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Monday, October 10, 2016

Why Locals Say Breakside is Portland's Best

Over the past couple years, I've welcomed a number of national and foreign beer dignitaries who've made the trek to far Portland. Rarely do they visit long enough to sample from the full range of good breweries we have in Portland (nevermind Oregon). So of course they want to see our best. But best is a funny thing. Two stops on just about every visitor's agenda are Cascade and Hair of the Dog. No one is going to argue that these aren't excellent breweries, but they make very particular kinds of beers--boozy, super intense, and not particularly sessionable. Special occasion beers. (I even met Brewery History editor Tim Holt at Cascade, and The Kernel's Toby Munn at Hair of the Dog.)

Photo by Ezra Johnson-Greenough, who has a great
report on the GABF at the New School

When you live in a town and spend most of your time drinking in sessions, you appreciate different things. You appreciate those breweries that can deliver the goods no matter what the beer is-- do a top shelf kölsch, IPA, barrel-aged wild ale, kettle-soured German ale, saison, and a stout, and you have achieved something rare. A good metric for this is that moment when you're standing in front of a barroom taplist and see an unfamiliar beer from a familiar brewery. Do you order it immediately or wonder if it's actually in the brewery's wheelhouse?

If you asked a dozen beer geeks in Portland to name city's the best brewery, I'd be surprised if half didn't say Breakside, and if you gave them top five, probably 11 would include Dekum Street's finest. It rewards the repeated visits locals give it, when, over the course of a year as their mood passes through all these different styles, they sample broadly. That's when beers like kölsches pop--when you're really craving one. If you go to a city looking to be wowed by the best breweries and the most sublime beers, a kölsch is going to be a hard style to make the case.

I bring all of this up because over the weekend Breakside picked up three more medals at the GABF, and the distribution of their nine medals is pretty representative of why we admire them (asterisks equal 2016) :
  • Rye beer*
  • English pale* (two different years)
  • "Australian-Style or International-Style Pale Ale" (Their session IPA)*
  • German-style sour ale
  • Dry stout
  • American-style IPA
  • English-style mild ale
  • American-style strong pale ale
Breakside is that extremely rare brewery that continues to be on the leading edge of palate evolution but one that can brew absolutely any style very well (in Oregon, the only other brewery that achieves it is Block 15). If you are an out-of-towner planning a trip to Portland and you've seen all the hype this brewery gets, you may well leave with a more vivid memory of the visit to Cascade and wonder what all the Breakside fuss was about. It's not the kind of brewery that specializes in the show-stopping special-occasion beers tourists love; it makes beer locals learn to appreciate over the months and years they spend drinking Breakside's uniformly accomplished beers. Now you know.


Oregon took home 21 medals this year, and congrats to everyone who scored some bling. Special kudos to Matt Van Wyk, who picked up a gold in brett beer category with his brand-new project, Alesong.


  1. Abaolutely accurate.

  2. Don't drink Breakside enough to agree or disagree. Mine would be Lompoc. Even better would be a post about how many breweries like this are still around. The kind that focus on making beers that local love, over a broad number of styles. Laurelwood? Lompoc? Who else is out there and is doing it well, Jeff?