Saturday, August 29, 2009

It Feels Worse When I Stop

In my previous post about Joe Pernice's new novel, I referred to the book's title in terms of how a runner might feel upon the completion of a workout. In the case of our recently passed weather situation, sometimes it's the opposite. That is, the weather seems bearable, or at least you rationalize that it's "not that bad." Then, you stop moving and, all of a sudden, the perspiration starts running off you like Multnomah Falls.

Of course, the production of sweat is the human body's method of regulating its temperature. So, although it makes you feel uncomfortable, perspiration actually is cooling you off. But, this isn't intended to be a science lesson. Instead, I'm really just looking for a seque way to revisiting my discussion of It Feels So Good When I Stop.

In reality, the title of the book is in reference to a joke about a guy who, when asked why he keeps hitting himself over the head with a hammer, responds "because it feels so good when I stop."

Pernice's first novel combines the understated brilliance of some of his lyrics—although I thought "contemplating suicide or a graduate degree" would have really fit—with a slacker-like flair for the Hornbyesque. One of the reviews I read complains that it "...ambles in no discernable direction," and I really can't disagree. But, if you're a fan of Pernice's music and/or Hornby's style, it's definitely worth the read.

The book's "soundtrack" is really enjoyable as well. It's one that I would call a "grower," in that it falls into the category of albums that seem to get better with each subsequent listen. Of course, I've already mentioned how much I like his covers of Dream Syndicate's "Tell Me When It's Over," Penn & Oldham's "I'm Your Puppet," and Tom T. Hall's "That's How I Got to Memphis." The album also includes an unremarkable version of Todd Rundgren's "Hello It's Me" and the questionable inclusion of "Chim Cheree" from Mary Poppins. Beyond that, it's all good, with other highlights including Plush's "I Found a Little Baby," Del Shannon's "I Go to Pieces," and—believe it or not—Sebadoh’s "Soul and Fire."

Friday, August 21, 2009

Made in Oregon

I tasted close to 40 different Oregon-brewed beers during my recent ten day excursion to the Beaver State. A little quick math will tell you that I was pretty much drunk the entire time I was there, but that would only be partially true. I'd say a little less than half of these were two or three ounce samples, so that number is a little misleading.

I thought I would make a little best-of-trip list. That is, to rate the five best Oregon brews from my recent trip. As is usually the case with me, the list reflects my taste, not any effort to be a legitimate beer critic, so it's a little over-represented by my favorite style. For that reason, I'm also going to give a few honorable mentions to beers that were either really good representatives of a particular style, or simply just came a little short of making the cut. These are (in no particular order): McMenamins' Terminator Stout; Amnesia's Copacetic IPA, Desolation IPA, and Slow Train Porter; and BridgePort ESB, which I really wanted to go back for a full pint, but unfortunately never did.

Also in no particular order, here are the five I'm craving more of. Unfortunately, only one of them is distributed to the east coast.

Double Dead Guy Ale - Not surprisingly, this is intended to be a stronger version of Rogue's signature Dead Guy Ale. It has a wonderful malty aroma, with slight caramel undertones, and while certainly not an IPA, is just hoppy enough to offset the sweetness from its high alcoholic content.

Multnomah Falls IPA - This one has loads of hops flavor up front, and is a little citrusy—I’m thinking grapefruit—with just a little less hops aftertaste than one would typically expect from the style. Of course, I love hops bitterness, but I really appreciate how it's slightly toned down in this brew.

Multnomah Falls
Total Domination IPA - Thanks to our wonderful waitress at Nick's Coney Island for this recommendation, which was also the cheapest pint of quality beer I've had for as long as I can remember. Nick's offers $2 pints and well drinks from 3:30 to 6pm every day. Happy hours are a foreign concept to me, as drink specials are illegal in puritanical Massachusetts.

