Saturday, June 20, 2009

Medium Toast and the Kenny G of Beers

At Boon's earlier this month they were pouring Firestone DBA. I'm not a big fan of the McMenamin's beers, and after taster sips of the Jalapeno Wheat (see Jared's notes on the Jalapeno Wheat), Copper Moon, and Luna Red on nitro, none of which I liked, I went for the guest tap. I didn't know anything about Firestone - other than as the name of a winery. For some reason I thought a DBA would be a double IPA of some kind. I craved a jolt, even though normally IPAs and double IPAs are too hoppy for my taste.

The beer surprised me. It was smooth, too smooth. Like "smooth jazz" smooth. It wasn't the King of Beers, it was the Kenny G of beers!

Of course my expectations set things up for failure. I don't actually know if I dislike the beer. It was really drinkable and pleasant. Maybe more Mel Torme, the Velvet Fog, than Kenny G. At the very least, it was Kenny G on tenor sax rather than soprano. It just wasn't what I wanted.

Later I looked it up:
A British Pale Ale never tasted so fresh. We challenge our good friends across the pond to match this one. Can’t be done. We’ve honored the traditions of the great British Pale brewers of Burton-on-Trent using our patented Firestone Union oak barrels. You’re left with a mild blend of vanilla and toasted oak flavor touched with an elegant hint of English noble hops. DBA is the flagship of our company and wildly popular.
What was I thinking? The brewery is affiliated with a winery and features burgundy barriques!
After brewing for five years at a small, private facility on a corner of the Firestone Vineyard estate in Santa Barbara County, Firestone Walker recently transitioned to a new brewery in Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County.

Firestone Walker’s ales are also selectively fermented in the patented Firestone Union oak barrel brewing system. The Firestone Union incorporates 60-gallon, medium-toast American oak barrels.
That's winechat, my beery friends!

And so we continue the beer-is-like-wine thread...

This is the first I've heard of a "union" brewing system. The Master, Michael Jackson, discusses a Burton Union System, with reference to Marston's, a British ale. The significant detail here is that the Marston's casks sound like hogsheads twice the size of barriques. Moreover, it's almost certain they have been used many times, and are old oak. Using vessels for fermentation that have been through multiple fermentations, and are therefore "neutral oak," is a centuries-old tradition in Europe for wine and beer. These vessels impart no "new oak" flavors. The Firestone method is designed to impart - or at least to market the idea of - hints of vanilla and other flavors deriving from new oak. The Firestone beers are marketed in some of the same gimmicky ways wines are.

The Firestone website, too, is larded with video and precious animation. It tries to hard, and tarts things up with fake antiquing - like farmhouse furniture, with milk paint, and factory distressing from being walloped with chains. It could be charming, but it's not.

I need to go back and retaste the beer. I'll be looking for different details and a different harmony.

I'm not at all sure what I'll conclude about the beer. I'm pretty sure I'll like it more, and I hope it's more Mel Torme than Kenny G. But I'm also pretty sure that when beer and beer marketing starts getting spoofalated, beer geekery becomes beer snobbery.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Solstice Suds at Venti's

The Ventifeed is exploding the internets! If you haven't noticed that they're tweeting the taplist, check it out in the sidebar - and subscribe!

Then, summer beers on the Ventiblog! Leslie writes about a Solstice celebration on Saturday:
Hail the Sun’s latest Northernmost Approach

Venti’s Basement Beer Bar from 4P, Saturday, 20 June 2009, enjoy your first 12 ounce Sunshiny / Bright Oregon Beer at an amazingly low price:

* Bridgeport Brewing Company, Portland, Haymaker - Extra Pale Ale
* Cascade Lake Brewery, Redmond, Blonde Bomb Shell - Golden Ale
* Full Sail Brewing Company, Hood River LTD 02 - Helles Pale Lager

At Salem’s Latitude / Longitude, Summer Solstice begins at 1045P PST Saturday, 20 June 2009; 0545 Greenwich Mean Time
But wait! There's more. They've got a glowing LCD (I vote they rename it the LTD Beer Monitor) display for their bottle list. Check out the visuals!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Rapids and Pools

Emily's note about Robert McCauley's "big f-u to 19th century’s more destructive values" at Hallie Ford caught my attention. McCauley's show wasn't on the CT radar, and I appreciated the alert and the review.

Playing with conventions of European genre painting of the 18th and 19th centuries is something I find interesting.

In or affixed to the paintings were lots of cameras and containers, to me signifying the ways we try to capture and immobilize the complex stream of existence. Ways we literally try to contain time - indeed, sometimes to kill time or living creatures. These symbols ran counterpoint to all the water, stream, and falls imagery in the paintings.

Since Capital Taps has a thing for Dutch still life painting, the set of paintings that most struck me were the "Mixed Metaphor" series. Here's Mixed Metaphor XIII. I read the painting as a literal enactment of the words "still life." These are living creatures, immobilized. I did not read them as the product of taxidermy! (Though, of course, the animals are also a painting - but that's a little too meta...)

