Monday, August 6, 2012

I Got Blue Balls...And I Liked It!

Back in the ATL. 

Sorry for the long delay in posting anything. It has been a crazy few weeks in my world. First of all, just look at that picture of my luggage. Wonder why it is glowing? It’s full of beer! And the Rogue sticker showed up mysteriously after a night in their Newport pub. I guess somebody saw a suitcase under the bar and decided to tag it. No big deal. I left it on there for the rest of the trip.

So to re-cap: I landed in Portland at 10:00 am, jumped in a rental car and started driving toward the ocean. How do you get to the west coast by that early in the morning? You get on a flight at 6:00 am in Atlanta. Yes, that means you need to wake up at 4:00 am, jump through a shower and drive like a bat out of hell for the airport. Sounds like a hassle, right? I mean, what’s the rush? Well, by getting there by 10:00 and being out of PDX and on the road by 11:00 am, I was drinking a beer and having lunch at a brew pub on the beach, at the foot of the Pacific Ocean. The Pelican brew pub in Pacific City, OR makes great beer—at least the IPA I drank was great—and the scenery is as good as any place in the country. A bowl of green chile pork stew and that 20oz. IPA later, I was back on the road. I am not into drinking and driving, but I really could have stayed there for a lot longer and enjoyed a few more if I was staying in that town. Maybe next time.
Pelican Brew Pub & the Pacific Ocean

Newport, Oregon is down Hwy 101, which runs along the ocean, about an hour and a half. There are some beautiful scenic vistas along the way, but you also go through a few towns that remind you that Oregon is not all hippy, outdoorsy, educated people eating health food and drinking super hoppy beers. There a bunch of rednecks and socially confused young people out there in the woods. "Excuse me young man, are you an aspiring rapper living in a secluded, wooded, mountain town? No, you just dress like one? What, then, do you rap about? Logging? Beavers? Oh, cooking crystal meth, I see." What ever happened to the good-old days when rednecks just drank whiskey and Budweiser, and there wasn’t much trouble except for a scuffle at the tavern on Friday night over who was looking at whose girl,? Or maybe someone was cheating at pool or said something bad about Whitesnake? But these new redneck mountainbillies are bona fide criminals with explosive drug labs and automatic weapons. Who showed these people how to manufacture narcotics? Especially the kind that cause you to become demented and paranoid from a lack of sleep and constantly being on the verge of an amphetamine overdose. That is not the kind of person you want around a lot of firearms and explosives. The next time you see a real life Joe Dirt dressed like a city gangster, be aware that this person probably has someone tied up in a shack somewhere, and is using that person for ransom, or worse, a sex slave. Do not make eye contact, or you will be in that shed next. The thing that makes these people the most dangerous is not the drugs. No, it is their complete lack of intelligence. Smart people with guns and explosives are bad enough, but when you get a bunch of inbreeds with a sixth-grade education together in a shed full of drugs, nothing good is going to happen, and somebody is going to have sex with a relative. It’s inevitable.

But then you get to Newport, which is a picturesque fishing village, and right there on the side of the harbor is Rogue Brewing Co., and a few yards away, their distillery. I have been there before, so I looked around the brewery briefly, talked to the people I know there, had a quick beer and then checked out the distillery. Everything was very cool, and if you are ever on the Oregon coast, you should absolutely go out of your way (if necessary) to go there. I spent the next few hours in their pub, got sworn in by the president of the Rogue Nation as a member (somewhere around here is when my luggage got tagged), met all kinds of great local folks, and then I got blue balls. I asked for them. Meatballs stuffed with Rogue Creamery blue cheese, over pasta and marinara. It was delicious. I got blue balls…and I liked it. After that it was about time to turn in for the night. By 10:00 pm out there (1:00 am in GA), I had been up for 21 hours, so it was time to shut it down. So out the side door of the pub I went, up a flight of stairs, and into a large, fully furnished two-bedroom apartment. That’s right…above the pub there are three apartments, owned by the brewery, that you can stay in when you come to visit. Across the street from the pub are the fish processing rigs that sit on the docks. Your view is of the docks, the bridge, the harbor, and just beyond that, the brewery. Day one of the trip was a big success. I slept like a baby. A giant, beer-drinking baby. Actually, I have always had a hard time with that statement. Slept like a baby? A baby wakes up crying and its pants are full of poop. You wake up like that, sir or ma'am, and you have got a problem. But on the flip side, your day can only get better from there.

