Portland: A City With Many Names and More Breweries
That Portland, OR, has more breweries than any other city on Earth is such a well-known fact that it has garnered the nickname Beervana. But if there’s one thing good beer lovers agree on, it’s that locals love quality, not quantity. So, few should have a problem with this statement: Portland has some of the highest-quality beers, pint for pint, on the planet. Whether it’s the upcoming Craft Brewers Conference (CBC is the Brewers Association’s migrating, annual industrywide love fest) that brings you to this malted Mecca or it’s been a few years since your last beercation here, there are a lot of new hoppy watering holes to discover. To responsibly hit all 80 breweries in the Portland metropolitan area (known as PDX) would take as long as Jules Verne could travel around the world. Here are some highlights partitioned not by the Rose City’s famous quadrants (the Willamette River divides west from east and Burnside Street bisects north and south) but by beer destinations near Oregon Convention Center in NE-PDX, then the amazing cluster of breweries in SE-PDX, and last in and around the downtown neighborhood called The Pearl. Exploring by bike, if possible, is advisable.
North East Portland
Start at Upright Brewing (240 N. Broadway #2) where founder/brewmaster Alex Ganum runs this basement-level, farmhouse-inspired brewery that excels both at rustic saisons (see: Flora Rustica with calendula flowers and yarrow root) as well as intriguing barrel-aged products such as a gin-barrel-aged sour peach ale called Fantasia. A few blocks farther north is one of the city’s newest brewpubs as well as the world’s first nonprofit one, Ex Novo (2326 N. Flint Ave.). The beers are worthy of being profitable: Cardinal Sim is a single-hop IPA (Simcoe, of course) bursting with tropical fruit and pine flavors. It’s wise to lay down a food foundation for this bipedal pub crawl with the succulent beer-braised brisket. Now bank left and five blocks toward the river are Portland’s brewing godfathers, the Widmer Brothers (929 N. Russell St.). Although founded in 1984, the brewhouse and the brewpub across the street are quite modern. Revisit the classic American wheat beer, Widmer Hefeweizen, or try seasonals like Marionberry Hibiscus Gose.
Huff a bit up a short hill to Ecliptic (825 N. Cook St.), simultaneously one of Stumptown’s newest breweries and a project from one of Oregon’s veteran brewers, John Harris. Combining his passion for astronomy and fermentation, beers such as Procyon Pale, named for the Little Dog Star, and the new school Canopus IWA (India wheat ale) both elicit some thanking of lucky stars.
A few more minutes on foot and you’re in the heart of the Boise neighborhood on Mississippi Avenue where, at the corner of North Beech Street is StormBreaker (832 N. Beech St.). The patio makes it a prime summertime destination, but even if it’s drab or drizzling, the firepit warms the cockles while the suitably named Cloud Ripper IPA crammed with juicy “C” hops warms the rest of your innards. Around these parts, even a classic, malt-driven red ale like Mississippi Red gets the Citra dry-hopping treatment.
Rounding out this pub crawl half a mile away on North Williams Avenue (which runs parallel to Mississippi), start with Tin Bucket (3520 N. Williams Ave.). This is ostensibly one of Beervana’s countless growler filling stations, albeit ones that utilize what looks like hyperbaric chambers yet for extra freshness are devoid of oxygen. You’ll find 40 beers and ciders on tap, including several limited, experimental releases from the likes of Breakside Brewery (such as Salted Caramel Stout in collaboration with local ice cream wizards Salt & Straw) or de Garde Brewing, purveyors of spontaneously fermented ales capitalizing on coastal offshore breezes in Tillamook. One block away is Lompoc Brewing (3901 N. Williams Ave.), which boasts two watering holes in one.
The brewery and pub is known as the Fifth Quadrant, or 5Q, the vernacular for North Portland. Here hops rule the day, including the tasty trio of Kick Axe Pale Ale, wherein Cascade hops deliver grapefruit peel notes; Pamplemousse IPA, wherein actual grapefruit juice marries the hoppy goodness with added citrus tang; and C-Note Imperial IPA, which delivers seven “C” hops as well as the promised 100 IBUs. Around the corner, enter the colorful walls of Lompoc’s Sidebar, where some of the dozen taps focus on barrel-aged projects such as vintages of Old Tavern Rat, a barley wine homage to early partner and iconic publican Don Younger. Then, a few doors up, Hopworks Urban Brewery (HUB) added a second location beyond its original brewpub on SE Powell called Hopworks Bikebar (3947 N. Williams Ave.). The beer’s organic. The pizza’s organic. And you’re welcome to hop on the “plug-out” exercise bicycle that actually generates and delivers power to the green building it’s housed in. That’s so Portland.
If you find yourself in close proximity to the convention center, check out Burnside Brewing (701 E. Burnside St.) with a legendary burger seared in duck fat and an equally renowned beer in Sweet Heat, a wheat ale complemented by apricot purée and ample scotch bonnet peppers, so the name is no misnomer. And at Culmination (2117 NE Oregon St.), look for various styles of beer—and sake—delivered from an automated five-barrel system, which saves room to put in a recording studio because brewers aren’t the only artists in town.
