Winter Warmers from my Winter Wonderland

It seems every month offers something new I’m completely pumped about getting to experience for the “first” time as a full-time Bend resident. Certainly, even in Portland, Bend breweries are well represented so it’s not like these are all new to me, but whereas Portland winters are usually dreary, Bend winter is cheery. There were snowmen on every block until the snow turned back to rain these last couple of days. But I won’t let that rain on my parade. Or my batch of favorite “winter warmers.” I tried to limit this round-up to just five, but I sorta snuck in a pair from five different local breweries. Sue me.

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19 beers of the 19-day #covid_19 ‘antine: Cherry Adam

The third beer is the very definition of a cellar-dweller. I’ve never once bought an entire case of a single beer. Except for one time I did and dropped, if I recall, $300 on it. No less.

Why’d I buy a case of Hair of the Dog‘s Cherry Adam From the Wood (Ftw)? It was a favor to a guy I very much doubt is reading this, but a guy who I felt I owed a beer-debt to when he’d provided a memorable (and simultaneously immemorable) experience in Kentucky a few years earlier). By that point in late 2011, I’d been living in Portland, OR for a couple years, attended my first FredFest, and fell in love with brewmaster Alan Sprints’ FTW series. These weren’t sour beers and they weren’t using every obscure fruit under the sun. They were the same strong ales HotD had become known for–beers with big personalities named for (often-four-letter)-named people who’d had a big impact on Sprints. Fred. Otto. Not that the pale ale named for his gramma Ruth was a Belgian Strong Ale, but as someone who had a Grandma Ruth myself, I could relate to his naming convention.

So I went to the dock sale early one morning, I don’t recall much of a line having formed, and dutifully bought the case for my friend. And a year later, when that case was still fully in tact in a dark, cool, crawlspace beneath our basement stairs, I asked the Kentuckian about his plans to procure his favor, which I wasn’t even going to charge interest or the increased market value since this one-of-100 case had developed quite a cult following. CAFTW became the ISO-acronym around beertrader sites.

That email thread was quite short. And fruitless. And I began treating myself to the occasional 12-ounce bottle of CAFTW.

Soon, I started popping ’em at bottle-shares. It made frequent appearance at my themed cellar-clearings, like all cherry beers. (Note: I did start an entire beer festival devoted specifically to barrel-aged sour cherry beers called Kriekfest, so you can believe I’ve gottta lotta cherry beers in my stash.)

But 24 bottles is a lot. And I still had 5 left at the start of this isolation. Not that ISO any more lation at this moment!

When I popped the top, a semi-fart of autolysed air leaked out. The liquid is less bubbly than Mike Pence on Ash Wednesday. But at the cost of roll of March-2020 Charmin per bottle, I wasn’t going to drink a fair amount without trying to pixilate out all but the silver lining: Nice, bourbon-soaked black cherry flavor.

The next day, I gave a bottle to a friend with the suggestion that he try to re-carb it first and with some life breathed into it, I think Adam could make it through another eve. But that still leaves me with 3 bottles.

How a Beer Writer Writes About Wine

As the great American philosopher Fred Eckhardt declared, “Listen to your beer.” And since beer speaks to people, at least those smart enough to listen and thoughtful enough to hear it, it speaks of hops growing on the bines, amber waves of barley blowing in the field, or yeast hitchhiking on the breeze.

Brewmaster Matt Van Wyk’s beer obviously sings to him. He, along with brothers Brian and Doug Coombs, are the composers behind Alesong Brewing and Blending in Eugene, Oregon. And while they create a wide range of barrel-matured beers from earthy saisons to viscous imperial stouts, no doubt it’s the emphasis on vinous, wild ales that is music to sour beer lovers’ ears. But if their newest GABF medals are any indication, they could almost rename the brewery WineAlesong. And there are others singing similar tunes. For this reason, I got to write about those brewing at the intersection of wine and beer for CraftBeer.com.

Pacific Prost

The drive from San Diego to Seattle covers 1,500 miles of ridiculously gorgeous Pacific coastline along Highway 101 (or sometimes Highway 1 in California). It could technically be tackled in two 15 hour driving shifts but I don’t recommend that. In fact, it took me nearly 40 years to have tackled the entire shoreline. So I reflected back on some favorite breweries along the way and wrote up this epic 15-brewery drive along the Pacific CoastEpic-Craft-Beer-Road-Trip-Pacific-Coast-Breweries.

