Sunday, May 30, 2010
Thursday, May 27, 2010
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
It was not the beer that disappointed. In fact, the Tankslapper Double IPA was probably the best beer I had in all the breweries I visited over the previous two weeks. A floral hop bomb with an ABV around 10% (more on that later) served in a tulip glass. This beast was delicious and reminded me of Russian River Pliney the Elder. I also had the sampler tray. The WFO IPA was great as always - a classic NW IPA. The Hot Blonde Ale with chile peppers was a surprise treat. The two malt ales are something you don't see often.
What was so disappointing was the fact that I drove over 140 miles specifically to visit the brewery and left with no more information about it than when I arrived. Just for background: I emailed the brewery via the website over two weeks before my visit hoping to arrange a meeting with the owner or brewer. I never received a response. That didn't bother me much. Brewers are busy. I know that.
The problem I have with Barley Brown's Brewpub is that the brewery seems to take a backseat to the restaurant. There did not seem to be a single server in the restaurant when I was there that knew much at all about the beer. Certainly the woman tending the bar did not. She is how I know that the Tankslapper Double IPA has an ABV "somewhere around 10%". That was all the information I could get about it or any of the other beers. She also showed no interest in my requests to see if brewer Shawn Kelso might come out from the back to talk to me (I saw him by the tanks when I was checking out the rest of the brewpub).
I know not every server at a brewpub is going to be a beer geek or have much knowledge about beer, just like every customer at a brewpub is not. Restaurants also get busy and servers may not have time to talk at length with every customer (although I did arrive at 4:30 pm - not exactly dinner rush). The solution though is pretty simple. Staff one person at the bar who has serviceable knowledge and at least some interest in the beer. That is not too much to ask. Most beer geeks who visit a brewery and really want to learn about the beer and the brewery are going to sit at the bar or will know that the bartender is most likely to have the most information.
Mt. Emily Ale House in La Grande is a great example of this. I visited on two consecutive Saturdays right during the dinner rush (including right after my visit to Barley Brown's). Servers were running around trying to keep up. At least 4-5 people were seated at the bar each time. During both visits, the bartender was a wealth of information about the brewery. He knew all about the system set up, the details of each beer, what was sitting in the tanks, etc....He was well informed about other breweries in the region and was eager to hear about some of the knew breweries I had visited. I had the same experience at Terminal Gravity.
Hopefully my visit was a rare hiccup at Barley Brown's. I enjoy their beers very much. But, I cannot recommend making a long trip specifically to visit the brewery if you are hoping to learn much about the brewery itself. Instead, look for Barley Brown's beer on tap in Portland (especially the Tankslapper) and seek out a meet the brewer event. In the meantime, learn the details about Barley Brown's (that I missed out on) in this great post from The Daily Pull.
UPDATE: I received an email from Tyler at Barley Brown's as I was about to catch a plane to Santa Rosa last week. He apologized for overlooking my email and he agreed with several points in my post. I look forward to talking with him soon, now that I am back in PDX.
Monday, May 17, 2010
I had a chance to visit both breweries last week. The two breweries share many similarities. They both are run by hard working families and nice people. Both breweries understand their customer base and their best selling beers are "transitional" craft beers they use to win over the macro-lager loving locals. They both serve spicy pretzels! Of course, a few things set the breweries apart.
My first stop was Horse Heaven Hills Brewery, which is located right in the heart of downtown Prosser. I visited on a slow Monday evening and had a great chance to talk at length with co-owner Dave Keller. Dave and longtime friend Gary Vegar first started homebrewing together in a backyard shed. Well you know how this story goes...the hobby took on a life of its own and friends repeatedly encourage the duo to sell their beers. After a couple of years of planning and hard work, Gary and Dave along with their wives, officially opened the brewery and taproom less than a year ago on July 4th.
