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.

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