I traveled to Portland April 14-18 for the Brewers Association’s 2015 Craft Brewers Conference.
While education and networking were paramount on the agenda, one would be crazy if they thought I didn’t possess a separate list in my pocket for after-hours entertainment. Though I attended the opening reception (almost too crowded to enjoy) and one of Lagunitas’ two revelries at the Bossanova Ballroom (awesome), my companions and I managed to hit eight breweries, one cidery and one heavenly biscuit shop. Here’s the run-down, and there isn’t a spot on this list that I wouldn’t recommend:
The armchair brewery owner in me has looked admiringly from afar at what this place is. Situated in an urban setting but with a decidedly farmhouse lineup, Upright met my expectations to the fullest extent. Serving up a good half-dozen riffs on the saison style, it was easy to get my attention; the beers I tried were excellent. The tap room is a modest affair without even a bar to which one might belly up. Set in a basement with low ceilings and very little seating, patrons are sprinkled about the entire brewery chatting in an upright position while a staff member pours beer after beer to an endless line of beer enthusiast in the know.
This was my second trip to Portland, and I made it a point to hit Cascade Barrel House for the second time in my life because I so enjoyed it when I visited back in 2011. To me it was an essential stop for my drinking companions and to satisfy my own sour beer selfishness. Judging by the crowds as well as the word on the street, I was not alone. Cascade did not disappoint. What did I have? I do not remember, and it doesn’t matter. This place is solid, and I left feeling sorry in two ways. One, that I could not spend more time here working my way through the sour lineup, and two, that I couldn’t be bothered to ignore the sours for the brewery’s regular lineup. I’m sure the “regular” beers are anything but regular, but to find out the truth, one would need to consult a regular, someone local with the time to explore this wonderful location at leisure. I’m jealous.
Another farmhouse affair, the Commons was another Portland brewery with buzz from out-of-towners setting their priorities. Time being limited, our stop here was brief, and that is my regret. Brewery after brewery in Portland, I found great joy but a ticking clock. The locals are fortunate indeed in their ability to spend time and soak in the house nuances of The Commons and every other doggone good place throughout the city.
Selected for its close proximity to our room, Coalition was my final stop of the trip. I sampled a few beers and drank an enjoyable pint of their blueberry Berliner Weisse before packing it in to rest for my early morning flight the next day. Like Upright, the taproom was basically the brewhouse, with imbibers perched on kegs and pallet-tables here and there. These setups presented more function than fancy, and there was something I quite liked about it. Beer first, décor second. Here’s our place. Come drink in it. Okay, I will.
Hours being limited, Hair of the Dog (like Upright) was a place I had atop my list of priorities but missed the first time I visited Portland. I wouldn’t allow this to happen on Trip #2. I’m glad I made it. Among other tasties, I had the opportunity to try Double Cherry Adam from the Wood. Like everywhere in Portland, our waitstaff was notably intelligent and well trained, and seemingly like everywhere in Portland, this place closed at like 10 p.m., killing our night prematurely. Could this be my only Portland complaint? Perhaps.
A lengthy urban hike took us to Ecliptic Brewing Company, the starry vision of brewing heavyweight John Harris. Appetite well-worked, we were happy to sit for a meal, quiet conversation with new friends and, well, a much needed rest. I liked my beer and food more than the spacey theme to the place, but then that’s just me and my personal preference for branding and vibe. I’m only just a beer nerd, not also a space nerd.
My wife has a gluten allergy and hasn’t had much beer for three years. What she’s had has been limited and hit-or-miss with regard to excitement level. Further, eating out is always a precarious situation. This being our backdrop, visiting Ground Breaker was a priority, and we were not disappointed. Their beers were quite good, especially the pale ale and Northwest (I think that’s what it was) Brown Ale. And then there was the food, my Cubano was really damn good, gluten-free bread and all.
The Iowa contingent to the CBC organizes an annual Iowa Beer Social, an opportunity for Iowa-born beer folk to hang out and network with their corn-fed comrades. This year that shindig took place at Burnside Brewing Company, thanks to a short list of recommendations from Iowa-born Oregon brewer Matt Van Wyk. Around fifty people with Iowa connections converged on Burnside Brewing, which awesomely boasts an Iowa-born chef. All the beers I had (to include Silence of the Lambs, which is brewed with six lamb hearts just to impress the hell out of my two boys) were excellent, but let me tell you, that Iowa-born chef knows a thing or two about beef cheeks. I ate dinner here and nearly fell over at the tenderness and loveliness and hell-yeah-ness of those incredible freaking beef cheeks. My wife’s tired of hearing about them. And you know what? Tomorrow, she’s going to be even tireder. Because I’m not done.
You might have noticed that I’m a pretty nice guy. Reverend Nat’s was a stop planned for my gluten-free wife, but I’m not the kind of guy that needs to be dragged kicking and screaming to a cider producer. This was a non-beer treat for both of us. The selection was wonderful, with at least three hoppy ciders and who knows how many other apple-derived concoctions. We tried a bunch of them and left with smiley faces all the way around.
I discovered Pine State Biscuits on my first trip to Portland a few years ago, and so as much as for the beer, I looked forward to this trip to Beervana for the biscuits. So strong is my passion for divinely inspired biscuits and gravy, my plane landed at around 9:30 in the morning and by noon I already had my first Reggie Deluxe of the trip on the table before me. I accompanied it with one of my favorite beers of the entire trip: Upright’s Seven. A lengthy to-do list only allowed me back to PSB one more time, but I’d approach it a loud, fist-pumping thumbs up that I made the second visit happen. Pine State Biscuits is one of the most important eateries in the world, and I think you should pay them a visit. If you like biscuits and gravy, you will not be disappointed. If you don’t like biscuits and gravy, there’s something wrong with you.
The final analysis
To be sure, Portland is a bucket list location for any beer lover, but the problem with Portland is its prolific output. One can have a good time hitting a top five or even top ten list of breweries, but you can only scratch the surface on a short trip. If you go to half a dozen breweries over a long weekend’s visit, you still don’t get much below the surface of even your highest priority stops. I think you have to live here to know it very well at all. This is good for those that live there, and this is tragic for everyone else.