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

Some Pretty Damn Remote Breweries

Screen Shot 2017-10-09 at 10.39.50 PMEdit: This story was awarded 3rd place in the Travel Writing category at the 2017 North American Guild of Beer Writers (NAGBW) awards.

Patagonia, the southernmost region of South America—Argentina and Chile specifically—is comprised of some 400,000 square miles of rugged wonderlands. Jagged Andes. Mesmerizing ice fields. Pristine lakes and wild rivers juxtaposed with windswept steppeland. Plus, adorable Magellanic penguins. Most travelers who find themselves in Ushuaia, the world’s southernmost city located on Argentina’s  archipelago, are here to board a cruise ship to Antarctica. Many are happy to try a Beagle Fuegian Ale or a Cape Horn Stout, but almost none venture outside the town to the breweries themselves. Both the Cervecería Beagle and Cervecería Cape Horn are owned by the Fuegian Beverage Company, which is not exactly set up for visitors. Like I was gonna let that stop me!

Furthermore, while not part of Patagonia, Easter Island lies 2,290 miles from the coast of Chile, which annexed the Polynesian island in 1888. The native name is Rapa Nui, which is also the name for its people and the language they speak. It’s officially the most remote commercial airport on Earth and is famous, of course, for the moai statues made of volcanic rock that appear across the island. But Easter Island businessman Mike Rapu wants it to be known for cerveza Mahina, too.

 

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.

ANNOUNCING BAKER’S DOZEN FREE—FEATURING 13 VICELESS COFFEE BEERS & DONUTS

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT:
Brian Yaeger Presents
brian@beerodyssey.com

ANNOUNCING THE 1st ANNUAL BAKER’S DOZEN FREE—FEATURING 13 VICELESS COFFEE BEERS & DONUTS

Beervana, OR, April. 1, 2017 – Following on the heels of the Third Annual Baker’s Dozen Fest last month comes the festival Portlanders have been clamoring for, which will feature 13 gluten free non-alcoholic beers made with decaffeinated coffee and vegan donuts.

“Every time we do the whole coffee beer and doughnut thing, people chime in on Facebook or Snapchat, “Are any of the donuts going to be vegan?” said beer festival organizer Brian Yaeger. “We get people showing up and asking where the gluten-free beers are, or stating that the event would be more inclusive if the brewers considerately used decaf coffee. And you wouldn’t believe how many people ask if kids are allowed to attend and if so, will there be non-alcoholic drinks for them. So Bakers Dozen FREE is our way of saying, “We hear you. You’re on a gluten free, caffeine free, alcohol free, animal free diet. And you deserve a beer fest of your own.” Up from Baker’s Dozen’s three sessions, this event is expected to sell out and hence will occur over three sessions on Saturday, April 1. To commemorate Baker’s Dozen Free, tickets will be free, with the usual online ticketing fee of $14.99, available at TicketMaster.com/BakersDozenFree.

Admission includes samples of every non-caffeine-infused, coffee-infused, enzymatically-deglutenized, unfermented-beverage and cruelty-free donut bite. Examples of treats, er, “treats” featured at the event include a collaboration between Lunarmollusk Brewing Company and Slumptown Coffee Roasters. Queue up early for the beer everyone will be raving about on Intreppd: a Cracker Barrel-aged, hazy IPA made from flax seeds with zero IBUs and zero ABVs dry-hopped with Folgers flavor crystals. Pair these with whatever’s available from the spinning display case of Voodoo’s vegan offerings.

Bring your partner. Bring your Tinder date. Bring your kids. Bring your Mormon, Celiac, PETA-supporting neighbors. Bring everyone because this is the beer festival everyone’s been clamoring for that doesn’t exclude anybody’s restrictions.* (*Event organizers are working on Bakers Dozen Tree-nut-free for April 1, 2018.)

Pertinent links: Ticketing TicketMaster.com/BakersDozenFree ($Free online, $Priceless at the door.)Facebook: Facebook.com/BakersDozenFree

Facebook: Facebook.com/BakersDozenFree

Twitter: @BakersDozenFreePDX

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Pioneering Greenville

There are Beer Meccas and there are cities not yet on the Beer Map. Greenville, SC, just an hour south of the Mecca of Asheville, NC, is the latter. Or at least it was. I’ve had the good fortune of replying to a press release here or there (I delete 95% within 2 seconds of opening them) that has led to some of my favorite travel-related stories. And while South Cackalacky is no Cabo San Lucas, I’m quite glad I allegedly penned the first beer travel story about this truly booming and deserving town for BeerAdvocate’s Destination feature. I hit 7 breweries. There’s at least 9 by the time you’re reading this.

Hold the Sapparo, Tsingtao, & Singha

asian-accentsMost Asian-American restaurants serve the beer from the cuisine’s country of origin: Typically 33 Beer at a Vietnamese restaurant, Tsingtao when eating Chinese, Sapparo to go with Japanese, and Singha for Thai food.

That’s essentially saying that every hamburger served overseas should only be washed down with Budweiser. More and more operators are awakening to the realization that they can do more, both in terms of their beer menu and their customers.

So I took a look at what some of the best Asian restaurants with stellar beer programs had to say about that.