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Portland has been commodified. It started a while back when all of us super cool and better than you Portlanders talked it up to actual cool people from actual cool cities like NYC and LA and SF and other places that can legitimately go by initials that aren’t their airport code. Turns out they agreed with us and decided to buy up all our cool, which is why Stumptown went to NYC and then got bought out by a big conglomerate, why Voodoo Doughnuts tried to get popular in LA, why Andy Ricker wants to take OCD white guy street Thai into anywhere he can despite teetering on bankruptcy, why Little Big Burger is now owned by the folks who own Hooters, why Blue Star Donuts is trying to go into Japan, and why we’re now associated with an unlubricated fuckstick like Fred Armisen.
When it comes to beer, then, we shouldn’t be surprised when longstanding stalwarts like Deschutes or Widmer want to expand–and more power to them, though Deschutes needs to bottle their ESB again, damnit–and when upstarts like 10 Barrel ride the Portland and Craft Brew branding labels to paydays from InBev or whoever. Sure, we got tons of breweries, but now every new favorite place gets a jaundiced eye as it might end up diluted from acquisition at some point and end up a shrug like Bridgeport or, worse, an old school name like Weinhard’s that ends up putting out alcoholic orange soda pop to overgrown children and the relatives who still molest them.
Thankfully, there are still pockets of Portland uniqueness that are wholly incompatible with selling out or expanding beyond their current boundaries. Powell’s City Of Books will never try to be Amazon, McMenamins will always fill their beautiful locations with mediocre food and drink and utterly shitty service, Papa Haydn’s in Sellwood will always be a pleasing evening out, and unlike the Supersonics, I don’t think the Blazers or the Timbers are going anywhere else. In the Portland beer world, this also applies to Hair of the Dog.
I’ll pause here while you go over to their website and read about their history and brewer. It’s all on that front page and won’t take long, and all I would do would be to rehash what they say, and do so poorly.
I like how Alan’s bio ends–he sought to make beers “the way [he] imagined them…” If there’s one way to describe HotD beers, it’s imaginative and not tied down to any trend. Those two initial beers–Adam and Fred–are still the cornerstones of the HotD experience, and would never make for wider distribution. They’re not for everyone, but not in that way that Arrogant Bastard tries to portray their strong beers–they’re for the curious and the imaginative, for beer drinkers that are open to new experiences without having to go through some rote 5 step BeerAdvocate review template about what their (bullshit) nose and palate picked up.
It’s not like they’re not beer, or are wacky mixes of Skittles and experimental hops with a clever name and label. In my opinion, they’re more all caps BEER than most other beers try to be, and that’s not just in reference to their high alcohol content. The first time I had Fred was at the Portland pub institution The Horse Brass, a true English style pub that, at the time, was a dense fog of second hand tobacco fumes held together by dark wood, dart boards, and many, many scotch eggs. They had Fred in one of their many taps, and I decided to give the priciest beer on the menu a try. Little did I know they’d serve up a true British imperial pint of 11% beer to me. First, I was struck by how strong of a flavor and how different this beer was from anything I’d previously tried, new beer acolyte that I was. Next, the room turned more sideways than upright. This was my first experience having not yet finished a single beer and being strongly buzzed. Fred is what I think people want to have when they describe something as an “old world” beer–it’s what I imagine gets served to conquering hordes of ancient warriors when they return from slaying their enemies and must drink something out of a giant horn.
Adam is a different sort altogether–dark, bold, and so much more complex than any stout or porter style out there. It’s still accidentally-smack-your-secretary-on-the-ass strong, but it’s extremely drinkable. They’ve started doing different aged variations of their core beers, and Adam is perfectly built to spend some time in wood. I haven’t had a straight Adam From The Wood, but I did get the chance to try Cherry Adam From The Wood (Adam barrel aged with sweet cherries) in a couple of different ways. I did pick up a 2012 CAFTW, and while I could taste a really good beer underneath it, it unfortunately tasted heavily of soy sauce. Here’s the thing, though–they’re not a huge professional operation and they’re willing to try all sort of bottle aging things, and sometimes there might be a bad seal or the store you find it at may not have stored it all that great, so these things happen. I picked up a new bottle from the most recent release at the pub, but it’s aging so I don’t have anything to report there.
I did find something else, something possibly even more interesting: a local distillery that specializes in local fruit brandies and various unoaked grain whiskeys has started doing small batches of oaked whiskeys. They did one limited batch where they took a 100% rye whiskey, aged it in new american oak barrels, and then finished aging it in the barrels used in aging Cherry Adam From The Wood. I was skeptical that any of the beer barrel flavor would come through, but the flavor starts with spicy rye and fresh, bright wood, but then this delightful malty funk takes over, and there’s a distinct HotD flavor with hints of cherry and a muskier wood. Again, it’s distinct. It’s fascinating. It’s fucking great.