Nick's Coney Island
Anyway, Total Domination is smoother up front than most IPAs, and pleasantly so. Its hoppyness really kind of sneaks up on you. But, of course, it's a very welcome surprise. Our waitress also made the suggestion that we not have the Nick's TKO, the tavern's special draft. I won't say why—it’s not a disgusting reason or anything—but you'll just have to take my word for it. Oh yeah, thanks also to Mz. Mazz for recommending Nick's in the first place.

LSD (Lompoc Strong Draft) - I'm calling this one my favorite beer of the entire trip. It's dark and sweet with a wonderfully subtle smokiness. Man, it would go great with BBQ. We all know that I'm all about the hops/malt balance—that is, the more the merrier, as long as they're in comparable quantities—and this is quite possibly one of the most perfectly balanced beers I've ever tasted.

C-Note Imperial Pale Ale - It's called C-Note because it's brewed with seven different varieties of hops that all begin with the letter "C" (Crystal, Cascade, Cluster, Chinook, Centennial, Columbus, Challenger). It had such a tremendous hops aroma that I could smell it long before the glass reached my nose. Obviously, it's really hoppy, but also nicely balanced, with subtle floral undertones.

The following is a complete list of all the Oregon-brewed beers I tried while out there. I also had a few others, but at least 90% of my alcohol consumption was of brews indigenous to the state.

Rogue Ales (Newport): Double Dead Guy Ale
BridgePort Brewing Company (Portland): Haymaker Extra Pale Ale, Ropewalk Amber Ale, Blue Heron Pale Ale, BridgePort ESB, BridgePort IPA, BridgePort Porter, Black Strap Stout, Hop Czar
Deschutes Brewery (Bend): Mirror Pond Pale Ale, Bachelor ESB, Black Butte Porter, Red Chair IPA
MacTarnahan's Brewing Company (Portland): MacTarnahan's Amber Ale
Ninkasi Brewing Company (Eugene): Multnomah Falls IPA, Total Domination IPA
Full Sail Brewing Company (Hood River): Full Sail Amber, Full Sail LTD
Roots Organic Brewing Company (Portland): Island Red
10 Barrel Brewing Company (Bend): S1NIST0R Black Ale
Bill's Tavern & Brew House (Cannon Beach): Duckdive Pale Ale, Blackberry Beauty, Rudy's Red, 2 x 4 Stout
McMenamins (Portland): Poor Farm Pale Ale, Sunflower IPA, Hammerhead, Ruby, Terminator Stout
Amnesia Brewing Company (Portland): Copacetic IPA, Desolation IPA, Slow Train Porter, The ESB
Old Lompoc Brewery (Portland): C-Note Imperial Pale Ale, LSD (Lompoc Strong Draft), Proletariat Red, Flower of the Gods

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Dam Soccer

In case you haven't heard the news, the major leagues are coming to Portland, Oregon. In 2011, the Portland Timbers of the United Soccer Leagues First Division—professional soccer's equivalent of AAA—will become the newest expansion franchise of Major League Soccer (MLS). What this means for the Portland Beavers, the Pacific Coast League (AAA) affiliate of Major League Baseball's San Diego Padres, is that they'll be losing their home and there's not a “dam” thing they can do about it.

The Beavers' current home, PGE Park, is easily the nicest minor league park I've ever visited. Unfortunately, this season will be their second to last there, as the city of Portland has announced plans to renovate the stadium to make it more suitable for play at professional soccer's highest level, and to build a new park for the baseball team. Since the Timbers and Beavers are both owned by the same company, the baseball team is not actually getting kicked out of their home. However, having been raised by a father who considered soccer to be un-American and even downright evil, I feel it is my duty to report on the injustice that this situation represents.

Outside PGE Park
Seriously, KJ and I visited PGE on Friday night. Our purchase of seats directly behind home plate—five minutes before game time—and the night's total attendance of just over five thousand, does not bode well for Portland's chances of being awarded a Major League Baseball franchise in the not-too-distant future. But, that didn't detract from an enjoyable experience at a truly great park.

