A few years ago, I wrote a guest post for another beer blogger about my quest for the perfect craft beer tap list. I listed a few key criteria – that it is about quality (instead of sheer quantity), adequate variety, a nod to excellent local beer, and a selection of beer that is a notch above what you’d get at a corner store or restaurant. Through my travels as a craft beer blogger I still hadn’t come across the perfect combination of these factors, despite coming close on many occasions.
I frequent many of the plethora of amazing bars in Portland, but I was surprised to find that the tap list of my dreams was sitting right under my nose.
Last weekend, at the height of the first night of the blizzard, I left my house seeking a brief reprieve from the cabin fever that was already setting in. Not wanting to get terribly cold, I started thinking about going up to Longfellow Square to stop in at Pai Men Miyake for some nice steamy and savory noodles.
What brought me there was the food – but what surprised me and kept me there was the craft beer selection. I had been to Pai Men Miyake once or twice before (including once for a Smuttynose Brewing Company tap takeover) but hadn’t really taken time to consider the list of beer before seeing something I liked and ordering it – almost secondary to the food. Though, on reflection, it is pretty easy to get distracted when you are staring at the world’s tastiest pork buns…
Tonight, however, was different. I knew what I wanted to eat, so I had a little time to consider the beer choices. The bartender noticed me craning my neck to try and read the chalkboard tap list – I was between both large boards and lacked a clear view of either – and stopped what he was doing to explain the tap list.
Actually, explain isn’t the right word. He relished in the opportunity to share what they had selected, and gave an excellent description of each, eyes wide with enthusiasm and love. And what was revealed to me was quite amazing.
I have to make the argument that Pai Men Miyake’s tap list qualifies as the stuff of legend.
The tap list included:
I chose a Hitachino Nest Commemorative Ale “Zymatore”, which is relatively rare even at Belgian beer bars. A third party – with agreements with many famous brewers – takes small batches of amazing beer, and then ages it in barrels – in this case Zinfandel barrels, and each release is unique and complex. It was exactly what I wanted – something familiar yet complex, something foreign to me but accessible. The slight sweetness from the wine barrels also went perfectly with my first course of pork buns.
Turning back to the local, I then followed it with an Allagash Interlude – a Belgian beer that uses two kinds of yeast is then aged in wine barrels – another very different beer. the yeast takes center stage in Interlude, and it was very complex. Perhaps too complex for my bowl of soba noodles, but I thoroughly enjoyed sipping on this as I watched the snow continue to fall.
All told, Pai Men Miyake hosts a tap list of 8 beers that is never static. I am calling it my perfect tap list because it is a mix of a few key and off-the-beaten path local beers, some notorious and famous large-scale beers, and some familiar favorites. Any one of these beers might not be one that you’d sell your soul for, but the combination and the ability to have such a breadth at your fingertips is just magical.
If you’re looking for someplace a little different than your usual Old Port haunts, make the short walk up to the West End (I promise, it really isn’t that far). Come for the pork buns, stay for the beer.