Sunday, May 29, 2016

PhotoChallenge 2016 Week 21: B&W Automobiles

At the end of last year I discovered  This is a small group of photographers who set forth a weekly challenge to other professional and amateur photographers.  What I was drawn to with this weekly assignment is that is pushes you to try new techniques and get out and take pictures on a weekly basis.  I'm taking part again this year and will also do a quick blog post about each of them.  The rules of the challenge do require that these are new pictures, not from your back catalog.  With my busy work schedule, I may not be able to get out each week and do this, so I will likely add a few of my older photos on the blog--taking the opportunity to look at the plethora of pictures I've taken and actually do some processing and weeding. 2016 Week 21: Black & White Automobiles

This week's challenge wants us to show up the form and function of automobiles...those modern day chariots that transport us from place to place.  I've never really been a car guy, but I can appreciate the polished chrome, shiny paint, and even sometimes the rusted-out hulks that cars can offer for the photographer in me.  

1) Tails:  Most of these shots come from a quick photo shoot with my friends' (Ron and Denise) '99 white Corvette.  They keep this prize cocooned in a bubble all winter and are always excited to hatch it back into service each spring.  Growing up, my dad had Corvettes over the years and are my favorite sports car because of that.  My dad would also say that all Corvettes are red, the others are mistakes...  Sorry Ron!  

2) Objects in Mirror:  I like the play of light and shadow in this shot.  More abstract for sure, but still cool.

3) Where There's Fire:  This is the hubcap from our local Waconia, MN fire and rescue truck that sits outside the fire department glistening in the sun.  I like how the reflection of the other garage doors shows up the shot.  

So thats this week's presentation!  

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Oregon Day 4: Hood River

Recently my wife (Sarajo) and I took a week's vacation to the Beer Mecca that is Portland, Oregon.  While we did try out a nearly overwhelming number of breweries, we also took some side trips and ate at a wonderful plethora of places.  On our third day in, two of our friends (Kathleen and Shea) met up with us from DC and joined in the fun.  I'm going to blog about the trip in some detail, mostly to immortalize it in the written word, but consider it a starting point for your own Portland area trip!  Feel free to shoot me any questions or clarifications if you like.

Day 4

Day 4 dawned bright and sunny, a perfect day for our planned field trip along the scenic Colombia river Gorge to the town of Hood River, Oregon.  After breakfast of Blue Star donuts (given to us a parting gift from Heidi of Forktown Tours the day before) and some coffee, we headed out!

Our first stop was along the way (maybe 45-60 minutes out of Portland I think) at a trailhead to Wahclella Falls.  The trail was fairly short (about a mile each way) but steep and rugged at times for us non-hikers.  It got pretty steamy along the way as well.  The scenery was breathtaking though, enormous moss-laden trees, exposed rock of cliffsides, small caves, wooden bridges across the river, and more.  Of course the waterfall at the end of the trail was the high point for me!  Regret for not lugging my tripod along was strong, but I did my best with long shutter speeds and hand holding the camera to get a few decent shots of the falls.  Sj and our friends were very patient as I stopped every 5 feet to take more pictures along the way.


Sweaty and tired, we made it back to the car and finished the trip to Hood River just in time for a late lunch at pFriem Family Brewers.  We discovered this place about 3 years ago on our way to Bend and it promptly jumped up to our "breweries to watch" list.  At the time they were very young, but still had some incredible beers.  Now they have only improved!  The brewery is right along the river, and since our last visit, a cool park has been built in between the brewery and the river.  The downstairs area was pretty full but we found seating upstairs easily.  The food is top-notch with nods to Belgium, Germany, and of course American cuisine.  All of us are "foodies" and this place rocked our world for lunch!

Between the four of us we tasted all the beers they had to offer, and we were all very impressed.  Three top notch IPA's led the charge--with my favorite being their regular IPA and second with the Down Under.  A tasty and refreshing Helles rounded out the portfolio with a lager.  Several versions of saison sparkled with true Belgian yeast character in a way that I haven't seen often in American versions of the style.  One of my favorite beers of the entire trip to Oregon was the Peche--a fairly classic peach lambic that puts most other American sours to shame (I'm talking to you kettle sours!).  I ended up having to get a whole glass of this and bought a bottle to take home.  Seldom do I find a brewery that has this much range and technical skill in brewing such varied styles.  Throw in excellent service, great food, and beautiful location and this pFriem is a winner!  It kind of blows my mind that so few people in Portland have even heard of these guys.

Logsdon Farmhouse Ales

A new addition to the Hood River beer scene since our last trip out is a tasting room for Logsdon Farmhouse Ales.  The brewery itself is somewhere outside of town and has been putting out great beers from--you guessed it--a farmhouse brewery!  Now thirsty travelers can taste the great and funky stuff in a comfortable taproom right downtown.  I've managed to get my hands on a few bottles of these beers over the past few years and wrote up Peche 'n Brett as one of my Whale A Week tastings HERE.

