Friday, October 5, 2012

On the Oregon Beer Trail

( Yeah, I like beer! )

My post-WBC12 writing is coming in spurts. With so many other things are going on, new wines and meads NEED to be made, my gig with WineMaker Magazine continuing steadily and so many events and activities that pop up suddenly, that it just seems like good writing ideas are coming too fast and too furious to keep up. Such is the life of a food & beverage blogger I guess.

Today I will take you with me (and Margot, my constant co-pilot and gastro-explorer companion) out on the Oregon beer trail as we experienced it during our vacation to the Portland area back in August. We ate while on the trail too, so I'll share a small bite of that as well!

Margot and I love beer. I love wine, and while Margot doesn’t dislike it, beer just works better for her. Good thing I like beer too! Anytime we go on vacation my pre-trip research always includes compiling a list of breweries and brew-pubs to visit. Before leaving for Oregon I compiled quite a list. See for yourself below.
  • BridgePort Brewing
  • Deschutes Brewing
  • Widmer Brothers Brewing (Gashaus Pub)
  • Hopworks Urban Brewery
  • Burnside Brewing
  • Hair of the Dog Brewing
  • Rogue Brewing (brewery in Newport, OR)
  • Lucky Labrador Brewing
  • Rock Bottom Brewing
  • McMenamins Brewing
The list above was compiled using a couple of inputs. We have a fair number of beer-loving friends so some of destinations we had already pulled from Beer Advocate’s web site were confirmed to be solid choices. Additionally we looked for at least a few places that had a reputation for decent food as well. There are many Portland brewpubs to choose from and I’d have to be in town for another whole week to canvas them all! Rogue, and the trip to the coast required to get there, was planned because we both have been drinking beers from Rogue for as long as we can remember being able to get them, and it seemed like something we just had to do.

We didn't get to all the places on the list, we never do and we always have backup choices, but the ones we did get to helped us get a pretty decent picture of why Oregon (and Portland specifically) is known is a beer mecca.

Rogue Brewing

I’ll start with Rogue, and unfortunately it was the place we enjoyed the least. Rogue Brewing was founded in 1988 and is based in Newport, Oregon. They operate brew pubs in Oregon, Washington and California.

I’ve been to the Rogue Public House in San Francisco and felt it represented the brand well, but I had heard mixed reviews of the Public House in Portland so we skipped it. I expected the brewery and the restaurant within it to be their flagship, demonstrating the full character of Rogue Nation, but I just feel like it fell short in presentation. The brewery itself also smelled a bit musty and heady with TCA. That kind of turned me off to the experience, but since I’ve never had a flawed beer from Rogue, I will still support them with my $$. The restaurant is non-descript and right upstairs from the swag shop. Simple presentations can sometimes be the right way, but I was left wondering if making it more like a brew-pub could amp up the experience a bit. Lunch was good, but the best reason to visit, aside from the gorgeous views of the coastline there and back, were the beers on tap; some of which only available at the brewery.

The Single Malt Ale was solid performer for a straightforward golden/blond ale. It is isn't super hoppy and is quite refreshing. I'd see this as a great food pairing beer. The Alluvial Hop Ale is a single hop IPA available on tap at the brewery, and only when there is some available. This beer is a riff on the Chatoe Rogue Wet Hop Ale with just one of the hops found in that product. I found hints of pine and citrus and felt it was also projecting some white wine fruit character. We also tasted Dead Guy, Captain Sig's Ale, a Hefeweizen, Chocolate Stout, Mocha Porter and the Hazelnut Brown Nectar. All of those were repeat tastes for us, but hearing that people blend the Chocolate Stout and Hazelnut Brown Nectar 50/50 to create something called a Rogue Snickers gave those two beers new life for us!

( Margot likes beer and approves this message! )

We had fun making a pilgrimage of sorts and like I said, the coastline drive was a highlight so if you are in the area and want to check out Rogue just know what you might be in for.

Back in Portland we visited five different brewpubs, each offering their own unique character, broad selections of beer and delicious food.

McMenamins Brewing

I picked McMenamins because it has history (founded in 1974, and boasting more than four dozen brewery, restaurant and hotel locations) in the Portland area and I wanted to make sense of the mixed reviews firsthand. We dined at the Broadway location not long after arriving at the hotel for WBC12. There are several other similar locations in different parts of the city and the surrounding boroughs.

I tasted the Ruby Ale, Hammerhead Ale, IPA, Porter, Stout and the Copper Ale which was offered as their seasonal beer. The Ruby Ale, a fruit beer flavored with raspberries, presented as light, fruity beer and would definitely be crisp and refreshing on a hot day. The Hammerhead ale is a solid hopped ale and was better than the IPA which had a big diaceytl nose that dominated my tasting. Both the Porter and Stout are straightforward beers not veering off the central aspects of their styles. The Stout is a great pub beer, something I could drink a couple of out with friends. The Copper Ale is a solid amber beer with light, sweet malts in the nose and just enough bitterness to aid in the crispness.

