I’m in the Horse Brass [4534 SE Belmont] for the Oregon Craft Beer Month kick-off party, puzzling over a Double Mountain Bohemian Pilsner, when the yelling and whistling begins. It seems a table near us has had a tad too much, and in their drunkenness has lost all decorum. The folks running the event are having none of it. They quiet the table with a firm, exasperated, “Stop! Please!” I take another sip of my beer and think, there but for a high tolerance and acute sensitivity to jackassery go I.

Last night began my self-enforced exile vacation from cocktails as I travel in the mysterious lands of Oregon craft beer for the next 30 days. I plan on posting daily updates as I try to erase what is left of my beer ignorance. I’ll be discussing the finer points of tasting, brewing, and styles with any beer experts willing to sit and have a pint with me. The interviews, tips, and insights will be right here on Blogtown for your perusal.

The hope is that you, dear Blogtownies, will drink along with me. If you don’t know much about beer, we’ll learn together. If you know more than you should about beer, you can help the rest of us by dropping your righteous knowledge in the comments.

I expect that as I talk to more folks my insights into what I’m drinking will become progressively more astute. But for these first few posts I’ll ask for both your patience and your insight.

Now, let’s drink (after the jump):

Okay, so I didn’t actually start at the Horse Brass. I started at Beaker and Flask where I had an Upright #7. The idea at the time was to start my month with a perspective on the beer vanguard with one of Portland’s newest breweries.

There has been some consternation on this blog regarding Upright’s open fermentation process, and I encourage you to read Blogtownie Josh’s comments for some insight into said process (by the way, thanks for the kind e-mail, Josh).

What it all boils down to in the #7 is a softness and sweetness that I am unaccustomed to in my beer. At this point I’m not sure how the sweetness and the softness are produced, but suffice it to say the #7 had a wonderful full mouth feel which allowed me to enjoy the beer despite being slightly put-off by the sweetness.

My second beer of the day was that Double Mountain Bohemian Pilsner. The reason I was puzzling over this particular pint was because at first I thought my order had somehow been mixed up. This beer had a distinct hops bitterness that I don’t generally associate with a Pils. It reminded me more of an kinder, gentler IPA. Still it was very bright and clean. Quite drinkable. I did not know that Bohemian Pilsner was an actual style. Now I do. See? Learning is easy.

While I was drinking at the Horse Brass last night I ran into beer goddess Lisa Morrison who hosts It’s Beer O’Clock, Saturdays at 3 pm on KXL. Last March I asked Morrison if she would be my beer tutor, but fell out of contact with her (as I am want to do). Seeing her again last night, we decided that this month would be the perfect time to start. I didn’t waste any time bombarding her with stupid questions. Mostly we discussed the Randall which had been set up for the night’s festivities. For those who don’t know, the Randall is essentially a column packed with hops that beer is drawn through before hitting the pint. As the beer flows through the column, the hops works its magic (yep, magic) allowing the beer to express the floral/citrus aroma and bitterness of hops more fully.

As I’ve said before, I have a hard time with super hoppy beers. I’d go as far as to say I don’t like them. But this month is about opening myself to new experiences in beer. Morrison and I spoke very briefly about IBU, or International Bitterness Units, which is a number given to a beer to denote its bitterness (duh). Honestly, the scale basically means nothing to me aside from the fact that a beer with an IBU of 11 is going to be less bitter than a beer with an IBU of 100. Though I hope I’ll be able to become more nuanced in my understanding of IBU’s (perhaps placing certain styles along that scale) right now the numbers in the middle mean very little to me. This is why I decided to throw myself into the deep end of the IBU pool by drinking a pint of Full Sail’s Grandsun of Spot IPA pulled through the Randall, with an IBU of 100.

Here’s the thing. Though I’m sure for many people this is a killer pint of beer, to me at this very early stage, it was akin to eating a big bowl of grapefruit pith. The bitterness actually crept up on me. The first sip was quite nice, with way more fruit and sweetness up front than I had expected, and a nice gentle bitterness on the finish. But that bitterness lingered and increased until every sip was full of that intense hops bite. It took me a very long time to drink this pint. I’m not used to drinking so slowly… But wait! There is an analogous experience; one that a whiskey drinker like me finds pleasure in. The more I think about this pint, the more I realize that the experience is much like quaffing a very peaty scotch—that really fierce stuff that my wife likes to describe as “drinking sharpie markers.” Over the years I’ve grown accustomed to sitting down with a nice dram of scotch, allowing it to bloom beneath a few drops of water, and just sipping and sipping and sipping. Maybe that’s the key to enjoyment of these crazy IPA’s. It’s less a “drinking” experience than a “sipping” experience.

Huh. Maybe by the end of the month I’ll be able to revisit a 100 IBU beer and see if my opinions have changed. You know, a fella’s gotta have goals.

Tonight: Seraveza [1004 N Killingsworth St] and the Sessions Black release party from 6 to 8 pm, plus more tutelage from Morrison, and maybe a pasty. If only my entire education had been this much fun!

So, for those of you drinking along. Yesterdays beers were Upright’s # 7, Double Mountain’s Bohemian IPA, and Full Sail’s Grandsun of Spot IPA pulled through a Randall. Good luck! Let me know what you think.