Tuesday, June 22, 2010

McMenamins on Monroe

The second in my series of Corvallis brewpub reviews is devoted to McMenanmins on Monroe. Located next to the OSU campus, at 2001 NW Monroe street, it caters to a mostly college crowd and for this reason Kathy didn’t see much point in trying it. Nonetheless it is a brewpub and if this series is to be comprehensive then I have to include it. Last week Kathy went camping with her friend Barbara, so I invited Barbara’s husband Mike to join me there.

We arrived at 7pm, an hour after the end of Happy Hour (3-6pm). It was still close to capacity and we had to go up to the second floor to find an unoccupied and clean table. It’s a voluminous place, with a large ground floor and a second floor about half the area as the ground floor. The second floor is open on its south side, balcony style, stopping well short of the street-facing window wall. The east wall features a large example of pop art, a “tree” of pipe work with the branches topped by bathroom sinks.

The noise level was surprisingly low. Much of the floor area is carpeted, and the high ceiling helps as well.

Our server was a pleasant young woman named Kaitlin, and she was consistently attentive during our visit, so I’ve no complaints about the service.

To drink, I ordered the “Brewery Taster”, this consisting of five regular offerings (“Hammerhead” pale ale, IPA, “Ruby” raspberry ale, porter and “Terminator” stout) and one seasonal (“Copper Moon” ale). These arrived after five minutes or so, and I tried the “Ruby” first. This was a little cloudy, with a slight pink/orange cast. There is a distinct raspberry nose, with a little yeast. The raspberry is less pronounced on the palate, and that, with the low hop level, give it a slightly sweet character. The mouthfeel is thin and the finish short. The “Hammerhead” was also a little cloudy, had a subtle nose of floral hops and caramel, and was only lightly hoppy on the palate. Again, it seemed a bit thin and watery. I had higher expectations for the IPA, but this turned out to be not all that different from the Hammerhead, and did not have the extra hops that I expect in an IPA. The porter was a typical example of its type, with distinct chocolate and coffee aromas and flavors, while the “Terminator” stout did not have the extra bitterness I expected, with the coffee notes being more pronounced than the chocolate. The “Copper Moon” had a citrusy nose, was not particularly hoppy, and had a light body that gave it a refreshing character.

Overall, I was not impressed with the quality of the beers. All seemed watery and short on hops. This seemed odd, because I’d had the IPA on a number of occasions at the other Corvallis McMenamins (the one on Harrison) and remember it being better.

The menu lists mostly burgers, sandwiches and pizza. Not being in the mood for any of these, I ordered the grilled wild salmon. Mike ordered the ale-battered fish & chips. These arrived after about ten minutes. The salmon was dry and tough, and the rice that accompanied it was dry, gummy and inedible. The braised greens, on the other hand, were fresh, not overcooked or bitter. Mike’s fish was okay, not over or undercooked, and his fries were only slightly greasy.

For dessert I had the black and tan brownie. Served warm, with ice cream, this was pretty good, the chocolate being quite rich.

In addition to beer, McMenamins has their own line of wine and spirits. I haven’t tried many of these, but if memory serves, the Black Rabbit Red and the Syrah are both decent. I’ve also had the brandy, and it’s not bad either.

I decided to follow up on the beers, visiting www.beeradvocate.com to get some other’s perspectives. I found a lot of variability in both the descriptions and ratings of the various McMenamins brews, to the degree that I found myself wondering are we all talking about the same beers here?

The thing is, the McMenamins beers are brewed in dozens of different locations around Oregon and Washington and there are bound to be variations. Different fermenters and the varying skill and professionalism of the individual brewers are going to result in variability in the beer. Based on the reports I read, most of the McMenamins brewpubs are producing better stuff than the local one. I don’t know why this is the case, but perhaps it’s the mostly college student clientele, of whom the brewpub management may believe has not been drinking beer long enough to know the difference.

McMenamins on Monroe website.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

California Olive Oil

The first article posted to The Corvallis Epicurean described our experience with a California olive oil, the organic extra virgin oil from B R Cohn. My motivation for trying this was due to reading an article which revealed that a lot of imported olive oil, particularly those bottled in Italy, may not even be olive oil.

We were quite pleased with the B R Cohn, and have gone through a couple of bottles of it, but at $15 for a 375ml bottle (equivalent to $40 per liter), it's a bit pricey.

