There’s no better place for beer lovers than Oregon’s top city | by Jason Foster
Portland, Oregon unquestioningly has the most vibrant beer scene in North America. I was in the city recently, so of course I spent a few days visiting breweries, frequenting pubs and generally soaking in its beer-y atmosphere.
Portland is a city of about 600,000 famous for its progressive politics, environmental consciousness and devotion to local products. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that a city that embraces local food, local art and local economic development is also a huge supporter of local beer. There are 53 (!) breweries within the city boundaries, and their beverages span the breadth and width of the beer world.
Last year, craft beer made up 45 per cent of all beer sold in Portland. That’s more than ABInbev and SABMiller, the two largest beer corporations in the world, combined. As an experiment, I wandered into an average sports bar — full of big-screen televisions, framed jerseys and a crapload of Bud and Coors Light paraphernalia decorating the walls — to see what they had on offer. To my surprise, two-thirds of their taps were devoted to local beer, and they even had THREE different IPAs.
Portland is a playground for beer geeks. You could spend three months there and still not get to try every delicious beer available. So at best, this overview is really just a partial accounting of all the awesome lagers, stouts, IPAs and other styles in this town.
Beer pubs in Portland are generally casual, unassuming and let the beer do the talking. Any number of them would be considered world-class, and the good news is you don’t have to walk far to find a decent place. Tap lists of 50, 60 or even 70 aren’t uncommon, but often the places with fewer taps are best.
Bailey’s Taproom is a popular downtown location. Small, hip and friendly, it has 24 constantly rotating taps, and they emphasize Oregon craft beer. It’s a good spot for both younger hipsters and older beer aficionados looking for rare beer (that’s the category I fall into). Oregon mainstay Deschutes has a pub nearby that offers some of its best beer on tap as well as exclusive specials.
I spent a fair bit of time in the inner east end, across the Williamette River from downtown. There you can spend time at the Green Dragon, where you have the desirable choice of 50 taps of craft beer, one of the six beers made by onsite Buchman’s Botanical Brewery (owned by Rogue Ales) or the house Green Dragon Brew Crew beer, which is a homebrewer-created rotational released every Wednesday.
Then there’s Apex Bar, an unassuming spot that may have the single best tap list I’ve ever seen. Fifty taps, all constantly rotating, offer the best in Oregon and west coast beer, with smatterings of high-quality products from elsewhere.
Kitty-corner from Apex is The Beer Mongers. Officially a “bottle shop” (meaning a retail shop specializing in beer), it’s far more than a liquor store — more like a hybrid store/pub. They have eight taps, meaning you can sip on a beer while browsing the coolers for bottled products. You can even buy a bottle and drink it on the spot.
Then there are the breweries, far too many to mention here. The oldest and biggest is Widmer Brothers Brewing, formed in 1984. They can legitimately claim their hefeweizen is America’s first cloudy beer since before prohibition, and it remains a decent weizen. They continue to be a safe introduction to craft beer.
Bolder breweries include The Commons, Hair of the Dog, Alameda, Ecliptic and Laurelwood. And if you want really out-there beer, give Cascade Barrel House, a brewery devoted almost exclusively to barrel-aged sour beer, a try. Just be prepared to have your cheeks pucker.
Try to imagine something like that in Canada!
Above all, the northwest U.S. is famous for its addiction to mega-hoppy beer: IPAs there are like pale lagers in our part of the world. I tasted many, many great IPAs, and I won’t try to say one was “better” than another — but I can say the ones I most appreciated included Laurelwood’s Workhorse IPA, pFriem’s Down Under IPA and Mazama Hop Eruption IPA.
But the great thing about Portland is that every possible style of beer can be found, from porters and stouts to pilsners and Belgian ales.
Among it all I think the beer that may have left the biggest impression with me was Hair of the Dog Adam, a dark old ale that’s both complex and deceptively gentle. A masterpiece.
Supporting local breweries, nurturing a local beer culture and encouraging a diversity of atmospheres and approaches to beer. Man, I love this town.