The animals also cracked me up a little, and while I'm not sure McCauley intended for them to be humorous, they amused me, and I enjoyed the little bit of whimsy amidst the "f-u" seriousness.

Emily didn't remark that upstairs is Heidi Schwegler's "Slipping Underwater," a show that also invokes water and looming immobility.

Schwegler's art doesn't grab me. Or maybe I should say I didn't get it. Your mileage may vary. Here are a couple of bits by fans. Catherine Chandler approaches Schwegler from her own work as a metalsmith. Jeff Jahn writes extensively about Portland artists. The pieces are finely crafted, but they left me pretty empty.

Downtstairs, because water was on my mind, Constance Fowler's painting of the Salem Waterworks attracted my attention. It's labeled "south Commercial," and the slope of the hill confused me. I think the image is reversed, because when you are looking uphill from Trade and Commercial, Boise Cascade site is on the right, and the site of the waterworks (the Fire Station site) is on the left. Two photos that show a similar view are here and here. The second one, in particular, shows the slope and angle that I expect to see in the unreversed painting.

Salem drinking water came from the Willamette until 1938, when Salem started drawing water from the North Santiam. This Willamette water was spiked with sewage, both from local sources and from upstream sources. It's not difficult to imagine how the Santiam water might be regarded as "pure" and "sweet."

Here's a view of the pumping station from 1895. I believe it's taken from the approximate site of the paper mill, looking to the east. It's hard for me to make out the course of the waterway, but Pringle Creek (then also called Mill Creek) swoops north just beyond the waterworks, and the bend remains today underneath Liberty street.

Here's a detail of the
Pumping Station circa 1900
. It shows the actual slope of the hill as much less steep than in the Fowler painting. The house or office just behind the pump house is visible in both photos.

It's not surprising that the Salem Brewery was one block north of the water works. Brewers needed lots of water, and once the water had been transformed into beer, the boil and fermentation had rendered it much safer to drink than water from the taps.

The works was demolished in 1964, and the Civic Center built just a few years later as part of Salem's first "urban renewal" project.

Now, in 2009, we are demolishing a similar industrial site, the Boise Cascade site, for another attempt at renewing the urban fabric. What will history's verdict be?

City Hall and the library are designed in a style that hasn't aged well - aesthetically, the Civic Center is not very pleasing, and structurally it is seismically unstable. I understand that a new City Hall will need to be built. It's sad that a civic monument like that should only have a 40 or 50 year lifespan. The Civic Center site, too, has a limited range of uses, and it is desolate outside of business hours.

Hopefully the Boise redevelopment will contain a wide enough range of uses that it will be appropriately lively around the clock, and will be designed and built in a way that ages better than the Civic Center site. Nearly everyone wishes the old City Hall remained instead of the parking lot we have today.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Summer Fun

Memento mori, the loneliness of prickly politicians, historic floods - maybe too much tempus fugit and all that?

A fluffy, confectionary interlude, then! (Or is that frothy?)

Thursday night the Ignite party shows up at Northern Lights Theatre and Pub. On Thursday, June 18th Ignite Salem #1 will flare - up or out! One of the presentations looks particularly interesting to CT:

Salem History - The Darkside
Elizabeth Schulte

This weekend in McMinnville is the Oregon Brews and BBQ festival. It benefits Habitat for Humanity. In honor of Father's Day, on Saturday dudes get in free from noon to 2pm!

How about the first songs of summer? Grab a cold one!

The Phoenix record is great, but I'm pretty sure I won't be listening to it again next summer. Like Cut Copy from last summer, it's candy.

Bitte Orca, on the other hand, is brilliant. Just google it and listen. Or read about it first, and then listen. I have nothing interesting to say about it other than than just go listen already.

(Top Image: Jaime Hernandez)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Memento Mori: The Wreck at Minto Brown

Over at DSS, Emily has a note about Salem mysteries. Here's a mystery that I find a little haunting - and maybe with more info could become really haunting?

Nobody seems to know the story behind the car wreck at Minto Brown. I've always supposed it involved drunk driving. I wonder if anyone perished in the crash. It's a sort of unofficial ghost structure.

Though I didn't put too much time into google, the only story I found was on Waymarking about a young man unlucky in love.
A story goes that a young man was trying to take a shortcut in this very car to rendezvous with a girlfriend somewhere in this area long before it became a park; but, the car broke down after running off the old dirt road which is now a paved path. He abandoned the vehicle to try and reach her on foot because he wanted to patch up differences that had left them estranged and she had agreed to meet him at their favorite park bench located somewhere on the island.

He knew he would be shipping out for war the next day and was worried that he was going to be late and miss her; so, he took his Grandfather's old car at the last moment hoping that he would make up for lost time and get to their rendezvous point in time. After running off the road, he decided to swim the creek to take a shortcut. He eventually got lost in one of the sloughs and was never heard from again.