Gary and Dave spent months trying to find a used brewing system. Everytime they found a promising system online it quickly sold. One late night a friend called and said he found a 7 barrel system for sale on craigslist in Alabama. They checked out the ad and called immediately. A few days later they flew out and arrived on the drag next to the campus of Auburn University a few days before Christmas to check out the system. The copper system arrived in Prosser by train the following February!
The next task was converting the old laundromat in the historic building into a space suitable for a brewery and taproom. That took almost exactly a year from when they took over leasing the building. The room carries on the wild horse theme of the brewery's name with sculptures and photographs. The copper brewing system is right in the heart of the taproom and is beautiful artwork itself.
Gary and Dave have spent the first several months the brewery has been open tinkering with the different beer recipes. Stepping up brewing from a homebrew system to a 7 barrel system requires adaptation. Dave feels the beers are now settling into a consistent level of quality. He also said business at the brewery has exceeded expectations and everyone involved is having a great time. All four co-owners have full time jobs. Despite that fact, the taproom is open 7 days a week. He especially enjoys educating and converting the macro loving locals.
A surprisingly large tap selection included (among others) an IPA, stout, cherry stout, red, Ruby Spur (amber), and pale ale. The IPA was not aggressive with low bitterness but good citrus and pine flavors. The red was nice and hoppy with a good balance of malts. The stout was actually a quite delicious dry stout with a hint of chocolate. The cherry stout was good but I found the cherry flavor a tad strong for my taste. If they could dial the cherry back a bit, it would be a winner.
The surprise beer for me was a hefewiezen. It was still fermenting and was not quite done yet. Dave was kind enough to give me a sample out of the tank. This thing was a delight and, if you have been reading my blog, you know I don't usually care for hefewiezens. The aroma was a blast of banana to the senses. The carbonation was not at full strength yet, which might have worked in its favor. The taste was layered, with only a hint of banana from the aroma. Man, it was tasty. I had to beg for a second sample!
After a great visit with Dave, I headed to the second brewery in Prosser - Whitstran Brewing. Located in a nondescript building near downtown Prosser, Whitstran is decorated with beer quotes and local art on the walls. Quiet when I walked in, a bit of a dinner rush quickly hit. The brewer was not on hand that night so I did not have a chance to get as much information as I would have liked. The owner/brewer's wife was tending bar and waiting tables though. Between serving tables she was kind enough to answer my questions.
Whitstran runs a 7 barrel system with two 10 barrel tanks and two 5 barrel tanks. Their most popular beer is the Steamy Cream California Common Ale - which does well with the macro converts. There were 10 beers on tap this night, including a couple of belgian style ales. I went with a six beer sampler. The brewery surprisingly does not have an IPA but does have two pale ales - one conventional and one dry hopped. I lined up the two pale ales and both were good but the dry hopping gave the Over-The-Edge Pale Ale an extra kick of flavor.
The porter, stout, and chocolate stouts were standard fare, good but nothing exceptional. I was impressed that the brewery was offering more "exotic" fare such as belgian style ales and the recently blown barleywine. After all of the conventional ales I had tried between the two breweries, it was nice to get something different. The Belgian Brown was quite enjoyable. Good yeast flavor with well rounded character. I think it would do well in introducing people to belgian style ales.
I had a great dinner at Whitstran. A nice piece of halibut that went great with the beers. Once again the people at the brewery could not have been nicer. I did not have great expectations for my trip to the breweries of Prosser. In the end, I really enjoyed my time at both breweries and I think they are both doing a great job of providing the locals and the surrounding Yakima valley with quality craft brews. I look forward to returning next time I am out that way for work. If you happen to be in the area, stop in and give them a try.
Friday, May 14, 2010
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
The first thing I thought when I walked in was "Man, this place is small". The bar area has maybe 4-5 adjacent tables. I was trying to figure out where they put everyone when it gets crowded. Just then a young family walked in and the kids ran upstairs. I followed to check out what was going on upstairs and quickly discovered a large seating area with a couple of private nooks. Very cool.
