IPA

Plan W: The Quest for the Green Dragon

It started as any epic quest does…in a teashop.

Okay, maybe your epic quests don’t start there, but mine certainly do. The Call to adventure was made simply enough in passing by a certain master tea blender for a small batch op I frequented irregularly. So subtle was this Call that I didn’t even catch on to it until months after. And it only became a “Call” once I decided to…um…call it such. You know what…this isn’t making much sense so far.

Put simply, the blender told me that some of their Jasmine Silver Tip green tea was being used in – of all things – mead, and it was available in S.E. Portland at a place called The Green Dragon. It made my ears perk. Then, for some reason, I forgot about it.

Fast-forward to the second week of August: A friend of mine and I finally decided to make a brewery jaunt down to the Washington side of the Columbia Gorge. Problem is, he didn’t get off until 6PM, and the brewery closed at 9. It was going to be tight.

Since I had some time to kill, I wandered the strip mall closest to where my friend – we’ll call him NinjaSpecs – lived. My first stop was at a deli for a humongoid sammich. Not a sandwich…sammich. While there, I watched a blonde storm out on her douchey-looking boyfriend. I wondered if he demanded her to make sammiches like that.

After that, I got a text from NinjaSpecs saying he would be slightly delayed, but said to meet at the parking lot of a nearby Fred Meyer (a grocery store). Before that, I perused the aisles of a Whole Foods and found – completely by serendipity’s grace – a bottle of Japanese Sencha IPA. That’s right, a green tea-infused India Pale Ale. This delayed day was perking up nicely – like the women in sundresses I noticed on the way there.

Once I arrived at Fred Meyer, I got another text. This time, NinjaSpecs changed the delay even further due to traffic. Perfectly understandable. I spend the duration laughing inwardly at the book aisle in the grocery store. I saw two books that had the same type of cover – a midriff-bare girl with a wolf in snow. Was this a new “genre”? Whatever the phenomenon, I was strangely okay with it.

NinjaSpecs finally arrived at 7:45PM. We both lamented that we wouldn’t make the Gorge jaunt before the brewery/goal closed. We needed a Plan B. So, off we went to his place to scour the Internets for other breweries we hadn’t been to. You – fair reader – have absolutely no idea how difficult a task this was. Between the two of us, we had notched off forty-five brewpubs in Portland and the surrounding county. We weren’t even sure if there were any more neither of us had tried.

By sheer happenstance, we found one on the Oregon Brewers Guild site. It was in Northeast, but heck with it! We were desperate for an alternative. Thanks to my trustee (if slightly out-of-date) Garmin, we made it to “that” side of town. The brewery looked packed to the gills. We hoped for the best.

On the walk there, we both caught a whiff of something horrid yet…herbal? We recognized that sent – a foul combination of patchouli and puke. Somehow we had arrived on the hippie side of NE. Undeterred, we continued on through the haze of “organic” death and reached the pub. The smell only grew more intense. We proceeded to enter…

And were stopped by a perky, pigtailed brunette who said, “That’ll be a five-dollar cover charge.”

I scowled, “What? Why?”

She continued, “There’s a concert going on.”

I would never have called the wannabe Grateful Dead bulls**t playing inside a “concert”. I raged, I rotated on the ball of my foot, I returned to my car – NinjaSpecs in close agreement with my malaise.

Plan C.

We looked to the bar down a block from the hippie-swamped brewery. It, too, was packed. Our only refuge was to go further inland to Southeast. All other brewery plans had failed; I had no more back-ups.

That was when NinjaSpecs spoke up, “It’s time to invoke Plan W.”

What is Plan W, you may ask?

Plan W is what you skip ahead to when every other f**king plan you came up with before has failed. Instead of even coming up with a plan, you just go with your gut. Plan W is existentialism incarnate; it is the antithesis of a plan. And that’s what makes it so awesome.

We ended up on some road, and right before us, the dog-lacquered sign of a brewery came into view. So majestic was the invocation of Plan W that I ended up finding a parking spot right in front of the brewery. We entered, we ordered pints, we sat. Both of us ordered the same thing – a stout on nitro.

NinjaSpecs took a sip first and cocked his head to the side. I had a similar reaction. Overall, the texture of the dark ale was good, but something was off about it. Something about the initial sip didn’t sit right.

NinjaSpecs vocalized the peculiarity with, “That nitro stout has an off front to it…like a day-shift stripper.” Then proceeded to pay close attention to two girls at a table next to us playing Carcassonne. When I inquired about what he was paying attention to, all he managed was, “You don’t understand?! It’s girls. In a bar. Playing Carcassonne!”