In the morning I was back on the road by 7:00 am. I had a 10:30 am appointment at Deschutes Brewing Co. in Bend, OR. That drive was one of the most mentally relaxing three hours of my life. Just me, blasting music and hauling ass on twisty roads through two national forests of towering pine trees, underneath a trio of huge snow-capped mountains, along rivers full of giant boulders. Let’s just say that it didn’t suck. Not one bit. And then by 10:00 am, as if my day hadn’t already been great, I was at one of the country’s most renowned breweries. I got a private tour from one of their finance guys, Peter, but he knew absolutely everything about the brewery. Like if the guys who run the plant get stranded in a shed with some toothless mountain gangster teenagers, they could just pull this guy out from behind his desk and he could take over. At least until the A-Team came to rescue the brewers from Jethro and Cletus. That’s kind of the way I see it going down. If TV has taught me anything, and it has, it is that small-town cops are either incapable of handling their most dangerous criminals, or they are in on the crime in some way. But back to Deschutes. We got to taste some young Black Butte XXIV from bourbon barrels, which was great, but whoa will it be better once it sits for a while. Then we went to lunch at their pub downtown with Peter The Finance Guy and two of their brewers, and I got to drink a few drafts including a great Bachelor Bitter from a beer engine. No blue balls here, but they did manage to improve upon another favorite of mine. Do you like a Cuban sandwich? Everyone. Then how about a Cuban Stromboli? It rocked. After that it was back to the brewery to get some special bottles of beer and a t-shirt, all compliments of the brewery. What a great bunch of people. If you ever see Deschutes beers, BUY THEM! The beers are great, and the people are top-notch. Sounds like a pretty awesome day, right? But it was only 3:30 in the afternoon! Bend is home to 14 breweries or brew pubs. It is a city of 80,000 people. Most cities that size don’t even have 14 coffee shops, let alone breweries. And most of these are within walking distance of each other. I know, because that’s what I did for the rest of the day. Click here to get a glimpse of what the Bend Ale Trail is all about.
This guy was getting a growler at Boneyard in Bend.

Wednesday morning I was up early again, driving across the central Oregon “high desert”. It was very scenic and ultra-rural. I am talking no people living out there, and towns that are very far apart. Gas up before you head out there, because if you are in need of a fill-up all of a sudden, you’re screwed. But eventually you come into the Mt. Hood National Forest, and you are back in the greenery and mountains that Oregon is most known for. And then before you know it, you’re heading into Portland. I needed to be at the Rogue Pub in Portland by 11:00 am to pick up my credentials for a beer fest that was starting at noon. I was 20 minutes early. One cup of coffee later, I was walking in the door at 11:01 am. Had a quick beer, got my stuff from the bartender and headed to my hotel to drop off the car. My hotel was across the street from the festival site, and after I parked the car and walked out of the garage, a giant parade of people came down this ramp from a bridge. There were all kinds of costumes and small floats, all very beer related. Every year they have a morning reception at a different local host brewery, followed by a parade of attendees to the festival site, including the Grand Marshall or Poobah or whatever. The festival starts after these guys do some speeches and funny stuff on the stage, with accompanying horn section/pep band behind them. It was all very cool, and then…the beer festival. As you can imagine, the line-up of breweries was everything you could possibly ask for in a west coast beer event: Russian River? Check. Hair Of The Dog? Oh yeah. You name it, and it was there. So naturally I hung out there for quite some time, but this fest was going on for a few more days, and you could come and go as you please, so I ducked out around dinner time before things got too crazy.

On Thursday I met a friend who lives in Portland and my cousin from Seattle at the McCormick & Schmick’s Harborside for lunch. This particular McCormick & Schmick’s happens to have a brewery inside of it, and this is where Full Sail makes their test batch beers. The nice people at Full Sail were picking up the tab for this lunch, or I would have never known such a thing existed, nor would I have gone somewhere so expensive for lunch. But hey, I was not complaining, and neither were my friends and relatives. After that two-hour lunch, we started to get lost. I made a wrong turn, and as happens so often in Portland, I found myself on a bridge accidentally. Luckily this bridge ends at the front door of the Hair Of The Dog pub. This is one of my favorite breweries in the country, and they did not have a pub when I was in Portland five years ago. So we were pretty happy that I made that wrong turn after all. It turned out to be the right turn, I just didn’t know that when I made it. I ran into a small group of Atlanta people there that I knew, so that was cool too. After a few quick beers there, it was back to the beer festival. After a few hours there, it was off to dinner. I have to say that as far as days go, that one did not suck. Not one bit. Oh, and it was 78 degrees and sunny.
Menu at McCormick & Schmick's
Another 4:00 am wake-up call later, I was headed back to the airport to drop the rental and get on another 6:15 am flight, this time headed for home. What can I say about those crazy early flights? Once you’re awake, the hard part is over. And to be sitting on the Pacific Ocean for lunch after waking up in Atlanta, or to be in Decatur, GA drinking a beer at 4:00 pm after waking up in Oregon, it is so worth it. A little bit of sacrifice is worth the pay-off if you work it right. Plus, as soon as they stop showing me how to use a seat belt and telling me that my seat cushion can be used as a flotation device--as if we would survive a crash anyway--I go right to sleep. So if you can swing it, I highly recommend the crazy early flights. The short lines at the airport security are almost worth the extra effort on its own.

So that is all I have for you right now. I am waiting to hear back from Spike, Terrapin’s co-owner/brewer about an event on  Thursday, August 15th. He made a collaboration beer in Norway this spring, and the beer is here now. If his schedule can accommodate, then that is the date to taste the Nogne-O/Terrapin Imperial  Rye Porter for the first time at The Fred Bar. Stay tuned for more details. I will also post a nice Oregon slide show here, but I left my camera at home and I have not taken the pictures out and put them in my computer yet. These were all taken with my phone. I was in Charlotte for most of last week, so I am not even caught up from a trip that started in the end of July. Sorry again for the long delay. Have great week.