Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Visit to Flat Tail Brewing in Corvallis

Flat Tail - the phone cam does not deal with the contrast well, but in front there is lots of outdoor seating.

When I lived in Corvallis, I lamented the dearth of local craft brewpub options.  At that time there were two, neither really meeting the definition of a true brewpub: Oregon Trail Brewing at the Old World Deli and the, then new, McMenamins on Monroe.  In the last few years however two exceptional brewpubs have opened: Block 15 (on which I waxed rhapsodic previously) and now Flat Tail Brewing.

I finally got a chance to check out Flat Tail yesterday when I was in town for some meetings and I came away very impressed.

Full on sportsbar style with lots of Beaver memorabillia

Flat Tail is in what used to be the Fox and Firkin, which after the creation of the waterfront park is now in a lovely spot on First and Madison with ample outside seating.  The location and the outdoor seating give it an advantage over Block 15, at least in these lovely summer months.  But whereas Black 15 is squarely in the 'NW Brewpub style' meaning lots of wood and exposed beams and a wee bit of down home funk (thank the McMenamins for creating the blueprint - and I do mean thank, the bright airy style of the NW brewpub was a distinct break from the dark tavern style), Flat Tail is full on collegetown sportsbar style.  It has gray walls, black furniture, a touch of gloss, and lots of flat screen TVs.  It also is a Beaver heaven with memorabilia covering all the walls.  Go Beavs.  In the 'do TVs belong in pubs?' debate I fall squarely in the yes camp as I am a hopeless sports fan.  I love to have a place to socialize and watch the game while at the same time enjoying excellent house made beer.  Though I am not terribly fond of the decor - I prefer the woody NW brewpub style - I am a fan of variety and find Flat Tail a nice break from that tradition.

iPhone cam not really up to the task, but here is the brewery

I don't know if the attached brewery was a part of the Fox and Firkin's space, I suspect not, but it is a wonderfully large space in which a reasonably large brewhouse has been placed.  I didn't think to ask, but I suspect it is in the 10 barrel range.  You can see the brewery from as couple of windows as you walk in and, in a nice touch, a whiteboard informs you of what is being currently brewed.

Flight of tasters - yum.

But what matters most is the quality of the beer.  I am happy to say the beer is generally excellent.  Their flight of tasters includes 8 and the very knowledgeable and friendly barkeep threw in a few more he was excited to share with me.  The range of styles was impressive - quite a few sours as well as hoppy NW standards and some very interesting experimental beers.  I must say I preferred the sours, with the 3% ABV "KSA" a real standout.  Here is how they describe it:

The second batch fermented 100% on oak with our Corvaller Weisse sour yeast blend. Brewed with oats, rye, wheat, and malted barley, then fermented with Gotu Kola nut, raw cacao nibs, and cherry juice. KSA has an incredibly complex nose of cherry, cocao, and spicy woodiness. This enamel strippingly sour ale retains its sessionable nature with a thirst quenching 3%ABV.

It was fantastic. Not the least bit lacking in flavor or body, a true session beer and great summer thirst quencher. I found the standard lineup (Amber, Pale and IPA) quite good but nothing really stood out.  I noticed a house hop quality in the more hop-centric beers like the IPA to be a bit of harsh bitterness and less aroma than in my favorites, but all three were exceptionally well-crafted beers.  I really enjoyed their version of an English extra special bitter (the EST), the malt body was perfect, but I was not overwhelmed by the use of Perle hops in lieu of EKG or Fuggles.  I love Perle in, for example, Double Mountain's Kolsch, but didn't think they matched well with the malt. The stout was great as well, wonderfully roasty but not too dense.

Speaking of Kolsch, theirs is exceptional and I was told it will be their first bottled beer (and will be available in the Market of Choice chain statewide).  This is a great call, nice counter-programming from all the IPAs out there.  Their Kolsch is less spicy than DMs, but clean, refreshing and nicely balanced.  It is also crystal clear making me wonder if it was filtered.  The barkeep was not sure. 

Two other beers are worth mentioning.  The have a very nice apricot wheat, which is a nice dry American wheat beer with just a hint of apricot which is a study in restraint and very satisfying.  And then there is the El Guapo:

This unique summer ale is brewed with over 35 pounds of fresh, whole cucumbers, habaneros, and limes fermented directly in our open tank. Rahr 2-row, Weyermann Pilsner, and modest hopping rates allow this flavor combination to shine through.

No doubt this is a very divisive beer, but I loved it (though 3oz were plenty). The cucumber hits the tongue immediately - light and refreshing while the habanero spice comes through in the finish. I am not generally a fan of pepper spiced beers and I wouldn't really want a whole pint of this, but it is a successful experiment and worth a taste at least.

Finally a word about the food. The menu is brewpub/sportsbar: burgers, fries, sandwiches, etc. I had the Old South pulled pork sandwich which was very good and upgraded to onion rings which were excellent. From this small sample I expect the rest of the food to be done well with good attention to detail.

So, all in all, Flat Tail is a fantastic addition to the NW brewpub scene and a wonderful place to hang out on a sunny Oregon summer day or on gray winter days to watch a game and hang with friends. My one disappointment was the lack of any cask offerings - a shameful oversight if you ask me. Hopefully they will get on the cask bandwagon soon.

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