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Previous Pint Pleasures - February 9, 2008

guinness eileen

Thompson Brewery and Public House, 3575 Liberty Road South, Salem, Oregon

guinness eileen

Roseburg Station, 700 SE Sheridan Street, Roseburg, Oregon

guinness eileen

Jefferson State Pub, 31 Water Street, Ashland, Oregon

The Jefferson State Pub is now the Caldera Taproom.

Before I start this month's column, here's a report from my Bay Area correspondent, Mistah Rick:

"The Christmas beer tasting at Pacific Coast Brewing Company had elements of disappointment and hope. As one of the owners described a characteristically hoppy beer that was being poured, he mentioned a global hop shortage due to weather-related crop failure and other forces. An article in The Economist laid blame on the fear of global warming: barley, as well as hops, was being ploughed under to grow corn to ethanol, the 'green fuel.' As a result, brewers were facing hop prices ten times what they were in past years; West Coast craft brewers were finding it impossible to get some of the hop varieties needed for their signature IPAs. Pacific Coast was reformulating their Blue Whale. Brews at this year's IPA festivals would probably not taste the same.

"Even as I lamented this development, I heard somebody mention that a new Belgian pub in downtown Oakland had opened this month. This week I looked it up online. A night that was unusually bone-chilling for December in the Bay Area inspired me to set out on my bicycle in search of this place. The wonderful atmosphere and two subsequent deliciously drizzly nights sent me back there.

"The place is known as The Trappist [460 8th Street, Oakland, CA], and the façade is on one of the nicely restored century-old blocks in 'Old Oakland'. The space is a narrow niche (cap. 49) that according to one customer was just the storage room of the retail establishment that used to occupy the corner of Broadway and 8th St. But the interior has been crafted by the co-owners ('Brother Chuck' and 'Brother Aaron') -- walls panelled in dark woods, floor laid with coin-sized white tiles, antique looking brass light fixtures -- to re-create the feel of their beloved Belgian pubs.

"And this place is devoted to nothing but beer. Okay, there is a small wine selection for the occasional non-beer-drinking companion. But there are no TV screens, no dart boards, and no food other than a cheese plate to complement the tasting. Just 15 taps, one hand pump (not yet utilized) and over 120 bottled imports with obscure names but not inflated prices. This is a place for aficionados, and everybody I met there on my first night (Wednesday) was talking about the beers with the enthusiasm of sports fans. It's like a beer festival every night. On my first night I tried a couple dark ales on tap with names I did not recall hearing before: Buffalo Stout (an actual Belgian, not something from Bison Brewing or Buffalo NY) and Petrus Brune.

"The next night, after hearing Brother Chuck describe the unique offerings from the Brewery 'De Regenboog' (Dutch for rainbow), a very recent arrival on the Belgian brewing scene (1995), I tried one of their brews bearing a name that only my Dutch speaking relatives could pronounce: Wostyntje. The description got my attention: 'Made w/ 90% pilsner malt, Kent Goldings & challenger hops, crushed Torhout mustard seeds (imparting a unique bitterish finish) and dark & light candy sugars.' I never would have identified mustard. As described, those seeds just provided a gentle bitterness to balance the Belgian sweetness.

"Friday night, when I went again by bicycle, this time in a light rain, the place was a bit crowded with groups of young professional types (is there a term for the 'yuppies' of this generation?), but all the ones within earshot seemed interested in what they were drinking. Browsing through a Michael Jackson book on Belgian Ales I realized I still have a lot to learn about the varieties (lambics being the only brews to rely on spontaneous fermentation, for instance; and gueuze being a blend of lambic that undergoes a secondary fermentation in the bottle). But having a place on this side of the bay with a big menu and affordable prices gives me the opportunity to sample a wide variety and savor them, rather than having to rush through five or six tastes in one night, as I did during the Belgian ale festivals at Lucky Baldwin's in February.

"This year maybe I'll resolve to go out to a pub nearly every night."

Meanwhile, back in the UK...oops, not quite yet. I've still got 2 more reviews from my 1100-mile road trip with Mistah Rick last summer down the Pacific Coast, so this will be one of them.

On our last night before leaving Seattle we had Bon Voyage pints of Hammerhead at my old local, McMenamin's on Roy Street. As it turned out, we were unknowingly setting a theme for the next 24 hours. As we drove down Interstate 5 to the bottom of Washington State and into Oregon, we reached the capital city of Salem just in time for a late lunch. Oregon's second largest city, Salem is centrally located in the fertile Willamette Valley and is both a hub of state government as well as an agricultural centre. Although not nearly as old as Salem, Massachusetts, this Salem's origin dates back to 1842 when missionaries established the Oregon Institute. The Institute dissolved two years later and the site became the township of Salem. In 1851 it became the state capital.

