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Beer Fight: East vs West

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Here’s a fun idea: pick two craft brewing regions, and elect three beers from each to compete in a battle royale for the coveted Most Awesome Beer Place title. To keep it varied, pick a category for each brew (otherwise you’ll wind up wading through nothing but Imperial Stouts), say categories of Barley, Hops and Yeast.

Sounds fun, right? Well, I’m doing exactly that this weekend. My buddy Jer is coming back to BC for a week of family-themed relaxation and, for reasons that honestly elude me, I’m invited. As part of this beachside orgy of sun, bocce and venison-consumption we’ll pit West Coast vs East Coast in a battle of breweries from states/provinces that border the ocean. Here is simultaneously both my and Jer’s take.


This should be a bloodbath, right? Well, just because the West has some rather famous beers doesn’t mean I can magically conjure up a bottle of said beer. Pliny the Elder? Yeah, right. Also, even with the raw lower number of highly acclaimed East Coast breweries, there are still some great freaking beers to be found out there. The competition will be stiff, and I’d best bring my A-game.

Luckily, though, I did just come back from a trip to Portland so I’m not limited to just the Great White North and what friendly US breweries deem fit to import. What with my desire to not dive into my unfairly huge cellar, I am handicapped somewhat, but hopefully not too much.

Hair of the Dog Adam (Batch 88)
Traditional Ale – 10.0%
Ratebeer: 100;100

This is my hands-down most favourite beer on the planet, from my most favourite brewery on said same. Batch 88 is the latest, so this is a fresh and un-oaked version, but it’s a legend for a reason. Sure, I could have pulled some Singularity out of the cellar (well, I’m doing that anyways), but when honour is on the line you just gotta go HotD.

Cascade Barrel House Vlad the Imp-Aler (2011)
Sour/Wild Ale – 10.6%
Ratebeer: 99;97

This is a beer that is for sale in Portland, Oregon for $30 a bottle. Thirty freaking dollars per bottle. This is the same Portland, Oregon, where Hair of the Dog (a mere 1 kilometre away) retails at $15 a bottle. Yet people buy this beer. They but a lot of it, and come back for more. Think about that for a second.

Parallel 49 Hopnotist
Imperial IPA – 8.5%
Ratebeer: 88;41

I’m not going to a beer fight on the BC coast without a BC beer. Don’t let that low RateBeer score fool you; this is a massive, amazing IPA. RB scores take time to get up high, and with only 13 reviews to its name so far, Hopnotist is being weighted down artificially. I’ve had both Hopnotist and Pliny the Elder, and I’ll take Hopnotist.


I’ll be honest: challenging Chuck to a East vs. West Coast beer war was just an excuse to get a picture of him drinking a beer out of a can. Then disaster struck, and my road trip to Vermont was cancelled, so I was stuck trying to assemble a competitive lineup from second-stringers. No Heady Topper, no Hill Farmstead… what’s an East-Coaster to do?. Chuck insisted on a strict ‘states on the Eastern seaboard’ rule, so the KSB and Bourbon County I’m bringing with me weren’t allowed to be on the roster. I’m not going to give him any, just out of spite.

I think I managed to field a decent trio of beers, but I’ll admit I’m the underdog. With that in mind, I tried for interesting over obvious.

Evil Twin Even More Jesus
Imperial Stout – 9.8%
Ratebeer: 100;98

This beer is called Even More Jesus. I figure Chuck can’t possibly vote against a beer with that name. Plus, Evil Twin is a great brewery, and this is a big, complex, punch-you-in-the face imperial. If you’re thinking Evil Twin is in Denmark, you’re wrong. They’re a Denmark/Brooklyn brewery – and this one was brewed in very coastal South Carolina.

Captain Lawrence Rosso e Marrone
Flanders Oud Brouin – 10%
Ratebeer: 100;99

I wanted to pick at least one beer from New York State, and this one is pretty special. An American Sour, fermented with grapes & Brett and aged in wine barrels. Captain Lawrence is a fairly big brewery, but they made just 250 cases of this. I haven’t had this batch, and it’s still young, but it feels like a good wildcard for the funky category.

Maine Brewing MO
American Pale Ale – 8.64%
Ratebeer: 99;100

I eyed up some doubles and Imperials, but I thought trying to fight IPA with IPA would be a losing battle with the Cascadians. So here’s an American Pale from Maine Brewing Company. MBC is hovering right on the border of brewing fame right now, and I’ve been very impressed by what I’ve had. This one is a nice hoppy pale, brewed with Warrior, Falconer’s Flight, and Simcoe. I also have a bottle or two of Zoe, on hand for a taste comparison.