Sj and I each ordered a sampler to share so we could try most of the options.  The sampler glasses were actually bigger than most and we had to enlist our friends to help us with them!  On a funny note, one of the wooden sampler trays got wet and expanded a bit, not allowing Sj to be able to pull the glass out of the base.  They also had a little sandwich station in the back end of the place in case of hunger...

While pFriem really shone with their takes on classic Belgian ales, Logsdon stood out for doing their own different and more unusual versions.  The two more traditional beers Moniken Kruin (Quad) and Straffe Drieling (Tripel) were both good, but were my least favorite of the bunch (both got 3.75 scores though!)  Oaked Aged Bretta was their oak aged saison with brettanomyces (4), Cerasus was the cherry funk/sour beer (4), Far West Vlaming was the Flanders Red (4), and the Szech 'n Brett was the saison with Chinese Szechuan peppercorns (4).  Yup I liked all the beers here quite a lot.  4's are usually my top beers so this place was stellar.

Double Mountain Brewing

After having our fill of Belgian and Belgian-esque beers, we stopped briefly at Double Mountain Brewery.  This place is known for their hoppy beers and is a favorite of my cousins who live out this way.  It has a more classic brewpub feel and makes some pretty good pizzas to kill the hunger.  My favorite beers this visit were the Mama Tried, and Dearly Beloved--both classic American IPAs.  Molten Lava DIPA was also quite good.  They had a cider, a perry, and a sour kriek that were all respectable, but these guys shine with the hops.

Full Sail Brewing
, we swung by Full Sail Brewing for a quick dram on the way back to the car.  Full Sail is the elder statesman of the brew scene in Hood River, (and Oregon for that matter) and is worth a stop.  They focus more on lagers and sessionable beers, but have some cool things at the tap room from time to time.  They have a great view of the river from the deck, but some of this has been obscured by new buildings since our last visit.  While there we tried Hop Pursuit IPA which was on cask--smooth, but not a ton of hop character going on.  A decent stop for sure, but it remains below the other two breweries in town for me.

Olympia Provisions

On the way back home we nearly ran out of gas, since none of us remembered to fill up in town, but made it to a gas station in time!  We eventually arrived back to our home base of the McMenamins Kennedy School.  A quick change and we were all off again to our dinner reservation at Olympia Provisions (formerly Olympic Provisons).  This is a cool restaurant and deli that makes all their own sausage and charcuterie, and was on the top of our planned dining options for this trip.  They have a few local craft brews on tap, but mostly specialize in wine and cocktails.  Shea and I ordered heaping platters of sausage goodness while the ladies ate more refined dishes and sipped at fancy cocktails.

McMenamins Detention Bar

Back home at the hotel, Kathleen headed back to her promptly fall asleep instead of partying with the rest of us.  She may have had the right idea.  Sj, Shea, and I all took a trip to one of the hotel's myriad bar options.  We started with the tiny old Vice Principal's office that has been dubbed Detention.  Dark and close, seating about 8-10 very cozy people, this is also the whiskey and cigar bar.  A few open high windows and a small fan actually provided remarkably good ventilation while surrounded by pungent cigar smoke.  Trying some Scotch, but no cigars, we hung out until we smelled properly of smoke and were ready to move on.  While here, we discovered several other patrons dressed like escapees from an 1980's John Hughes film and later realized that they were having an 80's Prom Party in the main ballroom (gymnasium) of the school that night.  Things just keep getting weirder...

McMenamin's Boiler Room Bar

Rusty wheels in my head starting to slow down now.  A long day of hiking, eating, and yes plenty of drinking, was finally taking its toll.  But hey, why not check out one more bar?  I mean, its in the hotel right?  We're already home right?  So we three survivors slogged down the stairs to the old boiler room, past odd paintings and sculptures, stair rails made of old radiator coils, things starting to have an ominous and more bizarre dreamlike cast.  Tasting through an ill-advised sampler of McMenamin's house distilled whiskeys, we all hung out and relaxed until our bodies finally gave up and forced us to give in to sleep.  Don't worry we all made it back to our rooms safely!

Running Tally:
Breweries: 12
Distilleries: 2
Pubs/Bars: 7

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A Whale A Week: Revolution Brewing's Deth's Tar

Now in my second year, A Whale A Week is my challenge to try (with an array of beer loving friends) a rare beer for every week of the year.  Last year I had a great time with this and have continued it for 2016.  Not every beer will be a truly "white whale" beer, but all are hard to find and a treat to try!  This week we try something different.  Tired of just trying out one beer (and lets be honest how can I really shrink my cellar at this rate) each week, we're going to break out a bunch of them! 

