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Friday, December 18, 2009

Challenge: Five Beers in Portland

A blogger writes:
A challenge: Say someone (like me, perhaps) will be in Portland for a week around Christmas. What are the top five can't-miss Oregon beers for an out-of-state visitor? I thought this might make for a good blog post for you. I would disregard the beers widely distributed out of state, like Black Butte Porter, for example.
This is the kind of thing beer geeks enjoy--barking out recommendations someone may actually heed. Okay, here goes. If a person comes to Beervana, my recommendations will be based on a belief that no beer tastes as good as when its served on tap (or cask) at a warm, pleasant pub. Therefore, my suggestions involve ferrying yourself around Portland. Hey, you asked.

1. Adam, Hair of the Dog Brewery. If you give Alan Sprints a heads up, you can visit the Hair of the Dog brewery, which is always a treat. I've selected Adam as my choice cut, but if you go, Alan is very likely to offer you something interesting while you're there. Drink that. Permissible substitution: Four, Upright Brewing. Upright has a tasting room, which is actually just the brewery (that's a plus, incidentally). It's only open afternoons on the weekend, but my guess is that you could contact brewer Alex Ganum beforehand for a tour if you couldn't make those times. Same advice as with HotD: you may be offered something interesting while you're there so don't be slavish with this recommendation: try whatever's on offer. In both cases, you can buy a bottle of Adam and Four to go. [UPDATE: Hair of the Dog has moved to a snazzy new place at 61 SE Yamhill Street, and you no longer have to call ahead; it has a tasting room.]

2. Bachelor Bitter, cask, Deschutes Brewery. Bachelor Bitter is a triumph of understatement, and few beers taste as good on cask--and how could you go to a beery locale without trying something local on cask? Permissible substitution: ESB, cask, BridgePort (either NW or Hawthorne). Another beer that sings most purely on cask. These are two pillars of my regular rotation, and my go-to beers when I want a cask tipple.

3. Black Lab Stout, Lucky Lab. This isn't the best stout in the city, but it's the best stout in the most pleasant pub in the city. I think it's just wrong for someone to come to Beervana and miss the Lucky Lab. Permissible substitution: Imperial Stout, Roots. This is actually one of the best beers in the city, never mind the groovy, laid-back warmth of the pub, which is also a draw, and comparable in ways to the neighboring Lab. Yes, I've heard the recent complaints about Roots, but it will be a cold day in hell before I abandon Craig Nicholls. [Update: Roots has gone out of business, so try a Shakespeare Stout at the Rogue on NW Flanders instead.]

4. DOA, Hopworks. Actually, if I were heading there myself, I'd try Kronan the Barbarian Baltic Porter, for I haven't had the luxury yet. But of the regular Hopworks beers, I like this kind of crazy, strong comfort meal of a beer. It's in one of the newer brewpubs, a must for anyone who wants to get a sense of the local ethos. Beer and bikes--a classic Portland combo. Permissible substitution: Workhorse IPA, Laurelwood. Laurelwood was founded by Christian Ettinger, who went on to found Hopworks, so this is all in the family. I select Workhorse IPA because last year it beat 63 other IPAs across the nation in a blind-tasting tournament. And when in Oregon, you should try an IPA--it's easily the state's fave style. In Ettinger's absence, Chad Kennedy has stepped in to produce some of the most reliably good beers in the city.

5. Younger's Special Bitter, cask, Horse Brass Pub. There is no more important shrine to beer than the Horse Brass, which has been serving good beer since before it was brewed here. Rogue made this beer especially for the founder and local beer legend Don Younger, and nothing tastes finer with a scotch egg than a cask pour of the house brew. Permissible substitution: There are so many fine beers bars in this city that you should probably find the time to step into one and order the tastiest local offering you see. Any of these places are guaranteed to have something special on tap: Bailey's Taproom, Belmont Station, Concordia Alehouse, Eastburn, Green Dragon, or Saraveza.

I know I've already cheated and gotten ten recommendations for five slots, but I'm not done cheating. I would have recommended going to Cascade for some sour ales, but they don't have them on tap. You could still head out and buy one of the bottles (this year's Kriek was exceptional; the Apricot Ale is always fantastic), or grab one at Belmont Station (also a bottle shop).

Finally, you didn't mention anything about needing to eat, but if you do, you could try Higgins, a landmark restaurant that pioneered local cuisine and which has 20 taps and 100 bottled beers, the Pilsner Room, a joint project of McCormick and Schmick's and Full Sail, where happy hour will get you a $3 half-pound burger, and the regular menu will get you wonderful local seafood, or the Widmer Gasthaus, where you'll find great beer not available in grocery aisles along with tasty, hearty German food.

