Tuesday, January 30, 2007

An alternative to a smoking ban

The Oregon Legislature continues its assault on vices, with a proposed ban on smoking in bars and pubs piling on top of the Governor’s proposed 84-cents-a-pack cigarette tax and the proposed 12-fold increase in beer taxes.

The beer tax I’ve addressed in a previous blog entry. The cigarette tax I favor outright. Cigarettes kill. They killed my father, and the second-hand smoke probably contributed to the cancers that three of my sisters have so far survived. As far as I’m concerned, tax the hell out of it. Recoup the full costs of tobacco; be punitive if we must. Price it out of reach, for all I care.

Ah, but banning it? Even partially? I’m not so sure. Maybe there’s another option. Let’s explore this question a moment.

I’m a rather libertarian sort, who nonetheless believes it appropriate to fully recover the external costs of a product, process, or behavior – in this case, smoking tobacco – so that the producer and consumer ultimately bear those costs. Hence, my support of high cigarette and higher (but not punitive) alcohol taxes. Right now, both are too low.

But I also believe that, once the price mechanism is set at the right level and precautions are taken to prevent further harm to others, we should allow people freedom of choice. Even if that choice is harmful to oneself.

The ban on smoking in pubs is problematic in that it takes an admittedly evil – but LEGAL – product and behavior (smoking tobacco) and removes our right to choose to do it. And, to do it in a time and place long associated (even expected) with smoking:  drinking. If we’re too chicken to ban it altogether, why ban it in the very place people want to do it most?

Isn’t the choice to allow this behavior up to the pub owner and the customer? Shouldn’t we allow individuals the right to choose whether to kill themselves or not? Customers who don’t like it can go elsewhere, right?

If only it were so simple.

The problem is that pesky second-hand smoke issue. Sure, non-smoking customers can go elsewhere, but not everyone can:  employees, vendors, inspectors, et al.

Maybe the occasional visit of the vendor or inspector can be overlooked. One whiff won’t kill them.

But not so the employees. Oh, sure, technically they can quit. But why should it be a choice between making a living – and dying?

Further, there’s an unequal power relationship between employers and employees. In short, employers have it, employees don’t. That’s especially true in the food service industry, which has never been (and probably never will be) unionized. Jobs are tenuous and competitive, pay is typically poor (except in swanky places), and stress is very high. I can attest to all of this with first-hand experience.

So, employees aren’t that free to walk – especially if most of the places they’d walk to are just as smoky. They often have to live with it, or, in this case, die a little faster.

Pub owners have moan that a ban could put them out of business. Sorry, I don’t buy it. Lose revenue, maybe, but close, no. They’d all be playing by the same rules. The tiny minority of pub customers who won’t go to a bar because they’re not allowed to smoke would be more than made up for by the increase in customers who might return because the environment is now smoke-free. There are many more non-smokers than smokers – and with luck, that ratio will continue to increase.

Don Younger of the Horse Brass and other fine pubs once told me that he believes that taverns are private, not public places, and as such, should not be regulated. A smoking ban, he said, would be “the end of pubs as we know them... the corner bar, the mom-and-pop’s, goes away.” Well, smoking has been banned in Washington and California, and I haven’t seen evidence of what he’s predicting. I won’t say it hasn’t happened, but I just haven’t seen it.

Having said all of that, I’m still not convinced that a ban is the way to go.

I still like the price mechanism. Why not a pub smoking tax? Establishments that allow smoking would pay a per-seat premium to the state for that privilege (funds to be used to pay for education and health programs related to smoking). Further I think smoking establishments should be required to provide full health insurance benefits to all employees, even part-timers, and maybe a wage premium, too.

In other words, internalize those external impacts and costs. Give choices – and information – but make the polluter pay.

On the other side of the coin, those of use who prefer a smoke-free environment should support those who give it to us. Here’s a list of places around Portland that I’ve put together from my interviews for Guest on Tap articles and from the Oregon Brew Crew listserve. Please, if you know of more, chime in!

