Saturday, September 23, 2006

Low times at High St.

Today marked the 9th Annual MidValley Brewfest, held at the High St. Pub in Eugene. This was not really a traditional brewfest, but merely a promotion for a high number of guest taps. Most were from McMenamin's breweries, with Barleycorns, Roseburg Station, and High St. itself offering their own pet projects. True guest taps included a (Rogue-owned) Eugene City Brewery 100 Meter Red, which poured...poorly. Thin and incomprehensive, reminding me more of a really weak and watery Scotch ale across the pond. The ever-celebrated Oregon Trail Wit was present, as was Ninkasi's dark Munich-style lager.

Roseburg's Vienna Lager and High Street's Imperial IPA were the most notable of the McMenamins offerings. The former was much hoppier than anything the Austrians would drink, with a cloudy pseudo-darkness that reeked of too much malt. Decent mouthfeel, but the body of the beer was lost - it was a lager trying to taste like a pale ale, with hops buzzing in the ear of the malts and neither comping out in clear definition. No crispness, no sweetness.

The Imperial IPA suffered from similar confusion. Also very drinkable based on the mouthfeel, it wasn't overly malted, but did have a sweet alcohol current present for the full taste of the beer. Not surprising considering a 9.1 ABV, but again, lost without any definition. Most imperial IPAss - Lag's and Stone's, in particular, have a very defintive ordering of malt, hop, and alcohol. This was like an artifically sweetened beer, almost on shandy territory.

The food experience was among the worst I've had at McMenamins. Until about 6 months ago, most Eugene-based McMenamins suffered from cold food and ridiculously slow service. Then, all of a sudden, things turned around. Waitstaff were more prompt, although still not timely. Food, however, arrived still warm from the line cook's hands.

In this case, we waited twenty minutes to even get a drink order in, while the indoor waitstaff chatted with a party of six (there was only one other party, of two, in the pub). Another twenty minute wait for drinks, then another twenty for food.

At this point, the standard commie comes out. Appetite had yielded to uncontrollable salivation, and the burger was placed in the pool of drool I had created on the pub table. My friend had ordered the special for the fest, a Terminator Bratwurst that tasted like ready-to-eat fare; it was room temperature, covered in mayo and tossed on a bun straight from the bag with kraut straight from the jar. Truly, the potato salad was better. As for the generally tried and true commie...

It was horrible.

A total hockey puck. A brick of carbon on a bun. The cheese itself had separated from the excess heat, the onions and peppers were charred instead of sauteed.

Ten minutes later I had to wave down a different waiter as ours had mysteriously disappeared. After a confused look my burger finally made its way back to the kitchen, and my salad returned after another five minutes or so, the waiter smilingly apologized and made the salad a peace offering so I could begin my meal.

Little did I know that it would be the only food I would see until my comrade in arms was already done with her food. The time had come to begin forcing things along to a quicker pace, so I decided to get up and see if my burger was done yet. "Just another minute or so" was the answer, even though my burger was already sitting on a plate. I placed a drink order to tide things over. "We'll have those out in a second."

Finally the remade burger arrived, but I had to check in again at the counter in search of our brew. He explained they were having problems with the taps, even though the pints were ready on the counter. I snagged, drank, and we left.

Jesus man, this isn't rocket science. You just need to pour beer for a grand total of ten people in your serving circuit and bring them warm beef. The server in question seemed a bit sketchy for a proper pub - he professed his favorite beer to be PBR, although he was finally transitioning to ales. Maybe there is hope for hipsters after all.

Usually I love High St because of it's cozy atmosphere. The pub is split between a large outdoor smoking porch, which I avoid, and a series of cozy indoor rooms that remind patrons that they're drinking in someone's former bungalow. The curtained windows up front paired with the shady booths make a fine setting for a stout on a cloudy fall day. Decor is typical McKitsch, with no real historic points of the building preserved other than a fireplace in the main room - the original floor plan is long lost, decorated with the standard classic rock paraphanelia and occasional vintage placard.

This last visit, however, leads me to seriously re-evaluate my favorite McM's. The Brewfest, meanwhile, was a disappointing event (a band showed up later, and grocery store cupcakes were distributed). McMenamins could probably benefit from permanently promoting guest taps as they did today - both for distinguishing the individual internal breweries, and giving the nod of respect to their peers in the industry.

High St. Scorecard
(4 tallies of 100 each)

Beer: 60.
Food: 40.
Service: 05.
Atmosphere: 85.

Total: 190/400.


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