I’ve been able to enjoy the Brewvana van twice- once during my experience with Zwickelmania last year, and another time with sponsorship of Google Hotspot for writing reviews. This was my first time that I went directly for them for a specific tour… and heh, was a paying participant. When I saw on FB that Brewvana would be offering with New School beer blog a Corvallis VIP Tour with Block 15, I was excited. I thought the itinerary sounded really promising and full of new tastes for me, and of course I knew I had good experiences with Brewvana those two previous times. I was lucky I bought the tickets that evening while sitting at the bar of Bailey’s Taproom and fortunate enough to think to catch up on my FB, because the tickets were all sold out the next day.
The tour on Saturday February 4 (sorry for the delay in my post- I did go international to 4 countries- soon to be covered in upcoming posts) coincided with the same day that Block 15 Brewing in Corvallis was releasing bottles of two barrel aged beers. Batch 2 of Pappy’s Dark Ale (a Dark Strong ale in bourban barrels), as well as the “lost barrels” of Super Nebula (Imperial Oatmeal Stout in bourbon barrels). I have liked many a Block 15 beer, and had both those beers last year at a Block 15 Pappy’s Dark bottle release event at Hop & Vine 2011. More recently after hearing about their new restaurant/beer spot during a food tour, have been mentioning multiple times to others (fishing…) on how I would like to visit their beer cave. And, now here was the opportunity where I wouldn’t have to worry about driving… Brewvana is going to chauffeur me there.
But wait! There’s more! This trip not only included round trip transportation to Block 15, but also
- stops at Calapooia Brewing (known for its chili pepper beer) for beer samples and a behind the scenes tour with owner/brewer Mark Martin;
- and also a stop at Flat Tail Brewing with its more experimental beer selection and more samples with Head Brewer Dave Marliave;
- and a stop at Les Caves Bier and Kitchen (a recently opened European style bistro and beir bar with 16 rotating taps and over 100 bottled beers) for beer and dinner.
- And then, once finally at Block 15, besides accessing a taster tray of Pappy’s Dark and Super Nebula 2010 and 2011 and Hypnosis 2011 (barrel-aged Barleywine) at Block 15, we also get to learn about their barrel-aging program and see behind the scenes!
Fun! Signed up!
Calapooia Brewing Visit, a secret (even from residents down the street apparently) that is getting more successful and is bottling their incredible chili beer so its rise is underway. It was cool to hear how Calapooia was conceived and his philosophy for the brewery straight from head brewer and owner Mark Martin- and his cooler smelled wonderfully yeasty
Flat Tail Brewing, a brewery that loves to get creative and experiment, and our time with head brewer Dave Marliave also gave us insight into the art of concocting a beer and also insight on how it sounds fun and laid back environment but make no mistake, it is also a lot of hard work as a career choice.
Les Caves Bier and Kitchen. We started with a shared appetizer of Artisan Board with head cheese, Willamette cheddar cheese, pickled gherkins with stone ground mustard and fresh baked and torn bread. We then had a choice of 3 dishes (or another dish where we would pay the difference). We went with what was already offered: the Roasted Vegetable Strudel of oven roasted parsnips, squash, onions, peppers, fresh mozzarella & ricotta wrapped in a flaky crust with a pink peppercorn sour cream, served with a winter greens salad; and the Naturally house cured, smoked and steamed Painted Hills beef pastrami with stone ground mustard & crisp pickles on rye ciabatta 11 with gruyere cheese.
The Artisan Board was great, but I found the Strudel a bit too rich because of how buttery the crust was, while the pastrami was steamed too far into dryness. The ideas were good for the dishes- in theory they would match well with beer- but the execution was flawed in our dinners. The place was getting packed as we got there right when dinner was starting- maybe the kitchen got overwhelmed. I was much more conservative during dinner in not partaking in ordering from the huge beer menu because I wanted my palate ready for Block 15, but others couldn’t resist the beer bottle list.
Finally, the highlight: the Block 15 visit! There has been no beer from this brewery I have not enjoyed, and I love their concept of aging beers. We tried last year’s and this year’s Pappy’s Dark and Super Nebula and also another beer, Hypnosis, and aged (of course it’s aged!) Barleywine. Nick Arzner showed us the maze of corridors that comprises their brewing and aging areas and his perspective of crafting beautifully complex beers.
We got a sneak peek at a still aging White Framboise made with white raspberries that is probably a one time thing- and is going to probably sell out in hours when it does release. We came in late in the day, after their release at the brewery, but he had set aside bottles for our group to purchase, thank goodness! Of all the breweries we visited this one was the most organized, demonstrating their attention to detail and care and control cascading to their work environment even though they work mostly in a basement.
The only negative of this trip was how the high alcohol content took a toll, so the bus ride home was full of half a bus of those who pehraps their volume sensitivity was not what it usually is, and the other half passed out trying to digest and give all our power to our livers (I went on this side), all while scrunched into the very little legroom because the seats were made for children. The reality is that Brewvana is awesome and needs a real bus, not a school bus, similar to what size are used for wine tours: that amount of distance with that many people all day is just not comfortable. I don’t see why wine tasters get to be comfotable but beer lovers don’t. At least the treatment we get on the tour on and off the bus is definitely red carpet at least.
Brewvana only started a year ago and has been a huge success- and is now in its growing pains. Their concept for the various tours Brewvana offers is intriguing and is good for either those new to beer or experienced beer geeks, for those new or even those who have been in PDX for a while- the logistical arrangement, communication, sparkly fun energy and enthusiasm and passion Ashley and those involved bring- all of those combined make for a “doh! I can’t believe that’s her job!” and you can’t help but absorb that vivacity she has during the tour and you can’t help but have fun.
Thanks so much for Ashley of Brewvana and Ezra of the New School for putting this fantastic trip together, for the brewers and their staff for their hospitality and generosity with me and the other beer geeks, and also Jason the bus driver for his patience and amazing skills for both speedy and safe driving, and the other beer geeks for being beer geeks but not beer snobs and letting us into their circle for a little bit.
So I realize that as usual, there is no photographic proof on my own camera that I am even present. Fortunately, Ashley took a bunch of photos as well, which I have stolen a few that had me in them as proof of life and am sharing here. All these photos belong and were taken by Ashley Rose, the lovely beer effervescent princess of Brewvana from the Brewvana Flickr album which has more photographic proof of how much fun they are always having.