Others say that he was too late and missed her. Totally discouraged and despondent he went off to war to try and forget his failures.

No one knows for sure which story is true. Only the car remains. It probably is just a made up story. But, you have to wonder, "How did this car get here and why didn't the park authorities remove it after all these years." It remains a mystery.
Folks often see it as photo opportunity for "artsy photographs from the decaying relic."

The Oregon Offbeat Network also featured it in a note about Minto Brown park.

Does anyone know the real story behind the wreck?

Other area parks have official ghost structures.

Here's the original mission site of Jason Lee. You can't actually go to the site itself, but there's a path to a viewpoint across the slough, which was an earlier course of the river before receding floodwaters found a new course. The ghostly outline is especially poignant at dusk or dawn, and though the written history mostly stresses the missionaries' side, the indigenous Kalapuyas loss should be also be remembered.

At Champoeg, the original street grid is remembered through posts at each of the intersections on which the streetnames are incised. The land's a grassy meadow there, and no trace remains of the plat or grid other than the posts.

Each of these ghost remains sits over the Willamette. The wrecked car and ghost mission sit above sloughs, old river banks orphaned by receding floods as the river found new beds and a new temporary equilibrium. Champoeg was wiped out by the flood of 1861, but the river did not jump its banks there.

The portraits of Governors McCall and Kitzhaber both feature water, the Pacific Ocean tide in one, and the Rogue River in the other. Though the powerful men are in the foreground, the water and land will outlast both. Neither of them seem inclined to echo Ozymandias:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Over at the Capitol

In the beer-is-like-wine category, Eat Salem has news of a Ninkasi dinner at La Capitale.

Ninkasi also has a new summer seasonal! Radiant Summer Ale.
Crisp and flavorful, Radiant Summer Ale is a clean finishing summer offering in the Ninkasi tradition. The smooth malt character is balanced by a clean noble hop presence, the perfect compliment to a glorious summer day! 6% alc./vol. 40 ibus.

And a couple of updates from the Legislature...

Late last month the Honest Pint Act died in committee.

The prospect of an increase in the beer tax continues, however, and Rep. Ben Cannon (D-Portland), one of its principal sponsors, and a little singed by the outraged reaction from brewers & drinkers, offers a thoughtful reconsideration at BlueOregon. The course-correction appears to offer a viable compromise. At Beervana, Alworth shows an interesting correlation between tax rates and number of breweries per capita.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Seven Brides Interview and Venti's New Taplist Sign

Over at Brewpublic, Angelo's got a great interview with Chief Raconteur and Sales Officer Jeff DeSantis of Seven Brides Brewing. Since CT has a special interest in history, we'll nitpick that Homer Davenport is not the founder of Silverton, but rather was an important political cartoonist at the turn of the last century. He was also one of the Geers, an important pioneer family who settled the Waldo Hills in 1847/8 and have left us Geercrest farm and former Governor T.T. Geer (1899-1903).

(Apparently no one else finds it odd that the manufacturer of an adult beverage is named after seven who can legally neither drink the product nor marry...)

Go read it!

On the Ventiblog, Leslie writes:
Just so ya know, Venti’s is working on making our current beer selection more accessible, i.e. at the cafe. My dad built a really cool sign where we can post selection. We will do our best to update it. The sign is located on the brick wall by the stairs in the main dining area. My dad is working on a sign for the basement. We estimate 7-10 days for completion.

We plan to keep beer selection info in house versus posting it online to entice people to walk in the door. This might change. But for now, at least, our sign is a much welcomed addition to our already great establishment.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Captured by Porches; Imprisoned by IPAs

Enough with the IPAs already! Jared is tired of them! I'm tired of them. Even the brewers are tired of them.
"It’s not hard to sell IPA in this town,"
"We have to make rent and the IPA is great for that but I still want to make some interesting stuff."
IPAs are boring! Commercial! Mainstream!

Who said these things? Dylan Goldsmith, the brewer for Captured by Porches, seemingly the newest hot thing, that's who.

Capured by Porches is everywhere! Portland Food and Drink, home of Food Dude, has an interview with brewer Dylan Goldsmith. Willamette Week has a profile.

And Venti's has had the IPA, "Invasive Species IPA." Ross had some a few nights ago - how was it?

Anyway, it's practically summer! It's sweltering! I want to ask Venti's to change it up! (Though an all bird set of tap handles would be mighty amusing, come to think of it!)

What did they have on tap recently? A bunch of big fall and winter beers! Lompoc Strong Draft, Ninkasi Tricerahops Double IPA, Southern Oregon Brewing Porter - all beers for cold and rain! (Last night's deluge was not normal.)

(Though the Wandering Aengus was nice, as Rebekah noted!)

It's time for the sunny, summer beers! Lighter even than the IPAs and hoppy "pale ales."

Dino, how about inviting some of these "non-invasive" draughts: Kolsch. Wit beer. Golden Ale. Pilsner. Blonde Ale. Saison. Berliner Weisse.

Just some ideas...Prost!