Since posting that article I've been making an effort to educate myself on the subject. Here's a few key points:
  • With olive oil, the fresher the better. Both the flavor and antioxidant value are at their peak within the first six months of harvest/pressing. Less than a year old is still good, but over the course of the second year the oil will degrade significantly.
  • Because of their lower acidity, extra-virgin oils tend to last a little longer.
  • The enemies of olive oil are light, heat and air. It should be in bottles of opaque or colored glass (brown is better than green) or metal. Once you get it home store it in your refrigerator; it will turn cloudy but will revert to clear after reaching room temperature. After opening a bottle, try to finish it within two months.
  • If you want to buy imported oil, look for estate bottlings. These should have the harvest date printed somewhere on the label. Estate oils, however, may cost more than you want to spend on an everyday oil.
With the estate bottled imported oils, you may find that many of them are too old; it takes a long time for them to find their way to the store shelf, and they may have spent time in a warm ship's hold or hot warehouse.

Which leads us back to California oil. If you still aren't convinced, I'll offer two more reasons:

For the conservatives: You want to keep your money in the USA, don't you? Purchase products made in the USA, by companies operating in the USA, employing workers who are citizens of the USA? (I'm sure at least some of them are).

For the liberals: You want to buy local, don't you? Minimize the carbon footprint and all that, right? Well, California is as local as you're going to get, given that efforts to produce olive oil in Oregon have not been spectacularly successful.

Although a relatively young industry, California oil producers are characterized by that same competitive spirit that drove American winemakers and beer brewers to create products that are the peer of the best imports. Oils from Apollo, Pasolivo, Stella Cadente and California Olive Ranch have more than held their own against imported estate oils in international competitions. This last mentioned company is the biggest domestic producer, and in addition to their gourmet bottlings (such as the Arbequina that was the top pick in a comparison published in the September issue of Cook's Illustrated magazine), they offer an "everyday" oil priced at $10.49/500ml (which is $20.98 per liter).

Another good everyday oil is made by Bariani, a family-owned company whose certified organic oil is made using traditional methods. It's a little cloudy, being unfiltered, but appearance is, after all, less important than aroma and flavor.

Armed with all this new knowledge, last week I dropped by First Alternative Food Coop (the one on SW 3rd) to see if they might have any of these. At first glance things seemed promising; they had several different California oils, including the highly regarded Apollo. Unfortunately, closer inspection revealed that nearly all of them were from the 2008 harvest or earlier, meaning they were way past their prime.

There was one exception, that being a good supply of Bariani, all of it being from the 2009 harvest (there was a single liter bottle from 2008). The 500ml bottles were priced at $12.39 and the liter bottles at $22.99. I bought one of the 500ml bottles, and we tried it when I got home. Although lacking the intense olive character of the B R Cohn, it was nevertheless very fresh and clean, and we'll be using it as our everyday oil.

Fortunately all of these producers sell direct (via their web sites), and we plan to order some soon (before the weather turns hot). I expect we'll start with the Apollo "Mistral" and the California Olive Ranch "Arbequina". As soon as those come in you can be sure I'll post our impressions here.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Glenmorangie Original 10yo Single Malt Scotch

I thought I'd post a feature on this whisky, because this month the OLCC has it on special, marked down from its usual $39.95 to $37.95. At either price it's a good buy, being only a few dollars more than premium Scotch blends such as Johnnie Walker Black Label (normally $37.95 but this month $33.95) or Chivas Regal (normally $34.95 but this month $29.95). Those few extra dollars get you a significantly better whisky.

It's a longtime favorite of mine, one I like to share (gave a bottle of it to my daughter's BF for Christmas). I feel it's a good choice for someone who's never tried a SMS (Single Malt Scotch), being only moderately peaty (an unpeated one like Glengoyne would be unrepresentative of most SMS, while a peat monster like Laphroaig might scare them away for good). The nose offers floral aromas, along with spicy oak, and the palate is treated to caramel, honey, vanilla, oak and just enough peat that you know you're drinking Scotch, not Irish. The finish is long and sweet.

Don't take just my word for it. John Hansell, editor of The Malt Advocate magazine, gives it a score of 93 and Jim Murray, author of The Whisky Bible, gives it a 94. The significance of this is that these two frequently disagree, partly because Murray favors younger whiskies and Hansell older ones.

The "Original" bottling is of whisky aged exclusively in ex-Bourbon barrels, and thus avoids the problem that often afflicts SMS wholly or partly aged in ex-Sherry barrels, which is taint from too much sulfur (the Spanish Sherry producers treat barrels with this prior to shipping them to Scotland, the intent being to inhibit mildew). It's thus a very reliable whisky, and there's no need to be up-to-speed on batch characteristics, as is the case with some sherried malts such as Aberlour a'bunadh.

If $38 still seems like a lot for a bottle of whisky, consider that a year ago this went for $52. The economy has put a big dent in the sale of high-end liquor, and prices have been coming down. If you're driving down to California soon, you'll discover you can get it for even less there, as low as $35 (BevMo).

In  fact, the only SMS that I've had that I thought was noticeably better is Highland Park 18yo, and that goes for $92. That amount of money will get you two bottles of the Glenmorangie Original, plus $16 in change.