Any argument I could’ve had was invalid.

As soon as our foul pints were downed, we hopped back into the car for our next jaunt. We racked our brains over where to go next. One suggestion was to simply walk up and down the street looking for whichever place was the shiniest. That almost won over until a thought entered my mind – something about a “Call”.

I said, “We could go to this place I heard about called The Green Dragon.”

“Where is it?” NinjaSpecs asked.

“Dunno,” I answered.

“What’s so good about it?”

“They have green tea mead,” I countered.

“Drive.”

The next half-hour or so was an exercise in comic futility. We circled the same five-by-five-block radius at least a half-dozen times. It was getting so bad, we were almost of the opinion the place didn’t exist. On the third go-around, we ran across another brewery I had past several times – a place specializing in barrel-aged sour ales. Freakin’ sold.

NinjaSpecs ordered a Belgian-styled Kriek, while I had a glass of ale that was brewed with Cabernet-Sauvignon grapes. It was tart, as sour as they touted, and mag-friggin’-nificent. I piped up, pondering if we should get another. My partner-in-crime wisely reminded me that we wouldn’t be leaving the place if we had another. Their s**t was strong.

So, we left and continued our journey on foot. We could’ve easily stayed in the car with how little progress we made. That and we passed (and commented) on the same bar four times. It was red, shanty-like, and decked out in barb wire. We dubbed it “The Pirate Bar” and went inside. It was just our luck that we found the ONE bar that played country music in SE Portland. That and they only took cash.

We each nursed whatever crap beers they had on tap before asking the bartender where The Green Dragon was located. He pulled up directions on his iPhone and showed it to NinjaSpecs – who slumped his shoulders and snickered.

He laughed, “We were right f**king there!”

Lo and behold, we were. Merely a block over, adjacent to the sour ale brewery was a small neon sign in the shape of a…wait for it…

A GREEN DRAGON!

Upon entering, we were amazed at how spacious it was. Crowds dotted the place inside and out, and the clientele were a mixed bunch – some hippie, some hipster, some geek, and all drunk. It felt like an equalizer. Neither of us paid attention to the other dozens of beers they had on tap and went straight for the jasmine green tea mead. To our even further glee, we found out that the brewery that made it was attached to The Green Dragon. That and it was one neither of us – both brew-versed – had heard of. How had this escaped our notice for so long?!

Both of us were already three or four beers in – understandably hazy – but we remembered that first sip from our transparent chalices. The foggy, bright green liquor with the medium-foamed surface greeted our mouths with a velvety rush. Pure ambrosia flooded our already-foggy frames of mind. Sighs of relief and groans of victory exited our collective maws. Our quest was ended, and it was bloody well worth every wrong turn.

Plan W for the WIN.

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Friday, October 7th, 2011 Beverage Blog 2 Comments

Braving Oregon Brewfest 2011

I will preface this by saying, “I’m writing this while still buzzed.”

There is no better introduction to the below missive than that. It seemed prudent and logical to post my experience at this year’s Oregon Brewfest right after it just happened. Okay, granted, it’s still going on at the time of this writing, but my experience with it has just ended…and I have the chicken-scratched notes and incriminating photos to prove it. So…onward to the frivolities of the first day!

Initially, I had planned on going by myself. Everyone else – those responsible bastards – had “jobs” they went to, like the normal 9-5/five-days-a-week clock-punchers they were. My “weekend” – such as it was – fell on a Wednesday and Thursday – so my only free day to go to the Brewers Festival was on the first day. Unfortunately, no one else could join me on said excursion. As a result, I was torn.

Do I (a) stay home and write fantasy stories like a responsible writer, or (b) head down to Brewfest like the thirtysomething miscreant I liked to think I was. Evidence was pointing to the former until I got a call from my cousin, Jason.  He wondered if I would mind a tag-along. “Hell no I wouldn’t mind the tag-along!” I said, emphatically (paraphrased slightly). And off we were to grab food and caffeine before the impending event.

After MAX-ing it downtown, it became clear to us that the myth of the “slow first day” of Brewfest was all but shattered. Apparently, the word had gotten out – since last year – that you could actually sample the beers you wanted within a decent amount of time the earlier you went. My respite was dead. The secret was out. Brewfest was crowded…even on the opening day of the festivities. Luckily, there was still room to navigate the tents to try what we wanted to.

Standout Beers of the Day:

Amnesia Dopacetic Imperial IPA – I was impressed with the initial hoppy forefront, but even more so in the citrusy finish. The sign of an exceptional IPA.

