A lot of people come to Portland on vacation. A lot of them want good beer. Unfortunately, very few of them have the kind of time and money it would take to do a thorough tour. They--perhaps you--must therefore be choosy. But how? Look no further than your friendly neighborhood blogger. Below is the second in a series of neighborhood-based pub crawls that will take you through the best the city has to offer (here's the first). Today we go to the heart of Beervana. If you can only do one pub crawl in Portland, this is the one to do. It will give you the broadest sense of what is available in the city, beerwise.
Getting There and Back
Today's crawl happens just across downtown in Portland's Southeast. Starting downtown, take a short walk across the Morrison Bridge to stop #1. If you aren't up for walking, hop the Number 15 Bus (Belmont) and ride to 11th and Belmont. This puts you one block from stop #3 on the pub crawl, and you can navigate from there. Once you've landed, everything else can be reached by foot. If you do end up at Burnside Brewing, it is on a direct bus line. Hop the 2o or 12 and it will take you back across the bridge to downtown. (Click map to enlarge.)
Stop 1: Hair of the Dog Brewing (61 SE Yamhill)
There are a few stops along Portland's beer trail that locals consider hallowed ground. One is Hair of the Dog, a ground-breaking brewery that was doing 2011 beer in 1994. The founding brewer, Alan Sprints, is famous for producing tiny batches of huge beer, each lovingly tended (if sometimes faultily bottled). In addition to the succulent regular beers (Adam, Fred, Doggie Claws, Blue Dot), you'll find barrel-aged versions, specialty beers, and even small beers (Little Adam and Little Fred). The pub overlooks downtown and there's a great (if small) menu, to boot. (Fuller review here.)
Stop 2: Lucky Labrador (915 SE Hawthorne)
The Lucky Lab might be considered hallowed ground in Portland, too--for a different reason. Founded just a couple months after Alan Sprints sold his first beer, the Lab is the quintessential Portland brewpub. Its vibe has been echoed many times in the years since it was founded--though the porch outside, where dogs are as welcome as their owners, remains a unique feature in the Rose City's beerscape. The Northwest was destined to be a hophead's paradise, but the Lab did its part in making that a reality. Their beers are old-school hoppy, as green and bitter as the July days are long. As a tuning fork for understanding the city and its culture, you must spend an hour at the Lab. (Full review here.)
Stop 3: Cascade Barrel House (939 SE Belmont)
Ready for a change of pace? Ron Gansberg was the diligent brewer in the Beaverton-based Raccoon Lodge for years and years. He made the kinds of easy-drinking ales suburban drinkers like. Eventually, he began to tinker with sour ales. He bought a few barrels and started aging and blending. He added fruit to the mix. His collection of barrels expanded to include bourbon barrels and wine barrels. The beers he made were huge, very complex, and very much not the easy-drinking ales suburban drinkers crave. Owner Art Larrance recognized that Gansberg's side project had become the brewery's signature line, and so he opened up a new outlet at ground zero for beer geekiness. All of Gansberg's regular sours are here, plus two special cask blends, plus a few regular ales. It's a great space, and the menu goes nicely with the sour ales. (Fuller review here.)
Stop 4: Burnside Brewing (701 E Burnside)
The last stop on the crawl takes you to one of the newest breweries in Portland. If Hair of the Dog and the Lucky Lab show you where Beervana came from, Burnside points the way to the future. That future includes changes in beer and brewpubs, both evident at Burnside. For a generation, the brewpub experience was predicated on beer; as an afterthought, the pub offered a menu of burgers, sandwiches, and maybe a plate of fish and chips. Burnside has placed its focus as much on food as beer, and the menu reads like many newer restaurants. The beer is not brewed in isolation from the menu, either. Brewer Jason McAdam has abandoned the hops arms race and crafted a line of beers that pair nicely with the menu. He's a fan of smaller beers and of herbs and spices--definitely not the usual fare. (Fuller, but not very full review, here.)
This neighborhood is just thick with pubs. Even if you walk into a dive, you'll find a decent selection of good beer--probably better than in 75% of American pubs. If something doesn't thrill you on this list, here are a few alternatives:
- Green Dragon (928 SE 9th). The Green Dragon was an aspirational pub that aimed to be a brewpub one day. It ran into financial difficulties and Rogue snapped it up, adding a tiny brewery recently. Rogue more or less kept it as it was--an alehouse with an extensive list of taps. They even added more, and the total is now 50--almost none devoted to Rogue's beers. This would be on the list if it were in any other part of the city.
- Produce Row (204 SE Oak). This was one of the McMenamins' first pubs way, way back in the day. They sold it before there was a McMenamins, but it's always had a funky vibe and a great beer list. Ownership recently turned over, and it was spruced up a bit.
- Basement Pub (1028 SE 12th) and Roadside Attraction (1000 SE 12th). These two little pubs are right next to each other on 12th, and both have nice beer lists. Roadside Attraction is the more intriguing of the two, all for its ambiance: a warren-like space filled with strange tchotchkes and decorations.
A Little Further Out (Other other possibilities)
The pub crawl listed here is located between SE 12th and the River. A bit further out, along the spine of 28th Ave, there is a whole different trove of breweries and pubs.
- Coalition Brewing (2724 SE Ankeny). Another of the newer breweries, with a nice menu, nice patio, and very nice maple porter.
- Spints Alehouse (401 NE 28th). One of Portland's newer gastropubs, with a menu focused hearty German-inflected cuisine.
- Migration Brewing (2828 NE Glisan). Migration opened with beer quality issues but has since become a solid destination. The spaces is great and they have a nice list of guest taps.
- Also, Beulahland (118 NE 28th) and the Laurelthirst (2958 NE Glisan) are cool neighborhood bars with impressive beer lists.
What to Avoid
It is a testament to this part of the city that there's really nothing to avoid--even dive bars, bowling alleys, and corner cafes will offer you decent-to-spectacular beers. But be advised: for every minute you're off the beaten track, that's a minute you're not experiencing the best of Beervana.