Breaking News/Broken Hearts: Tugboat is Sinking

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If this isn’t a familiar sight, you’ve been drinking beer wrong. (Photo: Brian Yaeger)

It’s probably fair to say that out of all the Portland beer geeks, no one loved the Tug more than I. And now, as of earlier this month, I’m not even a Portland resident and as of next month, Tugboat Brewing is, reportedly and most likely, closing.

This morning, my friend and long-time Tugboat bartender Linsel Greene, posted on his Facebook wall:

“It’s kinda out of the bag, so I think I’m clear to inform the public that Tugboat Brewing Co will stop pouring beers on August 30th. The bar is being forced to close and leave its location on Ankeny St. The ancient fleabag Stewart Hotel, which sits above the bar, suffered structural damage during a fire earlier this year. The Bureau of Buildings has stepped in and demanded an evacuation of all Hotel tenants. The company that insures the bar claims that the business is uninsurable in this location, and so the bar is going to close.”

Tellingly, Linsel refers to it as a “bar” and that it’ll stop “pouring beers.” That’s because, to most of its patrons, it’s a beer bar and not really a brewery tasting room. There are 18 taps and at best, house brewed beer springs from maybe four of them. In some people’s opinions, “at best” would mean none of them flow with house beer. Admittedly, it’s not exactly a shining beacon of award-winning brewing as far as recipes, technique, craftsmanship, cleanliness, stewardship, innovation, or flavor. And yet… it was my favorite Portland brewery for one reason. Well, for one and a half reasons. No brewery holds a candle to it for sheer ambiance. And that matters. It’s an aspect that most of today’s watering holes overlook. A few various IPAs and some reclaimed wood and some growlers converted to lighting covers (or Edison bulbs) are not tantamount to ambiance. Corn hole and a cheese board does not a brewpub make.

Tugboat (their comically official website is at www.d2m.com/Tugwebsite/ and for my first review, click here) effortlessly exuded a comfortable and convivial atmosphere with shelves aplenty of old books, well-worn board games, and always the cool jazz raining down from the speakers. Moreover, as a patron you could always, always find good conversations whether your fellow barflies were out-of-towners who only found the joint because they were staying at a nearby hotel or after-work types. And these would be conversations about interesting topics, not about beer. If you want to discuss the beer in your glass, you go across the street (that feels more like an alley) to Bailey’s Taproom or its even geekier upstairs bar, the Upper Lip. Don’t get me wrong. I love drinking beer in both of those rooms, too, and not just because the taplists are always infinitely better than Tugboat’s. But Tugboat co-owner Megan McEnroe-Nelson had a name for those customers: “Beer sniffers.” It’s true. They almost all sniff their beers quite a bit before they drink them. And likely Instagram them, too.

I’ll get back to Megan in a moment, but what of this Mr. Greene? In Oregon Breweries, I referred to him as “patron-turned-bartender, the Goldendoodle of beer slingers.” The dude really aims to please the customers. I don’t know where he’ll work next, but if it’s at a bar, the patrons there will be lucky to have him. Just don’t try to ask him what kind of hops went into that IPA you’re sniffing or what his favorite NEIPA is at the moment.

After operating for 24 years, owners Megan and her husband Terry, who’s also the brewer with no formal training, are powering down. Megan is an absolute doll. Her brunette bob belies her age; she’s 43 years old. I’m 43 years old. When I was 19, I was drinking Natty Light through a straw on Halloween because for my Papa Smurf costume, I’d made a beard out of cotton balls and didn’t think about how to drink through it. When Megan was 19, she helped launch one of the first of Portland’s second-wave of breweries. The Nelsons actually already worked at the shop at 711 SW Ankeny. First it was called Time For Fun where Terry restored watches. Then they converted it to Café Omega, y’know, for all your watch repair and cocktail drinking needs. That’s when they added the four-barrel brewing system. It was legal since her husband was over 21. That brings me back to Linsel’s post.

“The owners haven’t told me any plans to do something else with the name, and I don’t think there’s much likelihood that they’ll open another bar. I think Terry might be done moving kegs, and I can’t say I blame him.”

