Barley Mowat 

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I’m Back! Did You Miss Me?

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You know how sometimes, when you’re cooking, you just have to open the oven and check on the roast? Despite knowing full-well that it’s doing just fine, is in no danger of being burnt, and will be fantastically delicious once done. Well, my relationship with Portland is kinda like that. I know Portland is there, and being awesome even when I’m not present inspecting the various awesomeness and ensuring it’s up to Awesome Code (there is such a thing–I’m an official Awesomeness Inspector. It’s a rigorous six-month training program that involves far too much fire, in my opinion).

That was the main drive of my past weekend: sniffing around Portland’s many breweries, bars and restaurants, making sure that they’re just as great as the last time I was there. The short version is that, yup, you can all relax for another year: Portland still rocks. The beer scene is still lightyears ahead of ours, and you could still fit all of Vancouver’s food carts into just one of the dozens and dozens of parking lots that Portland sets aside for such things.

And yes, everything is still freaking cheap (2 pints and a lemonade at Lompoc Brewing = $8), and there’s still no tax (2 pints and a lemonade at Lompoc Brewing ACTUALLY = $8). And yes, Whole Foods still sells about the best collection of bottled beer I’ve ever seen (albeit now in a twenty foot long two ended walk-in freezer with automatic doors that annoyingly open whenever you get within three feet of either one). Of course, that collection is somewhat reduced by my presence. I did play nice, though, and leave some Hair of the Dog Adam & Firestone Walker Parabola for other people.

Actually no, I did not.

My haul for this trip? Nothing too over the top, just:

  • Hair of the Dog Adam (x5)
  • Hair of the Dog Fred (x4)
  • Hair of the Blue Dot (x3)
  • Dogfish Head Ninety Minute (x4)
  • Stone Imperial Stout (x3)
  • Firestone Walker Parabola (x3)
  • Russian River Sanctification (x2)
  • Russian River Supplication (x2)
  • Southern Tier Creme Brule (x2)
  • Misc singles from Cascade, Laurelwood, Boulevard

Great haul? Not really. Decent haul, perhaps. More beer than I can fit in my beer cellar? Absolutely. I’ll be updating my cellaring pages shortly with the cellarables in that list (Adam, Stone Imp, Parabola), but other than that I suspect my beer geek friends will start asking to come over more often than the never they currently do.

Well, I guess I’m done with Portland for another year. Next time, though, I’m going to focus less on revisiting the same old breweries, and more on checking out awesome restaurants. My visits to Pok Pok and Fire on the Mountain were highlights during this trip, and I can’t help but notice that I traveled past a few dozen other similar-looking places to get to them.

Written by chuck

July 4th, 2012 at 7:41 pm

Posted in Beer and You

Great Barrel Experiment: Beer One Review

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As promised, I cracked open some bottles of my of modified beers over the past week and sampled. What were the results? Is this beer nirvana, or just a horrible waste of time?

So far, I can only comment on my first beer: the unaltered Howe Sound 4 Way Fruit Ale. Before we get that far, though, let’s recap procedure.

Source Beer: Howe Sound 4 Way Fruit Ale (5 Litres)
Barrel: 5 Litre New American Oak
Age: 3 weeks in barrel; 3 weeks in bottle
Adjuncts: None
Carbonation: Dextrose/Champagne intro’d in-barrel, then in-bottle at capping

Now that that’s out of the way, how about I avoid the topic of how it turned out some more and talk about what I expected this rather innoculous procedure to do? Ok? Ok.

I was going for the addition of some nice, light oakiness to an otherwise decently-balanced fruit ale. I felt the body of the 4Way was perhaps a touch too sweet for my tastebuds, and thus I wanted to add a bit more… wood… I guess?

I also threw in some champagne yeast and some dextrose to add a bit of carbonation without too much flavour. I did this in-barrel to get positive pressure going, and thus keep out all the oxygen, and then I ramped it up in-bottle to get the beer back up to a bubbly, happy carbonation.

I’m pretty sure he’s high on more than just life.

The results? Well, not as great as all that sounds. First, while the oak is not as strong as I’d hoped, it IS strong enough to mask out the subtler fruit flavours. Know how the 4 Way tastes like peach fuzz? Yeah, well, mine doesn’t. Mine tastes like peach fuzz you rubbed on your hardwood floors for a few minutes before you ate it… and before you cleaned your floor.