South East Portland
Here in this area, breweries and taphouses keep coming, seemingly piling up on top of one another. Start at the north end with Base Camp (930 SE Oak St.). The emphasis at this brewery inspired by the great outdoors is 21st century lagers. It starts with the flagship In-Tents India Pale Lager, or IPL, and naturally, in a land where we call black IPAs CDAs for Cascadian Dark Ale, it’s no surprise they’ve added Celestial Meridian CDL. The Meridian hops throw some sweet berry flavor into the darkness. Four blocks down is the Cascade Barrel House (939 SE Belmont St.), which is many visitors’ first (and last) stop on their brewcation. The originators of the Northwest-style sour ale keep a fruit salad’s worth of tart beers flowing from their oak barrels. Blueberries, cranberries and boysenberries join the lineup that started with a cherry-tastic Kriek and stone fruit stalwart Apricot, not to mention a personal favorite called Noyaux, the pit or stone at the center of those tangy apricots. Try to make it on a Tuesday for a “live barrel” that’s often a madcap blend of vaunted sours. Directly across the street: the Green Dragon Pub (928 SE 9th Ave.) is owned by Rogue and boasts a whopping 62 taps. But that doesn’t count the five from its Buckman Botanical Brewery that, egads, brews beers with no hop character, letting orange peel, chamomile or ginger do the flavoring.
The Commons Brewery dates back to 2011, but really a year earlier when its original iteration, Beetje Brewing, was one of Portland’s first nanobreweries. Proving that you can’t keep a good brewer down, or small, it is completing another round of expansion and opening in its new location at 630 SE Belmont St. On the whole this Belgian-inspired brewery takes an anything-goes approach. But while it makes a great pilsner, the brewery doesn’t make an IPA. Urban Farmhouse is the sessionable flagship with fruity and peppery esters embellished with a kick of rye, but seek out smaller batches like Biere Royale, a currant ale literally soured by the Lactobacillus from a pot of yogurt.
Head west and you’ll hit the venerable Hair of the Dog (61 SE Yamhill St.), whose beers are as charismatic as the characters they’re named after, including Fred Eckhardt, the dean of American beer writers who remains a local icon well into his 80s. Brewmaster Alan Sprints was a chef before he was a brewer, so the kitchen turns out all manner of deliciousness, including beer-braised short ribs. Or continue south and arrive at a classic Portland pub for peeps and pups, the Lucky Labrador (915 SE Hawthorne Blvd.). The beers (often with dog names), eats and ambience are no-frills, but that’s where the majesty lies.
Finally, terminate the crawl at another from the Class of 2014, Baerlic (2235 SE 11th Ave). Baerlic is olde English for “of barley,” but it’s 21st century for “back-to-basics.” The no-frills tasting room is small but inviting and therefore keeps the focus on one thing: fundamental, fresh suds. My favorite is Primeval Brown, which is semi-traditionally nutty and chocolaty and semi-hop-forward with 70 IBUs, thanks to Northwest hops.
To get your fill, beyond the breweries’ pubs and tasting rooms, there are numerous excellent taphouses and public houses specializing in local suds. The corner of Southeast Division Street and 12th Avenue boasts the 50-tap Apex (1216 SE Division St.) and bottle emporium BeerMongers (1125 SE Division St.), which exist catty-corner from each other. Not far away, Belmont Station (4500 SE Stark St.) is no longer at its original location on Belmont Street, but it has both one of the best if not the best bottle selections in town and the recently expanded back patio for more capacity for its Beer Café.
Before I get on with another area’s mondopub-crawl, while many brewpubs serve truly good food, let’s not forget that Bridgetown is equally famous for its food trucks corralled into pods. One of the best pods in town is Cartopia at the corner of SE Hawthorne Boulevard and 12th Avenue. Carts include Whiffie’s Fried Pies, Perreira Creperie, PBJ’s Grilled and Potato Champion, basically numerous ways to cram bacon into types of food you loved enough already (although to give the crepe cart its due, it makes one with chocolate and prosciutto).
Across the river in downtown, the largest and most mind-boggling pod of all begins at SW Washington Street and 10th Avenue (but stretches over several blocks). It’s where you’ll find Nong’s Khao Man Gai, perhaps the most legendary cart thanks to its simple yet substantial dish (yes, there’s just one dish) that’s essentially chicken and rice but flavored to the hilt courtesy of that sauce riddled with thai chiles, garlic, ginger and more.
Around the corner is one of the McMenamin’s brewpubs and hotels, The Crystal Ballroom, Brewery and Hotel (1332 West Burnside St.). The McMenamin Brothers are quintessential Portland—independently entrepreneurial, a bit oddball and lovers of fresh beer—and helped kickstart the whole Beervana thing by opening the state’s first brewpub. But The Crystal, which occupies a former cotillion hall from 1914, also includes one of the city’s best concert venues, plus Al’s Den in the hotel’s basement with nightly live music. All 51 hotel rooms are painted in honor of past performers. The six-barrel brewery supplies some exclusive beers—look for the Mad Hatter’s Imperial IPA—at numerous on-site bars. The soaking pool, however, is for guests only.
Being Portland, it goes without saying that there are seven other breweries within easy walking distance, but after a full day exploring, let’s focus just on the ones within four blocks. Fat Head’s (131 NW 13th Ave.) is the new import brewpub from Cleveland, because in a city where IPAs reign and there’s practically hops in our rain, we needed some Head Hunter IPA.
Then there are the twin imports from the Central Oregon city of Bend—Deschutes (210 NW 11th Ave.) and 10 Barrel (1411 NW Flanders St.), which is expected to be open in time for CBC. If you’re looking for a beer trip excursion away from the over-the-top beer destination that is Portland, Bend, with its 20 breweries, is an excellent place to start. Perhaps more of them will open satellite pubs in this corner of Brewtopia. There aren’t any Portland-bred breweries in the Pearl yet, but much like CBC, we welcome all manner of brewers with open arms and beers with open mouths.
Brian Yaeger is the author of Oregon Breweries and Red, White, and Brew: An American Beer Odyssey.