My Own Private Portland

“Hmmm.  What a lovely room of death,” I thought upon walking into a most unusual store stocked with all manner of taxidermied, mummified, and otherwise deceased creatures.  I would be exaggerating if I said that that the variety of unusual articles offered by the shop was downright terrifying, but the vibe erred well onto the side of spooky.  Despite my misgivings about the overwhelming presence of dead animals, the store’s singularity and the pleasant nonchalance of its staff made my visit memorable, to say the least.  Where does one find such a store?  Why, in Portland, Oregon, of course.

A mere 6 hour drive southwest of Spokane lies fabled Portland, a Mecca for beer lovers and connoisseurs of the charmingly peculiar.  Prior to my most recent trip, I hadn’t visited the Beaver State for several years, nor had I made brewery-hopping an objective of my visit.  A number of sources informed me that there was far more to Portland than the obvious draws, like Powell’s City of Books, Hopworks Urban Brewery, and Voodoo Doughnuts, though, heaven knows, I couldn’t help but check them out (again), anyway.  This trip, I resolved to jump off of my previously beaten path so that the question wouldn’t be what was I going to do, but what wasn’t I going to do?

I ate tofu at a small neighborhood restaurants I’d never heard of with signature cocktails served in (what else?) wide-mouthed Mason jars.  I satiated a spontaneous fit of curiosity by popping into a comic book store that just happened to catch my eye.  I was utterly enamored by the outrageous combination of pear-blue cheese and IPA-upside down cake ice creams served up in a homemade waffle cone (totally worth the twenty minute wait).  I proved to my cousin that perfect strangers regularly walk up to me and ask me questions about the store/brewery/park we’re in for reasons largely unbeknownst to me.  I watched the most magnificent group of nerds reenact a classic Star Trek episode (“The Trouble with Tribbles”) at a packed outdoor amphitheater.  I drank a beautiful golden British ale whose flavor elicited a delightful slew of childhood memories.  I bought more books than I honestly need or have the time to read, and I escaped from a doughnut shop without being accosted by maple-bacon-loving passersby.  I had a packed, exhausting, and completely fantastic weekend in P-town.

The quarter-day drive home allowed me to plenty of time to reflect on the weekend that was, and I realized that the unfamiliar wasn’t quite as foreign as I’d feared it may have been.  I already knew full-well that Mason jars make for excellent glasses and that it’s never a bad idea to drop into a new bookstore.  I knew that a fresh beer in the sun with a good friend is one of life’s simplest and greatest pleasures and that seemingly bizarre flavor combinations will often surprise you in a very good way.  Truthfully, though some of the content differed, the feel and presentation of the places I visited in Portland were not too unlike those found in my own hometown of Spokane.

Spokane has its own local book haven (Auntie’s), an eccentric doughnut shop that sells its goods in eye-catching pink boxes (Dawn of the Donut), and a slew of top-notch breweries (No-Li, Iron Goat, 12 String, etc.).  Brain Freeze Creamery has been known to produce a few off-centered flavors (cinnamon ice cream with lentils, anyone?), and Manito Park frequently plays host to outdoor concerts throughout the warmer months.  The idyllic South Perry neighborhood, even without a shop full of dead animals, could fit right in to the quietly lively retail strips that dot the ‘burbs of PDX.

I love to excurse out of town whenever I can; there are far too many places to visit and experiences to try to be content sitting at home every weekend.  Nevertheless, most of my weekends are, indeed, spent in here, in my hometown.  I absolutely adored Portland, and I’d jump at an opportunity to spend more time there.  However, since that is not the case at present, I’m glad that I’ve taken the time to ponder what it was I really enjoyed the most about the City of Roses, for that reflection has allowed me to see a little bit of it in the Lilac City.  I don’t need to travel across the state and over a river to recreate some of the best parts of such a unique city.  My own little slice of Portland has been hiding here, in plain sight, all along.

Spokane’s Summer Bikes and Brews

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Bikes parked at No-Li Brewhouse

With temperatures nationwide regularly reaching into the 80s, 90s, and 100s, there’s only one conclusion I can confidently draw: summer is here and in full swing!  Here in the good ol’ Lilac City, we’re deep in the heart of the hottest season of them all and loving it.  With cloudless skies as far as the eye can see, multiple lakes less than an hour away, tons of great biking and hiking trails, and some of the best breweries around within the city limits, what’s not to love?