Second, this beer was strongly carbonated, and despite my best efforts I simply could not replicate the high CO2 levels Howe Sound no doubt force-injected into the original. There’s quite a bit of residual dextrose in the beer, though, so perhaps more time on the shelf will bring up the carbonation, but I have no delusions of hitting the 12+psi of the original (that’s a guess). The result is that the liquid kind of sits there on your tongue–a sensation that isn’t helped by all that residual sugar.

Third, the choice of champagne yeast was to avoid messing with a delicate flavour mixture, however even champagne yeast still tastes like yeast. Kinda neutral “meh” yeast. As a result, the yeast nose was quite inviting, but there was just no fungal punch to the palate to back it up. With every sip I kept regretting not grabbing a nice saison yeast off the shelf below, as the nose promised a lot more than body actually delivered.

In the end, I can’t help but reach the conclusion that I’ve gone and made a great beer slightly worse. There is some hope of salvation, though: mixing my version with the store version results in less over powering yeast nose, lighter oaking, and stronger carbonation. I feel the mixed version really is an improvement over the storebought variety.

Much like how making your own veal is ever so slightly better than buying it at the store. Plus you get to straight-up murder a calf.

Good thing I have four more litres of this. Actually, even unmixed it’s very drinkable, and time will help the champagne yeast bring that carbonation up.

Not dying while I drank this makes me less hesitant to pop open one of the other two. The bourbon/vanilla aged Pothole Filler will likely be first, as frankly the heavily altered White Bark scares me more than a little. Maybe all the booze of the Pothole Filler will give me the bravery I need.

Written by chuck

June 28th, 2012 at 5:24 pm

Posted in Beer and You

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Getting There Is Only Half The Journey

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…Getting Back Is The Other Half

Sadly, I won’t be attending Central City’s Summery Cask Fest this weekend. And nope, despite rumours to the contrary, the primary reason isn’t that said caskfest is in Surrey and that I’m a collosal downtown snob. (Hey, just because I refer to Kits as “the ‘burbs” doesn’t mean I’m a snob)

The reason is actually much simpler: I won’t be here. In fact, the day before I will be leaving Vancouver and traveling east… then south… then through Surrey (I know, I know)… then, uh, through, um, whatever’s next (I don’t get out that far very often), then over the border.

The smart amoungst you have already pegged my mode of circuitous transport (a train), and therefore very likely pegged my destination as well: Portland. Yup, I’m forgoing a great beer festival at the edge of my mental map of the world for a trip to the great beer city that’s only very slightly beyond it on said map (yeah, my geographical knowledge kinda breaks down south of 16th… so Surrey is, like what, 1/2 way to Portland?)

Portland is the Grande Towne of Beer, and I cannot stress enough that everyone even remotely curious about our favourite beverage should make the pilgramage as often as possible. Step one of that trip, though, is simply getting there. So, without further adieu, here is my guide to Getting To Portland:

Option 1: Bolt Bus

So you desperately want to go to Portland, but even after cleaning out the back of the couch all you can find is $25 in change and a half smoked blunt? Well, don’t worry my friend, that and $25 more will get you not just TO Portland, but also back again! What a world we live in! Although what you’ll do while there and where you’ll stay without money is beyond me.

Bolt Bus thundered (yeah!) on to the scene promising the cheapest method of inter-city transit short of dismembering yourself and dropping the individual parts in the mail (what, too soon?). Fares start at about $20 each way and go up from there, peaking around $50-60 if you really need to go tonight.

In addition to taking out a row of seats to give everyone 2 whole inches of extra leg room, BB has wired up the bus with free internet so you can surf slovakian midget porn the entire way and forget that you’re stuck on a bus with 50 other people who, like you, also shower every other day to save money.

Poor people smell, is what I’m saying.

— At least one $1 fare on every bus, but most seats ~$20 each way
— Up to $60 each way day of
Travel Time:
— 8 hours plus traffic
Biggest Plus:
— Seriously Fucking Cheap
Biggest Drawbacks:
— Wireless signal can fade towards back of bus
— You have to get off at border, get your bags, and walk through
— You have to transfer in Seattle
— You’re on a bus
Pro Tips:
— Don’t take the bus, man.
— Seriously don’t. You’re better than this.