As much as our stop here was a blur, visiting immediately after arriving in Portland, I can say that our server was friendly, the food was prepared well (I had a pizza and Margot a burger) and while there are no stunners in the beer lineup here, I think the mixed reviews I saw online can't be fully taken to heart when you consider the type and history of the company.

BridgePort Brewing

BridgePort Brewing was founded in 1984 by the Ponzi family, who are still well known locally for their winemaking in the Willamette Valley, and has since been sold to the Gambrinus Company. The downtown brewpub has always been in the current location and their beers are available in less than two dozen US states, New England not amongst them.

( Chalkboard tap lists come all shapes and sizes. This one is particularly pretty. )

The space that BridgePort Brewing is located in is one of the draws. We have plenty of old brick mill and manufacturing buildings in New England and quite a few have been converted into residential and retail space. When done well the charm and history of an old place given new life can contribute to an experience. Bridgeport is located in just such a place. The metal work of the central staircase and the sky lights above it help to open up an otherwise dark building. There aren't any photos to back this up.

Both the food and beer are top notch at Bridgeport. Sadly I didn't take any photos of the food either. I had a pulled pork sandwich, which I very much enjoyed, and I can't remember what Margot had. We came for the beer so I guess that got the majority of our attention!

Many of the beers in my sampler brought the West Coast beer action I was expecting. Hoppy beers are loved on the West Coast, the hoppier the better, and this is often taken to extremes out here so you best be ready.

The Blue Heron was the exception with a gentle dose of hops and a low ABV making for a great summer pale ale. The Kingpin Double Red, served both via CO2 and Nitrogen, is a hoppy red ale with a nice thread of acidity through the finish. The house IPA was next and I found it just as I would have expected. Light in body with plenty of hops, but restrained bitterness. Margot actually liked it, and she doesn't typically like hoppy beers. The Hop Czar, love the name, capped off the hop tour with a nice big dose wrapped in a light bodied beer. No complaints here at all. Each beer was different, well made and tasty.

The remaining beers in my sampler were of the darker variety, but don't count the hops out just yet. The Old Knucklehead Barleywine was throwing up the hops, the Black Pale Ale was dark and hoppy (wonder how the homemade beer with that name compares?) and could not be mistaken for a stout. The final beer was the seasonal, a brown ale with spices and a small share of hops, called Witch Hunt. Everything here was really delicious too so I'd recommend folks stop in for a beer anytime!


Deschutes Brewery was founded in 1988 in Bend, Oregon. As one of the early craft breweries in the state (which saw a resurgence of brewing in the 1980's) Deschutes has grown considerably since the early days to become one of the 25 largest breweries nationwide. But that's the boring stuff. We can't get their beer in New England as their distribution is mostly in the central and western part of the United States, so stopping in a the Portland brewpub was a must do while we were in town.

( Saddled  up to a sampler is the best way to get a feel for a brewery's beers. )

The pub is an open space with lots of windows. It was busy, but there was no real wait. They have 18 taps that cover their standard offerings as well as seasonal and experimental beers that may be brewed at the Portland location and only available there. The dinner menu has a huge range of pub food and we started with the warm pretzel and I went with a local grass fed burger for dinner.

( The pretzel is hiding behind the beers! )

The pretzel comes with a cheese sauce and mustard and with more than two people at the table I would definitely suggest ordering more than one! The burger was cooked very well and the beef itself had so much flavor compared to the usual commercial beef. The presentation was a tad upscale with aioli slathered on the ciabatta bread, local Tillamook cheese, heirloom cherry tomatoes and house-made pickles as toppers. Bravo!

The best brewpubs are the best because BOTH their food AND their beer is good. Deschutes gets that right in my book!

I got to select the contents of my sampler (with 18 choices and 6 beers per sampler you could do them all in 3 rounds, but oh the buzz!) and I chose half hoppy and half malty or sweet. The Chainbreaker IPA is one of their well known beers and for West Coasters I can see why. It is super hoppy and pretty bitter so depending on how much bitter you can stand this might not be a multi-pint beer. It is slightly creamy and smooth allowing the hops to be the star. The traditional IPA was maltier than the Chainbreaker and not quite a hop forward. I liked it the best. The XPA drinks like it is a bigger and hoppier beer than the IPA but the ABV and IBUs are actually lower. It didn't have enough character for me but it was worth the taste to better understand the range they shoot for in their hoppy beers.

The first of the malty/sweet beers was the Black Butte Porter, another beer Deschutes is known for. I picked up dark chocolate and roasted nuts in the nose and found this to be a stylistically accurate and classic porter. I could easily drink a few of these! The Deep Red Belgian is a Belgian style red ale with a fruity & spicy nose, a good dose of bitterness and a gently sweet finish. The last beer in my flight was the Cyclist, a radler, and I picked this specifically to see how it compared with the homemade shandy we had started drinking the month before. This beer is a wheat ale that is blended with lemonade in the tank before kegging. It smelled a bit like lemon candy, was tart and only slightly sweet and didn't taste like a beer at all. All of that together made for a pleasurable experience. My comparison rests with our own shandy as the winner amongst all the shandy/radler/lemon beers we've tried this year. I think it is a good example of solid wheat ale flavored with lemon and a touch of non-fermentable sugar to fill in the sweet component. It tastes like beer and the fruit isn't lost.