Revolution Brewing's Deth's Tar

Revolution Brewing is one of the very best breweries in Chicago as of this writing.  Revolution was started by former Goose Island pub brewer Josh Deth in 2010 as a brewpub, and has since added on a second production facility in the Chicago area.  We visited the latter on a trip about 2 years ago and picked up this little gem at the brewery.  Named after Josh, but evoking images of X-Wing squadrons and an exploding Alderaan, this is a big 11.4% ABV Oatmeal Russian Imperial Stout.  The brewer uses Warrior hops for bitterness and English Fuggles for aroma.  The beer spends about 10 months aging in bourbon barrels before bottling.  The bottle comes in a cool red box which makes it totally worth more!  We did get to try this fresh at the brewery, and now this bottle is about 2 years old and ready to go! Beer Advocate puts this at 94 and RateBeer at 99 for scores.  

Our judges for this session are me (Rogue Leader); Sarajo (my Leia); Matt Messier (Wookie co-pilot); Teresa (masked and mysterious bounty hunter).  As most great adventures do, this one started with meeting Matt and Teresa over some blue drink at our local Cantina (the Iron Tap)--a wretched hive of scum and villainy.  Later, in a rusted out R2 unit, we discovered a message...and a bottle...

a beer
glass far
far away...

Aroma: In which the rebel scum attempt to steal the plans...

Eric: Molasses.  Dark chocolate.  A bit of strong alcohol on the nose.  Coffee--more of a dark espresso with some burnt character...  Some mild oxidation with a hint of Endor's mossy forest on the end.
Matt: Light and smooth.  Not much on my palate.

Appearance: In which the dark depths of space hide many enemies...

Eric: As black as Vader's helmet.  Head dark tan to almost brown, like the murky bubbling froth of Dagobah's swamps.  Tight bubbles and very persistent.  Deep as quicksand, hiding a sunken X-Wing.
Matt: Dark as night with a small froth.  Layers nicely on the glass.

Flavor: In which the moon that is not a moon positions itself...

Eric: Lots of bourbon right off the bat.  Plenty of vanilla.  Tart cherry notes as it warms.  Super boozy like something Figrin D'an would drink during a set.  Harsh as princess' retort.  Dry and astringent bitterness of coffee and dark chocolate on the finish.  Thick and coats the mouth like mynocks on a ship hull.  Finish has a touch of metallic--like licking said ship hull.
Matt: Initially tastes chocolaty, but burns off inside of the mouth very quickly--leaving and alcohol flavor at the end.

Overall: In which the rebels zoom down a trench and bulls-eye some poorly guarded exhaust ducts...

Eric: A very good beer.  Boozy and creamy, but ends a bit dry and rough.  The bourbon is strong in this one...  4
Matt: I like it.  Being a victim of marketing, a good label with lure me in.  I expected the Deth's Tar to explode my world.  It didn't.  Still a great beer to drink around the fire.  4
Teresa: I taste root beer.  3.5
Sarajo: I give it 4 big black fists...

Overall Score:  3.9 

Your moment of Zen: Sj with her Revolution big black fist tap handle...

Monday, May 23, 2016

Oregon Day 3: Hair of the Dog that bit you?

Recently my wife (Sarajo) and I took a week's vacation to the Beer Mecca that is Portland, Oregon.  While we did try out a nearly overwhelming number of breweries, we also took some side trips and ate at a wonderful plethora of places.  On our third day in, two of our friends (Kathleen and Shea) met up with us from DC and joined in the fun.  I'm going to blog about the trip in some detail, mostly to immortalize it in the written word, but consider it a starting point for your own Portland area trip!  Feel free to shoot me any questions or clarifications if you like.

Portland Day 3

Dawn arrived too early, but the blackout curtains helped hide the sun's harmful rays from our blurry eyes.  Shambling down to the McMenamins Kennedy School restaurant, we met up with our friends--looking much more alert than the previous night.  I had a great and hearty dish of house made corned beef hash and about a quart of house roasted coffee for breakfast and started to feel a bit more human.

We spent some time after breakfast exploring the spaces of the old school building that hosted our hotel rooms.  One of the stamps for our McMenamins passports was a scavenger hunt for a particular painting, so we wandered the halls taking selfies with any likely and odd artwork we could find.  We also invited ourselves into the brewery (as mentioned in the previous post) for a tour (and stamp!).

Having killed enough time before the breweries opened, we headed out for our first stop of the day:

Hair of The Dog is a brewery we stopped at on our last visit to Portland and was at the top of our list for places to revisit.  I won't go into too much detail here since I've covered the place before.  This brewery has been around for a long time, putting out unique beers unlike anything I've had before.  Their penchant for naming beers after people is cool but makes it difficult for me to remember which one I liked or what kind of beer it was.  The ladies split some small samplers of these eclectic beers, while Shea and I shared two vintage bottles of strong ale (Putin the Russian Imperial stout, and Matt).  Both were turbid, boozy, uncarbonated, and remarkably tasty.  Keep making amazing beers guys and I'll keep visiting!