Option 2: Fly

Planes are an intriguing option, with a flight time of about 45 minutes to an hour. Sure, the cost is much higher, but that’s a fair price for the fastest means of getting from A to B minus a sub-orbital ballistic trajectory.

There are some minor issues, in that airports don’t tend to be anywhere near downtown–that plus customs adds a solid 90-120 minutes back into your travel time, plus ensures that you’ll likely have to talk to at least one cabbie. Although it should be noted that even the worst case scenario here beats up the bus/train timetable and takes their lunch money.

The trick is luggage restrictions. You see, I’m going down to Portland to not only have fun, but to also buy massive amounts of beer. Canada sees fit to allow me to come home with 8.5 litres of foreign beer, and I plan on bringing home every drop. 8.5 litres is about 30 lbs of beer including bottles, and that means you’re checking that bugger. Have a nice, relaxing flight back home, knowing your box of highly fragile precious is being handled by the ramp rats at YVR.

They’re also called “Luggage Throwers” FYI.

— $125-250 each way in steerage
— $350-400 each way with civilized people
Travel Time:
— 3h door to door
Biggest Plus:
— Fast, Fast, Fast
Biggest Drawbacks:
— Airports are in the boondocks
— Baggage restrictions and handling
— Pricey
Pro Tips:
— Nexus pass is your friend, but it won’t make the plane fly earlier
— Watch out for seat sales
— Pick an airline and stick with it. Rewards build fast on short flights.
— Horizon has free craft beer on PNW flights

Option 3: Drive

I get it. Your car is nice. Yeah, the stereo is pretty sweet, and sure, these leather seats are comfortable. No, I don’t want you to turn on the seat heater. Yes, I’m pretty sure. No, I’ll leave my seat upright, thank you. Um, I’m pretty sure you can shift gears without also groping my knee.

Driving is a nice option with plenty of upsides, the main one being that you get to take your pride and joy along with you for the trip. Plus, you’re allowed virtually unlimited baggage on your return trip, and you’ll rest well secure in the comfort that you yourself packed it in the trunk securely. Or you could, if you weren’t driving for at least 6 hours that day.

Piloting a car also gives you the option of leaving when you want and pulling over just about anywhere for food. Sure, it seems like having the choices are nice, but it does also have the nasty habit of slowing you down. It’s funny how people can confuse freedom with inefficiency.

— $60-200 gas each way, depending on your car
— $10-25 a day parking
— Unlike other modes, these prices are spread over several people
Travel Time:
— 6-8h depending on border, stops. 5h30m if you’re insane.
Biggest Plus:
— Freeeeedooooooooom!
— Can eat at nice restaurants
Biggest Drawbacks:
— Pretty cramped
— Border line-ups
— Traffic is highly variable
Pro Tips:
— Get a Nexus pass, and make sure all your friends have one too
— Seriously, force non-Nexus people to take another car
— Not sure what else; it is your car, afterall

Option 4: Train

I, however, much prefer the train to all the other options. The trip takes about 8 hours, and both starts and ends right downtown. The bar car carries a small but decent selection of US beer, including Deschutes. They accept Canuck cash but only give US change (at a decent rate), which actually can serve as a nice little currency exchange depending on how many beers you want to drink before noon.

Oh yeah, the train leaves before 7am. They kinda left that detail out of the brochure, didn’t they? Plus, Amtrak’s reliability on the early train (train 513) is just over 50%. This wouldn’t be so bad if the delays were measured in minutes, but I personally was once stuck in Tacoma for four hours.

All told, though, I think the train is a nice balance, and a relaxing way to travel. The seats are huge and cushy, the wireless is nice, and everyone has a big picture window to look out of… that hasn’t been cleaned in years (bring a squeegee).

— $60-120 each way
— $30-40 more for business class
Biggest Plus:
— Scenery, plus trains are cool
— Bar car
— Can get up and move around
Biggest Drawbacks:
— Slooooooooow
— Wireless can be spotty
— Bar car food is sketchy
— Early departure
Pro Tips:
— Book into business; it’s cheap and much much nicer. Plus you get off first for customs on the way back.
— Pack your own food (remember border restrictions)
— Pack your own beer for the trip back

Written by chuck

June 26th, 2012 at 5:45 pm

Posted in Beer and You