I also tried the Deschutes Twilight Summer Ale while in town. An aromatic, light summer beer, it does have plenty of aroma and flavor so as not to be marginalized. The floral and fruity nose segways into a mildly bitter beer with a lightly toasted bread finish. Another beer I could easily drink quite a few of.

Rock Bottom

Rock Bottom is a restaurant chain, but the beer is brewed on site so having been made by local brewers I can’t knock the joint solely for not being a single-location place. We were out with a friend so I suspended my food/beverage blogger regimen (no notes or pictures) so I could enjoy the company. 

( To the relevant moms and dads, we were having a good time in the city! )

What I do recall is that the food was typical pub fare, prepared well,  and the beers were well made, available in standard styles of wheat, red, IPA brown, and black. They also offered a Kolsch, a lager and a Belgian white ale so there is plenty to choose for a range of tastes. I don't recall if there was anything seasonal available, but I do believe they rotate in some different styles throughout the year as well.

HopWorks Urban Brewery

Hopworks Urban Brewery (HUB) is an organic brewery, something I had never experienced before so I didn't have any expectations, good or bad. I've had the miscellaneous organic beer here and there, but I've never been to a brew-pub where all the beers were organic. At HUB they are also highly committed to sustainable and renewable initiatives using as much local food as possible. They are also part of the local bicycling scene, hosting numerous cyclist themed events throughout the year. The brewery opened in 2007 and the brewpub opened the following March.

The best really was saved for last. We visited HUB on our last day and it was our last stop. That day turned out to be beautiful, after the 100 degree heat wave the prior week, and we sat out on the back deck at HUB for several hours enjoying beers, snack and a calzone.

( Another colorful tap list. )

The beers at HUB kick ass! Every single one of them was clean in presentation, and projected their innate character easily.

HUB offers a 10 beer sampler, covering their whole menu at any time, which is served in an old bicycle hub that has been filled in to look like a tray. Killer presentation!

( That is one of the most unique presentations I have seen for a beer sampler. )

As my sampler was being drawn we munched on house-made hummus with pita bread and fresh veggies. Later during our visit we ordered a vegetable calzone which was massive and can easily feed two people. It's size was to house all the roasted veggies, including whole garlic cloves so watch out, with plenty of cheese and a zippy red sauce. It was fresh and delicious just like you would expect based on their principles and practices at HUB.

Five of the ten beers in the sampler were of the rotating type, with the others representing year-round styles.
  1. HUB Lager
  2. IPX
  3. Velvet ESB
  4. Hopworks IPA
  5. Survival 7-grain Stout
  6. Deluxe Ale
  7. Belgian Pale Ale
  8. Kolsch
  9. Kentucky Christmas
  10. Ace of Spades Imperial IPA
That's quite a lineup!

Digging in I found the HUB Lager to be clean & crisp with a bit of a zip in the finish. The IPX is a single hop (Cascade) IPA. The beer has a pleasant hop nose and is mildly bitter. The clean finish and mellow drinkability makes it dangerous! The Velvet ESB is a bitter amber beers with hints of toasted bread and caramel. The Hopworks IPA is very much to style with a big hope nose, savory flavors and healthy bitterness. I do love a good IPA and this one won't do you wrong. The Survival 7-grain Stout is a dark brown stout with a nose of coffee and dark chocolate. It was finished with local Stumptown organic coffee which is quite accessible in the long finish.

( Tasting beer IS hard work! )

The Deluxe Ale is a reddish brown beer with plenty of sweet malts and enough hops to create a pretty complex overall impression. The Belgian Pale Ale had some of the Belgian complexity in the nose but was a bit more bitter and hoppy than I personally enjoy. This style of beer does have a range of interpretation so this is not surprising. The Kolsch is a light and crisp beer with hints of fruit in the nose and mouth. Letting it get warm is a bad idea. At less than 5% alcohol it definitely is something you can move through quickly so any warming mess it up. Kentucky Christmas is a bourbon barrel aged strong ale. It's got lots of barrel character, coconut, vanilla, and sweet malts, brown sugar and citrusy hops. All of the attributes are nicely balanced and even on a warm day this beer drinks well. I finished with the Ace of Spades Imperial IPA which I found bigger and badder than the house IPA. It came off sweet an d malty with more hops and a very pleasing finish.

( And when it's gone, it's gone. And that makes Margot sad!

Having walked a few miles on the Oregon Beer trail I can clearly say that beer lovers everywhere should have Portland on their trip list. Margot and I will be back in 2013 and fully expect to tick off more brewpubs for our drinking and eating enjoyment. The breadth of styles presented can satisfy lots of tastes and if you are looking to stay a while many of the destinations have great food to keep you happy.



1 comment:

Brian said...

Super jealous. Hair of the Dog is excellent, glad you got to HUB and Deschutes. Definitely check out Baileys Tap Room in downtown Portland if you have the chance!

Brian (SeacoastBevLab)