Sweet mudda of Gord those are some high quality freaking beers. This will be an epic weekend, for sure.

Written by chuck

July 25th, 2013 at 4:05 pm

Portland Part I

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OK. I’m back for real. It turns out that work doesn’t stop if you go to Beer Mecca for a weekend, and thus you can expect to get snowed in for a few days upon your return. But I’ve now had sufficient time back to both sweat the last of the liquor out from my pores and to also write up a review of Portland as a beer holiday.

Short Version: Go there. Now. I don’t care that you’re at work. Quit your job and go.

Long Version:

It’s often said that Portland is 15 years ahead of us when it comes to the brewery industry, and I’d have to agree. My initial reaction was to say “more like 30!” but 15 years is an awfully long time. Think about what 1996 was like. I was still in university, not a single iWassit had been invented, and the notion that craft beer was for everyone instead of a small select audience was only just beginning to sound non-ludicrous.

So with this in mind I rolled into P-Town and set about seeing what all the fuss was about. An unexpected 4 hour layover in scenic Tacoma at the suggestion of Amtrak modified my Friday evening plans somewhat, but I was undeterred and made my way over to Deschutes Brewpub to sample some of the fine beers available. A 1 hour wait to get into one of the many good beer bars in the Pearl District instantly set off my “This is not Vancouver” sensor.

As did this barrel full of spent coasters.

Luckily we were welcome to pass the hour waiting in the adjoining bar, and have a pint or five. Despite the crowd, the brewpub was a delight, serving up all of Deschutes’ normal offerings and some of their rarer ones for absolutely tiny sums of money (Black Butte XXII was crazy good). This will be a recurrent theme: Portland is cheap compared to Vancouver. How cheap? Try ordering two 20oz pints of excellent ale at a jam-packed downtown brewpub, handing the bartender a $10 bill, and see how much change you get back here. I got $2. The food was excellent as well, making this place a definite must-see on your list.

From there it was a short jog through the rain to Whole Foods. Yes, a grocery store specializing in high end organic foodstuffs was my next stop in beer nirvana, because we ain’t in Kansas any more.

Pictured: Groceries.

That’s not a stock photo. That is what was on my hotel table 10 minutes after walking out of Whole Foods at 10:15pm on a Friday night. Pictured are beers whose scores are (from left to right): 100;98, 100;97, 97;59*, 98;97, 100;99, 100;99, and 100;98. I’ll leave researching what a score means to the reader as an exercise. * Sidenote: the 97;59 for ST Creme Brulee doesn’t reflect Sharon’s near addictive lust for this beer, which she desires even more than water.

Plus, there were plenty more beers in the 100;95+ range but frankly my arms are only so strong.

For reference, here are a few BC entries and their respective ratings:

  • Phillips Hammer Imp Stout: 95;44
  • Driftwood Naughty Hildegard ESB: 92;98
  • Crannog Backhand of God: 66;44
  • Central City Red Racer IPA: 98;97
  • Howe Sound Pothole Filler Imp Sout: 93;37

Now, ratebeer is not the end-all of beer ratings, and does have a slight US bias (in particular, I take exception to the Crannog BHoG score), but it is a good overall guide. A good beer might not get a high score, but a highly scored beer will likely be excellent.

Next I hit up the marvellous Hair of the Dog Brewery & Tasting Room.

I have to say it. Coolest brewery logo ever.

HotD unfortunately didn’t have any of their crazy one-off brews on offer, but no matter, their regular lineup is the stuff of legends. Despite being absolutely crammed to the gills with beer lovers for Portland’s annual Zwickelmania, I managed to sample the full set of HotD beers, and wander around their brewery a bit (hint: it looks much like other breweries).

HotD is a short walk from most downtown hotels, but unless they are serving up some of their odder ales I can’t recommend it as a stand-alone destination if you’ve had their beer before. If you haven’t, then absolutely go there. In either event, it makes a fantastic pit stop en route to my next target: Cascade Brewing Barrel House.

Cascade Brewing has an interesting side project in SE Portland: their Barrel House. The normal brewpub for Cascade is way off to the SW of Portland, but at the Barrel House (just a short 15m walk from HotD, by the way), they roll up their sleeves and make very odd beers (that’s a good thing).

None of the beers on offer here are brewed on site. Instead, they’re all trucked in and stored in old wine or whiskey barrels for at least 18 months. Storing beer that long means you need a lot of space, since barrels don’t exactly efficiently use the volume they occupy. Yes, that means the building is essentially a warehouse for beer.

Oh my god. It’s full of barrels.

