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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

New Places: Hawthorne Hophouse, Columbia River Brewing, and the Guild

The Oregonian recently published a fascinating chart. It showed the vacancies of commercial spaces throughout the city over three time periods. I can't find it for you and I don't recall the details. The upshot, though, was that within East Portland, vacancies have fallen during the recent economic catastrophe. I suspect all those new businesses are involved in brewing or selling beer--anyway, based on all the new places opening lately, it sure seems like it. Below are a few quickie reviews are a few of the new places I've visited recently.

Hawthorne Hophouse (4111 SE Hawthorne)
I'm not sure what the Beeronomist would say about this, but I've observed a trend I suspect reflects market impulses. Portland is already the most-breweried city in the world. If you're a beer lover who wants to open you own place, it makes far more sense to forgo the brewery and just serve surfeit of great beer brewed locally. And so many people have concluded: alehouses are the new brewpub.

Into this crowded field comes the Hawthorne Hophouse, and it makes quite a debut. I visited when Widmer and the Brew Crew released their latest Collaborator. (Actually a throwback to the first-ever Collaborator, a sweet, spiced Dubbel. I found it a bit cloying and one-dimensional; a useful exercise in showing how far Belgian ales have come in 12 years, but not my first choice for a winter pour.) The space is located in a little strip mall that was mostly derelict until recently, and from the outside it doesn't seem especially promising. Walk through the doors, though, and you're greeted by a wonderfully inviting space. On the winter night I visited, it was cozy and warming. With lots of windows, I suspect it will feel light and airy in the summer. Another huge bonus is the tap list--24 handles devoted almost exclusively to Northwest beers. Lots of nanos, some rare beers, and a few classics. I didn't have food, but it gets generally positive appraisals from the Yelpsters. Definitely a welcome addition to Portland's beer scene, and a place I'll visit regularly.

Guild Public House (1101 East Burnside)
There are a lot of pubs in Portland, and most of them serve good beer. They don't get a mention on my blog because, honestly, there are just too damn many of them. But the Guild does! In rank partisanship, I want to review it because my friend Jesse Cornett is one of the owners. (I have no financial stake in it, though, full disclosure.) It's located on the ground floor of the Burnside Rocket building--the one which is crowned by the Noble Rot. The environment is very urban; black and sleek inside, huge picture windows looking out onto a concrete and automotive tableau. One can retire to the loft upstairs, where there is a comfy sectional couch and a nice flat screen. (Ideal, I discovered, for watching the Packers in a living-room like environment.) The menu features great pulled pork and Gorgonzola sandwiches and a well-selected taplist of eight or so beers. I want to give a special shout-out to the wait staff, who have been absolutely stellar. I watched the Ducks game and the State of the Union speech (owing to Jesse's political roots, it may well become a pol-watching hangout) there and the waiters handled crowds with grace and good humor.

Columbia River Brewing (1728 NE 40th Ave)
The final stop on our mini-tour is a baffling one. Columbia River Brewing has taken over the former Laurelwood Pizza spot--the original Laurelwood location. As such, it is a familiar experience to walk in. Everything looks the same: tables and bar in the same place, brewery in the back. The menu is different, of course, and so are the beers. Still, I felt instantly at home. Check and check.

Before I get to the troublesome aspect, let me praise the food. Sally had a sandwich and salad which she praised in high terms (and she's tough). I had the halibut fish and chips, and they were excellent--the fish was fresh and the chips weren't greasy. It's traditional pub grub, but done better than most.

Ah, but the beer. I am not sure what to make of it. Recall that CRB sent a very tasty porter to the Holiday Ale Fest--I did as I sat down to a taster tray of the ten (!) beers currently pouring (a bock, Vienna lager, Irish red, golden, ESB, pale ale, stout, IPA, DIPA, and dubbel). As far as I could tell, the recipes were well-designed. The double IPA used five hop infusions, for example (the waiter happened to tell us about it). The Vienna was a beautiful burnished red. The stout, rich and chocolately. The problems were two. First, all the beers seemed to have a harsh, chemical note. I'm still not sure how to describe it--something like grain huskiness gone mad. Each beer seemed to have it in roughly the same proportion (which meant the bigger, hoppier ones were less affected.) The second problem was--I think!--DMS. My palate is almost wholly insensitive to DMS (diacetyl I can spot at ten feet), but Sally was getting a very strong flavor in all the beers. We talked it through, and it seemed to match DMS.