It was Family Feast Friday, which meant hot dogs, ice cream and bottled water could all be purchased for just $1 each. It was also Girl Scout Sleepover Night, as the girls from the local scout troup were camping out on the field after the game. We ran into an old neighbor of KJ's, and he just happened to be one of the parents involved with the Girl Scout event. I told him that, personally, I'd probably be just as excited as the kids about the prospect of spending a night on a professional baseball field. He may or may not have agreed with me, but he didn't give me a funny look, so my guess is he did.

Inside PGE Park
The fact that you can take the MAX, Portland's Light Rail Public Transportation System, to a stop just outside the stadium is another huge plus, even for a city that just seems to do most everything right. Obviously, they're not the only city that offers this, but it still reminded me of our experience trying to get to Turner Field via the subway.

A brave 11-year old girl performed the national anthem. Despite some problems with the sound system that didn't provide the best representation of her performance, she was great. She may not have always been perfectly on key, but I was amazed that she reached the higher notes virtually effortlessly, and was adorably giddy once her work was complete. We were told by our very friendly—not an aberration in this neck of the woods, by the way—usher that her family was in the section next to ours, and we believe we caught a glimpse of her grandfather crying.

PGE's left field wall is an intriguing hybrid of Fenway Park and Wrigley Field. It's roughly the same height as the Green Monster and is covered in ivy. There is also a row of seats at the top of the wall that look directly down at the left field warning track, but what's most impressive is its manual scoreboard. It's 60 feet wide and stands almost seven stories high, and displays not only the game's line score, but also both teams' lineups and the current balls, strikes and outs. According to the Beavers' web site, it takes a staff of four to operate.

PGE Park scoreboard
There was a small group of annoying fans sitting directly to our right, dispelling the myth that everyone in Portland is cool. I gave all of them nicknames, with their obvious leaders being "The Know-It-All," a version of whom is found in every park, and "Herm," who as far as I know is unique to this particular place. In my opinion, Herm overdid it a bit with her heckling of Tim Raines Jr. of the visiting Omaha Royals. Raines didn't seem really phased, though, as he hit a bases-loaded sacrifice fly to deep center. I was fully prepared to give him a standing ovation had he hit a grand slam. It's fans like Herm that reinforce my otherwise unusual desire to root against the home team.

The star of the game was Omaha starting pitcher Mike O'Connor, who was released by the Padres just a month ago, and was making his first start for his third organization of 2009. He outdueled Aaron Poreda, one of the players obtained by San Diego in the Jake Peavy deal, carrying a no-hitter into the sixth inning. O'Connor threw seven scoreless innings, allowing just three hits while striking out six, and combined with reliever Carlos Rosa on a three-hit shutout. Omaha scored four runs in the seventh on their way to a 5-0 victory over the home team.

Overall, Portland's PGE Park has just about everything I look for in a baseball venue. I love the urban atmosphere and the uniqueness of the stadium, as well as the fact that it is simply a really nice place to witness a professional baseball game. I can only hope that the Beavers' next home is at least as good as their soon-to-be old one.

Friday, August 14, 2009

King of Brew Pubs

I have mixed emotions about my first trip to McMenamins, the Pacific Northwest’s premier chain of brew pubs. The McMenamins kingdom is unlike any other—at least that I’m aware of—with 55 locations throughout Oregon and Washington, many of them serving multiple purposes beyond what most of us normally think of in brew pubs. Our visit last night was to Edgefield, in the Portland suburb of Troutdale, one of their oldest and largest locations.

The place and the atmosphere were magnificent. We didn’t even take the time to explore the entire grounds, but there’s a hotel, spa, par-three golf course, movie theater, distillery, winery, several pubs and restaurants, and a music venue. In fact, next Thursday the Flaming Lips and Built to Spill are playing, so our timing was just a little off. Even without such a draw, the grounds were hopping—so to speak—with hoards of people walking around with plastic cups filled with pale and amber colored malt beverages. We all know how much I love that concept.

The second Thursday of each month is kind of a special event at Edgefield, a limited-edition beer release party, at which they routinely offer a tasting of a potential new brew. $3 pints are served for as long as the batch lasts, which was only a couple hours on this particular evening. The events take place at the distillery, which is also the club house for the golf course, so it’s an interesting atmosphere indeed.