Smoke-free pub list (for locations, Check out this map)

BJ’s (Several locations)
Bridgeport (downtown, downstairs)
Clinton Street Brewing
Elliott Glacier in Parkdale
Fifth Quadrant
Full Sail (none indoors – ok on deck)
Hazel Dell Brewpub (Vancouver)
Karlsson’s Brewing, Sandy, OR
Laurelwood (2 locations)
Lucky Lab (3 locations)
McMenamin’s on the Columbia & East Vancouver (Mill Plain)
Old Market Pub
Portland Tap Room
Roots (inside seating only)
Walking Man (Stevenson)
Widmer Gasthaus

Friday, January 26, 2007

OLCC's latest stupidity

This just in from the Oregon Brewer’s Festival by way of Jeff Alworth:

“After 19 years of promoting the Oregon Brewers Festival as a community event, we regret that we will not be allowed to have minors under the age of 21 on the festival premises in 2007. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission has stipulated no minors be on-site, citing OLCC Rule 845-006-0340 (7) (a) in which "eating predominates" and the premise must not have a "drinking environment". In order to view this rule, please go to here and click on "Laws and Rules". Click on OLCC Law Book. This will open up a PDF file for viewing.
If you disagree with the OLCC's decision, then please contact executive director Stephen Pharo and let him know: 503-872-5000, 800-452-6522,or steve.pharo@state.or.us”
According to Preston Weesner, who manages the Winter Ale Festival and the volunteers for the OBF, this ruling applies to all beer festivals, not just the summer event.

This is absurd. It’s paternalism at its worst in the guise of protecting... whom?

Who does the OLCC think they are protecting? The kids? The parents? The vendors? Insurance companies?

Are they afraid that kids will be “exposed” to alcohol? Hey, OLCC, this bulletin just in:  Kids know about alcohol. What kids need to learn about alcohol is how to drink responsibly. Kids don’t learn about responsible drinking from each other, folks; they learn it from their parents, who tend to drink more in moderation when their little ones are around than not. The presence of kids also slows down other grown-ups a bit, in my observation.

Other states – and countries – allow kids at beer and wine festivals. Do they think that Oregon parents are less responsible than parents in other states? I hate to even think of the ramifications of that line of thinking.

The vendors? Hmmm. Seems to me it doesn’t help vendors to cut out a huge segment of their customer base.

Insurance companies? Harrumph.

And here’s what gets me. With the change in rulings, we are to believe, what? That the OLCC has just now discovered that the OBF et al are “drinking environments”? Where have they been for the past 20 years?

Is the OBF primarily a drinking environment the entire time that it is in operation? Isn’t it more like a pub, where it’s a mix of food, beer, and other entertainment through the dinner hours, and then more of a “drinking environment” thereafter?

So, wouldn’t a more reasonable ruling be:  No children allowed after, say, 7 PM?

What do you think, OLCC?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Empire: No need to strike back

I may lose my beer snob status for this, but I’ll go ahead and admit it anyway.

I like McMenamin’s.

More specifically, I like a lot of things about the various McMenamin’s pubs - and definitely, some things - and some pubs - more than others. Specifically, I like:

- Terminator Stout. Kvetch all you want about its Bock-like name, but you can always count on this glass of beer to be smooth, sweet, and yummy.

- Hammerhead. It fits no style category but it fits my palate. It’s predictably good.

- True 16-oz pints. No “cheater” pints. Ever.

- Seasonals. There is always a seasonal on tap and, due to their multiple brewery/distribution system, it’s different from pub to pub. Sometimes they suck, but usually they’re worth trying.

- Guest taps. Some brewpubs skimp on the guest tap offerings. The Brothers have no such fear. From Terminal Gravity IPA to PBR, they let you have it.

- Comfort food. It’s mediocre and at times bland, but you can’t knock a menu that gives you PBJ’s and grilled cheese with tater tots.