Addresses and directions for all of these places can be found at the Beer Mapping Project.

I believe I have failed the challenge, but perhaps visitors will appreciate that. Others feel free to weigh in--what would you recommend?


  1. Horse Brass and Belmont Station are must-stops for any visiting beer lover. Lucky Lab and Roots are places that my visiting friends are always taken to before they leave.

  2. Hopworks Urban Brewery's Pilsner is the best I had.

    The restaurant is family friendly.

  3. Deschutes also has The Abyss on tap now.

  4. I would include Bailey's Tap House as a must-stop to any visitor.

  5. Certainly limiting it to five is difficult. I will approach my list with an eye towards distinctive beers in favorite spots.

    1. Abyss - a world class beer available in Deschutes' classic NW style brewpub, which affords the opportunity to try a number of other pub-only beers.

    2. Agree with Jeff's selection of Adam at HOD or Four at Upright. Either gives you a chance to get up close and personal with the brewery and his great products.

    3. I would recommend a trip to the Lompoc Sidebar on a Friday or Saturday afternoon for a barrel aged CSon's Greetings or any of the other excellent barrel aged brews being crafted in that room. Bonus: usually a brewer on site.

    4. Gonna cheat here and send them out to Hood River to have a goblet of Terrible Two and some stellar pizza at Double Mountain. Bonus: Trip through the gorge.

    5. Seems like the person is coming from out of town and should definitely have a classic NW style IPA: For that I would recommend they hit up Horse Brass, Bailey's, Belmont Station and/or Green Dragon!

    Ahhhh, love the options.

  6. I think Laurelwood's Free Range Red is a good way to impress a visitor. And I would recommend Laurelwood's Workhorse IPA over Hopworks DOA, so therefore something from Laurelwood would be on my top 5.

    Also, I wouldn't even give a possible substitution for the Bachelor ESB, just make them try it and leave it at that.

    But definitely no visitor should miss Belmont Station or Horse Brass: they are part of Portland's Bermuda Triangle -

  7. Eric, I almost went with the Free Range Red--it's their signature beer. But I figured we had to get an IPA in there. Still, visitors will make up their own minds. And perhaps listen to commenters before they'll listen to me--so keep lobbying.

  8. I was there this summer for a work conference...I didn't get much work done. My local friend (who drove me around) called it a "beercation." I wish I had those recs.

  9. A nice road trip taster can be nice as well...Cruise up past Mt. Hood in Government Camp, around to Double Mountain, across to Walking Man, and back over to Edgefield if you didn't get pizza at Double Mountain.

    Back in town, Green Dragon or Horse Brass always seem to have a more pleasant atmosphere than Concordia, which is unfortunate for me bacause Concordia is far more conveniently located.

    Another feel for Portland sort of cruise is to start at Ron Tom's and head up Burnside, stopping at B-side, Noble Rot, The Farm, Union Jack's, Doug Fir, Sandy Hut, and Voodoo Donuts. But I've strayed from beer kinda.

  10. Thanks for the suggestions, Jeff. I've had the pleasure of drinking at Deschutes and Hopworks on previous visits, but not those particular beers. I'll see what I can do.

  11. Soggy--that's why I offered possible subs!

  12. I can't imagine a more difficult post to address1 Irrespective, I'll give my two cents...(I left out the usual suspect Beer Bars/Stores, re the Brass, Bier Cafe @ Belmont, etc).

    1-HOTD. Alan is the most gracious host I know, and you should grab some Beervana swag to impress your locals when you get back home. I'd recommend Fred from the Wood, though the Cherry Adam is divine.

    2-HUB. Kronan is a divine XMas ale, and the regular offering superb. Excellent pub grub.

    3-Cascade/Raccoon Lodge. Even if the sours aren't on tap (I was able to enjoy Nightfall the last two visits), the Gose is superb. I hear Vlad the Imp Paler is going to be bottled soon.

    4-Laurelwood/Public House 51st/Sandy. I went in Thursday and saw Deranger on tap. Sadly it was gone. Whine, Whine, though Workhorse may be my favore DIPA in town (other than Blue Dot).

    5-Upright. Alex is a close second to Alan in terms of hospitality. $2 glasses make this the best value in town, esp. when the Blazers are playing at home.

    I could certainly come up with more ideas, but then you need to enjoy the voyage....