For our first real day in Portland we had signed up for a food and alcohol tour with Forktown Tours to get a crash course on some of the local fare.  Started by Heidi Burnette, the tour company has five different walking tours--each focusing on a different neighborhood of Portland.  We took the Alphabet District Tour and were quite happy with our experience!  Heidi herself was our seasoned tour guide and with our group of four, she tailored the experience even more to our preferences.  We started with a bagel and sandwich at Kenny & Zukes deli for starters.  Then we moved on to St. Honore Bakery where we relished sweet French pastries and realized we might not have come into this with enough space in our bellies.

Next up was Bull Run Distillery, where we had a short tour and tasted through a large selection of spirits--my favorite was a whiskey aged in red wine barrels that tasted like a pre-mixed Manhattan cocktail!  Oh, and then an extra bonus trip to another distillery who specialized in making Aria dry gin where we tasted through several tasty mini cocktails.  Getting happy, we moved to Taste on 23rd--a wine bar in a converted old home that served us a really nice dish paired with a wine.  And then we finished our tour with a trip to The Meadow--a shop specializing in culinary salts, cocktail bitters, and high-end chocolates.  Yes this place is amazing!  We sampled chocolates, tasted salts and bitters, and got serenaded with a duet of banjo and guitar in a vividly Portland kind of way.  Heidi also gave us some great advice on other places to check out during our travels.  This was a fantastic way to cover a lot of ground in an area and get a sampling of some of the food, drink, and culture of the scene.  I can't recommend Forktown Tours enough!
Bluegrass jam session makes this so "Portland!"

While walking on our tour we had scoped out a few more prime places to check out while we were in the neighborhood.  Our next stop was the Lompoc Tavern, located right in the heart of this neighborhood.  This used to be the site of an older brewpub (1990's), but in 2012 was razed to add a large new building.  They reopened in 2013 in the same spot, but have since moved production of the beer to another location in Portland.  With a sunny warm day outside, plenty of folks were sitting in the small outdoor seating area, so we had luck getting a booth just inside the open doors.  Despite its relative youth, the place feels authentically old, with weathered woods and old-school pub feel.  Having just eaten tons of food on our tour we opted to avoid the beer sampler this time and just focus on a single beer each.  Shea got the Batch 69 Baltic Porter which was a well done example of the style and not overly sweet (I gave it a 3.75.)  I got the LSD (Lompoc Special Draft) which is a dark smoky strong ale and also gave it a 3.75.  Interestingly, back in Minnesota, Indeed Brewing has recently had to change the label on their beer LSD.  Small world.  Based on the two beers from Lompoc, I'd recommend checking it out, but I've heard since that the Sidebar location is the best place to visit.

This is a new addition to the McMenamins empire (see my day 1 write up for more on them) and is a stand-alone liquor store/bottle shop.  Just a few blocks down from Lompoc we decided we needed to stop in and check it out.  We got our passports stamped and perused the over 800 bottles of liquid heaven available in the coolers.  I talked at length to one of the very helpful staff who helped me pick some of the better local bottles (and who suggested some future stops on our beer tour).  The place fills growlers off their 16 taps as well and we had a couple of samples while shopping.  On the way out I picked up a few bottles of Russian River beers sitting unobtrusively by the checkout counter.  Score!  I love the fact that you can have a tap beer at a bottle shop, fill a growler, or even pop a bottle and drink it there.  Minnesota's antiquated beer laws are cramping my style after seeing this in action!

Not to let the day end there, we headed for yet another brewery: Upright.  Many friends had put this on their top Portland brewery lists so I was excited to check it out.  We went on a week day thinking it would be less crowded, but failed in that endeavor!  The brewery is located in the basement of a large building (Leftbank) and is somewhat difficult to find--even when you're looking for it!  We discovered a ghetto hand-written sign near the entrance and still managed to fumble around the basement and back halls of the place before we followed the sound of happy drinkers to our goal.  The brewery is small and the tasting room is basically just some chairs and a few small tables thrown into the center of the brewery.  There was a charity event going on when we arrived and the place was packed with people.  With lower ceilings, iffy lighting, and chaos, this place certainly had character, but was not quite to my wife's liking.  I ordered a sampler (probably a bad idea in this crowd but I wanted to try everything!) and the two folks serving were volunteers didn't really know anything about the beers or how to fill sample glasses.  They were pleasant enough, just not experienced.

Hanging in the basement brewery!

Their beers are a hybrid of Belgian/French and American styles that really are difficult to categorize--and that's the way they like it.  Most are nominally "farmhouse" styles so saison-ish.  Tasting through Five, Six, and Seven are all standard beers for the brewery and all were respectable farmhouse ales--I gave them all 3.75 scores--but none blew my socks off.  Most had a bitter finish that was either yeast derived or possibly just aggressive hopping for the style.  Their Pilsner was OK, but a little sulfury.  The highlights were the special beers like the Anniversary and Four Play which hosted some Brett funk and added complexity (these I gave 4's).  When I went back to the taps to ask about the bottles they had for sale, I was pointed to talk to Alex Ganum who was trying to keep up with stocking glassware for the taproom.  It turns out that Alex is the owner and head brewer, so it was nice to get a brief chat with him about the beers!  Overall, coming out of the brewery, our group was a little underwhelmed by the beers and overstimulated by the crowd.  Looking back now and checking out my beer scores, these were actually some of the higher scores I had given beers up to this point on the trip so I may have just been crabby at the time.  I'd be curious to try out more of the special releases from Upright in the future (and did actually take home a bottle of the mysterious sounding Heart's Beat)...

