The Daily Wort attended last night’s Green Dragon Meet-the-Brewer event last night, featuring Alan Sprints of the remarkable Hair of the Dog brewery. Alan makes wonderful, mad, Belgian-inspired beers that are age-worthy and frequently deeply strange. I’ve been a fan for years now—in fact, our first flock of backyard chickens were named for Hair of the Dog brews.
Fred, Adam, and Ruth defend the backyard
This was my first MtB event, though certainly not my first time at the Green Dragon. The Green Dragon is one of the better beer bars in Portland, with nearly twenty taps of constantly rotating top-notch beer from around the world. Nothing is permanent; chalkboards around the establishment list currently tapped kegs as well as “on-deck” kegs, to be rotated in as soon as there’s a vacancy. The bar regularly gets one-offs and special brews from breweries around town.
The Green Dragon was purchased last November by Rogue, an event which caused no small amount of concern in the Portland beer community. Those concerns have proven to be largely unfounded, it seems, as neither the menu nor the beer selections have changed appreciably. The current tap list includes only a single Rogue brew—their solid Old Crustacean barleywine.
At any rate, it’s a fine place to heft a pint.
I arrived to the 6-to-9 event to find the place packed. We had a beautiful warm early fall day, and the bar was near capacity. Fortunately, my drinking companion for the evening had arrived early to discover some mutual friends already stationed at an outdoor table with room to spare.
I waded through the back-bar line to order a tasting set of four Hair of the Dog brews, then up to the main bar to open a tab for the beer and to order some dinner. While I found an empty barstool immediately, there was a good wait to get my order in and hand off my card. But we got that sorted eventually, and I made my way out to the patio. On to the beers!
Hair of the Dog Ruth American Ale: This session-strength (by Hair of the Dog standards, anyway—5.6%) golden ale is an old standard for the brewery. I’m not sure if it’s still the case, but it used to be the only HotD beer sold in stores in six packs. Ruth serves as the most down-to-earth beer in the Alan Sprints stable. It’s tough to get a clear picture of the nose in the small, full tasting glass, but the palate is light and slightly sweet before mildly drying hop bitterness cleans it up on the finish. I don’t have any issues with this beer, but I don’t find it a compelling purchase. It’s nice, if I may damn with faint praise.
Hair of the Dog Blue Dot Double IPA: This beer has historically stood out for me as the low point of the HotD lineup, but it seems to be improving in this tasting. Early examples (both on tap and in bottle) struck me as an awkward combination of alcoholic heat, sharp hop bitterness, and warm-fermentation esters. This is much smoother, with milder hop bitterness, lots of nice hop flavor and aroma, and a nice firm white head. Again, the tasting glass makes it tough to appreciate all this has to offer (Euro-style marked glasses would be a huge improvement here), but this seems to be well worth revisiting. A nice reminder of Alan’s tendency to label every release with either a batch number or a date: this is not an industrial product, and it’s got life, spirit, and evolution in it.
Hair of the Dog Doggie Claws Barleywine: Doggie Claws is one of the annual-batch brews at Hair of the Dog, dating back to at least 2002. My early experiences with the beer weren’t great; apparently there were significant issues with cap application on the 2006 batch. But the 2007 Doggie Claws, on release, was the best barleywine I’ve ever had. I’ve got a few bottles left and I haven’t tried it for over a year (and an ’02-’07 vertical that I should taste through one of these days), but I wish I had purchased more than the six pack that I got. I’m not sure whether this was the 2008 or the 2009, as the ’09 is usually released in November. At any rate, what we had last night was a nice barleywine, which could have benefited from a firmer hop backbone. My palate may have been compromised somewhat by the Blue Dot, though.
Hair of the Dog Cherry Adam From the Wood: The “From the Wood” series are oak-cask aged special limited releases of Alan’s beer. The best known of these is Fred From the Wood; the release of this beer at the annual Hair of the Dog dock sale brings out hundreds of enthusiasts from all over the Northwest, who stand in line for an hour or two to purchase strictly-allocated cases. Cherry Adam is a cherry-infused incarnation of Adam, which is easily the most baffling, esoteric, iconic beer that Hair of the Dog makes. It’s an attempt at recreating a long-extinct Dortmund beer known as Adambier, described in the historical record as being strong (10%+ ABV), sour, dark, and hoppy. Adam is the only extant commercial example. Here, it’s rich and pruney. It’s hard to distinguish the cherries from the natural flavor without a side-by-side comparison with the normal (if that word is appropriate) Adam, but it’s probably just as well that it’s subtle. This is a dessert beer, unquestionably. I’d never give anyone a hard time for disliking this, but as a special occasion beer, I love that it’s out there.
Interestingly, the best approach to the latter two beers turns out to be alternating sips. It’s an inspired pairing—if in fact there was inspiration involved—and I consumed the better part of both glasses in this manner. The richness of the Adam was cut by and served to enhance the relative crispness of the Doggie Claws, which might not have been apparent otherwise.
My companion, Matthew, took advantage of the deep tap list to order a glass of Stone Vertical Epic 09-09-09, which I had not yet had an opportunity to taste. It’s a strange one, even by VE standards: slight phenolic smokiness and moderate Belgian-style soapiness over what seems to be a fairly clean dark beer. My palate was clearly too thrashed by then to assess the hop profile; all I can say with confidence is that it’s significantly less hoppy than a current-release Blue Dot IPA. I’d probably give it another shot, though Matthew was less positive about it.
Missing through all of this was two things: the brewer-to-meet, Alan Sprints, and my dinner. Coincidence? I assumed so; the man of the evening was likely lost somewhere in the throng—I had no idea, ahead of time, whether he’d be holding court or just mingling; seems like the latter is the case—and the service staff clearly had their hands full. But after my initial attempt to check in with my server was totally forgotten, the second flag-down turned up bad news: my buffalo burger had gone out to another customer, and his or her dinner was up, and perhaps no longer piping hot. It was getting late, and I was losing my trust in the server to find a satisfactory solution, so I accepted his offer of the abandoned plate, on the house, and resolved to move on with my life as soon as I could convince the man to leave me alone.
My attempts to wave off his persistent apologies and get down to the business of eating were sucessful, eventually, but not before his final attempt at explaining: “I think your meal went out, uh, to the, uh… brewer.”
I hope it’s true; and I hope Alan enjoyed my meal. I certainly won’t begrudge it to him. His beers are extraordinary.