 

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I mean, does YOUR favorite beertender don a tophat? (Photo: Brian Yaeger)

So it’s not 100% confirmed that the Tug is closing, but the writing’s on the Facebook wall. In my book, I referred to it as “the most mysterious, misunderstood, and maligned brewery in Beervana.” Everyone knows where Bailey’s is and also where Mary’s (Bridgetown’s first all-nude club) but most folks don’t know about the brewery betwixt them. And the beer nerds who’ve been (many years ago and no sooner, no doubt, save for a few folks I’ve dragged there or were assigned to go for a blurb in WW’s Beer Guide) rarely find it as charming as I did. In a town that’s still very much all about IPA or newfangled, cockamamie ingredients, they didn’t realize that the best Double-Russian-Imperial Stout—Chernobyl—was right under their sniffers. It lumbers in at 14% ABV and exploded with tobacco and leather, immune to the flaws that a less cumbersome beer might incur. Because of its strength, they only serve it in half pints, hence why I said it’s the best brewery for one-and-a-half reasons.

 

To the fine folks of Beervana. You have 35 days left to enjoy your first half-pint in years or possibly ever. PLEASE enjoy an extra half pint for me!! I’m incredibly sorry that my plan to make it in before we moved at the beginning of July didn’t pan out. But I’m not going to get the last word in about Tugboat. I’ll use Megan’s words when she agreed to an incredibly rare interview since she’s quite averse to participating in the Portland beer scene since it has shown the Tug so little love. They don’t even participate in the Portland Craft Beer Festival and, to make this pill even more bitter to swallow, Megan had actually agreed to sell me a keg for Baker’s Dozen Festival last March which was going to be a coffee infused Chernobyl Stout, which would’ve made it the first-ever keg of Tugboat sold for off-premise but Terry injured his back during The Freeze last winter and didn’t get to brewing in time. Anyway, here’s what she about why they called their dinky little brewery about the boats that assist larger ships down the Columbia and out to sea.

“Like us, they’re not very fancy. They’re small, powerful, and hardworking. And a little bit salty.”
 

Inn Beervana Powering Down: The transplants are transplanting again

IMG_0626“Inn Beervana is a fantastic option for a stay in Portland; the location is excellent, the place is comfortable and cozy, and hosts Brian and Kimberley are really engaging and lovely (and if you are coming to explore the craft beer scene in the Pacific NW, you’ll find so many of your questions answered by all the great literature and conversations from Brian — which honestly saves a ton of time given the vastness of the options in town and the surrounding areas!)”

That’s one of the 89 5-star reviews we’ve received for the vacation rental Wifey and I have run via Airbnb and VRBO since 2011, having moved from San Francisco to PDX in late 2010. (We’ve received 90 reviews but one only gave 4 stars.) And while I’m proud of the quality we delivered and maintained over the years, just being a part of traveler’s visits to Portland has been one of my favorite things about living here. It’s a city that I always loved visiting on road trips and other beer trips and, looking back, had always felt like it’d make a great home town. Which of course it is. It’s the best town I’ve gotten to call home so this is remarkably bittersweet that the Yaegers—who moved here as newlyweds with our new dog—will soon be leaving here as a family of four. Izzy will forever be an Oregonian! Only now he’ll have PNW rainwater in his veins but California sunshine making his mop top glow. More importantly, it’s the sun Wifey needs. What Portland offers in quality of life, it lacks in Vitamin D.

“Quality of Life.” That has been the oft-spoken mantra in the Yaeger household since we realized we’d been priced out of affording a home in the San Francisco Bay Area that was only part of the parcel that propelled us to the PNW. Wifey’s lucrative job offer that included a relocation package was a major element, but even that followed a trip to Montana to attend a family wedding and realizing how much my family around the Northwest enjoyed what the region offers was the true catalyst.

There’s a line in my first beer book taken from an interview I conducted with Kurt and Rob Widmer in their joint office in 2005. Kurt said, “The reason craft brewing started here on the West Coast is not so much a link to the Old World as it is quality of life. And, of course, here we have beer drinkers who are receptive to new things.”

IMG_5824It’s kinda funny that Oregonians get their feathers ruffled by Californians who move here when I find that the majority of transplants are from other states (predominantly the Midwest). Nobody has control over where they have to be from. But as adults, we get to choose where we want to be. As an L.A. native, the migratory nature of the population was easy to understand: who wouldn’t want to leave the grey or flat or provincial places they’re from and live somewhere warm and where you can find your people. Of course, I grew to hate how long it takes to drive to where your people are. I still love my family and all my people there, I just can’t stand to exist surrounded by it. I think it’s a safe statement to make that I’m pretty chill. But only Wifey know the extent of my road rage. That’s one of the factors that excluded a move back to the Bay. Plus: tech bro douchebags amiright?