In 1905, when the hills of South Salem were covered with orchards, a house was built along the Eugene road for former civil war soldier Frank Thompson. From 1963 the house was used for various shops and businesses, finally becoming a Bavarian restaurant in 1984. Several years later the McMenamin's pub company bought the house and turned it into the first post-Prohibition brewery in Salem.

And so we stopped at the Thompson Brewery and Public House for our lunch. The house, a maze of rooms, seemed very familiar to me, and I gradually realised I had visited this pub years ago while visiting a friend who lived in Salem. On this late afternoon the pub was quiet and the service was a bit lackadaisical but friendly. We sat in a front room and split a roasted vegetable pesto sandwich with melted provolone and feta, which was quite nice. It was accompanied by fries which were long and too skinny, so we dipped them in the McMenamin's Terminator Stout Mustard to fatten them up a bit. We washed down our meal with pints of Shooters IPA, another nicely hoppy McMenamin's IPA dry hopped with Cascade hops. We could easily detect that distinctive Cascade taste and that distinctive dry-hopped zing. This was a good wipe-away-the-road-dust pint for the first leg of our 3-day road trip.

We continued down the road, hoping to make it to Grants Pass at the bottom of the state for the night. A slight detour to see about a warning light on our rented truck took longer than we anticipated, so we stopped in Roseburg instead. After checking into a classic Interstate 5-style motel we set out on a brief walking tour of the town centre with the intention of finding a late-night meal and pint. With eatery after eatery closing for the night, we ended up at yet another McMenamin's pub, the Roseburg Station.

From the late 1800s to 1926, Roseburg was an important stop on the Southern Pacific Railroad's main passenger line between Portland and San Francisco. Here trains would pause to refuel, take on water, and change crews. In 1912 the old wooden depot was replaced with the current structure, and by 1955 passenger trains had disappeared altogether, leaving only freight traffic through Roseburg. By the mid 1990s Southern Pacific pulled its operations completely out of Roseburg, after which the train station went to ruin and became a popular squat for the homeless. McMenamin's took over in 1999 with a major remodel, providing us with this lovely pub to satisfy our beer and food needs. This was our third McMenamin's in 24 hours and our second Oregon McMenamin's of the day.

We seated ourselves in a roomy booth in the oddly decorated but gorgeous main hall and admired the mixture of chandeliers, all reproductions from various periods. They're interspersed with giant ceiling fans, and the brightness is intensified by several large lighted pub signs. Street signs suggest a Continental megalopolis: Dirkslandhot, Rue Henry Barbet, Cillershoekstraat. The walls are covered with art, including a poster of Avalon Ballroom, old Victorian photos of the rail station, a sign advertising "Virol: A Wonderful Flesh Former", and paintings by local Oregonian Myrna Yoder. There is also a painting showing FDR, William Howard Taft, Sitting Bull, Buffalo Bill, Sammy Davis Jr, and Annie Oakley all sitting around the same table playing poker. (We didn't notice who was winning, although I'd bet on Sammy.) We accompanied our sandwiches with pints of the simply named IPA. Although not quite as spicily hopped as McMenamin's special and seasonal IPAs, this still stands well as a good solid Pacific Northwest IPA. Our second pints were of Hammerhead, my favourite McMenamin's standby. You can always depend on good ol' Hammerhead with its well-rounded Northwest bitter flavour and character. How I wished it could have been on a handpump; but even with those little carbonated bubbles I was reminded how satisfying this brew can be.

The next day we resumed our drive south and decided to pull off for a break in Ashland. Located in Jackson County close to the California border at the south end of the Rogue Valley, this town was named after Ashland County, Ohio from where primary founder Abel Helman hailed, and also after Ashland, Kentucky, where other town founders claimed kin. Established in 1855 and originally called Ashland Mills, the town is home to Southern Oregon University as well as the internationally famous Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

We walked past Ashland Creek and popped into the Jefferson State Pub for a brief half. Formerly the Siskiyou Pub, the Jefferson State opened in 2006 and has become a popular music venue. The interior is cosy, pleasant, and very boho, with jazz musicians painted on the wall behind the stage. On this particular Sunday noontime the place was very quiet save for the baseball game blasting from the big-screen TV.

We ordered half pints of Caldera Dry Hopped Red (5.7% ABV, Caldera Brewing Co., Ashland, Oregon) and took them out onto the patio. This excellent ample-headed beer is a real nice redwood forest pint, suggesting redwood bark with a manzanita zing. It complemented the pleasant smell of the surrounding forest. As we relaxed in our little evergreen refuge we gradually realised the shadow in which we were sitting was cast not by the foliage of tall trees but by a road -- the main road out of town -- which spanned directly above our heads. At that point we noticed with amusement the umbrella table next to us where a sun phobic could sit and be as doubly protected as if they were wearing SPF 15 sunscreen while clad in a queen-sized sheet. So was this meant to be a joke? I wouldn't put it past these Oregonians...