Mar 6, 2013

Beer adventures: 48 hours in Portland, Oregon

Writing a post about where to find good beer in Portland seems kind of superfluous. It's kind of like writing about where to find good sushi in Vancouver - you don't really need the advice, because you're going to have a harder time finding bad sushi. But, purely for my own selfish interests, I'm going to write this anyway so that I no longer have to type out a list of suggested places every time a friend decides to make the trip. So here goes:

In honour of British Columbia's first-ever Family Day long weekend last month, my friend and I decided to celebrate by getting in a rental car and promptly leaving BC (shhh, don't tell my employer). Our destination? Beervana. The City of Roses. #pdx. Or, for you unimaginative types, Portland.

I'd visited Portland precisely twice before, and had thus declared myself an expert on the city. My friend was a PDX virgin, and was counting on me to act as her beer-spirit-guide through the hops-scented paradise we were hurtling down the I5 towards - a challenge I took quite seriously. We had 48 hours in the city, and a hell of a lot of beer to drink. And we drank. Oh, did we drank.

Day 1 (see the map)

The Doug Fir
We pulled into the parking lot of the Eastside Lodge in our practical compact rental just before noon on Saturday. Unfortunately, we weren't able to check in yet - but this gave us the time to take advantage of one of the best features of the Eastside Lodge: that it's across the street from the nicer and more expensive Jupiter Hotel, and the Doug Fir Lounge within in. The rest of the patrons were curing their hangovers with brunch (which the Doug Fir is great for), but we didn't have time for that nonsense - we were there for the beer and the sweet Northwest-kitsch decor. I think the highlight was watching the smile spread slowly over my friend's face as she realized two proper pints of IPA cost less than $10, with generous tip.
Go here for: brunch in the morning, live music at night (both accompanied with beer)

Deschutes (downtown location)
Despite having an atmosphere verging on chain restaurant, with its chipper hostesses and lineup of tourists out the door (ugh, those tourists, am I right??), there's no denying that Deschutes makes good beer. Theirs is a well-deserved reputation. After a couple of hours of wandering around downtown, we stopped in to quench our thirst and managed to swipe two seats at the bar during the dinner rush. You can count on Deschutes to have a good number of beers on tap at once, and between our paddles, we were able to try almost everything. We can get quite a few of their beers in bottles in Vancouver, so I always try to focus on the brewpub-only offerings: this time, I was won over by the Creative Juices IPA.
Go here for: a taster paddle and a pint after browsing at Powell's

An insanely great selection of Oregon and California beers, live-updated electronic beer menus (à la St. Augustine's) and probably one of the biggest patios I've ever seen makes this one of my (and most other people I know's) Portland faves. If you've got limited time in the city, or you just want to try as many different beers as possible in one place, head to Apex. You can thank me later.
Go here for: a pint of Pliny the Elder and lots of Oregon beers

Lucky Labrador Brewing (Hawthorne location)
Housed in an old warehouse, the Hawthorne location of Lucky Lab is a pretty cool spot for a pint. It was surprisingly dead for a Saturday night when we stopped in, which made it seem even bigger than usual, but it was getting late so we may have missed the rush. They've got 12 of their original brews on tap at all times, and a full kitchen. I've only ever visited at night, but apparently they've got a nice little patio too.
Go here for: a pint of Super Dog IPA

Cascade Brewing Barrel House
Some people would argue that ending the night at a brewery specializing in high-alcohol sour beers might be a mistake. Those people might be right. But if anything's going to cut through to a palate that's been repeatedly hop-bombed for the past 8 hours, it's a Cascade sour. If you've never tried their beers, get a taster first - they're intense (in such a very good way). Coming from a city where it's tough to even find a sour beer on the shelves year-round, I'm always blown away by the variety of sours offered at Cascade. And the quality. I've yet to leave Portland without buying a bottle of their Noyeaux - and at $30 US a pop, that's saying something.
Go here for: a crash course in sours

Day 2 (see the map)

Bushwhacker Cider
Portland's quite clearly known for its beer - but it's also got a solid cider scene going on as well. Bushwhacker cider bar is pretty much heaven for the cider fan: they've got five different ciders on tap at any different time, plus dozens more in bottles from all over the world in coolers. And because Portland is awesome, you can just buy one of said bottles and open it and drink it right then and there. Genius. It felt more socially acceptable to be drinking a fruit-based beverage before noon, so we started our day here, post-brunch, with taster paddles and a game of Battleship.
Go here for: board games and post-brunch bevvies

Eastside Distilling
We stumbled across this place quite by accident while on our way to Hair of the Dog, but it ended up being an awesome find. Turns out it's part of Distillery Row, which is basically one neighbourhood in southeast Portland where five independent distillers are producing some great spirits. Eastside Distilling produces seven liquors: two bourbons, one whisky, one vodka and three rums. The coffee rum, which tasted like Kahlua without all the sugar, was both of our favourites.
Go here for: a mid-beer crawl pick-me-up via the coffee rum 

Hair of the Dog Brewing
In addition to having one of the best brewery names ever, this place serves up some pretty great high-alcohol beers. The building is cool too, albeit a bit tucked away in an industrial area (I can see now why they have their GPS coordinates on their website). I'm not usually a barley wine fan, but I quite enjoyed theirs.
Go here for: a pint to put hair on your chest, or at least get rid of your hangover

Horse Brass Pub
This place is as British as it gets, especially in America: as their website says, "if it were any more authentic, you'd need a passport". Which is pretty ironic, seeing as we actually got denied service because we didn't have our passports on us. Apparently it's a fairly new law in Oregon - the more you know! Next time we'll come prepared. Luckily I'd been on a previous visit, so I can still vouch for its awesomeness.
Go here for: legit British pub food with a side of Oregon craft beer

Cascade Brewing Barrel House
Yeah... we went back for more. It's lucky for my wallet (and my liver) that this place doesn't exist in Vancouver.

Burnside Brewing Co
This was my first time at Burnside Brewing, but seeing as it was about two blocks from our hotel, it seemed like a no-brainer, and I was pleasantly surprised. A solid lineup of the usual offerings, plus some unexpected wild brews (including a sea urchin ale!?). I was a fan of the Sweet Heat, a wheat beer brewed with peppers that was surprisingly delicious. I'll definitely go back and see what they've come up with next time I'm in town.
Go here for: something unexpected

Amnesia Brewing
I'd heard great things about Amnesia from beer nerd friends, so between this and Prost!, I knew a little detour to northeast Portland was in order. Amnesia is a cool little spot in an old industrial building with 5 regular taps - I tried the Copasetic IPA and it was quite good. I'll definitely visit again, a little earlier in the night...(ahem)
Go here for: a pint of IPA on the patio

German beers served by the litre? Good luck not having fun at this place. This was probably the busiest of all the places we visited on Sunday night, and with good reason. They've got a great selection of draught and bottles, and serve their draught in its proper glassware, which is a nice bonus. Oh, and they serve giant pretzels and German sausages. Again, dare you not to love it.
Go here for: brats and a litre of bier

And thus concludes the story of two twenty-something girls with two days in Portland and livers of steel. In case my mother or any potential employer is reading this, I should note that we didn't just drink beer - we also stuffed ourselves at food carts, shopped at thrift stores, ate at an all-vegan brunch restaurant and at this place too. And, of course, no trip to Portland would be complete without a stop at Belmont Station on the way out of town - so we could spend far too much money on more beer to bring home. Dammit. Sorry, mom!

More beer adventures:
New York, NY
Victoria, BC
Bellingham, WA
Montreal, QB & Ottawa, ON
Canmore, AB

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