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Spent the week in Portland again and some locals were kind enough to take me to Deschutes Brewpub. I’d had had both Mirror Pond Pale Ale and Black Butte Porter on previous trips, so I knew I was a fan. I started with a seasonal, the Cinder Cone Red. Most reds can be a bit much for me, but the Cinder Cone is smooth and malty. The brewery describes the beer as having a toffee flavor, which I found distinct but subtle. Each of Deschutes’ Brewpubs make their own exclusive experimental brews. I ordered the sampler to get a taste of the temporary menu:

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Gluten Free Golden Ale
A sorghum and brown rice recipe that comes off too thin and disparate in flavor. The bitterness lacks sharpness. I’m glad to see the offering, but hope they can improve the balance and overall effect.

Mirror Mirror
Part of the reserve series, this is an interesting take on the well-known Mirror Pond Pale Ale “doubled up to barley wine strength.” It certainly has a musty sweetness to it, but far more drinkable than the Mirror Mirror 2005.

Mirror Mirror 2005
Same recipe as the Mirror Mirror, but aged and therefore far more dense. This is a full-on barley wine set up in a variety of wooden barrels, including American Oak, Pinot, Port & Bourbon. This is a slow drinker.

Streaking the Quad, Bachelor Bitter, Pilsner #005
All three of these more conventional, but high quality brews are exclusives at the Portland brewpub. The Quad, however, is already missing from the menu after my return.

Our little crew stopped by Rogue (map) for a nightcap. I had the Juniper Pale Ale, which is made with juniper berries, same as their gin made next door. A touch heavy on the florals, but still smooth and appropriately unchallenging for a pale. It was a great finish.

Portland is always good beer hunting.

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It’s too late now, but February was Strong Beer Month at historic Magnolia’s Pub and Brewery in the Haight-Asbury district of San Francisco. And brewers Dave McLean and Ben Spencer  didn’t take that name” lightly.”

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Magnolia’s is known for their unique cask ales, hand pulled from an impressive set of taps, up from the chilled basement. I imbibed in the Weekapaug Gruit, a Scottish-style ale likely named after the Phish song “Weekapaug Groove” (Magnolia’s has a decidedly Hippie past) and “The Other One,” a dark brew made with Blue Bottle coffee.

Recent visitors to Magnolia’s will hardly recognize the place. The trippy murals have been replaced with a shimmering gold paint and a more modern aesthetic overall. Better? I dunno. But the beer is just as adventurous, and the food still impressive.

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This balanced and sparkling oak aged ale is one of the more crisp ales I’ve had in recent memory. Not weighty or musty at all, Southern Tier’s Cuvée (a fancy French wine term derived from cuve, meaning vat or tank) comes in three series, a French Oak, American Oak, and the third is a blend of the two.

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The beautifully designed box is both upscale, and workman-like in it’s simplicity. The rough particleboard feel is printed with white, black, and silver ink in a variety of patterns. It has a spare-no-expense quality but shows restraint.

Southern Tier describes the beer:

ALE IMPRESSIONS: Light copper color, slight malt flavor with mild bitterness, dry finish with subtle hop aroma.

And the barrel it was aged in:

FRENCH OAK IMPRESSIONS: Qualities of toasted coconut, almond biscotti and toasted almonds with a taste of honeysuckle.

These descriptions are well-understood with your first taste.

Southern Tier (near Lake Chataqua, southwestern New York) cranks out a lot of different specialty brews, including many seasonals. Cuvée 1 is an October, and I’m eagerly awaiting the February release of the Cuvée 2.