PDX: So Many Breweries, So Little Time

On a cold and rainy night, the warm welcome at Breakside Brewing was appreciated

On a cold and rainy night, this chalked welcome at Breakside Brewing was appreciated

Confession: I’m not one of those beer geeks who can visit 20+ breweries on a week-long trip. Don’t get me wrong, I totally admire those folks. For me, though, the breweries, the tours, the beers and the people all start to meld and muddle in my head. (This actually makes my family happy because their tolerance for beer tourism is even more limited than mine.)

I much prefer to take my time with a flight or a pint and some good company, which is the story of my last eight days in Portland, Oregon. Here are the trip highlights and recommendations for craft beer lovers when in PDX.

Obviously, the best thing about the visits was the beer. I sampled somewhere north of 30. That leaves me in the wimpy leagues compared to BJCP judges who taste more than that in a single day of judging, but like my mind, my palate gives into fatigue pretty quickly, especially if we’re talking Northwest IPA’s with IBUs of 70 and above.

I hesitate to say which was my favorite beer. There were so many really good ones like Deschutes American wheat Rex Kwan Do, Ecliptic’s Spectra Hoppy Pilsner, Stormbreaker’s Total ReKölsch, Fat Head’s weizenbock Alpenglow, and The Commons Fleur de Blanc, a white farmhouse ale with rose and elderflower. In the end, the one that for me stood a tad above all of them, though, was Breakside’s Pilsner.

My Breakside flight, pilsner on the far left

My Breakside flight, pilsner on the far left

There’s no clever name, no experimental hops or mind-bending blending to this beer. Understatement and little leeway to hide imperfections are hallmarks of an outstanding pilsner, and Breakside’s, which has won multiple awards, is a classic example of the style. When I compared the above photo to an SRM chart (beer-style color), my pale pils was a spot-on 3, smack where pilsners should fall. The German Pilsner malt came through in a big bready flavor that lasted from the drive-by sniff well past the swallow. The Hallertau Hersbrucker hops gave it delicate floral and spicy notes and a slightly bitterness to the very clean finish.

After the beer, the next most important aspect of a first-time visit to any brewpub for me is the interaction with the employees. Hands down, the best experience on this trip was during our tour of Ecliptic that I wrote about last week. But there were plenty of other great folks who represented their breweries really well, also.

Breakside's Ian Nesbit, veritable beer enthusiast

Breakside server and veritable beer enthusiast, Ian Nesbit

When I told Ian, our server at Breakside, that the first three sips of that pilsner made the 40-minute wait for a table on Saturday night worth it, he too sang the pils’ praises and enthused about other Breakside brews, even bringing me a sample of one he was sure I’d like. (He was correct.)

Deschutes' Cicerone Certified Beer Server, Arlana Gottwald

Deschutes’ Cicerone Certified Beer Server, Arlana Gottwald

On two trips to Deschutes with beer blogger friend Natasha Godard (MetaCookBook.com), both Arlana Gottwald and a server whose name I failed to get were very knowledgeable and took plenty of time to discuss the beers.

At Stormbreaker, what should have been a quick exchange when bar manager Patrick Sheils stopped by our table to ask how it was going, ended with Sheils giving us a terrific impromptu tour of the brewery and answering way more questions than he ever anticipated.

Stormbreaker's Patrick Sheils

Stormbreaker’s Patrick Sheils

The only negative experience with service came at AB-InBev-owned 10 Barrel. (Calm down, all you ABI haters.) Given the great time my husband and I had on a 2015 visit to the original Bend facility, I had hopes for repeating it during a weekday lunch visit at the Portland brewpub. The space, the beer and the food were all very nice. The service, however, was nowhere near the expectations.

The first of several times our server zipped by the table, he said he’d take our order shortly. The couple next to us said they’d ordered 15 minutes earlier and still hadn’t even gotten a glass of water. Tipped off, I started watching the time after we finally ordered. It was another 31 minutes until the food came. The one time during the meal that I managed to catch the server’s attention as he dashed by, I asked if the nearby fermenters where 15 barrels. His reply: “I don’t know.” To his credit, he did lean over the railing and get the answer (20 barrels) from the brewer. Whether or not you’re a 10 Barrel fan, they do make good beer and generally have good service, so let’s give them the benefit of a doubt and assume they were short-staffed that day and our server was possibly new at the job.

Velo's bar

Velo’s bar

The most novel taproom concept I saw on the trip was at Velo Cult Bicycle Shop. In addition to bikes, the store offers a coffee shop and a 12-tap bar with some solid beer selections. During our Saturday afternoon visit, we enjoyed the live jazz band that played as bikers and drinkers came and went. The shop is definitely worth a visit even if you’re not into bikes.

If you’re planning a trip to Portland, here are some breweries I’ve visited in the past and totally recommend: Cascade Brewing Barrel House, Zoiglhaus, ExNovo, The Commons and McMenamin’s Kennedy School or any of their other pubs because of the great things the McMenamin brothers have done for communities in Oregon and Washington. Big, all-around kudos to Hopworks Urban Brewery, too, which we’ve now visited annually for three years in a row. Finally, here are the top five on my still-to-visit list: Hair of the Dog, Base Camp, Upright, Culmination and Gigantic.

Here’s to happy beercations!

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