How I choose a beer

You need beer! Either for a party or for dinner or just to have sitting in the ‘fridge in case of emergency. But what to choose… Here are my rules.

1. Pick a good beer shop – (or two) I go to various places to buy beer. BevMo, Whole Foods, liquor stores heck there is a 7-11 near me that stocks a small list of good stuff. Point being that one store does not carry all of the world of beer. Take a Saturday and scout out places near you.

2. Talk with the people who select the beer – You will be amazed. One of two things will happen. You will either encounter someone who knows nothing who asks the manager who knows nothing and you will know to leave. What happens far more often is that you will get great suggestions that you might not have otherwise thought of as you walked in the store.

3. Ask for it – Again you will be amazed. Flat out ask the store if they will carry something or even special order. Some items like The Abyss from Deschutes just won’t happen but if you ask for Full Sail Session Black you just might get it. Maybe not there and then but maybe next week. And if enough people ask for it, they will regularly stock it.

4. Weather – I buy according to the weather. If it is hot (like now), I head to the pale ales and kolsch’s of the world. A great stout doesn’t have the same zing in summer as it does in winter.

5. Food – What are you eating tonight? If you are having steak, a good malty amber or brown ale might be the best bet. Or are you going to a picnic? A lighter fruit beer might be the ticket.

Harpoon Brewing

Thank goodness that people traveled to Europe after college! That is when Harpoon Founders Dan Kenary & Rich Doyle caught the beer bug and we are the better for it.

They are probably best known for their UFO Hefeweizen and their IPA but they also have a tremendous set of beers under the Leviathan banner. A big Bohemian Pilsner, an Imperial IPA, a Quad and a Baltic Porter.

And if the beer isn’t enough for you, how about this…
Harpoon Helps Missions: Each mission is different. There may be missions in Boston, Vermont, Maine, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Connecticut. Past missions have included sorting food at the Greater Boston Food Bank, serving meals at a soup kitchen in Portland, an American Red Cross blood drive, and volunteering at a Harpoon road race to raise money for ALS research.

Beers I had in Portland

Fort George – Vortex IPA – on a scale of 1-10, 6

Deschutes – Red Chair IPA – 6

Laurelwood – Hop Monkey – another 6

(Oregon IPA’s are getting less hoppy or my tastebuds expect more hops now)

Caldera – Pilsner – 7 1/2

Amnesia – Pale Ale – 5

Fort George – Spruce Ale – 6

Deschutes – Ocho Negro – 8

Deschutes – Armory XPA – 7

From Los Angeles to Portland

Los Angeles to Portland by car seems foolhardy. You can be at PDX in under 3 hours by plane and be going from brewery to restaurant to brewpub tasting all that you can.

The problem for me is that when I am up there, I see all kinds of bottles that I want to bring home and try at my leisure. And the TSA thinks it is strange to want to bring 5 or 10 bottles of great beer on a plane. So driving it is. And to make the most of it, I decided to stop along the way at the great beer places in California and Oregon.

My first stop was Paso Robles. The home of Firestone-Walker and lead brewer Matthew Brynildson. I chose a stool in the tasting room and ordered a glass of their Bavarian Wheat and Li’l Opal.

The Bavarian Wheat is a lovely hefe. Great clove and banana aroma. It pours a hazy golden with a spicy bite at the end. Very refreshing. It really cools a person down. The Li’l Opal is a saison. Very similar in color to the wheat. Has a sweet, malty aroma as well as a touch of the farmhouse funk. Just a touch sour with yeasty notes to it. Then I asked for a quick tour before I got back on the road. Veronica was kind enough to show me around and halfway through we ran into Matthew and he passed over a sample of their new Imperial IPA, Double Jack. It wa great to try something that hadn’t even been released yet! Just from that taste, I could tell that Double Jack will be a hit with the hop crowd. But I like that the malt was balancing all that bitterness.

I bid adios and headed for San Francisco, and after getting through some typical Bay Area traffic, found myself at 21st Amendment Brewery on a night that the Giants were playing just down the street. I had a glass of the Dahm Kolsch which was a lovely straw color. It is a very crisp beer. No soft edges on it. An uber-pilsner. Then I had the Rathskeller Alt. Not much aroma on it and unfortunately not much flavor either. Little malt sweetness. All of the beers were lower alcohol which is great.

I headed over to ThirstyBear to re-try one of the beers that started me on this journey to beer consultant. The Valencia Wheat. A California wit bier. Alas, it was not as good as the memory of ten years ago. Perhaps, I have had too many great beers since then and this one has faded to middle of the pack.

Then I found by serendipitous chance, the awesome City Beer Store that I will talk about in a separate post because I loved it so much.

The next day it was on to Chico, California. The home of Sierra Nevada. After a couple of wrong turns, I found the huge complex that houses their brewery operations, gift shop and restaurant. I had their new Kellerweis, served in the traditional glassware. It was a hazy orange/yellow color with an aroma more banana than clove with a little sourness at the end. Good Stuff. I also sampled their Southern Hemisphere IPA which was delicious. So delicious that I bought a bottle of it.

Then it was on to Ashland. After walking around the town, I headed for Standing Stone Brewing and ordered up their beer sampler. I received their Cream Ale, Hefeweizen, Amber, Rye, IPA, DIPA and the Oatmeal Stout. My favorites were the Cream ale which was golden and clear with fruit tastes to it and the Oatmeal stout which was a lovely, mild roasted coffee stout.

My last stop before Portland was Eugene, Oregon where I stopped at the McMenamin’s on High Street. I ordered up the Ruby Ale. My sister-in-law’s favorite beer and thanked the gods that the driving was close to the end. I also tried the Jalapeno Wheat. I could not even finish it. I am a pepper wuss and this was peppery.

Raccoon Lodge & Cascade Brewing

Boy did I have a tour of this wonderful place. Not only did I talk to Art Larrance who runs the place, but then I got tours from Ron Gansberg the head brewer and another tour from Curtis the assistant brewer. These guys are really cool.

I sampled so many beers including a Gose that they are working on plus so many NW sour beers. They have so many variations that it boggles the mind. I had their Cask IPA which is another example of the milder Oregon style of IPA. I tried their Mouton Rouge which was very sour. So good. Dark, dark red with a berry sharpness.

I would have to say that if you wanted to try something different. The Bruery and Cascade Brewing are the places to go on the west coast.

Avery 16

Oh how I would like to get my hands on this beer! 16 is a dry and estery saison brewed with jasmine, peaches, and honey that checks in at 7.9% ABV.


Beer for Troops

I saw this tidbit in Draft Magazine….

Thanks to a Chicago-based group called Pizza 4 Patriots, American troops at VA hospitals around the country will receive another shipment of beer and pizza this fall. The organization, which sent 2,000 pizzas to soldiers in Iraq last July 4th and helped them drink Schlitz during the Super Bowl, has gotten donations of over 6,000 beers to spread around the country on Veteran’s Day.

Troops serving on active duty are banned from drinking while on base — with the exception of the Super Bowl — but vets in hospitals can imbibe accordingly.