To call Portland, OR, “an embarrassment of beer riches” would be an understatement. For years, enthusiasts have flocked to the Rose City to enjoy that perfect pint; and establishment after establishment either brews, or pours, nectar from the gods. The city is so serious about its beer that one alternative newspaper rates movies on a one- to four-pint glass scale.
Portland is so rich in places to quaff that we could devote several columns to it. We simply can’t do the city justice in just one. So, for the first time ever, we’re doing two articles about one place. In this issue we’re visiting the Pearl District. Next issue, we hope you’ll accompany us to some of the places located outside of downtown.
Getting around Portland is an utter joy. Your designated driver is TriMet: an extensive, well-run system of buses, light rail and even a European-style streetcar. An inexpensive daily pass will get you anywhere.
So, let’s hop on the streetcar, which does a loop from downtown, and past the famous Powell’s City of Books and into the Pearl. A design staple in these parts is converting industrial property into showcases for good beer. And that’s precisely what Deschutes Brewery Portland Public House has done at 210 NW 11th Avenue.
Last year Deschutes, which has been brewing in Bend, OR, since 1988, renovated an auto shop into a beautiful state-of-the-art brewery and dining area. The outside is freshly scrubbed pale brickwork, with a retro “Deschutes” sign on the corner. As we approached the front door, we saw a smiling gentleman carrying out a case of newly released Jubelale. He gave us a good chuckle by saying “Lucky for you, there’s plenty more inside.”
And there is. In all, 16 taps and two hand pulls of some of the best beer in the world. You’ll find all of Deschutes’ regular lineup, plus a special menu of “exclusive beers” that aren’t available anywhere else. The bartender suggested we try the fresh-hopped Mirror Pond Pale Ale. We did, and our only regret was not being able to make a day of it right there.
The interior decoration evokes a rustic inn, with high ceilings, brightly colored walls and a stone fireplace. Be sure to take a good look at the wooden arches, carved into local plants and animals. The food menu shows some genuine creativity: elk burger, grilled pear and goat cheese pizza, venison chili and a sweet and spicy baked mac-and-cheese made with a sweet chile cream.
Deschutes bottles its beer, and you can find it many places, but all everybody knows there’s nothing better than fresh beer served at the brewery.
Going to the Dogs
A short streetcar ride and a short walk takes you to Lucky Labrador Beer Hall at 1945 NW Quimby Street. It’s a somewhat more industrial version of their original location and brewery east of the river. Walk up to the counter to order beer (it’s self-service) and look up at the extensive, and rotating, beer list on the blackboard. The selections run mainly toward bitters, pale ales and imperial ales, and they’re friendly to both your taste buds and your wallet. We enjoyed a Scottish Holiday, a darker version of a Scottish ale, and a Hellraiser ESB, which checked in at nearly seven percent ABV—a strength of this style that you’re unlikely to find in an English pub. And since it was “Tightwad Tuesday,” pints were just three bucks each.
It was late afternoon and the sunlight streamed through the large windows onto the long rows of tables, reminding us of a neighborhood German beer hall. A large Warhol-esque doggie collage hangs on the wall and a stuffed feline on the bar is labeled “Satan.” (Cat lovers, consider yourself warned.)
Lucky Labrador deserves some kind of an honor for turning beer kegs into décor: they’re used as planters, hanging flower baskets and even light fixtures. As we were finishing our pints, a local non-profit was setting up a lecture about what a volcanic eruption did to the character of a local lake. Damn. It was time to move on. Some things just aren’t fair in beer traveling.
Years ago, on our first trip to Portland there wasn’t much in this part of town. But one oasis that we did find—almost in the middle of nowhere—was the BridgePort Brewing Co. at 1313 NW Marshall Street. Located in a former rigging rope factory, it’s Portland’s oldest craft brewery. We drank great beer, and we could buy pizza by-the-slice.
Fast-forward a couple of decades. The neighborhood has changed, and so has BridgePort. $4.5 million in renovations later, it’s a brewery, pub, full-fledged restaurant and bakery, all in the same two-story building. At first we wondered whether it had become a bit too “upscale.” But one sip of the IPA, and a quick glance at the food on surrounding tables, assured us that all was good. As we settled in, a pub trivia contest got underway. Beervana plus trivia? It doesn’t get much better.
BridgePort brews a solid line up. You can’t go wrong sampling any of their beers. The IPA has been winning awards for years, including a gold medal in the 2008 World Beer Championships. Here, as in Portland’s other great breweries and ale houses, you can sit around and quaff; quaff and snack; or quaff and dine.
To the Rogue in All of Us
Even people who have never been to Oregon have heard of Rogue Ales. Maybe it’s the name. It oozes thoughts of mischief. You have to be fascinated with a company that has the guts to call a beer Dead Guy Ale—and become famous for it. Maybe it’s the unusual art on the bottles, each more defiant than the other. Forget all that. It’s the beer.
Close to BridgePort is the Rogue Distillery and Public House at 1339 NW Flanders Street. One side is a restaurant, and the other is a pub. Atop the bar is a sign that reads, “It’s Beer:30. You’re Right on Time.” How could you possibly need more inspiration to savor a few?
Rogue doesn’t brew here, but you’d never know that from the stacks of bottles arranged in every corner of the bar. More than just décor, those bottles, like the ones in the huge cooler, are available for “to go” sales. If there is something that you absolutely have to sample, buy a bottle as you depart. And since you’ll find some beers Rogue doesn’t bottle, it’s a fair trade-off.
Many of the menu items are prepared using beer as an ingredient. There’s also Hazelnut Ale bread and cheese from the Rogue Creamery. We were surprised to find Kobe beef in the chili, burgers, meatballs and even “haute dogs.” Food that’s interesting and well prepared, as it is here, is a bonus.
We enjoyed an I2PA, a Dry Hopped Red, a YSB and a Chocolate Stout—all absolutely flawless. The atmosphere was friendly. There were plenty of locals and out-of-towners on a quest for good beer. The service was impeccable. As you might expect, we found it difficult to leave here too.
And speaking of leaving, it’s time to wrap up this column, but we’ll be still be here in Portland next issue. Please join us then as we continue our search forever more perfect pints.
Paul Ruschmann is a writer, editor and researcher; Maryanne Nasitka is a writer and photographer. They travel as much as their budget permits, visiting many of the places where great beer is brewed and enjoyed.