Last night’s feature was called Poor Farm Pale Ale, which I was disappointed to learn is only a slightly different version of one of their prior IPA offerings, aged two weeks longer and a little less hoppy. I was hoping for something a little more experimental, but it’s a solid brew nevertheless. It has a really nice malty aroma—which pleasantly reminded me of the smell of the home brewing process—and follows that up with plenty of full-bodied flavor, but is lacking on the other side of the balance equation, with no pronounced hop aftertaste.

Unfortunately, solid is pretty much the best I can say about any of McMenamins’ beers, with the exception of Terminator Stout. Smooth and creamy, with a pleasant coffee-like flavor, it was one of the better examples of the style I’ve had in quite some time. Sunflower IPA and Hammerhead were pretty good, but nothing to write home about, despite the fact that the latter is their top selling beer.

On the down side, the food was mediocre. Although their wings were better than one would expect to get on the west coast, the mac ‘n’ cheese was pretty unremarkable. Additionally, the service was so-so at best. I’d like to cut them some slack for the fact that the place was very busy, but I have a feeling they’re used to that. Besides, being busy isn’t really an excuse for the fact that they estimated we’d be seated in 15-20 minutes and it ended up taking over an hour, or for delivering food without silverware and napkins.

The most inexcusable sin they commit, though, is that they serve Budweiser and Coors Light. I understand the temptation to cover their bases by catering to the non-beer drinker in every crowd, especially considering they operate hotels as well, but it is one that every brew pub should resist.

I must say that, after 3 1/2 pints of ales that were all in the 6-7% ABV range, I'm feeling a bit sluggish as I write this. Admittedly, I'm rather fond of that quality in a beer. That is, that its alcoholic content kind of sneaks up on you, even if I'm not crazy about the feeling of paying for it the next day.

Overall, McMenamins gets a thumbs up from me. Regardless of the indiscretion of serving the self-described “King of Beers”, or the fact that their beers didn't overwhelm me, McMenamins—from my brief experience of witnessing how they dominate the market in the region where brew pubs are most prevalent—still seems worthy of the distinction of “King of Brew Pubs”.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

BridgePort Brewing Company

To close out our first full day in Oregon, KJ and I visited my first Portland brewpub, the Pearl District’s BridgePort Brewing Company. We caught the end of the Yankees-Red Sox game in the process, unintentionally breaking my personal rule not to watch any of the action from this weekend’s series. It was already the bottom of the 8th, and we watched as Derek Jeter’s two-run homer to the right field corner—a Yankee Stadium cheap shot, indeed—extended the Yanks’ lead to 5-0.

Up to that point in the game, the Yankees pitching staff had held Boston scoreless for 23 consecutive innings, none of which I’d watched live, so even a single run by the Sox in the 9th would have reinforced my personal jinx theory. That didn’t happen, but the outcome of the weekend series so far has me believing that I made the right decision to stay away from the games. But, this post isn’t supposed to be about baseball, of course.

We stopped by the BridgePort brew pub just in time for their last tour of the day. Well, in fact, we had about 40 minutes to spare, just enough time to check out a sampler of the eight beers they were currently serving. For $7.50, we got to taste about three ounces of each, with the mini-glasses served on a tray that had the names and descriptions of the brews beneath them. This seemed like a clever idea to me, as our server didn’t have to identify them, and we didn’t have to worry about remembering which one was the porter and which was the stout, for instance.

Of course, we tasted them in such an order so as to prevent the more assertive styles from destroying our palettes for the ones that came after. That is, as much as was possible, we moved from lighter to darker, weaker to stronger, and less hoppy to more bitter. The first offering we sampled, Haymaker Extra Pale Ale, turned out to be one of our favorites. It reminds me a little of Ipswich Summer Ale, light and refreshing and easy to drink on a summer day, but still with a nice little bite to it.

The next two, Blue Heron Pale Ale and Ropewalk Amber, were disappointing. Blue Heron simply doesn’t have enough hop bitterness for the style, and Ropewalk is not nearly as full-flavored as some of the better ambers I’ve tasted.

