen. They have unique tastes ascribed to their style names that you’re not going to confuse with other types of beer. But if someone hands you a strong ale, your only real clue as to its identity is that it doesn’t really taste like anything else, or that it tastes exactly like another style, only much stronger than you’re used to.

In other words, a strong ale could describe just about any beer that’s stronger in alcohol than an IPA, but not quite as strong as a barleywine. That range is about 6% to 10%, although there are certainly a few other more distinct styles that play around in that range—Imperial IPAs or stouts, for instance, or Belgian dubbels or triples. Strong ale is the only style to my knowledge that is really defined more by the alcohol level than any sort of expected flavor profile.

That’s both to its benefit and its disadvantage. You never quite know what you’re picking up when you order a strong ale. Depending on the brewer and their interpretation, you can usually get wildly diverging examples. For instance, the Lagunitas Lucky 13 we have on tap right now is a completely different tasting beer than the strong ale it replaced, the Golden Valley Tannen Bomb. The Lucky 13 is far sweeter with a lot of caramel malts, some fruitiness and an almost syrupy body while the Tannen Bomb was hoppier with more citrus notes and biscuity English malts. It’s the divide between an amber and an IPA; the only thing these two strong ales have in common is their ABV (both about 8%).

Unlike some other styles of beer where you can decide after a few versions whether it’s to your liking or not, strong ales differ enough from beer to beer that every new version you try will probably taste radically unlike your previous choice. If you’ve never had a strong ale before, come on in and give the Lagunitas Lucky 13 a shot, but keep in mind that whether you love it or loathe it, you haven’t really experienced strong ales until you’ve tried them all.

Sierra Nevada Fresh Hop Ale Is On!

May 20, 2008

It’s easy to forget about Sierra Nevada sometimes. Even though they’re one of the great-granddaddys of American IPAs, their West Coast offspring seem to get all the attention nowadays, at least in the minds of many craft beer aficionados. While people new to the microbrewery phenomenon consider Sierra Nevada to be the doorway to a bigger world of great beer, for most whose palates have evolved to the insane hoppiness of a Stone or Bear Republic beer, it can be hard to look back. To me, Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale, Celebration Ale, and Bigfoot are all pretty spectacular beers, but the rest of their lineup leaves me a little cold.

So when I had a pint of the Southern Hemisphere Fresh Hop Ale at Bailey’s yesterday, I was shocked by how good it was. It absolutely reeks of hops, making the beer exceptionally hoppy without being overly bitter. The beer’s aroma and taste of hops are enough to fool you into thinking otherwise at first, but then the misdirection swoops in with a clean finish and just a subtle bitter end instead of that cloying aftertaste you can expect with so many other thin bodied, overly hopped IPAs.

The secret behind this beer’s magic is the “fresh hops” they add to every batch. According to Sierra Nevada, they have the hops picked, dried, and then immediately flown from New Zealand all the way to Chico, CA. While most hops are frozen before the brewers get a hold of them, these are practically straight from the field, resulting in way more aromatics and far richer flavors.

Having tasted the beer for myself, I can say that this is more than just another brewing gimmick, and evidence that Sierra Nevada isn’t content just resting on the enormous success of their Pale Ale. They’re pushing the beer envelope yet again with this and their other fresh hop ales. And one day they might be considered one of the pioneers of the style, just as they are today with the traditional American IPA.

Then again, the hop shortage might just nip that speculative future in the bud… so to speak.

It’s American Craft Beer Week!

May 16, 2008

I just found out about this today! I’ve been missing out on valuable drinking time!

(Of course, in Portland it’s pretty much always American Craft Beer Week, isn’t it?)

Regardless, I think this, coupled with the fact that it’s currently 90-frickin’-degrees outside, is an excellent excuse to grab a pint of your favorite tasty microbrew this evening, don’t you?

Time for an Anderson Valley Summer Solstice!

May 15, 2008

The weather today is glow-ree-us! And when the sun’s out and the sky’s blue and you’re not wearing a big coat like a suit of armor against the cold and the rain and the oppressive melancholia of the winter months, it’s probably time to stop into Bailey’s for a pint of the Anderson Valley Summer Solstice. It’s sweet, delicious and oh-so-refreshing… and it tastes EXACTLY like cream soda. Just be careful with this one; you may get so wrapped up in reminiscing childhood summers of days long past, you’ll forget you’re quaffing beer instead of soda pop. Compared to some of the other cream ales we’ve had on tap, the Summer Solstice is darker in color and far richer in vanilla flavors. I’m ready to call it the best cream ale I’ve ever had. Are you?

Secrets of the Taproom

May 14, 2008

Part One: The Bailey’s Draft Mantra

Believe it or not, there’s a system at work at Bailey’s. It may all look like thinly veiled chaos, but we’ve got guidelines we follow and philosophies we live by. Usually, this kind of thing is Need To Know only, but since I’m not very good at keeping secrets, I’ll be exposing a few of our juicier tidbits from time to time.

Today’s entry revolves around our draft mantra—the secret oath we make to the Beer Gods (or the distributors) in order to stock our tap lines. If you ever catch us violating any of the laws below, let us know, and if Geoff is behind the bar, also feel free to indulge in some righteous anger and accusations that he’s betrayed your sacred trust. Because he has. He totally has.