Amy (Goose) and me (Maverick) were the only two goons on a tandem bicycle that day. What can I say? We love fun! Image from Lantern Tap House

This weekend, I was lucky enough to enjoy what I think was the epitome of a Spokane summer experience.  Once again joined by Amy from Amy’s Nutritarian Kitchen, I headed up to Spokane’s South Perry neighborhood to take part in the newly expanded Lantern Tap House to take part in their monthly bike pub crawl, though this time around, it was really more of a brewery crawl (or ride).  With about a dozen other intrepid beer lovers, we set off from the tavern in the afternoon sun and headed to our first destination: Spokane’s celebrated No-Li Brewhouse.  Located on a particularly serene stretch of the Spokane River, the wide-open patio of the brewhouse has lounge chairs right on the river bank, as well as a fire pit and picnic tables galore for the enjoyment of sun-loving patrons.  Our ride leader, Mike, ordered up a few pitchers of No-Li’s Summer Wheat for everyone to sip on while we chatted and worked on our tans.  After an hour at No-Li, we steadily mozied on to our next destination.

Enjoying the patio at Iron Goat. Image from Lantern Tap House

Just a stone’s throw from No-Li is Iron Goat Brewing Company, which celebrated its first anniversary just last month.  Once again, everyone grabbed a pint glass, filled it up with the beer of his/her choosing, and scurried to the patio to relax and chit-chat.  Our relaxation efforts were aided all the more by the sudden appearances of an ice cream truck and the Shameless Sausages cart.  After refueling, we summoned our strength for our final destination Budge Brothers Brewing Company, which resided only a few blocks away.  Those who weren’t yet acquainted became so, and we each enjoyed one final, locally brewed pint before heading back up the hill to our starting destination.

By the end of the day, our adventure earned its title of “crawl”; the whole voyage took nearly six hours to travel a distance of only a couple of miles.  Nonetheless, it was a great way to spend a leisurely Saturday afternoon: the beer was terrific, the ride nice ‘n easy, and the company amiable as could be.  Lucky for me, and maybe you, too, the Lantern Tap House hosts bicycle pub crawls each month, most with five destinations rather than three.  If you’re looking to ride from a different destination or on a different route, or if you’re still on the lookout for your ideal outdoor beer hangout, there are options to be had here in Spokane.  I encourage you to check each of them out so as to find the one that’s best for you!  Cheers, and ride safely!

Bike Rides Around Spokane

Lantern Tap House Pub Bike Ride – Groups ride from the tap house on South Perry to 3-5 downtown or South Hill pubs.  Rides occur approximately once each month.  Check Lantern Tap House’s Facebook page to find out about upcoming rides.  Note: If running is more your style, there’s also a Lantern Running Club.  They’ll be meeting tomorrow (Tuesday, July 16) at 6pm at the tavern to run, and the run will be followed by $2.50 pint night!  Haven’t you heard that beer is a great post-workout drink?

Two Wheel Transit Recyclers at Manito Tap House – The Two Wheel Transit Recyclers meet at Manito Tap House on Thursday evenings at 6:15pm to go for a 60-90 minute ride around the South Hill before meeting back at the tap house for drinks and snacks.  Manito Tap House has a great little bike maintenance station right in front of the restaurant in case you need to make any last minute adjustments to your ride.

Elk Drug Drop-Outs Vintage & Cruiser Bicycle ClubThe Elk‘s bike club meets at the pub at 3pm on the first Sunday each month.  They ride from the Elk, in Brown’s Addition, to No-Li Brewhouse, located near Gonzaga University, and back.  The ride is family-friendly, and anyone and everyone is invited to ride whatever they’ve got!  The next ride should be on Sunday, August 3rd.

Spokane Party Trolley – OK, so this isn’t a bike club per se; it’s more of a club on a bike.  A really big bike.  Like, a big bike that you can ride with a dozen or more friends at once.  It’s crazy fun.  I was lucky enough to get to take a spin on the party trolley for a pub crawl a couple of weeks ago, though the trolley can also be rented for bachelor/bachelorrette parties, family reunions, team building, you name it.  If you’re looking to try it just to try it, the party trolley also hosts Mixer Tours, 2-hour pub crawls that peddle to 3-4 pubs in downtown Spokane.

For information about other Spokane bike clubs, check out the F&*%ing Bike Club’s website.

Thanks to the Lantern Tap House for leading such an excellent bike ride.  Thank you to both Amy from Amy’s Nutritarian Kitchen and the Lantern Tap House for the photographs.

Night Out: 12 String and Biplane Breweries

Tap Line-Up at 12 String Brewing Co.

Tap Line-Up at 12 String Brewing Co.

A single, lengthy day trip is all that stands between me and achieving my goal of visiting all of the breweries in the greater Spokane/Coeur d’Alene area.  Within the past several years, a whole slew of exemplary breweries have popped up all around our fair metropolis.  It’s terrific!  Besides being able to sample the area’s breweries’ beers at their respective tasting rooms, many local bars and restaurants regularly feature these local brews on tap.  It was once a laborious task to scope out any beers made within the confines of the city limits, and what was once a hefty challenge has been replaced with the pleasantly arduous task of selecting one of the myriad regional suds available.  I am far from alone in being delighted by these circumstances.

