Not long ago we spent a long, lazy weekend in Portland, OR. It soon became clear that it would take two articles to do this beer-blessed city justice. In the last issue we visited the Pearl District, a short streetcar ride from downtown. This issue, we’ll venture to other parts of town.
So, come on. It’s Beer:30. And we’re thirsty. Aren’t you?
We start our trek at Tugboat Brewing (711 SW Ankeny St.), an establishment that’s so small it’s easy to miss. Some years ago it was easier to spot—all you had to do was look for the 24-Hour Church of Elvis across the street. Alas, nothing lasts forever.
The place is funky, comfortable and fun. The walls are lined with old books—a big plus—and the wooden booths even have reading lights. Customers can also test their skills on various board games scattered around the pub. Don’t be surprised if you see the brewer’s bicycle parked in the hallway, or a dog sitting with its family and acting like a human.
Tugboat opened about 15 years ago. We’ve watched the quality of house beers and guest taps improve over time. Last October they had six house beers and ten guest ales available on draft. We had several rounds and enjoyed them all. Some folks have described Tugboat as a place that marches to its own drummer. Just remember the beat is really mellow.
Kurt and Bob Widmer pioneered American-style hefeweizen here. Since then, they’ve been applying things Kurt learned in Germany and some good old-fashioned American ingenuity in their brewing operation. Beer Travelers can find Widmer Brothers Brewing (929 N. Russell) about two blocks away from the light rail stop. From there, just follow the aroma of boiling mash. Or look up and head for the wisps of steam rising to the sky.
The brewery, which produces more than 100,000 barrels a year, is a smart-looking brand-new brick structure. The pub, named the Widmer GastHaus, is located across Russell Street, inside a historic red-brick building that’s been turned into a slightly Americanized version of a German beer hall. The European-style tap towers in the barroom will immediately catch your eye. We counted 13 different beers on draft—including five IPAs. And there’s an interesting twist to the beer card, too—a “May Be Available” section. These beers are available at the pub, and nowhere else.
Maryanne sipped a black bier and Paul enjoyed a Brrr, a dark winter warmer with enough sweetness to hide the generous amount of hops—not to mention a potent alcoholic wallop. The food menu ranges from German favorites like schnitzel and goulash to veggie burgers, and includes everything in between. Be sure to try a traditional soft pretzel served with spicy mustard.
Brewery with a Cause
It’s only fitting that a “green” city like Portland is home to a place named Roots Organic Brewery (1520 SE 7th Ave.). Located in an old storefront in an east-of-the-river industrial district, its interior is best described as Contemporary Island Resort. Even the tap handles are mini-surf boards. If you sit at the bar, you’re in for a big surprise: the seats are lower than you expect. Our bartender laughed it off and told us that the customers get a kick out of feeling like kids while drinking adult beverages.
The beer is indeed organically brewed. In fact, there are bumper stickers everywhere that read “Drink Organic. Save the Planet One Beer At a Time.” There’s no doubt the environment is a priority issue here. Their Nevermined Pale Ale is a “beer with a cause”: a part of the proceeds go toward cleaning up an abandoned mine that has been polluting the local water supply.
Other beers in the regular lineup include Burghead Heather Ale, which is brewed with organic heather tips instead of hops, and Woody IPA, which is dry-hopped with whole Magnum hops. Their seasonals have a bit of a twist, too. During our visit, they were serving a Toasted Coconut Porter, dry-hopped with ten pounds of organic, hand-toasted coconut flakes—just enough to leave a subtle hint on your palate and deliver a smooth finish.
It isn’t hard to figure out how the Produce Row Café (204 SE Oak St.) got its name. It’s smack in the middle of industrial buildings with loading docks. Look for the unpretentious black sign with Produce Row’s logo, a mushroom.
The barroom has an eclectic old-time décor, including cabinets filled with breweriana. There are only four seats at the bar, but don’t worry: table service is friendly and snappy. We counted 21 tap handles, plus two with nitro, most of which are dedicated to Northwest micros. Produce Row also offers an extensive bottle list.
We arrived just after happy hour began, so both the beer and the food were attractively priced. For about $3.75 each, pints of Terminal Gravity IPA, Deschutes Jubelale on nitro, Amnesia Sleigh Jerker and Hub 7 Grain Stout were a bargain, and each one was perfectly poured and in tip-top condition. The appetizers, including fried calamari and a generous portion of beer-battered fries, were enough to make a meal. And because it was Friday, clam chowder was on the menu. It was so creamy and full of clams that Paul decided he could live on it. Well, that and beer.
A Traveler’s Tip
Here’s a little secret to Beer Traveling: check out the list of the latest GABF medal winners. You might find a gem that flies below the radar. That’s how we discovered the Laurelwood Public House and Brewery (1728 NE 40th Ave.). They had just won a gold for their Munich-style helles, so we decided to pay them a visit.
Nestled in a neighborhood shopping center, the Laurelwood Pizza Co. serves up some great beer and mighty fine pizza—its other specialty. The large black and white canopy with blinking lights makes it easy to find. We wandered in on a Friday evening. The place was filled with families and friends easing into their weekend. Like many of Portland’s other brewpubs, it’s kid-friendly and even has a separate play area in one corner.
The main brewing operation has been moved to another location, but the DME brewing system—located on the lower level—is visible behind glass. We grabbed seats near the long, wooden 15-seat bar, where we found seven regular beers, two seasonals and a cask listed on a chalkboard.
We enjoyed their award-winning Himmelbrau Helles, along with Wandering IPA on cask, Organic Tree Hugger Porter and a Space Stout. If we had time for another—sadly, we had a plane to catch—it would’ve been their high-gravity organic red ale that earned rave reviews from those around us.
We enjoyed a nightcap at Portland’s airport, which goes out of its way to accommodate Beer Travelers. A kiosk sells 22-ounce bottles of Rogue Ales and even growlers of Dead Guy Ale. And if your flight gets delayed, or if you’ve come early, you can hang out at the Rogue Ale House. Refreshingly, the prices aren’t jacked-up for the captive audience.
As the song goes, “In heaven there is no beer. That’s why we drink it here.” As orthodox beer lovers, we truly hope there is a brew kettle inside the Pearly Gates. And, we hope that it’s filled with liquid gold from Portland.
Paul Ruschmann is a writer, editor and researcher. Maryanne Nasiatka 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.