We got back to the McMenamins Kennedy School hotel to drop off swag and refresh--then it was time for a fairly late dinner.  This time we let Sj stop driving us and took an Uber to Whiskey Soda Lounge.  This is a bar/lounge owned by the same people as the famed local Thai restaurant Pok Pok, but specializes in "Thai drinking food" as well as whiskeys and cocktails.  We had the amazing Fish Sauce Wings and some other very spicy and authentic Thai dishes to share.  Shea had a cocktail made with Thai chili that was insanely good and also dangerous..."Tastes like burning!"  We enjoyed this place, especially the odd Thai covers of 80's pop tunes playing over the speakers.

McMenamins Kennedy School Cypress Room

We ended the day at our hotel (like you do) but weren't quite ready to call it a night yet.  The bonus of staying at a McMenamins is that most of them have multiple bars available.  We decided to try out the Cypress room this fine night.  Located in an old classroom,  a long wooden bar lines one side of the room, some scattered tables take up more floor space, and a few old wooden booths line another wall.  Reggae music plays over the loudspeakers and rum drinks abound.  This is probably our least favorite of the place's bars, mainly because neither of us are big into rum.  They still had a couple of house brews available too though, so I was still happy.  After a while we hit our wall and scattered to our rooms for much needed rest.  #TooOld.

Running Tally:
Breweries: 8
Distilleries: 2
Pubs/Bars: 5

Friday, May 20, 2016

A Whale A Week: Deschutes The Abyss 2010

Now in my second year, A Whale A Week is my challenge to try (with an array of beer loving friends) a rare beer for every week of the year.  Last year I had a great time with this and have continued it for 2016.  Not every beer will be a truly "white whale" beer, but all are hard to find and a treat to try!  I've had a brief hiatus in these posts due to lack of time and travel to Oregon (check out my extensive travelogue of that trip here as well...)

Deschutes The Abyss 2010

This week we focus on a classic beer from Deschutes Brewery in Bend Oregon.  I've loved this brewery since I had my first Black Butte Porter while visiting my cousins out in Eugene many years ago.  Sarajo and I got a chance to visit the brewery a few years back when one of aforementioned cousins was kind enough to get married in Bend.  The Abyss was one of the early commercially available Russian Imperial stouts that got a lot of attention and was eagerly hoarded when it came out.  We'll call it a Proto-Whale.  Also back in the day Deschutes didn't have quite the availability across the USA that it currently boasts and getting a bottle in Minnesota was only through bootleg channels.  Enter my mom (Heddy) who lived in Oregon for several years, and would mule me back 6-9 bottles each November when it released out there!  Luckily now we get at least a nominal amount of Abyss here each year.  

The Abyss released in bottle for the first time in 2006.  There was a hiccup at one point in 2009 when the batch was infected (probably with the sour cultures from The Dissident) and is still gleefully called "Abyssident" by beer geeks like me.  The beer is complex, made with brewer's licorice, blackstrap molasses, vanilla beans, and cherry bark.  Portions of the beer are then aged in a combination of new oak, bourbon barrels, and wine barrels--then blended together before release.  As a result of this, the beer is more subtle than some bourbon booze bombs, making it easier to drink.  Ratebeer puts this beer at 100, and Beer Advocate rates it at 99.  While this beer is now readily available (and hence not super whale-ish) the 2010 vintage is certainly hard to come by in 2016, so I'm doing it!  Of course now, they've released some even more rare variants with rye whiskey and cognac barrel versions.  I hope to get to try these soon!  If anyone wants to share one for AWAW tasting I'll share my 2008 bottle...

Our judges for this session are me (BJCP National ranked judge, homebrewer 25+ years); Sarajo (my wonderful wife, lover of stouts); and Matt Messier (former Oregon native, beer geek, self proclaimed Deschutes fan-boy); Theresa (Matt's lovely wife, beer drinker but not a beer geek).  We met Matt at our local watering hole the Iron Tap in Waconia and realized we were neighbors...yet another way in which the social aspect of beer has led us to meet new friends!  

Aroma:  In which some of us are more sensitive to oxidation than others...

Eric: Deep earthy notes invade the nasal passages in a way that I can almost taste on the back of the tongue!  Licorice root present, but not overly anise-y.  Dark coffee roast notes.  Sweetness and molasses caramelized sugar.  Mild vanilla.  Light oak, bordering on papery oxidation as it warms up. 
Matt: Proper to the nose--makes me want to devour it now!
Theresa: I'm sensing wet dog.

