Welcome to Portland, Oregon, whose nine bridges span the Willamette River and fan out into historic east side neighborhoods, providing easy access to unique beer experiences. With more than 70 breweries within the city limits and another 105 in the surrounding metro area, Portland is a beer mecca. And with great, affordable transit and a well-established bicycle culture, getting around Portland to enjoy all that beer safely couldn’t be easier.
A new train route over the beautiful Tilikum Crossing—a cable-stay suspension bridge built specifically for pedestrians, bicycles, and transit—takes you to Milwaukie, home of Breakside Brewery.
Unique to this brewery are two silky-smooth gin-barrel-aged beers. The Pathfinder is a golden Double IPA that starts off at about 8%, ages in gin barrels for more than 6 months, and is then blended with some fresh hoppy beer and finished with dry hops. The final beer is 8.7%, unbelievably smooth, and very fragrant with a creamy mouth feel and Creamsicle and peach notes. Apollo & Dionysus is a saison aged in gin barrels for 9 months and then cold conditioned in stainless steel for 18 months. The result is a rich beer full of beautiful florals with botanicals from the gin (9.7%). La Tormenta, a dry-hopped sour ale, and Bourbon Barrel-Aged Aztec (with chilies and chocolate), are unique and worth a try. The Aztec has a wonderful afterburn on the swallow.
This southern brewery also has a connection in the northeast, where its smaller sister, Dekum Pub, supplements its taps with many of the Milwaukie location’s brews. I recommend a visit to both.
Next was a visit with brewmaster Shane Watterson of Laurelwood Brewing, which produces an amazing lineup of organic beers and some of the most mouth-watering pub food in the Pacific Northwest. The juicy Brewers Burger was full of crispy onions and bacon and complemented by melt-in-your-mouth battered garlic fries, and the fish tacos were over-the-top delicious. For beer, I recommend the Laurelwood IPA or the Tree Hugger Porter. Good thing I was just visiting; I’d soon put on a few pounds if this were my go-to beer & burger pub!
Nearby was Burnside Brewing, where delicious beers are paired with cured meats and charcuterie to make for a wonderful culinary experience. Executive chef Jimmy Askren and brewmaster Jason McAdam put their creative heads together to make sure your experience is truly unique. Burnside “takes an alchemist approach to enhance the craft beer and culinary experience”, and the 15-barrel brewery produces several award-winning beers, including lagers, ESB, IPA and Bock.
This one-day tour ended at Hopworks Urban Brewery (HUB), where marketing manager Eric Steen toured me through the brewery and the philosophy of operating an environmentally responsible, large-scale craft brewery. In 2015, HUB produced 13,500 barrels of beer and 500 barrels of cider. One outstanding feature of the brewery is its low water intensity. The industry average in the USA is to use 6 to 7 gallons of water for every gallon of beer produced. HUB has reduced its intensity to 3.39 gallons of water per gallon of beer. They save hundreds of thousands of gallons of water wastage every year by recycling water up to five times, which also saves on energy needed to heat the water.
Upstairs in the pub, I needed food to cushion the blow of the sample tray of fifteen 4-ounce tasters—nearly four times the size of a regular flight. My huge legendary gourmet pizza was a perfect balance of sauce, herbs, spices, pepperoni, salami, mushrooms and mozzarella, and paired well with all the beer.
I asked Jason McAdam, owner and brewer of Burnside, if it’s still good value for BC beer fans to come to Portland to drink the beer and eat the food. “Yeah, I think so,” he said. “Oregon is different from Washington and from B.C. We are all part of Cascadia, yet we each have our own cultures. There are things that you can get in Oregon that you can’t get in Washington or BC, and that makes it worthwhile.”
While I was dealing with 60 ounces of beer and an 18-inch pizza, my writing partner messaged me. Her plane was delayed, and she wouldn’t arrive until after 11 pm. Could I possibly do a cocktail and dinner review for her? I had the pub box up the pizza and went to dress for my dinner review. This is a tough job sometimes: work, work, work!
I learned a lot in four breweries and pubs in six hours, and Portland has many more bridges to cross and breweries to discover.