Back to HotD: I love their pub as it’s laid back and welcoming whether you’re a beer snob or a working man. They have a superb sausage sandwich with peppers and onions–so good it’s the only thing I order there, though it helps that they change the sausage in it about every day. A flight of 2 oz pours gives you Ruth, Fred, Adam, and Doggie Claws. It’s still enough to build a solid feeling of happiness. Ruth is more towards a Pilsner style, and at a reasonable 5% ABV, it’s delightful for drinking any time. Doggie Claws is in a barleywine style, and is one of my new favorite beers–so much so, I’m going to stock way the hell up on it when they do a bottle release. Another pub menu option is for a Little Dog, which is a beer made from the runnings of one of their stronger beers. It’s only 3% ABV or so, and a 12 oz glass is only $3, and it is by far the best beer deal you can get in this town ($2 Rainiers come in second).
Another set of choices they offer in the pub are beers aged in either wood or stone. They age at least Fred, Adam, Doggie Claws, and probably a few others in wood barrels, and they feature one of those on tap at all times. I haven’t tried one just yet, but they are always tempting. When they say “stone”, HotD literally means they age the beer in a giant stone egg. I tried a stone aged Greg, which is a pilsner malt, no-hop beer with winter squash added. The beer itself was tasty with a squash-like sweetness on the fringes of the pilsner spiciness, with a distinct dry finish that is 100% stone. It may not sound like an amazing thing to have stone dust flavor in your beer, but it somehow works.
Blue Dot is their DIPA, and I’ve had it pre- and post-Hoptipus. The Hoptipus is the name of their fancy new hop circulator–kind of like what Dogfish Head uses on their 60/90/120 lines–that HotD is now using for Blue Dot, and likely others. The first time I had it, Blue Dot was very hazy and thick, but with a delicious balance between the bitter and the fruity side of hops, and a good blend of sweet and spicy. The most recent draft and bottles are now far more clear, not nearly as heavy feeling, but still one of the best NW DIPAs I can think of. At 7% ABV, it’s at a perfect sweet spot for my tastes. I can’t recommend it enough.
There is also a section of the menu (which, criminally, is not called Rare of the Dog) featuring prior vintages and harder to find bottles to drink while at the pub–including, among many other things, the Deschutes/HotD team up Conflux, the $2,000 Dave from over 20 years ago, and a bright red number called Michael. I found a bottle of Michael at the same place I found my 2012 CAOTW (Saraveza bottle shop vintage section represent!), and it is the HotD take on a Flanders red style, or at least that’s the closest comparison I can come to. It had a fair amount of yeasty sediment in the bottom of the bottle, a shifting haze to it, and a solid sour aroma, and it was a bit bolder and more savory than most sour reds. Apparently it’s released every November from the pub, so my fall forecast calls for hoarding.
I’ve done a very weak job of selling just what makes Hair of the Dog so wonderful and unique. Which is why you all should come experience it for yourself. Come grab a flight and a sausage sandwich, and then we can throw bricks at trustafarian hipsters together. It’ll be great.
I wrote this post last night, and went over to the brewery today. I had tasters of a Blue Dot from the stone (good), a Cherry Lilia (Maybock plus sweet cherries) from the stone (seriously amazing), and a Stock Ale from the wood (closest thing I can think of to a plain whiskey beer–maybe we don’t need to age porters in bourbon barrels, but just a neutral ale…). I also had a wild boar sausage sandwich, and picked up 12 oz bottles of Fred and Otto. Yes. It’s true. I have found Otto, man.
Lady Zero: /does not make super scrunchy bitter beer face at a sip of Blue Dot. Translation: That’s really good.
TL;DR: make it snow is cancelling his sobriety and heading towards the brewpub as we speak
BONUS OREGON BEER REVIEWS!!!!!!1!2
Occidental Pilsner: Occidental Brewing is Portland based and brews in a traditional German/Bavarian style and does not use hops in any of their beers, as far as I know. They have a solid Kolsch, a fantastic AltBier, a banana-rich and effervescent Hef, and a more rarely seen Dopplebock (which is good) and seasonally appropriate Marzen (which is fantastic). I knew they had a Pilsner, but it’s even more rare to see in stores than the Dopplebock. I finally found it, and it is one of those Pilsners that balances everything perfectly–think Sierra Nevada Nooner, but with much more flavor. Good to the last drop.
Block 15 Sticky Hands: Out of Corvallis, Oregon, Block 15 is quickly becoming my favorite new brewer, solely based on their Sticky Hands tall boys. These are fresh, drink now beers that blend the dankness of hop resins with good citrus notes and a hearty-but-not-too-strong 8% ABV. Having tasted Heady Topper, I much prefer Sticky Hands, which is similar. If you are in the region and see it on tap or a 4 pack of cans, drink it up while it’s still fresh.