Appearance: In which we gaze into The Abyss and hope it does not gaze back...

Eric: Pitch black.  Like staring into a...what's the word I'm looking for here?  Pit?  Chasm? Hole?  Rift?  Crevasse?  Void?  Hmmm, it'll come to me.  Mid-tan head with large bubbles, which fades to a wispy finish.  
Matt: Looks like a good root beer--a bit bubbly.

Flavor: In which we taste lots of coffee

Eric: Complex as anything!  Off-sweet up front, but the end is fairly dry with lingering flavors of dry cocoa, coffee grounds, and light anise.  Mouthfeel is medium to high with lots of mouth coating action.  Burnt sugar.  Mild dark fruit and cherry as it warms up.  Oxidation present, but adds complexity rather than detracts from the beer. 
Matt: Lasting flavor!  Starts smooth with molasses flavor, but ends with a coffee tinge.

Overall: In which the ladies bring down the curve with their hating...

Eric: This has more coffee flavors than I remember, but I love coffee so no harm no foul.  Great balance of sweet and dry in such a strong beer.  Mild oxidation for such an elderly statesman of a beer.  Hold up remarkably well and I'd place it in the top echelon of my favorite Russian Imperials.  4.5
Matt: Very enjoyable.  Being a Bend, Oregon native, I'm biased.  I would never turn this away!  4.25
Theresa: It was pretty good until I swallowed it.  2
Sarajo: A little cardboardy.  3.5

Overall Score: 3.56

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Coast, Bunnies, Beers! Oregon Day 2

Recently my wife (Sarajo) and I took a week's vacation to the Beer Mecca that is Portland, Oregon.  While we did try out a nearly overwhelming number of breweries, we also took some side trips and ate at a wonderful plethora of places.  On our third day in, two of our friends (Kathleen and Shea) met up with us from DC and joined in the fun.  I'm going to blog about the trip in some detail, mostly to immortalize it in the written word, but consider it a starting point for your own Portland area trip!  Feel free to shoot me any questions or clarifications if you like.

Day 2

Dawn arrived at the tiny coastal resort town of Pacific City.  Despite threats of rain, the air was clear and brisk but with a firm grey cloud cover.  Hints of morning sun periodically winked through the looming clouds, illuminating the magical view from our room of Haystack Rock jutting out of the sea.  Side bar here: this was where parts of The Goonies was filmed and I made continual quotes about One-Eyed Willie and the Truffle Shuffle though-out our entire stay.  My wife is very patient with me.  Sometimes.

Camera in one hand, my lady's hand in the other, I made my way to the beach for a long walk.  The briny smell of the sea, the crunch of barnacles underfoot, the raucous cries of wheeling sea birds, all brought home how different this world was from our home in Minnesota.  We climbed on the rocks, looking at colorful anemones and hermit crabs trapped in their shallow depths.  Soon we walked up a huge sand dune to find a spectacular view of sandstone cliffs, a large cave, crashing waves, and gulls galore.  My kingdom for a tripod!

Finishing up our long walk, just as some mild rain started spitting, we stopped in to Pelican Pub & Brewery for a hearty breakfast.  9 AM and I am splitting my attention between hot coffee and Tsunami Stout.  Life is good!

Now full to the brim with breakfast foods, coffee, and stout, we checked out of our hotel.  While doing so Sarajo discovered bags of rabbit food for sale and we invested the 50 cents in a bag.  Taking our spoils out behind the hotel, flocks of black rabbits incautiously approached us and began eating out Sj's hand.  A fun little excursion before heading on!


We took a bit of a long-cut by way of Salem (Oregon's capital) in order to visit a couple of breweries that were totally unknown to us.  We also didn't want to try too many of the Portland breweries without our friends so this was a nice way to widen our brewery net into new areas.

Our first stop in Salem was Vagabond Brewing, which we had discovered on our taster tour of local beers at ABV in Hilsboro the day before.  The brewery was started by a group of  Marine Corps combat veterans who had traveled extensively and discovered beer in all the places they visited.  Vagabond was the culmination of those travels, and the name nods to the wanderer.  They have a cute little kitchen that served up some great Native American style frybread to clear the palate after drinking through two sampler platters.  They had a few local ciders on tap as well so Sj was happy!

The beers were surprisingly good.  I gave nearly all of them 3.75 scores (from 0-5) which place them above average in my own personal tastes.  I really enjoyed the Attack Owl IPA--named for a local owl that was apparently swooping down on unsuspecting park-goers.  We tried the Redshift IRA which was a pleasant hoppy red, (and had tried this with guava previously).  Sj and I also liked the 50/50 Kettle Sour with black currants--a well done version of this style for sure!