So, after 18 months in a barrel, they crack that sucker, carbonate it and serve it, right? Um, no. Not even close. At 18 months they sample the beer, figure what direction the flavour has gone, and concoct some sort of crazy fruit to add to it. It might be peaches, it might be ginger, it might be ground up apricot pits–whatever they think will compliment the beer is sourced, ground up and crammed into the beer, along with yeast to restart fermentation.

Surely THEN they must serve it, right? Nope, it’s re-barreled and optionally conidtioned with brettanomyces or lactobacillus to kick start the souring, and then left for several more months before it’s ready for your taste buds. It’s a long process, but it produces wonderfully complex, completely unique beers. No two runs of the same recipe will be the same. It also produces some complete flops, as one of the brewers confided in me “we’re not doing our job right unless you sometimes go too far and have to pour it out.”

While I was there, they were kind enough to tap a few barrels mid-process and hand out samples. The samples came with both backstory on the original beer as well as their hopes for what will be added to the mix and what was in the beers’ future. You can just tell that these guys love their jobs, and it shows when you talk shop with them.

I’d be smiling too if my job description was “make good beer awesome any way you want.”

Cascade hands down was my highlight for Day Two of my trip, and very nearly took the cake for the whole trip. A visit to Portland is worth it even if you never make it to another brewery. Heck, having to leave after sampling only 1/4 of their beers made me incredibly sad, despite the fact that my next stop was one of the best beer stores in America, but that’s a story for the next instalment.

Until then, enjoy this great sunset picture Sharon grabbed about a block after Cascade.

Not pictured: Freezing cold.

The saga continues in Part II

Written by chuck

February 25th, 2011 at 10:37 am


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A time comes in every beer geek’s life when s/he must make a pilgrimage to that holy centre of all that is good in barley-land. Yes, my friends, I’m talking Portland. Not just about Portland, but about going to Portland.

I am making that pilgrimage (for the second time, as it turns out), which you would already know if you’ve been within ten feet of me recently or started a conversation with me randomly on the street:

“Excuse me, do you have the time?”
“Nope, but I DO know what time it is in Portland! Because I’m going there!”
“Sorry, what?”
“To Portland! Me! Portland! WOOOOOOOOOO!!! Yeah!”
“B-but, you have a watch. I can see it on your wrist! Couldn’t you just lo-“
“Did you know that Portland has more breweries than ALL OF BC! It’s TRUE!”
“OK, fine. What time is it in Portland? Same timezone, right?”
“I don’t know. How could I know that?”
“You just sa-“
“Well, yeah, I know what time it is in Portland three weeks from now when I’m there, just not now. Cuz I’m not there yet.”
“Please help me.”
“Tell me, my friend, have you heard the Good Word about Portland’s BrewPubs?”
“Oh fuck off.”

That river is basically pure beer.

OK, so I’m a bit excited. Justifiably so, since Portland is about 10-15 years ahead of BC in terms of craft beer. Go over to Google and search for “Portland Breweries” to get an idea of what I mean. No, actually, don’t. You’ll be too engrossed to remember to come back here and jack up my Google Adsense revenue (those are on, right? I mean, people other than me see banner ads for free iPads everywhere? You do? Cool).

So where should I go and what should I do? Well, I’ve been planning, and here are few highlights.

  • Bailey’s Taproom – Sure, the Alibi has more taps and casks, but imagine if there was no border and thus no silly import laws between Nigel and the best breweries in the US
  • Hair of the Dog Brewing – Widely regarded as one of the best breweries in the US, and thus world. Oh, and about a 10m walk from my hotel
  • Cascade Brewing Barrel House – Like sour beer? How about a whole pub dedicated to produce sour, barrel aged versions of their normal beers? (which are in an entirely different bar across town)
  • Upright Brewing – Sadly Alex will be in San Fran the weekend I’m there, but it’s still nice to visit the source of 50% of my cellar’s contents
  • Belmont Station – Gotta bring some beer home, don’t I–8.5 litres for me, and 8.5 litres for Sharon… also for me 🙂 Go look at their list. LOOK at it. Then realize they have a tasting room as well. Belmont Station is a prime example of why I hate the BC Liquor Control Board
  • Horse Brass Pub – As solid a watering hole as could be imagined

This is a real thing that happens in Portland. At a bar.

I’ll also be stopping by Rogue, Deschutes, Widmer and making several runs to the Pearl District Whole Foods, who have a beer selection that would instantly be the best in BC if it were here. In a grocery store. Well, not really. They’d be the best for a few minutes before the BCLCB shock troops stormed in and shut them down. Can’t sell booze and food in the same place! People might… uh… really not sure where they’re going with this one.

So, am I missing anything? I want to keep fairly close to downtown or within walking distance. Any suggestions from beer-land?

Written by chuck

February 3rd, 2011 at 11:31 am