So yes, I’ve felt at home here from day one and have almost-entirely been made to feel welcome in my Portlander skin. I don’t think that’s because I own some flannel shirts or even necessarily because I’m into the whole craft beer thing. Portland isn’t about craft beer; craft beer is about Portland. It’s about being a part of the local culture, reflecting a breadth of styles and flavors limited only by one’s creativity. It’s a freckle in the tattooed constellation in the shape of Oregon.

Here’s how I know that. Over these last few years I’ve had the honor and privilege of developing a few beer festivals. Via Inn Beervana, I get to host beercationers on their pilgrimages to our Beer Mecca. Via an assortment of national publications and, locally, at first with Willamette Week and now with Portland Mercury, plus Portland Monthly, 1859, Oregon Beer Growler, Beer Northwest, SIP Northwest, and this one for a rag called Portland Bride & Groom! I get to write about the beer industry and community. Via my beerfests, I get to further support breweries. Just since 2016, between Baker’s Dozen, Kriekfest, City of Goses as well as The Rural Brewer, Beer For Breakfast and Gluhbiers, I bought kegs from 60 Oregon (and Southern Washington) breweries. As a result I raised $72,000…$61,000 of which went back to those brewers as well as doughnut bakers, glass makers, poster designers, fee collectors, crowd securers, Honey Bucket lenders, etc. Additionally, these ventures have raised money that have been donated to some excellent Oregon nonprofits: Friends of the Children, Caldera Arts, All Hands Raised, Habitat-Portland, Oregon Environmental Council, New Avenues for Youth, and, to forward brewing education, the Glen Hay Falconer Foundation. Ultimately, my events are barely profitable but hey, at least I’m not losing money and damn are they fun (for me and hopefully for attendees). I mean, I threw myself into City of Goses all because someone (else) thought of a great pun and it enabled me to work with a handful more breweries I hadn’t been able to feature before. As for the 2nd annual Kriekfest? I’m pretty proud that it’ll be my swan song as an Oregon resident and you bet your sweet, sweet ass I’ll be returning to Oregon for the 3rd annual. And 4th. And 4th annual Baker’s Dozen in March and…

I’m serious. Portland will forever be a part of me and I am adamant that I’ll forever find ways to remain directly, physically connected. Whether you like it or not.

 

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The family that visits breweries together, wait, what rhymes with breweries?

As it stands today, according to some spreadsheet that a few anal beer lovers and I have maintained, I’ve visited 218 of Oregon’s 250 breweries currently operating. (Another 26 I’ve hit have since closed.) I’m kicking myself for the couple of Portland area ones I wasn’t able to hit this last week (all under the radar types) but at least I got IPYae into Natian’s tasting room being built out as Ian and I drank some blonde ale from his brewing facility a block away, giving IPYae an Oregon count of 113 (I actually don’t count our beer brunch at Block 15 in Corvallis because I didn’t snap a pic for the Irresponsible Photos Of My Baby at Breweries album (and as we all know, pic or it doesn’t count). BUT… come Friday night we might be 1 or 2 higher as we cross into California.

 

 

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Phew! They have some breweries in Santa Barbara.

Yes, we’re going back to Cali, to Cali, to Cali. We’re going to load up the Oregon-issued Subaru Outback—expect Wifey to trade it in for a convertible Mini Cooper or something down in sunny Santa Barbara. She needs the sunshine; I need to not be in a megalopolis like LA or SF. And we’ll both be closer to our families. They’re all pretty ecstatic to have us back—at least to have their grandson/nephew/cousin Izzy close by for the first time. My parents are over the moon. As is my second wife. (I’m referring to this story from the New York Times about three marriages, just all to the same person. We are entering a second phase of our marriage.) The marriage to my first wife brought us to Oregon, saw us raise our phenomenal son who is funny and smart and adventurous and compassionate and a Portland-born Oregonian to his core. He loves listening to the rain! He hates the sound of cars honking. He points out hops growing wild.

 

I am embracing the adventure and can’t wait to see how my forthcoming second marriage unfolds. And our third, for that matter. Wherever that one takes us.

Much love to you all. Log off the internet more. Be good to each other.