After our pleasing stop at Vagabond, we moved over to Gilgamesh Brewing, also in Salem.  This place is tucked into the back end of an office park--they have a cool sign and water feature out by the road, but no signs on the actual building.  The space is more of a brewpub with a large kitchen behind the bar.  The place is a little dark, but cozy.  We of course shared the sampler to try through the beers and I discovered Hoot Attack--also named for the crazy owl--but this wasn't quite as good as Vagabond's version.  All of the beers were decent, with my average score coming in at 3.5.  Their Terry Porter and Springer IPA were my favorites of the bunch, and the Mamba (a beer made with black tea, bergamot, and tangerine peel) was the most unique.  None were seriously flawed, which is always nice to find!

Other than some unusually shaped tap handles, I felt that Gilgamesh didn't play into their Sumerian name enough.  Since one of our local breweries in Minnesota (Enki Brewing) does a better job of Sumerian branding I expect a lot! This place is worth a quick stop (and the food looks great) but I enjoyed Vagabond a bit more of the two.  Why visit just one?!


After our brief sojourn in Salem, we drove back into Portland to pick up our friends Kathleen and Shea, just arriving groggily on a long flight from the D.C. area.  This part of the trip was boring and did not include any beer.  Moving on...

We checked into our hotel for the following week: the McMenamin's Kennedy School.  For those who haven't experienced a McMenamin's property I'll give a quick lesson here.  The McMenamins have been buying up old historic buildings in the Oregon and Washington areas for over 20 years years, refurbishing them and keeping much of the charm of the original structures intact.  These range from hotels, to theaters, to brewpubs, and more.  While this is a "chain" every one of these places is unique and fun to visit.  Strange paintings, hidden faces, old enlarged photos, and more, abound.  Many of the locations have their own tiny breweries (of which some are better than others).  Two locations host distilleries which furnish spirits to the other properties. They roast their own coffee which is served through the other spots.  Now, they also have a passport that you can get to get stamps at all the spots, as well as for special experiences (having a beer or wine sampler, soaking in a pool, seeing a movie at one of theaters, etc.) This really encourages you to explore the nooks and crannies of each property and seek out others.  This is an unusual and intriguing empire!

The Kennedy School is an elementary school from 1915, and has a distinct age and history to it. I love this property and this is actually our second time staying there.  A theater (with its own bar) provides a couple of movies during the week.  There's a soaking pool for the weary traveler.  Multiple bars are present on the property, each with their own specialization (more on these in future posts!).  We started out in the restaurant for a late dinner with our new arrivals.  The food here over our stay was consistently very good, and you can't beat the location.  Antique hanging lamps and paper lanterns dangle in seemingly random abandon from the ceiling and a long bar lies along one side of the room.  An old squat wood burning stove hunches over in one corner--silent this night, but pumping out heat the next morning to fight the chill.

The Kennedy School has its own tiny brewery.  The McMenamin's breweries all have a few core recipes that are brewed at each place (Hammerhead pale ale, Ruby raspberry ale, and Terminator Stout) but the rest are up to the individual brewers.  Many Oregon brewers get their commercial start at these properties before moving on to bigger things.  Last time (3 years ago) we were at the Kennedy School the beers were not so great, but this time things had improved dramatically.  The Outdoor School IPA and the Jam Session session IPA were my favorites from the sampler and I got some more full pints later in the trip.  They also served up a very good off-dry cider from the Edgefield Estate that was a hit with our group.  We ended up getting an impromptu tour of the small but well decorated brewery the next day when we barged in on one of the brewers hard at work sparging a batch of cream ale.  I really appreciated him taking time out to give answer questions.

Check out the artwork on the brewery equipment!  

After dinner and beer it was time for bed...

Running Tally:
Breweries: 5
Pubs/Bars: 1

Monday, May 16, 2016

Oregon Day 1: BOA (Beer On Arrival)

Recently my wife (Sarajo) and I took a week's vacation to the Beer Mecca that is Portland, Oregon.  While we did try out a nearly overwhelming number of breweries, we also took some side trips and ate at a wonderful plethora of places.  On our third day in, two of our friends (Kathleen and Shea) met up with us from DC and joined in the fun.  I'm going to blog about the trip in some detail, mostly to immortalize it in the written word, but consider it a starting point for your own Portland area trip!  Feel free to shoot me any questions or clarifications if you like.

Day 1: BOA (Beer On Arrival)

We arrived at PDX Airport on a Tuesday afternoon, tired from the three hour trip and ready to explore a bit.  After picking up our rental car we headed straight for our first brewery...I know you are all shocked!

HUB has been a staple in the Portland craft beer scene since about 2007.  They have several organic ales and take great pride in Green business practices.  They've embraced the bike culture of Portland and in fact the light fixture/chandelier over the bar in the taproom is made of bike frames!  They have expanded to include a second location and now distribute cans around the state as well.  Several friends had steered (pun intended) me to visit this spot.