I sat at the bar and got down to business. The taplist included the standards: IPA, ESG, and Stout. The Breakfast Porter, which is not too frequently seen in Portland, rounded out the regulars list. The seasonals included two single hopped double IPAs - one with Centennial hops and the other with Millenium hops (a cross between Nuggets and Columbus). A Cascadian Dark Ale had just blown. A Barlywine rounded out the list. I sampled everything and went with glasses of my favorites to maximize variety.
I had a glass of each of the double IPAs. Both were very good. I preferred the Millenium which was a bit surprising as this hops is usually know as a bittering hops, without adding much of that hop flavor. The beer was quite the opposite. While certainly bitter, I thought the grassy, earthy hop flavor was much better in the Millenium IPA than the Centennial IPA. Apparently, I had just missed the Columbus version. I filled a growler of the Millenium double IPA. Maybe others will get a taste and confirm/dispute my thoughts.
I filled my belly with a fantastic salmon sandwich with a fresh wild sockeye filet. The chips and salsa that came with it were great too. I had to ask for extra salsa it was so good. I finished off the meal and my visit with the breakfast porter. A very light porter, it was the perfect dessert.
They offer great to-go beer deals at Terminal Gravity. A case of the IPA or ESG is $24. Growlers are $9.50 for regulars, $11.00 for seasonals. What I really liked is that they seemed to be willing to fill anything. A young father had his Sigg water bottle filled with Barleywine! And that was a recurring theme at TG - the staff was knowledgeable and trying hard to please all of the customers. They were quick with samples and pints alike.
If you haven't made the trip out to Enterprise to visit Terminal Gravity, it just might be time. Pick a nice late spring/summer day and head out East...
Monday, May 10, 2010
The Brooklyn based band The National are playing a benefit concert for the Red Hot Organization on May 15th at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The show will be live webcast on YouTube. Not a whole lot of information on the webcast is available yet but it is mentioned on the American Express ZYNC facebook page (sponsor). So, keep an eye on the website.
In the meantime, get familiar with The National's upcoming new release High Violet which is streaming for free at NPR Music.
Sunday, May 9, 2010
On Saturday I drove straight to Joseph and Mutiny Brewing. When I walked in it was a quiet post-lunch crowd. The taplist on the chalkboard listed Deschutes and Ninkasi offerings. I knew things were not as advertised. It seems they were a little bit behind schedule and the beer release was pushed back to Wednesday, May 12th. Luckily brewer Kari Gjerdingen was kind enough to come out from the back, bring me a couple of samples, and talk about her brewery.
Mutiny has been open for almost a year. Getting up and running proved to be quite a task - including renovating the cute little bungalow in which it is housed and setting up the brew system. As a result, brewing got pushed further and further back. Kari first got into commercial brewing in her home state of Indiana. That was followed by attending the brewing course at UC Davis. After trying to find a job in the greater Portland area, Kari ended up brewing at Terminal Gravity. She fell in love the Enterprise/Joseph area (I can see why - beautiful country and great people) and looked to open her own brewery.
Kari has a 4 barrel system at Mutiny, with 5 tanks. The population is not large and she did not want to get too large of a system. She expressed some reservations about keeping up with the summer tourist months but expects to be able to do so. The first beer they will release on Wednesday will be a wheat beer. Brewed with the Wyeast Belgian Witbier yeast, this wheat is also brewed with chamomile and orange peel. I really enjoyed this beer. It had a great depth of flavor with strong fruit presence. It will be wonderful to drink on the large patio out front with the beautiful mountains looming nearby.
Kari also let me try a bit of the porter that has only spent a week or so in the tanks. Despite it's young age, this porter already had lots of classic chocolate and roast flavors. It should be delicious when finished. A pale ale has also been brewed within the last several days. The brewery will start off with three taps and expand.
The two samples I was offered were very good. I am excited for the town of Joseph. They are about to be home to excellent local craft beer. A trip to Enterprise/Joseph is definitely recommended for my Portland readers. Good luck Kari!