Last Friday, a friend of mine, himself a fellow homebrewer, inquired whether I was interested in venturing out to any of the local breweries that evening.  As if he really needed to ask? Being well-travelled across the area’s brewing scene, I was more than happy to introduce him to a brewery I was already familiar with and whose brews I’d not only previously enjoyed, but was eager to enjoy again.  Our first stop was the nearby 12 String Brewing Company in Spokane Valley.

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Dry Fly Whiskey Barrel Aged C#7#5 IPA

If you didn’t already know where 12 String is, you’d be likely to miss it.  Nestled in a small industrial park just off of I-90, one would never guess that a bustling brewery occupies one of the spaces in an otherwise docile neighborhood.  Upon entering 12 String, one can’t help but take a moment to take in the scene: softly lit, the sleek wooden tables look warm and up to the task of hosting an evening of enjoying bubbly brews and colloquial conversation.  A small stage occupies the front corner of the room, where, several nights a week, it’s occupied by musicians who happily strum and sing along between sips of their favorite 12 String creations.  Behind the bar, a formidable line-up of twelve taps, eleven of which are occupied by the brewery’s original creations, stands at attention, ready to serve the next eager patron.  I couldn’t help but laugh to myself at the simultaneously opposing and complementary arrangement of elements in the room: a shelf of long-empty growlers, many from breweries located throughout the West, was situated directly across the room from taps that rarely stop flowing.  The scene was a feast for the eyes and whetted our appetites for a one of 12 String’s numerous concoctions.

When we arrived early Friday evening, the tasting room was already packed.  Unbeknownst to my friend and I, that Friday happened to be the release of 12 String’s new seasonal beer, Dry Fly Whiskey Barrel Aged C#7#5 IPA (6.6% ABV, 110 IBUs).  In celebration of the release, Veraci Pizza, a locally-owned mobile pizzeria, (literally) fired up their ovens and set up camp right outside of the brewery’s front door.  Retrospectively, it seems that it was only appropriate: there are few pairings more right in the world than piping hot pizza and fresh beer.  Having chatted about whiskey (specifically, bourbon) the majority of the drive to the brewery, it seemed only right that we both that we each enjoy a pint of the new whiskey-saturated brew.  Spotting a couple of seats at the bar, we moved in, sat down, and ordered one each.  When our beers arrived, elegantly peeking their sturdy white heads over the edges of the tulip glasses, neither of us wasted any time sniffing, sipping, and serving our initial analyses to each other.  Considering the generous additions of two particularly earthy and high-alpha hops, Summit and Columbus, we weren’t surprised when this ale revealed a bitingly bitter finish that held on with all its might.  The addition of Cascade hops to the mix provided a refreshingly sweet quality that soothed some of the unrelenting bitterness of its companion hops and an irresistible grapefruit aroma, a tell-tale sign of many an American IPA.  Both my friend and I adore a good barrel-aged beer and the oaky vanilla flavor that whiskey and bourbon barrels contribute to the brews they house; the present example did not disappoint.  Subtle, but conspicuous enough, we were able to taste the warm influence of the whiskey barrel on the IPA.  This rendition of one of 12 String’s most popular ales showed itself to be a solid example of what many beer-lovers have come to love about the growing trend of barrel-aged beers: the warming influence of the beloved liquor that once occupied the barrel, and the stories of the barrels themselves.  We took our sweet time with our pints, sipping away over chit chat and the clamor of the high-spirited milieu.  After a bit, we were treated to a concert of crowd-pleasing favorites played by two local musicians on guitars, a combined twelve strings.  Perfectly fitting.

After 12 String, it was time to make our way east.  Just a few miles to the east, barely over the border into Idaho, is Post Falls, the city lying smack-dab between Spokane and Coeur d’Alene.  It was in this town that my friend and I were both treated to a novelty: Biplane Brewing Company.  Personally, I wasn’t sure whether to be aghast or elated that the brewery ended up being right next door to Starbucks.  The identification of Biplane’s location contributed to my hypothesis that Spokane and the surrounding area is home to breweries with some really rather unusual locations.  However, that is neither here nor there.

At the Bar at Biplane Brewing Co.

At the Bar at Biplane Brewing Co.