Pyramid Dark IPA – Like the Amnesia offering, it also had a citrusy profile. I’m not usually impressed with the Pyramid brand, but this was a standout. Part of that is my predilection toward black IPAs in general.

Beer Valley Brewing’s Jackelope Imperial Pumpkin Porter – While it had a pretty standard porter delivery, and next-to-no pumpkin presence to speak of (from what I could tell), it was worth mentioning for the name alone…and the fact that the brewery is out of Ontario, OR. – a place known for their dislike of bars.

Dogfish Brewing Black and Red – This is a beer I adored but my cousin didn’t like. It was described as a berry/mint stout with a sweet/hoppy profile. Cinnamon was what came to mind when I sipped it. This was a beer best served cold…not at room temperature. Extremely strong.

Great Divide Rumble – Hard to describe this one. I mooched this off an acquaintance, and – my god! – it was good. I wish I had better notes than that…but I don’t.

The Buzz Tent:

As was the case last year, the true gems of Brewfest were the options presented in the two-token Buzz Tent. Granted, they were twice as much as the samplers presented in the normal tents, but – man – they lived up to their price tag. Here were the few I tried.

Kona Brewing “Lime Leaves” – Kona wasn’t even listed as one of the Buzz Tent participants, but they came through with their “lime leaves” ale. No idea what was in it, except for the one ingredient, but it was citrus/sour awesomeness. And I’m not the only one who said so.

Hollister Brewing Black Ice – This was a unique one. None of those folks I was with could make heads or tails of it. I actually had to consult the website to finally discover that it was an Imperial Stout. Could’ve fooled me. Our first guess was that it was an oak-chip-aged porter. I guess we were way off. Still…damn good.

Gilgamesh Brewing Mega Monster DIPA – I was already a fan of Gilgamesh because of their tea-brewed Mamba, which I did a review for. I remember sampling their normal Mega Monster at the same time, but not the Double-IPA. Holy wow, this was strong on the hops, but – unlike some doubles out there – it still maintained a smooth character. Well worth the two tokens.

Alameda Brewing My Bloody Valentine – This wasn’t the one they had initially listed in the Buzz lineup, but it was a stand-out for its Belgian forefront (which I usually don’t care for)…but a thick, Dubbel-worthy finish. As my cousin said, “It’s like its wearing a hoppy bikini.” I can’t disagree.

Full Sail Old Boardhead Barleywine (1995) – Unlike last year, this was the only barleywine they had on tap. It just so happened to be the oldest barelywine I’ve ever encountered also – dating back to my graduation from high school. I have few words to describe how wonderful this was, but my cousin (again) observed my facial expression and said, “I think he just came.” ‘Nuff said.

Lucky Lab Brew Pub Super Gin Dog Ale – I looked at the name of this beer and veered my way through the crowd to try it. It was as I hoped it would be – a gin barrel-aged ale. The volunteer didn’t know what kind of ale was used, but whatever it was it worked. It had a juniper body with a berry-to-hop finish. Perfect for what they set out to do.

The Best of “the Buzz”:

Riveport Brewing Whisky Barrel-Aged Stout – This was the clear favorite beer of Brewfest, and it was gone before we knew it. What else can be said about a barrel-aged stout other than it had the peaty/smoky notes that were expected of its kind…and then some. It tasted like burnt German chocolate, campfires, and liquor. To say I need to visit this brewery would be an understatement. Argh!…damn good.

Observations of the Day:

These are just random notes I took based upon what was said to me (via text or in person) over the course of the afternoon, as well as observations either I made or another person voiced.

–          My cousin: [referring to me] “Jesus, he’s like a beer ninja veering through the crowd.”

–          My cousin: [to me] “You’re like a beer ferret.”

–          I was complaining about the random “WHOOOO”-ing of people in the tents. My cousin finally educated me on why that was a precedent. Apparently, that is done if a brewer taps a new keg. After all the years I’ve attended Brewfest, I did not know this.

–          On our way out, I had use the restroom. I have no idea how – or by what magical ninja skills – my cousin came by this knowledge, but he could navigate his way through a Nordstroms without anyone picking up that he was a Brewfest-er looking for their bathroom. It was seriously skillful.

Random Text from a Friend: [Who got there after we left] “There must be a stripper convention in town because I don’t remember this many hot chicks being at Brewfest last year.” And an hour later…”Oh wait…the sun is gone…and so are they.”

The Best Brewery of Brewfest:

That honor belongs to FiftyFifty out of Truckee, CA. I remembered them from four years ago; they were the first brewery that ever came up with a chamomile wheat beer. I liked it – immensely. I had friends that tried their wares since then, but I rarely heard mention of them at future ‘fests. This year they had, not one but two – one of which was presented at the Buzz Tent.