Brian

Barkeep: Screw’n’Brew

IMG_1930I didn’t necessarily pitch a story on the hardware store slash beer bar that started it all (y’know, the multitap hardware store craze!) to BeerAdvocate’s editor Ben, I just somehow mentioned it and he asked if I’d like to write it up for the mag. As if I ever need an excuse to head out to Cannon Beach on the Oregon coast and drink beer. There are now three breweries in the tiny town, but there’s only one spot you can get a cold pint and a toilet flapper. Behold, BeerAdvocate #123’s Barkeep: Screw & Brew.

Portraits of Dead Soldiers Left in the Yard: Bad Hombres Edition

Three and a half years ago, evidently, I was inspired to write a series of blog posts inspired by a particular type of infuriating litter I’m always finding in our flower boxes or somewhere near the front yard: dead soldiers. Empty beer bottles and cans. Click here to see the entire “series” (2 posts: BridgePort IPA and Sparks: Blackberry) from my old Beer Odyssey blog. I pick up so many recyclables–both craft and macro–that I’m occasionally inspired to kickstart it back up. But today’s discovery made it imperative.

Some of you know of one of my beery obsessions: nips. Fun fact: a story I wrote about tiny bottles appears as a reference on Wikipedia! And in fact, they were the subject of yet a different blog: Welovenips. That one I evidently pulled the plug on two years ago. It still lives on in Twitter form. (Follow @welovenips for a bimonthly tweet.) So imagine my delight and horror–equal parts–when I discovered these three amigos in said planters.

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This tears me apart. I love cuartitos or chicos, but Corona is my absolute least favorite Mexican lager.  I’m not sure if these bad hombres were smuggled over our open borders or were simply bought at Freddy’s across the street, but clearly someone was thirsty enough for 14 oz but not for 21. Oh, I confess I was tempted to crack open that third one and write a review of a lightstruck Coronita, but I was afraid Dia de los Muertos might arrive 11 days early.

These planters are for succulents. Not sucky beer.

Lush Life: Tiny Wolf and Portland’s Nanos

I’m forever deliberating over the impact nanobreweries can or do have on a city’s beer culture. For every Commons (nee Beetje) brewery in Portland or Hess in San Diego, there are seemingly a dozen more that think they can emulate that level of success. To find out what these nanobrewers want to get out of the brewing industry, and what they think can have to contribute, I went straight to the teensy-tiny sources in my August turn at the Mercury’s Lush Life column.

The Rural Brewer Spotlight: Siuslaw in Alsea

Alsea is the smallest town in all of Oregon with a brewery. Give or take, 164 people call it home. When I wrote the Oregon Breweries guidebook, I made it to each and every brewery in operation across the state. Several have opened since it was published and it burns me that I haven’t made it to all of those, as well, but, let’s face it, for city folk like me in Portland, it’s not often I find myself in Alsea. Truth of the matter is, I’d never heard of Alsea (named for the Alsea River and/or the Alsea tribe of Native Americans) until Siuslaw BrewingSiuslaw field (named, presumably, for the Siuslaw National Forest that occupies a tiny part of Alsea’s Benton County) put it on my map.

The 2nd The Rural Brewer Fest will be my first time trying their beer. It sounds pretty bad-ass since, get this, Duane and Jesse (the brewer) Miller grow their own hops. OK, a few other breweries do that, too. But they also grow some of their own barley and malt it themselves.

The farmhouse brewery—or rather, forest-house brewery—in Alsea is located in Benton County about halfway between I-5 and the coast 30 miles southwest of Corvallis. As such, its nearest breweries are ones like Block 15 and Flat Tail, but keep going and then the next closest ones are 45 miles farther including Yachats Brewing and Wolf Tree Brewing. Yeah, those are so rural they’re also featured at The Rural Brewer fest (as returnees!)

Wanna see it for yourself? As Miller said via FB DM, “We have a beautiful piece of property on the Alsea River and welcome all who want to stop by and see what we are doing. We brew many styles and continue to perfect our recipes. Hopefully we will meet up sometime!”

Those styles include an IPA and a Double Black IPA. A Blonde Belgian and a Strawberry Rhubarb Ale. There’s a wide range but as for what they’re bringing up to Portland, Grass Clippings is a cream ale brewed with barley grown on the farm (and again, malted there too), using a method that retains the fresh barley flavor.