Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Impressions: Double Mountain Brewery

8 Fourth Street
Hood River, OR 97031
(541) 387-0042

[Photo courtesy Double Mountain; all others by Adam Lindsley]

One of my biggest frustrations about living in Portland is that no brewery has food to match the quality of its beer. Even the breweries with more skilled chefs in the kitchen, like Hair of the Dog, are really hit-and-miss when it comes to the cuisine. On the non-brewery side, you're stuck with either a place with great food and not-all-that-interesting tap selection (Apizza Scholls, Ken's Artisan) or one with a great tap selection and awful food (Belmont Station, Horse Brass). [Editor's Note: To clarify, you'll always find great beers on tap at both Apizza Scholls and Ken's. I just mean that at either establishment, you're there for the food first and the beer second.] Another problem with the good food/limited taps restaurants is just that: they're restaurants, and you're not encouraged to be leisurely with your time there, which for many (including me) defeats the purpose of drinking beer in the first place.

What the city really needs is a joint making delicious pizza that also brews several fabulous beers. A place like...Double Mountain Brewery.

I first caught wind of Double Mountain when my friend Jim Bonomo reviewed it for Serious Eats. In his very positive review (from which I'll be stealing freely), he noted the pizza's heritage as thoroughly New Haven. For Portlanders who may not immediately know the style, the closest approximation is Apizza Scholls. If that hasn't lit your fuse, then perhaps you should stop reading right now.

Double Mountain's pizzas are 16 inches in diameter, with the end crust lightly charred in places by the 700-degree oven. The bottom of the crust gets the nicest charring, with leopard spots aplenty. Like a good New Haven-style apizza, the bread hosts a nice chew beneath a crunchy exterior. It feels even thinner than the crust at Apizza Scholls, so the front end tends to submit to gravity; just fold it in half lengthwise to avoid unsightly sagging.

The Margherita ($17) is excellent. A bright and fresh-tasting tomato sauce (which you can smell from a block away as you approach the brewery) is applied liberally and topped with both aged and fresh mozzarella. Ample basil and garlic finish off the pie. The flavor profile volleys primarily between the saltiness of the aged mozz and the vibrancy of the tomato sauce, with lots of garlic coming in on the palate at the end. This is a wonderful pizza, and it should not be passed up on any visit to the brewery. Among the five best pizzas in Oregon.

I also sampled the Jersey Pie ($18), which may not be quite as successful as the Margherita but is still supremely satisfying. Here, the tomato sauce base gets a heavy crown of provolone, hot capicola (a cured pork salume), and the always-pleasant Mama Lil's pickled goathorn peppers. My only real complaint with this pizza is that the capicola is sliced too thick, so it doesn't really crisp up in the oven like it should (or rather, like I'd like it to). The provolone isn't noticeably different from the mozzarella on the Margherita, and it's clearly not the sharper piccante version of the cheese, but something much younger. Both the capicola and the Mama Lil's peppers provide a medium level of heat to the pizza, so spicy food haters need not fear breaking out in a sweat over this one.

ADDED 4/22/12 -- It has come to my attention that one of the key reasons Double Mountain's pizzas are so great is because none other than Brian Spangler of Apizza Scholls serves as a sort of "unofficial consultant." In Brian's words: "I want to make sure that people understand that Charlie and the team at DM deserve a lot of credit for what they do. I didn't give them a formula and say "follow this." They care about the product and really took ownership of the program. They watched what we were doing at Apizza Scholls, asked questions, I gave pointers and they ran with it."

I would be remiss not to mention the brewery's excellent lineup of beers, including its stunning Devil's and Rainier Krieks. These cherry sour beers have a higher alcohol content than your typical kriek, and both offer a wonderful balance between the sourness of the yeast and the fruitiness of the cherries (from the brewer's own orchard!) the beers meld with for several months. The current version of the Devil's Kriek on tap is the more sour of the two, with the tang coming from the Brettanomyces wild yeast applied to a brown ale base. A deep cherry red, it's a gorgeous ale, and a very drinkable one. The Rainier Kriek is even easier to drink, with a milder sour body and a golden ale base (fair warning, the ABV for this one sits at around 10%). I sincerely hope Double Mountain continues to brew both of these for the foreseeable future, as I think sour ales are the most exciting beers out there right now. They're certainly among my favorites.

So it was with a frown on my face and a tear in my eye (all right, perhaps I'm exaggerating) that I bid Double Mountain Brewery farewell. Portland has nothing on this scale of great food and great beers in one location (I don't know anywhere else you can order this level of pizza and a sour ale), so we clearly need a Double Mountain outpost as soon as is humanly possible. Naturally, one of the (extremely) unfortunate side effects of moving a place like Double Mountain to Portland is that you would never ever be able to get a table. It's like trying to go out for brunch in this town; you absolutely cannot do it without an agonizing wait no matter where you go. Even in Hood River, with its miniscule population of 7,000 or so, every seat in Double Mountain's taproom was filled at 4:45 on a Thursday afternoon except for one table, which my fiancé and I were lucky enough to snag. That isn't to say I'm not encouraging Double Mountain to set up shop here. I just want them to make sure that, if such a miracle were to occur, that they purchase a gigantic warehouse for the inevitable throngs of people like me who will come knocking on their door night after night after night.

OVEN: Gas-fired brick