- Atmosphere. Every McM’s is different and every one is funky. Their “art” budget alone must be killer.

- Preservation. The way that The Empire has invested in restoring old landmarks into new destination pubs and maintained their architectural and spiritual integrity never ceases to amaze me. I point to the Kennedy School, Baghdad Theater and Hotel Oregon as exhibits A, B, and C.

- Theater pubs. They didn’t invent the genre and they have many excellent imitators now, but credit the gorgeous Baghdad, the airy Mission Theater, and the cozy Kennedy School for defining the Portland-area market for this awesome idea.

Then there are the specifics of each pub that make them unique. Some of them work for me; others don’t. My favorites are:

- Edgefield Manor. I just love the idea of a “beer campus,” particularly one transformed from a poor farm and old folks’ home into the sprawling beer/wine/spirits getaway that the Manor has become. If you’ve never stayed overnight or caught a movie in the tiny theater there, you haven’t truly lived the Oregon beer experience.

- The Kennedy School. Walking the halls, beer in hand, I so want this to be my back-to-school experience. Being able to drink in Detention (and smoke, for those who swing that way) or to lie on a love seat and much pizza while watching a movie is good for lots of extra credit.

- The Fern Bar on NE Broadway. Not its real name, but it is what it is. Comfy and green and so ironic that the anti-Starbucks resides directly above one.

- The Rams Head. The anti-bar on NW 23rd. I love the living-room atmosphere and it was here that I first learned to love “High Pasta.”

And then there are a few I don’t fancy:

- The Tavern and Pool Hall on NW 23rd. I’ve been treated rudely too many times there. It’s the only place I’ve gotten bad attitude from McM’s and I just don’t need that.

- Sunnyside. Uh, scratch that last comment. There are two such places. I won’t go back here, either.

- Fulton Pub. It’s just plain drafty there.

- Blue Moon. What a meat market. Meh.

What about you? What are your likes and dislikes about the McMenamin’s Empire?

Friday, January 19, 2007

Not so neighborly

When the Laurelwood Public House opened its doors in Hollywood several years ago, I was one of the many who stormed its doors and enjoyed Christian Ettinger’s fine craft ales. Having loyally supported its predecessor, the Old World Pub, through its lean times, I was thrilled to have a high-quality brewpub within stumbling distance again. I’ve brought many a thirsty palate to this spacious, attractive spot and consider many of the pub’s employees to be friends.

When Laurelwood opened its new restaurant in NW Portland, I convinced many of my fellow “actletes” at ComedySportz to move our apr├Ęs-comedy gatherings from the mediocre and sometimes surly service at McMenamin’s Tavern. In short, over the years I’ve been an enthusiastic supporter.

Not so much anymore.

A number of folks I know tire of the kid-friendly policy there. Not me. While I find the uncontrolled playground atmosphere during the early dinner hours distracting, I also feel that it’s great that we have places where kids can see adults drinking responsibly. And I’m a sucker for a little one’s laugh. So, that’s not a problem for me.

Some complain about their “cheater” 14-oz pints. I haven’t measured them but they do look small. But so what? Do you weigh the burger to make sure it’s a quarter pound? If you don’t think the serving size is worth the money, don’t go. The problem is not one of value for the money.

The problem, really, is attitude.

Over the years I’ve been made to feel less and less welcome in my neighborhood pub. As a freelancer, I often work evenings and like to enjoy a late-night pint with a friend. But the Laurelwood has made it tough to do it there. Unpredictable early closings have found us in hurry-up mode to finish our pints. On one occasion, the night manager, Wade, actually took my 2/3-full glass off the table just minutes after it was delivered and a full 15 minutes before their official closing time. Why? We were the last ones there. He had some place to be, apparently.

Other friends have similar stories, of how they were treated brusquely by Laurelwood staff, and as often as not, the same names keep coming up. About a half-dozen friends of mine refuse to step foot in there ever again because of it. How many others they’re telling - and keeping away - one can only guess.