BridgePort E.S.B. (Extra Special Bitter) and IPA were easily two of their best. As we learned later from our tour guide, the IPA is the company’s flagship offering, as it represents 85% of their brewing output. KJ seemed a little disappointed that I simply called it a good IPA, as it’s probably the beer that she gives the most credit for her introduction to the craft brewing craze. Honestly, I feel as though I need more than a couple of ounces to get a real feel for an IPA, since it’s my favorite style and the one I have the most history drinking. I’m sure we can remedy that over the course of the next week.

The E.S.B. was outstanding, and probably the one that we most enjoyed on this particular day. It’s nice and malty up front, with a slightly bitter finish. Just as I said about the IPA, I’m not certain that such a small quantity was quite enough for me to make a really accurate assessment, but this was about as close to perfection in an E.S.B. as I can recall tasting.

The Hop Czar, an 8% ABV imperial IPA, was their seasonal offering. This seemed like an odd choice, considering that it’s summer, which may just be evidence that Portlanders are serious about their high octane brews. It was enjoyable, but maybe a little high on the hoppy side of the ever important hops/malt balance equation for me, and I’m not one to shy away from bitterness.

While we agreed on just about everything else, KJ and I differed a little in our opinions of BridgePort’s darker beers. I preferred the Porter, with its smoky flavor and subtle coffee-like undertones, while KJ was partial to the Black Strap Stout, a pleasantly creamy offering that just didn’t do it for me.

Bottling line at BridgePort
Overall, the beers rated fairly highly, but our tour guide didn’t. He seemed rushed and not as willing to speak in layperson’s terms as our excellent host at the Ommegang Brewery was. He also was at least ten years younger than both of us, yet greeted us by asking “Are you kids ready?” The pace and disappointing nature of the tour turned out to be alright, though, as our meter was running out and the beers themselves made the trip to BridgePort more than worthwhile.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

It Feels So Good When I Stop

The title of singer-songwriter, and leader of the indie rock band that bears his name, Joe Pernice's new novel invokes a sentiment commonly expressed by runners. Having not read the book yet, I'm not certain what exactly the author means by it, but I'm sure it won't be long until I find out. I had the opportunity to hear Pernice read a couple passages from It Feels So Good When I Stop last night when his recent book/music tour brought him to the Brattle Theater in Harvard Square.

It was an evening filled with vulgarity as Boston natives the Walsh Brothers opened with their tasteless but humorous comedy act. Then, Joe read a couple of f-bomb laden passages from his Hornsby-esque novel about an aimless 25-year old who abandons his wife after only a few days of marriage and retreats to his native Massachusetts.

The story, of course, includes numerous musical references, prompting Pernice's decision to record cover versions of ten of the songs mentioned in the book and release them as a soundtrack. Last night's show also included two brief sets of music, the first consisting of a handful of songs from said soundtrack, with Joe's own material comprising the second.

Pernice was noticeably much more comfortable playing music than he was reading his written material, but he still delivered on both accounts. Somewhat surprisingly, I was mildly disappointed that he didn't play more of the newer material, as normally—and I know I'm not alone here—I tend to prefer to hear more of the stuff I'm familiar with. Highlights for me were Dream Syndicate's "Tell Me When It's Over" and the Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham penned "I'm Your Puppet." I did really want to hear his version of Tom T. Hall's "That's How I Got to Memphis," though.

Following the show, as he signed my copy of his book, I had the opportunity to briefly reminisce with Joe about the Wilco show in suburban Albany, 13 years ago, when I first discovered his old band, the Scud Mountain Boys. He made my evening when he asked if we'd ever met—which we hadn't until last night—but I suppose that maybe I looked familiar from the dozens of small club shows of his I've been to.

The brief taste of the novel that last night's show gave me has me excited to dive into it, something that I'll be doing on my upcoming trip to Portland, Oregon. I'm sure I'll also find the time to review a couple of brew pubs while I'm at it.