I've trawled the internets and seen no criticism. Angelo, in fact, has a huge rave following a visit a couple months ago. (Pointedly: "Each beer tested was, across the board, clean, crisp and full-flavored.") I am left wondering if I'm insane or there was something momentarily off in the system. Both seem equally plausible.

I'd love to hear your impressions if you've stopped in. A most curious riddle.


  1. I agree on Hophouse. It is a fantastic addition. I was a bit suspect of the location and having another multitap alehouse so close to Horse Brass, but the place totally won me over.

    I also partially agree on CRB, I agree that the beer definitely has issues, I have the double and regular IPA and both had a funky thing (I'd call it soapy) going on. I do disagree with the food though, I thought it was very middle-of-the-road pub fair at a higher price point. I'm surprised that the experience made me miss greatly miss the old Laurelwood so much. With so many beer options, I'll be shocked if CRB makes it through 2011.

  2. Ugh. I need an editor...

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Well at least we know you're not an insider spamming up good reviews for CRB.

    A newish placed opened near me in NE called The Hop Haven. It's on NE Broadway. They don't have a website, but I've heard mixed things. Not sure if I'll be stopping in to spend my money there.

  5. My two cents regarding the Hop House:

    1: It suffers from Laurelwood syndrome, but at least at LW all the kids are spread out a bit. Inside the much smaller Hop House the cacophony of screaming children and cooing mothers is almost painful. Hopefully this will be less of an issue in the warmer months when they can open the big garage door and let some of the noise (and kids) outside.

    I know how hard it is for families with young kids to go out for a pint, so I don't begrudge them wanting to have a family friendly pub, but it ultimately means that I (and most of the childless people I've spoken to) won't be visiting before 9 or 10 pm.

    2. Their pricing structure leaves me confused, especially given the area. Everything above 7-8% was priced at $3.75 for a 10oz (I believe) glass. Why would I pay that much for a 10oz pour of C-Note, Breakside Cream Ale, or Burnside IPA when I could go to the Brass and get a 20oz pint of the same thing for $4.75? Double the beer for $1 more? Yes please.

    I'm all for smaller pours on stronger beers (I like variety), but the price needs to be low enough to convince me to buy 2 small glasses vs. 1 full pint.

    All that said, I do honestly like having another addition to my neighborhood (it's maybe 8 blocks from my house), and I'll probably visit semi-regularly, but these issues will make me much pickier about when I go and what I drink.

  6. I have really been enjoying CRB. I've been maybe 3-4 times. I think the food is pretty good, and generally better than average for a brewpub.

    Their holiday porter was amazing, but the rest of the beers, while not funky tasting imo, were nothing special.

    I love the staff & the service, though. They have been great everytime I went, even when I brought a rowdy crew of 12 with me!

  7. Thanks for the mention on the Hophouse (I'm Leah, an owner). I can address the points by the other respondents on the Hophouse at another time, but I wanted to talk about CRB because I'm surprised about the range of reactions out there.
    True, CRB had big shoes to fill. So my hopes were high. Maybe that was part of the problem. The day I went (with my rowdy kids, I might add), we all ate a big lunch and tried all the beers. The lunch was just "okay". I thought it was expensive for the quality of the food, but then again, I'm cheap. I'm glad you had a better experience.
    But the beer is what I really want to talk about... there was something up with the beer. We couldn't figure it out either. Maybe over-filtration, maybe the styles are too boring. Maybe it's the chemicals. They all blended together (figuratively, of course), there was only one that I thought stood out, and it was a lager (gasp!). I've talked to a couple of brewers about this privately, and nobody wants to say anything bad about CRB's beer, but...
    I think we're all sympathetic to what the new owners are trying to do - start a new brewery in what used to be a fantastic, quality establishment. Hopefully CRB will figure things out quickly and improve the quality of their product. Maybe if we weren't all such beer snobs, and we didn't have such glorious new beer being made all over Portland right now, and CRB hadn't moved into the Laurelwood spot, we'd give them more of a chance to work out the kinks in their system. I sincerely hope they figure it out and make it, because I think there is plenty of room for more good beer in this town.