I still love the beer at Laurelwood. I think Chad Kennedy is doing a great job, admirably filling the big shoes that Christian left behind. The food is decent, although not cheap. And over on NW Kearney - well, they close early too, but at least they’re friendly and up-front about it.

Laurelwood is building a new site even closer to my house, in the old Sylvia’s. Mike DeKalb showed me plans last year and it looks like it’ll be great.

But I’m not sure I’ll make a beeline for the door this time when they open. Nor will those friends I mentioned.

I guess I’ll just have to see who’s on duty that day.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Black Beauty Porter, 06/07

I haven’t brewed as much in the past few years as I used to; life keeps getting in the way, it seems. Besides which, as of this morning’s clean-out-the-basement (or at least, brewery area of the basement) initiative showed, I have at least 10 cases of homebrew already waiting to be consumed, a by-product of drinking mostly from the kegerator and being a solo drinker of 10-gallon batches. And most of that stash is strong (7%+) beer, not the session ales you can knock back 3 or more at a time.

So, here I was, Christmas Eve, behind in my brewing and getting low on quaffing drink... and I realized:  I hadn’t made my seasonal holiday ale in two years. That’s just wrong, especially when you consider its name:  Black Beauty Porter, named for my now-deceased canine friend of nine years who graces its label. So I figured, what better day to make a holiday ale than on a holiday itself?

It’s an extract-based beer, but it’s anything but simple. Modeled after Charlie Papazian’s “Tumultuous Porter” aka “Goat Scrotum Stout,” here’s the basic recipe:

             14 lbs Dark Malt Syrup Extract
             1 lbs Molasses
             0.5 lbs Brown Sugar
             2 lbs Crystal 40L
             0.5 lbs Roast Barley
             0.25 lbs Black Patent
             1 lbs Franco-Belgian Kiln-Coffee
             0.5 lbs Belgian Aromatic
             1 oz Cluster hops - Garden 5% BOIL 60 minutes
             4 oz Cascade hops – Garden 5% BOIL 60 minutes
             2 oz Cascade hops - Garden 5% BOIL 30 minutes
             1 oz Cascade hops - Garden 5% BOIL 5 minutes
             1 tsp Ginger powder
             2 ea Brewing Licorice, in.
             1.5 oz Juniper Berries
             500 ml Wyeast 1084 Irish Ale

First I crushed the malts in my new mill setup described in my previous blog. It worked pretty well except that the bolt had to be driven into the Valley Mill’s turning wheel a little further in order to get things going. Hey, that’s what hammers are for.

I steeped the malts in 155F water for about 20 minutes, then rinsed and drained them into the kettle, topping up the water to about 9 gallons. When it reached boil, I added the extracts and the initial hops. Note that all of the hops I used were from my garden, so the AA%’s are all gross estimates. (In other words, I really have no idea as to their bittering contributions.)

The spices went in for the last 10 minutes or so. The Juniper berries I cracked with a rolling pin to help release their flavorings. I normally prefer to use fresh ginger but I didn’t realize I was fresh out until I was well underway.

I bottled and kegged it today. I ended up a little high on my volume, in part due to the shorter boiling time than usual (60 for extract vs. 90 minutes on all-grain) that I didn’t adjust for. I kegged a little over 8 gallons, bottled about 2 and probably spilled about a half gallon due to a last-minute makeshift change to my bottling operation. That’s a subject for a whole ‘nother blog, I think.

It came out well. It’s sort of a brown porter, more dark-brown with ruby tinges than the black you see in commercial porters or even the other ones I make. The molasses and extracts give it a bit of a caramelly taste and there’s a touch of citrus from the American hops. The Juniper berries add an interesting earthy bitterness and there’s an overall spiciness to the beer that should come out strongly in the nose.

The OG was about 1.050 and the FG was 1.018, a little on the sweet side due to the presence of all those unfermentables. I’m looking forward to having lots of this on draft in a couple of weeks when I have the boys over for poker.