Here’s how it goes:

Law One: “Only West Coast Beers On Tap”

The rest of the country be damned! Only California, Oregon, and Washington beers are served on tap at Bailey’s. If you really need your East Coast or Midwest fix, take your foreign attitude over to the bottle list. There are absolutely NO exceptions to this rule!*

*Except for Laughing Dog from Idaho or Avery from Colorado…

Law Two: “Once A Beer Blows, It Shall Not Return”

There are no staple taps. When a keg blows, something completely new comes on, which means you’re always in for a surprise here. So if you’re digging that Stone IPA we’ve got on right now, you’d better get it while you can, because it’s not ever coming back.* But hey, don’t worry. Something just as good—or better—may take its place.

*Well, not for another few months anyway…

Law Three: “Twenty Taps, Twenty Different Breweries”

Sure, it would be easy to find one brewery we really love and just stock 4 or 5 of their beers at a time. But what if you—the customer–don’t like that brewery, or what if you’ve had all those beers already? Each brewer is a separate artist with different sensibilities and sometimes opposing tastes. And the more variety we offer, the more likely you’ll be able to find a beer on tap that you’ll love. No monopolies at Bailey’s.*

*Please ignore the fact that we have multiple Bear Republic and Full Sail beers on right now…

Law Four: “No Common Draft Beers Of Any Kind”

Sometimes we’ll get asked when we’re putting on Widmer Hefeweizen or Mirror Pond Pale Ale or Bridgeport IPA. The answer to that question is “Never.”* If you can find it at most bars in Portland, it won’t be at Bailey’s. Not that there’s anything wrong with some of the more common craft beers around town (that’s up for debate, anyway); it’s just that our goal is to introduce you folks to beer you’ve never even heard of before… let alone tasted.

*Except for that one time…

Shakespeare Stout on Nitro is Downright Poetic!

May 12, 2008

I’ve got a confession to make. I used to be a Rogue junkie. The Dead Guy Ale was my first great beer love and the big reason I made my alcoholic-drink-of-choice switch from Bailey’s Irish Cream (no joke!) to craft beer. But over the years, I’ve had a sort of falling out with Rogue. While I still believe they make some of the tastiest damn beers on the planet, I’ve got two major problems:

1) Their prices: It’s getting prohibitive, especially compared to other local competitors like Deschutes, Bridgeport, and Full Sail. You can find a six pack of any of the latter for $7, but just try to find a sixer of Brutal Bitter for under $11. Bottom line is if it’s down to a 22 ouncer of St. Rogue Red for $5 and a Ninkasi Believer Double Red for $3, it’s kind of a no-brainer which is ending up in the grocery cart.

2) Their beers on tap: I don’t know what it is, but I’ve never had a Rogue Dead Guy on draft that I was satisfied with. Meanwhile, the bottle version still brings back all those warm and fuzzy feelings I had for it back in the old days. I can chalk up some of the dissatisfaction with going to places that aren’t cleaning their tap lines or are serving the beer too cold, but when you try it at the brewery or one of the public houses and it’s still kind of flat and off, you begin to question your sanity first and Rogue’s kegging procedures second.

Anyway, this whole long rant has been a circuitous way of getting around to some great news for all my fellow disenchanted Rogue fans. Bailey’s has the Shakespeare Stout on Nitro right now, and it’s sublimely delicious. For anyone that doesn’t know this already, nitrogen is used instead of carbon dioxide and the result is a bigger, thicker body and a creaminess that will remind you of the best pints of Guinness you’ve ever tasted. The Shakespeare is a perfect beer for Nitro, with its big coffee and chocolate bitterness and chewiness coming out strong, but being cushioned by a thick pillow of creaminess and sweetness. It’s one of the best beers I’ve had off our special tap and reinforces my theory that Rogue beers CAN be great… and affordable! As usual, we’re selling our 20 oz Imperial Pints for just $4.50.

It’s reason enough to convert even the most jaded drinker back to the Rogue Nation. Now, if only I could convince Geoff to put Dead Guy on …

Beer Styles Defined

May 10, 2008

Part One: Keeping Your Wits About You

Practically everybody knows what an amber or an IPA are. But what about all those really unusual beer styles that we get in at Bailey’s from time to time? Ya know… the beers that are a strange color or have funny names or just taste… different? What are these beers, how are they made, and most importantly, will you like them?

For our first entry, let’s talk about Witbier aka White Ales. We’ve got one on tap right now from the Portland brewery Captured by Porches. It’s a solid version of the style and a lot of folks are digging it right after they get past their initial confusion over the name.

A Witbier is, essentially, the Belgian version of the German Hefeweizen. If you like Hefeweizens, you’ll probably like White Ales too. Both styles use a fair amount of wheat in the recipe instead of all barley, which helps impart a lighter taste and adds to the creaminess and head retention of the beer. But where a Hefeweizen has a strong banana taste, a white ale goes for the citrus notes instead, with coriander and orange being the most dominant flavors. The Belgian yeast strain is another factor in the difference, adding just a little hint of sourness and hanging around unfiltered to give the style its characteristic whitish yellow color.

White ales are great beers for the spring or summer. They’re light, refreshing, and relatively low in alcohol. If you’ve ever had a Blue Moon before, you’ve had a pseudo-white ale, a dumbed down version of the style brought to you by the same geniuses who invented Coors Light and ZIMA. Much better is the traditional Hoegaarden, or American craft versions like Allagash White, Celis White, Southampton Double White, and of course, our hometown Captured by Porches Wit.