As one would hope, the interior of Biplane Brewing Company is adorned with all-manner of aviation-themed decor: a large model biplane hanging over the bar, airplane artwork on the walls and windows, even a biplane printed on the floor.  We seated ourselves at the bar top and were quickly greeted by Nadine, who faithfully tends the tasting room six days a week. She was welcoming and happy to answer our questions about the brewery, informing us that when they say “small batch”, they mean “small batch”: Biplane brews only 10-gallon batches, each one at a time.  When I asked how long she’d been there, I received two answers: the physical brewery had been there for two years, but Nadine, herself, had been there since about ten o’clock that morning.  The tasting room promptly opens its doors at eleven o’clock each morning, though Nadine and brewmaster Doug, arrive early to start the day’s brewing.  The tasting room is open until 7 or 8 most nights, and until 9 on Fridays and Saturdays, resulting in some exceedingly lengthy days for Nadine.  As it was already 8:30 when my friend and I arrived, I greatly appreciated her graciousness and willingness to answer our questions, despite her having been at work for the better part of eleven hours already.  We took tremendous pleasure in drinking in each of Biplane’s offerings and enjoyed Nadine’s company just as much.

(from left to right) Chocolate Stout, Biplane Pusher Pale Ale, Bristol Bulldoge Brown Ale, and Cranberry Cream Ale

(from left to right) Chocolate Stout, Biplane Pusher Pale Ale, Bristol Bulldoge Brown Ale, and Cranberry Cream Ale

My friend and I both opted for taster paddles, so that, between the two of us, we would be able to sample each of the six beers on tap.  I selected Bristol Bulldog Brown Ale and Biplane Pusher Pale Ale, as well as two seasonals, a chocolate stout and a cranberry cream ale.  Not wanting to miss out on anything, my friend selected Sopwith Camel IPA and Rumbler Red Scottish Ale, as well as the brown ale and the stout.  I started off with the cranberry cream ale.  I didn’t abhor cream ales, but it would be an exaggeration of the truth to say that I was a connoisseur of the style.  I’d sampled Hale’s Cream Ale before, though I wasn’t enamored with it.  My liking of cream ales took a turn for the better last summer when I tried Laughing Dog’s Huckleberry Cream Ale; I found its boisterous huckleberry flavor most enjoyable and a welcome distraction from the somewhat disappointingly light malty flavor.  Biplane’s cranberry cream ale proved a magnificent aberration from my previous experiences with the style.  The initial sip demonstrated a stronger malty flavor than anticipated, and, just when I had prepared to give up hope that the cranberries would make any sort of notable appearance, there they were: a light tartness began to arrive in this beer’s second act, and by the third, those superbly piquant berries were strutting their stuff all over my taste buds.  The cranberry cream ale proved a tough act to follow and would ultimately turn out to be my favorite beer of the evening.  Moving on to the pale ale, I found it to be comfortingly familiar; with a healthy dose of Yakima Valley hops and a warm amber color, this could potentially pass for a strong session beer amongst northwest hopheads.  The next step up, in terms of color and bitterness, was the IPA.  It was a charming ale, though it didn’t provide either of us with the thrill that our initial sample, the cranberry cream ale, had.  Progressing through the line-up, the Scottish red ale was next.  Nadine wasn’t at all surprised when this one made both my friend and I raise our eyebrows and declare, “Whoa.”  A brilliant red color, one can’t help but react as we did when one experiences the startling jolt of roastiness that this beer reveals.  Utilizing a recipe from the eighteenth century, this brew delivered a flavorful wallop that was reminiscent of its beloved and well-known cousin, Scotch whiskey.  For me, Biplane’s remarkable red ale proved a close second to the cranberry cream ale, though my friend loved it enough that he went home with a growler full of it.  Down to the last two brews in the evening’s roster, we prepared to tackle the brewery’s two darkest offerings: the brown ale and the chocolate stout.  First, the brown ale: a soothing deep chestnutty color, with hints of roasted nutty spice and a whisper of chocolate, this easy-drinking brew reminded me of the cold winter months we only recently left behind.  Though I thought that the brown was a solid brew, I wasn’t looking forward to reliving memories of a winter not-so-long-since passed, and I found myself pining for something hoppier and more indicative of spring.  We were ready move on to our final sample of the evening, and Biplane’s seasonal pièce de résistance: the chocolate stout.  Without hesitating, we each took a sip; it was just what we were hoping for.  Strong and smooth, this stout presented flavors of dark chocolate with just enough roasted malt to reassure you that it deserves to be called a stout.  We chatted with Nadine as my buddy finished up the remainder of our samples, unabashedly gleaning as much information as we could about Biplane’s beers and approach to brewing.  All in all, the combination of bold ales and charming conversation was a fine way to end the evening.

My friends and I only make it out to a new brewery once every other month or so.  While it frustrates me that so much time passes between these outings, I’m also glad for it.  The respite provides me with plenty of time to reflect on my thoughts about the brewery’s offerings on tap, what I enjoyed about the physical brewery, and compare other beers to what I tried at the brewery.  The fact that we are able to go out on these “brews cruises” and have a different destination each time is one of my favorite things about living in Spokane.  Though I never shy away from the opportunity travel to distant breweries or to sample beers from far-off lands, it’s comforting to know that I can always go back home and rest assured that great brewing is happening right down the street.