An invitation to Kells Brewery

31 Oct

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On Monday, Miranda and I were invited to the media event at Kells Irish Pub and Brewery inside their NW 21st location.  What first caught my attention about the invitation was Dave Fleming had found himself and new brewing gig and I wanted to see what he was up to since leaving Lompoc.  Then there was the chance to try new beers from a brewery I didn’t know existed.  With 40+ breweries in town, eventually one or two will pop up under our radar.

IMG_6969Before I get too far into the night, I would like to first thank the McAleese family, Kells owners, for hosting us.  Gerard and Lucille were very welcoming and their son, Garrett – lead brewer, was more than eager to talk shop.

I started the evening with a pint of Kells IPA,  an Irish Pale Ale, as they call it.  Garrett and Dave were quick to admit an IPA is not very Irish but this is a pub on the west coast where an IPA is expected by many patrons.  Kells is very unique in that they had demand already built-in with their three pubs.  And because of this, pressure was not to make a super flashy flagship IPA to draw the crowd, but make an IPA for the crowds already there that both Barrett and Dave would be proud to serve.  I will say they did an excellent job of it.  The beer was to be sessionable, hoppy but not too bitter.  On all of this the beer succeeds.  In the kettle the beer hopping is rather conservative, just enough to nicely balance the malt. But then it was liberally dry hopped at the end. This all wrapped up in a nearly sessionable 5.7% ABV.  I have to say they succeeded.  This is the kind of beer your nose knows is an IPA as the hop aromatics were wonderful.  Upon tasting the beer, the hops were all up front with a clean balanced finish.  Unlike their other two beers (thats right they only make three beers…for now), the recipe is not 100% set. They change up the hops here and there depending on what is available or what kind of mood they happen to be in that day! The beer was well worth a return trip to see what is new.

IMG_7005Then we were served three light courses to pair with their three beers.  The first course was a nicoise salad, paired with their Irish lager.  The push behind their lager was a replacement for Harp.  Personally, I have a distain for Harp, so for me the bar was set quite low.  The beer had a slight funky nose, very smooth, light with a crisp finish.  Mission accomplished, much better then Harp, a quality beer that paired nicely with the tasty salad.  If you really like Harp this beer will make you a convert, for me honestly this not really my preferred style of beer and I probably would not order one. But lucky for me it is a different story with Kells IPA and their third beer, a traditional Irish Red.

The second course was a pairing of a sausage roll and the Kells Irish Red.  Here I will make a comment on the food.  This was great pub food.   A nicely spiced ground sausage roll wrapped in a light phyllo dough and served with a bit of brown gravy – it hit the spot.  Ok, back to the beer.  Once again, this beer was developed and brewed to go toe to toe with another Irish standard, Smithwicks.  I have had a few Smithwicks but not enough for an off-the-cuff comparison, but Kells Irish Red seemed to hit the right spot.  This is not a big northwest red but a red brewed with northwest hops of european decent, Willamette and Mt. Hoods.  Hops used to balance, not overshadow, the lightly sweet carmel malts.  If you find yourself in Kells catching a Timbers match, you might as well stay, order a few more Reds and catch-up on a few Premier league matches as well.

The third course was fish ‘n’ chips paired with the IPA.  Unfortunately for me, I got to chatting with the brewers again and the fish of my fish ‘n’ chips was cold by the time I got to them.  They were good enough for me to finish the plate but too much time had passed for any critical comment about the course.  Most importantly, the second pint of the IPA was just as good as the first.

IMG_7017The night then finished with a brewery tour.  Kells brewery is a lot like many of the small brewery I am sure you have seen in Oregon.  A 10 barrel system that they somehow squeezed into a pretty small room.  To be honest as an Oregonian from birth, what caught my eye was the old Oregon holding up the ceiling; a massive beam, from what once was a massive tree, from what seems like an unending forest.  But I digress…to one side of the small brewery, they manage to find space for two new 20 barrel fermentors.  This added capacity and will allow them to start producing seasonal beers beyond the three standards. They are hoping about one every six weeks.

The first seasonal, an Imperial Brown Ale, will be produced for the Holiday Ale Fest in Pioneer Courthouse Square.  I was talking to Garrett about this beer and I think he has an interesting challenge on his hands.  He told me the inspiration behind it was a traditional Irish fruit cake (no, no weird candied fruit here) but he and Dave were going to try and match the flavors of this sweet and spicy bread using only the four ingredients in beer; water, malts, hops and yeast.  I will definitely check to see if they succeed with a taste at the Holiday Ale Fest.

Finally, you may have noticed this Irish brewery, does not make a stout.  You also have probably noticed there are few things more Irish than Guinness, therefore it is an expectation for an Irish pub.  But worry not stout lovers, there is rumor of a Kells Stout to honor Kells 30th anniversary around the holidays. This family-run restaurant deserves a special toast…Cheers!

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