Back in September I found myself out on the west coast in my second favorite city, Portland, Oregon. My best friend and his wife have settled down there, which works out well for me. They had lived in Kansas City for several years, which led to lots of BBQ-centric visits. Unfortunately, Portland is not home to any world famous BBQ. But it does have more operating breweries than any city in the U.S., and is arguably America’s Best Beer City (at least according to Travel + Leisure), and you won’t hear any disagreement on that from me.
I was last in Portland back in 2009 and hit up some of the bigger names in the craft beer scene, including Deschutes Brewery, Hopworks Urban Brewery, along with awesome spots like the Horse Brass Pub, Belmont Station, and Green Dragon. In just the two years since my last visit, there has been a lot of growth in the craft beer scene in Portland, so the focus for the beer portion of my trip was to hit up some of the new spots, and ones I missed out on during my last visit.
Our first stop was a great new bar in town called Apex, which features a live beer menu on their website of all 50 beers they have on draft. To a beer/tech nerd like me, that is an awesome concept. And it is truly updated in real-time, since it also feeds the giant monitor behind the bar which serves as the tap list. They have a ton of Oregon beers, and mostly other west coast beers. And when I think west coast beers, I think of great IPAs. I enjoyed 2 great ones at Apex: El Toro Deuce & Boneyard Hop Venom, along with Moonlight Death & Taxes and Oakshire Overcast Espresso Stout on nitro. One great thing about the beer scene in Portland is that every place we visited did short pours, like 3oz or so for $1 or so. This is great for someone like me who wants to try a ton of stuff without getting hammered. I think during my visit I only ended up having a couple full pours. I wish this was a practice that was more widespread. Most places I know around here only offer flights which usually require more samples than I care to try, and the prices don’t vary based on your selections.
Our next stop was the new Cascade Brewing Barrel House which specializes in sour beers. Sours seem to be an emerging trend in beer, and unlike many of my friends, it is one that I am totally on-board with. This is an awesome little spot that is putting out some really great, unique beers. During my visit, I got a flight that included their Summer Gose, Nightfall, The Vine (’10), and Sang Royal (’10). All very unique, very sour, and very good.
The next afternoon, we crossed the river over into Washington and stopped at a little place in Vancouver called By the Bottle, which is a bottle shop with a cool little tasting room in the back. It’s a nice little spot that was a last-minute addition to our itinerary because we heard they had The Abyss from Deschutes on tap, which is one of my top beers. It was my first taste of the 2010 version, and I was not disappointed. We later stopped by Beer Mongers, a bar/bottle shop in town run by some really awesome guys. That evening, my friend’s regular tasting group was having a bottle share there that we dropped by for. The highlights were one of the member’s homebrews (Adrift Brewing) that was a belgian dark sour, Tart of Darkness from The Bruery, and a fresh growler of Speed Wobble from Barley Brown’s, an awesome little brewpub in Oregon. I brought along a bottle of Hoppin’ Frog DORIS (’10) that was surprisingly really disappointing. It was flat and rather lacking. My friend brought along the favorite of the night, the Firestone Walker 13.
The next day, we ended up back at Beer Mongers for their 2nd Anniversary party where they brought in special kegs of about 30 beers. The highlights of what I sampled included another Barley Browns, the Turmoil, which is a Black IPA that is the best I’ve ever had of that style, the Oakshire Very Ill-Tempered Gnome (’10), Burnside Bourbon Bacon Stout, and the best of show was the Mikkeller Bourbon Black Hole. For dinner, we hit up Hopworks’ new BikeBar (referring to the pedal variety). It turned out to be my lucky day because they just happened to have on tap the Barrel-Aged version of Ace of Spades, a double IPA, that was amazing. It was a really cool new spot for them, with a very bike-centric design and decorating motif. A must-visit for any cycling enthusiast.
On my last day, we started off at Upright Brewing, a new spot that is specializing in some really unique brews, with lots of farmhouse elements and barrel-aging. Their spot is tucked away in the basement of some commercial office, and features a tasting room that was just a small area with one guy sitting there with a few beers on tap, some picnic tables and a turntable with a crate of records. I got a sampler that included the Four, Five, Six and Seven (yes, very non-creative names for some otherwise great beers) and the Todo Modo. We then stopped by for my first visit to Hair of the Dog which have a great large tasting room in town. I tried out the Little Dog, Blue Dot, Fred, and Fred from the Wood. They make some great beers there that I wish would find their way to Ohio.
While it may seem that all I did was drink on my trip to Portland, that is far from the case. I managed to indulge in three of my other vices; food, coffee and rock & roll. During my previous visit, I hit up a ton of food carts since they have a cart scene there like no other. This visit, I just returned to two of my favorites – Koi Fusion for Korean BBQ tacos, and Whiffies Fried Pies. I’m pretty new to the coffee scene, and am told that Portland is one of the top cities for that too, notably as part of the Third Wave Coffee movement. We hit up Stumptown and Coava and had some of the best coffee I’ve ever tasted, and helped to kick off my new found interest in the “craft coffee” scene. And it was no coincidence that my visit coincided with Portland’s MusicFestNW. I was able to take in some great shows, including some free ones, including Archers of Loaf, Sebadoh, The Horrors, The Antlers and Explosions in the Sky.
Overall, it was a pretty epic trip. I’m lucky to have such great friends out there to serve as my hosts and tour guides. Portland is an awesome town like no other I have ever been to. I look forward to many more visits in the future, though it will be hard to top this one.
You can view all my photos from my trip over at Flickr.