FiftyFifty Brewing Donner Party Porter – This was one of their regular mainstays, but it was a rather interesting beast. At first, we noted that it had the texture and taste of an ordinary porter…but something happened on the finish. There was a smoky/woody profile that took over and transcended this from good to great.

FiftyFifty Brewing Barel Rouge Baltique – I have no idea what this beer was. My compatriots had no idea what this beer was. The FiftyFifty website had no mention of what this beer was. Whatever it was…it was unbelievable. It tasted like a port wine-casked porter. Quite extraordinary, and the second best beer of Brewfest. Beat out only by the whiskey barrel stout.

In Closing…

I had a remarkable time in excellent company this year. And I made it back to Sunset Transit Center safe and sound. But if anyone asks about the emergency vehicles that were found at said transit center…um…we had nothing to do with that.

Honest.

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Thursday, July 28th, 2011 Beverage Blog No Comments

Beer Review: Elysian Avatar Jasmine IPA

Quick summary: Horrible morning at work, malaise of a mood all afternoon, and a desire to nap ‘til doomsday cometh. This was not the outlook any self-respecting geek was supposed to have on May 4th – or as I found out later, Star Wars Day. Livening and levity were needed. Two things usually work to accomplish this – sex and beer. One is a non-issue (as in, there is “none”), the latter required…movement. (I’m referring to getting up to go get beer.)

There was no beer in the house aside from my brother’s stash, and I didn’t want to mooch off of him like a tool. Plus, if I was going to travel to find beer, I figured I might as well make it an interesting selection. That is, beyond our usual mainstays of IPAs and stouts. At the five-o’-clock hour, I finally decided to embark on a beersade. (Like a crusade only…well…beer-ish.) Fast food would be picked up on the way as well. Can’t have catharsis without beer and bad-for-you food.

The beer portion of my neighborhood Fred Meyer is like a libation library. The microbrew section alone took up one aisle, and a second aisle was reserved for the sh*t beer. (Yes, Pabst is in that category, you silly hipster-bunnies.) It didn’t take long for me to find my target. In true form, it was an IPA, but it was a different sort of hoppy mistress.

At a miniature brewfest in June, I chatted up a lady brewer-rep about unlikely flavor combinations. Being a tea nerd, my ideas swung toward the botanical. One I suggested was a jasmine-flavored IPA. The brew-gal shook her head.

“It’s been done,” she said.

“By who?!” I demanded. Er…politely. Even though I forgot the “m” in “whom”.

“Elysian Brewing.”

Never heard of it. Apparently, it was a well-known Seattle outfit that sprung up in 1995 – my graduating year. For a short stint, they were partnered with a Universal Studios/Dreamworks/Sega venture called Gameworks, but went their own way in 2002. Beyond that, their history was fairly straightforward. No rising from the ashes, phoenix-style, or anything. To their credit, they had a unique naming scheme for their wares, and Avatar Jasmine IPA was at the top of the list.

According to the beer bio, it was made with Glacier and Amarillo hops,  and dried jasmine flowers were added during the boil. I was a bit disappointed that – for a Washington brewery – they didn’t use close-to-home Cascade hops, but that was beersnobbery kicking it. (They are the best hops in the world, after all.)

I gave it a pour.

I was impressed with the visual palette of the beverage itself. It was a dense amber-colored beast with bubbles rising from the bottom of the glass to fuse with the abundantly thick, foamy head. The aroma given off by the white, fizzy layer was somewhere in between a doppelbock and a standard IPA – both crisp and bitter. But then again, a lot of beers leave that impression on first whiff.

The flavor was an altogether different experience. To the tongue, it started off as any other IPA – bitter, hoppy forefront and all – but then transitioned to something expected and unexpected. The predicted dry, floral character appeared on the front. However, the body revealed shades of citrus and an unidentifiable sweetness. The latter also carried over to the aftertaste, which was where the jasmine presence lingered the strongest. Imagine if a Belgian-style wheat was drowned in hops, then had its bubbly grave sprinkled with lotus blossoms. Something along those lines.

In short, I was impressed. And more importantly, it gave me a “happy”. Whatever proverbial cloud that hung over me all sunny day dissipated with a floral swig. Was it a buzz? You betcha. And a well earned one, too. It appealed to my tea and beer geek sensibilities – a tough twosome to pull off.

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Thursday, May 5th, 2011 Beverage Blog No Comments

I work for tea money.

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