We arrived before rush hour hit the city, so the place wasn't crazy yet.  We snagged a seat at the bar and ordered the BIG sampler.  This is a sampler of 15 (2 oz) beers served up in a metal pan and was quite the eye-catching sight for a weary traveler!  I tasted through them all (sharing a tiny amount with Sarajo of course).  With such a huge number I took sparing notes in Untappd.  Looking at my overall scores it looks like out of 15 beers the highest I gave (out of 0-5) was a 3.75.  Average for all of them was 3.5--putting this brewery in the decent but not great category for me.  None of the beers were terrible, but overall they just didn't wow either of us.  Probably the best was a toss-up between the Gear Up IPA and the IPX Organic El Dorado (single hop).  It was a fun stop, but didn't live up to my expectations.

Our destination for the day was to drive out of town and about 1.5-2 hours to Pacific City--a tiny quaint vacation town on the Oregon coast.  We wanted to get out Portland before traffic got rough, so went on a little detour in Hillsboro (a suburb just outside of the city proper).  Our friend Matt Messier, who hails from that area, suggested we stop at a little under-the-radar place in an office park called ABV Public House.  This was a great suggestion!  This is a bar, serving food and 34 draft lines of craft beer--mostly local. They also have extensive coolers full of bottles all along two walls of the place that you can drink in-house or take home with you.  Thank you Oregon's progressive beer laws!  We tried a sampler of beers and ciders that we'd never heard of along with some snacks there before we headed back out toward the coast.  It was tempting to buy a bunch of beers right there, but I had to limit my bottle selection for the trip (flying) and decided to hold off for now.  Based on some of the sample beers we tried and the reviews from our helpful server we added a few breweries to our budding itinerary.

Pacific City and Pelican Brewery

This was the view from our hotel!

Pacific City is tiny.  Really tiny.  But the population swells come warm weather and beach crowds for the summer.  It was still early in the season on this trip and the place was pretty deserted.  We stayed at the Inn at Cape Kiwanda, a very nice little hotel right up the hill and across the street from both the beach and Pelican Brewery.  The Inn had a Bed, Breakfast & Brew package which includes a $25 dining credit (not just for breakfast) and a free sampler of beer from the brewery.  Of course we took advantage of that!  We arrived at dusk and after checking into the hotel and taking in the most marvelous view I've ever had at an overnight stay, we darted down to the darkening beach.  A brisk (timing and temperature) walk along the beach and onto the barnacle encrusted rocks revealed by the retreating tide was our treat for the evening.  Just as a light rain started, we arrived back at the brewery for our tasty dinner and free beer sampler.

I've been a fan of Pelican since we stopped there on a trip about 5 years ago.  The place has won national recognition for their beers, including the barrel aged beast that is Mother Of All Storms (which I review HERE.)  They've recently expanded to include a production facility in nearby Tillamook as well, but that was out of our way for this trip.  The big, old-fashioned brewpub is comfortable, weathered, and relaxed, sitting literally right on the beach.  The food was good and hearty, the beers excellent.  The Kiwanda Cream Ale is their flagship--one of the best cream ales I've ever had, though it isn't my favorite style.  The Mosiac Pilsner small batch was a strange and interesting mix of lager style and ale hopping--but worked well. Most of the beers ranged from 3.75-4 for me this visit--above average for sure.  Oh how I wish they had MOAS!

Exhausted from our day of travel (and perhaps beer) we skipped across the street to the Inn for bed.  There we "rented" for free a DVD and watched a movie (this would be the last TV-type media for a full week) and fell asleep to the sound of crashing waves through our open balcony door.  This was a stellar start to an epic vacation.  Though tomorrow threatened heavy rains, we were prepared for another great day of fun ahead.  Oh, and more beer of course!

Running Tally:
Breweries: 2
Pubs/bars: 1

Sunday, May 1, 2016

PhotoChallenge 2016 Week 17: Steadfast

At the end of last year I discovered  This is a small group of photographers who set forth a weekly challenge to other professional and amateur photographers.  What I was drawn to with this weekly assignment is that is pushes you to try new techniques and get out and take pictures on a weekly basis.  I'm taking part again this year and will also do a quick blog post about each of them.  The rules of the challenge do require that these are new pictures, not from your back catalog.  With my busy work schedule, I may not be able to get out each week and do this, so I will likely add a few of my older photos on the blog--taking the opportunity to look at the plethora of pictures I've taken and actually do some processing and weeding.

Week 17: Steadfast 

The challenge for this week was to be a black and white photo inspired by the word steadfast.  The definition of steadfast is: 1) Firmly fixed in place  2) Not subject to change 3) Firm in belief, determination, or adherence.  

This is a tough concept for going out and picking a subject.  But found two that I though worked!

1) The Last:  This little farm sits right outside my neighborhood of cookie-cutter homes, steadfast in its perseverance.  I usually shoot this farm facing the other direction--looking at some trees rather than the clone homes popping up next to it--but this time I changed vantage points.  

2) Guardian:  What is more steadfast that the bald eagle?  Repopulated after being endangered most most of my childhood, now a common vision of beauty in rural Minnesota.  And hey, 'Merica!  I took this shot at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum at a raptor photography class this weekend and figured it fit the theme!

That's it for this week!