Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Trip to Portland aka "Beervana"

My trip to Portland over the long weekend began with a ferry ride to Anacortes, Washington State, then a cruise south down the I-5. We stopped for diesel along the way at a place that appeared to not even be a town, just a gas station and convienience store on the side of the road. When I went inside to grab a drink I was blown away by the contents of the beer fridge. Sierra Nevada? New Belgium? Deschutes? All for under 10 bucks... in this place? Are you kidding me? Apparently not. Welcome to south of the  border.

Our first night began with a stop at HUB and turned out to be a highlight of the trip. Hopworks Urban Brewing, or HUB, is a fully organic brewery that is the "dream brewpub" creation of owner and brewmaster Christian Ettinger. All the efforts he has taken to ensure it is as green as possible are definitely worth a read. Inside, it is a sight to behold. We started off the night with the impressive taster wheel making our way through all 6 regular offerings as well as 4 seasonal brews. Afterwards, I settled on a glass of the new Ace of Spades Imperial IPA. Despite its 9.5% abv and 100+ IBU's, it is incredibly easy to drink with a smooth bitterness and incredible hop flavour and aroma. Its easy to see how this beer won a gold medal at 2009's Great American Beer Festival. Incredibly, this beer is available in Victoria at the moment, as far as I know only at The Strath; get a bottle before its gone.

Ace of Spades Imperial IPA

After HUB we ventured on and found another brewpub, The Lucky Lab. Unfortunately, they were just closing, but the bartender advised we go a few blocks down to a place called The Green Dragon. "They have some beer on tap," he told us. He wasn't lying. The Green Dragon, a dark and menacing kind of joint, has two white boards hung from the ceiling, called "the front 20," and "the back 30." Ya you got that right, 50 beers on tap. They have only one keg of everything and when it runs out they switch it for something new. I love this city.

The next morning we rolled into a busy downtown breakfast spot where animated cooks shouted to one another over the general din of the restaurant. Looking over the menu I happened to glance at the drinks list, and did a double take. This place had more than 20 bottled beers! Dogfish Head 60 Minute! Are you kidding me! This is a breakfast restaurant! Despite the temptation I settled for a coffee. After breakfast we took to wandering around the city before resuming our brewpub crawl. On our way through the amazing Saturday market we came upon a stall selling beers from Rogue. There must have been 30 beers for sale right there in the market. That would never fly here, what's up with this province?

Returning to our pub crawl we managed to hit a number of spots including Bridgeport, The New Old Lompoc, and Rock Bottom Brewing. We finally tracked down Upright Brewing, one of my favourite breweries, only to find they were closed and had no brewpub to begin with. Good researching skills on my part. After a dinner of sushi we decided to mix it up by heading to a bar we had heard of called Bailey's Taproom. Located in downtown Portland, it was small and intimate and featured a mere 20 constantly rotating taps. I suppose it would have to do. You gotta love this town.

The New Old Lompoc

Tasters from Bridgeport

"The List" at Bailey's Taproom

Pliny the Elder and a good book
Before we had to sadly conclude our trip to the wellspring from which flows the beer of Cascadia, we made the trip out to a beer store we had heard of located in a suburb of east Portland. Belmont Station sounded like the stuff of legends, and it didn't

disappoint. With more than 1200 beers available it is a beer geek's wonderland. After wandering around for over an hour talking to the ridiculously knowledgeable staff and spending a ton of money I was ready for some refreshment. Convieniently, there is a small bar attached that has nearly twenty taps. As I sat down and scanned the menu I couldn't believe my eyes, they had Pliny the Elder on tap! Made by Russian River Brewing, Pliny the Elder has won multiple gold medals at both the Great American Beer Festival, and the World Beer Cup. Pliny is often credited with paving the way for the Imperial IPA, the biggest and boldest of all the hoppy beers. The rest of their beers were just as stellar, offering many one-off brews, some never made available in the bottle. As much as I would have liked to stay at Belmont all day there was a long road ahead so sadly we had to say goodbye to Portland and head north for home. Apart from spending the better part of an hour convincing the border guard the chunks in my beer were not cleverly disguised narcotics the trip back went smoothely and all my new beers made it back in one piece.

I think Victoria has some really good things going for it in the world of beer. We have 8 breweries now, 4 of them with on-site brewpubs. Although I wish Victoria's brewpubs were somewhat more experimental and willing to take risks, that is probably the topic for another post. What this trip to Portland really highlighted for me is the poverty of Victoria's bar-scene from the point of view of the beer drinker. Although a variety of local micro-brews are available in many Victoria pubs, there isn't a single bar that can approach a selection like St. Augustine's or the Alibi Room in Vancouver, never mind the taproom's of Portland. Now I've heard the arguments that we don't have the population to sustain a place like that, and I simply don't buy it. Every cask event I've attended in Victoria has been packed, the Great Canadian Beer Festival sells out now in a matter of minutes, and new events like The Vancouver Island Beer Festival have been highly succesfull. People in Victoria like beer. This is supposed to be the beer capital of Canada but if people from out of town asked me where the place was to go for a great draught beer selection, I'm not sure what I would say. Sometimes it seems like bars are afraid to take any sort of risk. Why is the beer from Surrey's Central City Brewing, Canada's 2010 Brewery of the Year, available only at the Beagle? I have talked to their beer rep and they would like to move into more bars in town but have met with opposition from local publicans. Why is Driftwood's Fat Tug, in my opinion the best IPA made on Vancouver Island, such a difficult beer to find on tap? The beer scene is exploding at the minute and Victoria does certainly not exist in a vacuum. If we want to keep our reputation as Canada's beer capital, then consumers have to demand better selection from local pubs, and publicans have to in turn be willing to serve a wider selection of beers that may be more unusual and expensive. Whoever is willing to take that risk may be rewarded by becoming the place to drink beer in Victoria, because as far as I can tell that place doesn't exist yet. Rant over.

PS Check out the list below of the beers I brought back from Portland aka "Beervana"

Three Creeks 5 Pine Porter
Houblon Chouffe Belgian IPA
Full Sail Imperial Porter
Russian River Redemption Blonde Ale
Russian River Damnation Strong Golden Ale
't Gaverhopke Extra Belgian Ale
Stone Cali-Belgie Belgian IPA
HUB Ace of Spades Imperial IPA
Upright Six
Upright Seven
Jolly Pumpkin Bam Biere
Laurelwood Workhorse IPA
De Ranke Hop Harvest 2010
Hair of the Dog Adam
Boulevard Tank 7 Saison
Jolly Pumpkin IO Saison
McChouffe Belgian Brown
Dupont Foret Organic Saison

1 comment: