Thursday, January 27, 2011

Pizza Port at Apex.

In the beer geek world, there are a lot of opinions about who lives in the best beer city in the US; and for every opinion, there's a unique metric for quantifying it. Some say it's the breweries per capita, some say its geographic density of beer places in the city, some say it's the culture, and some say it's just about the beer itself. The first two are pretty easy to sort out from where ever you may be, but one can't accurately form an opinion about the others without personally experiencing them.

When it comes to the San Diego area's stake to the claim, the Pizza Port family of breweries is often used as one example for the city's beer brewing prowess, and the limited distribution of their beers often makes this a "I'll have to take your word for it" example. So, when it was announced that the brewers of the Pizza Port Brewing collective would be visiting Apex bar in Portland with a good sized cache of their offerings, I knew it was something I needed to be there for. Last night's list included a wide assortment of draft only offerings that I've never seen this far north (I know some of their stuff gets to Washington, but I never do), and these beers provided a little window into the San Diego beer scene for those who attended the event.

After I closed down my store, I rode my bike down to Apex around 7:15 to find it more densely packed than I've ever seen it before. Clearly a lot of people were excited about this event, and a quick scan of the crowd proved it a nearly complete who's who of the Portland beer community. There were bar owners, bottle shop owners, bloggers, brewers, and the people who love them.

In an example of possibly the ultimate meta-beer-geekism, I even saw one beer blogger film two other beer bloggers, while they filmed Pizza Port Brewer Jeff Bagby out front.

I had to taste the nectar that caused this beer orgy.

I took no notes, and couldn't concentrate very much on what I was tasting in that chaotic environment, but I certainly paid enough attention to form some opinions of my own.

I started with the bourbon barrel aged night rider imperial stout. It came well carbonated, but with little head. The bourbon and vanilla packs a wallop and dominates the base stout into submission. The mouthfeel is very light compared to many other examples of imperial stout, and while I may have previously docked a few points for such lightness in the past, it's something I've slowly come back around to, and I found it quite enjoyable to drink. Did it blow my mind? Certainly not. It was a good beer though. Something I'd put in the B+ to A- range. There are better and worse examples of barrel aged imperial stouts in Portland and San Diego. This one reminded me a lot of Full Sail's Black Gold.

While I quaffed my night rider, I listened to the crowd reaction to some of the other offerings to decide what I'd go with next. I decided I'd try the Faceplant and the I-5 Brown before the night was through.

The Faceplant was tough for me to drink. I've previously demonstrated my love for Belgian Beer styles, but I thought this one missed the mark. It was simply too sweet and too... spicy for the style. Or any style. We all know what kind of qualities we want in a triple, or belgian strong pale, or whatever this was trying to be, and it had those qualities... but in the wrong quantities. The great thing about the best examples of Belgian beer is the balance the brewers achieve with such distinctive yeasts to create complex and full flavor yet smooth and well rounded drinks. This had in your face spicy belgian yeast and high gravity and not much else. C range.

For me, not being a big fan of hoppier styles anymore, the I-5 Imperial Brown Ale won "Best in Show". It was unique. It was complex. It was balanced. It was smooth and creamy. And it was delicious. I don't know how many other Imperial Brown's I've ever tasted, save for dogfish head palo santo marron, and the two would just be impossible to compare given the distinctive flavors the palo santo wood gave dogfish's example; so it's hard for me to say how it stacks up for the style. Regardless of that, it just worked. I'll give it an A.

The reputations of places like Pizza Port is enough to give any Portlander a little insecurity about his claim to "Beervana". It's a good brewery, no doubt, but after tasting a variety of their goods, I can confidently say I haven't tasted anything from them that we don't do better here.


  1. Jeff: I guess I just missed you, I think that's about the time I walked out.

    Jason Wallace pointed out to me that Pizza Port is different than Port Brewing. See this explanation from Port's FAQ.

  2. Bill you beat me to it. Port and Pizza Port are indeed two separate entities. Bummed that I missed this but I will be in San Diego in March to make up for it. Thanks for the review.

  3. They are different, and make different beers. That's why I referred to the "port family of brewers", but I guess that wasn't the best wording given the separation. Still, beers from both Port brewing and a couple Pizza Port locations were presented at this event together. The brewers traveled up together, and the company history's mix a bit. On beeradvocate, they're even listed as the same company. I guess it's easier to see the relations than the differences from a far.

  4. Whoops! You guys were more right than I gave you credit for. I thought both companies were present due to the inclusion of Santa's Little Helper, but the video that Ezra posted with the Jeff Bagby interview indicates that the santa's little helper at the event was a pizza port beer, and different from the santa's little helper that comes out in bottles from Port Brewing. Fixed the post.

  5. Reading this article led me to find that the I-5 Imperial brown is also part Oakshire! I enjoyed the read and I will surely look for I-5 next time I visit Pizza Port Carlsbad. I can't wait for my next trip to Portland too! Cheers!

  6. Nice and awesome post,Enjoyed reading your blog