The Perfect One-City Beercation

At Lucky Labrador Brewing Company, Portland, OR, November 25, 2015

At Lucky Labrador Brewing Company, Portland, OR, November 25, 2015

If you’re considering a one-city beercation with little or no driving, I nominate Portland, Oregon. After six trips in fourteen months, I’m nowhere near visiting all the breweries. According to Oregon Craft Beer, as of July 1, 2015, there were 61 breweries in metro Portland, more than in any other city in the world. Three days ago, on a Brewvana tour we heard the count is up to 64.

The town, nicknamed Beervana, is so steeped in beer culture, it’s insane. Portland’s Oregon Brew Crew is one of the oldest, largest and most famous homebrew clubs in the country. The city is home to craft beer personalities like Jeff Alworth (blog: Beervana; recent book:The Beer Bible) and Lisa Morrison, aka The Beer Goddess, host of the radio show Beer O’Clock and co-owner of Belmont Station (“Portland’s Premier Bottle Shop and Bier Café”). When Fred Eckhardt, long-time Portlander, pioneering beer writer and homebrewing advocate died in August, they held a giant memorial service.

With Lisa Morrison at Belmont Station, December, 2014

With Lisa Morrison at Belmont Station, December, 2014

If you don’t want to drive, Portland’s mass transit system is one of the best outside the East Coast. Between the MAX light rail and buses, you can get to a lot of breweries and pubs. As for Uber, we called for a driver in the southeast quadrant of the city, and he arrived within three minutes. And Portland is one of the most bike-friendly cities in the U.S. Then there are beer tours, where you leave the driving to someone else.

With so many breweries, competition is stiff. Just brewing pretty good beer doesn’t necessarily ensure a stand-out reputation. These days, there’s a lot of very good beer and a lot of experimentation going on in Portland. Certain breweries and pubs have carved out some very cool niches.

One doggie bulletin board at Lucky Labrador

One doggie bulletin board at Lucky Labrador

I’ve been to pubs that focus on sour beers (Cascade) and ciders (Bushwhacker). Lucky Labrador loves dogs and even encourages you to bring yours—the real one or photos of him—for their bulletin boards. I applaud the McMenamin brothers who have remodeled old, shuttered public buildings all over Oregon and Washington and given them new life as pubs and theaters (the Kennedy School, for example). There are the old and famous breweries like BridgePort, founded in 1984 and Deschutes, founded in 1988, and newcomers feeding the buzz, among them Baerlic and non-profit Ex Nova.

And it’s not just in breweries and pubs where you find good beer and other fermented beverages. Many restaurants offer a strong selection of Oregon-centric craft beers. On our first night, we attended a birthday party at Portland City Grill, located 30 stories above downtown. The extensive bar menu included plenty of wine, cocktail and quality craft beers.

A Fred Meyer growler fill station

A Fred Meyer growler fill station

Besides the nine breweries and pubs my husband Hugo and I visited last week, we bought a great assortment of Oregon and Washington beers in various trips to grocery stores. At Fred Meyer (grocery store), as usual, we spent plenty of time browsing our way down the great, long wall of craft beers that ends at a 15-tap growler fill station. Yet again, we walked out with some beers we’d never tried.

Our Thanksgiving dinner host had his fridge well stocked with craft beer, and his Washington State guests brought local honey wine. Our hosts also took us to SOMA Kombucha Speakeasy in St. Johns, where, for the first time ever, I found kombucha I actually liked and tried kombucha’s cousin, Jun.

On this trip, we finally had time for a Brewvana tour that took us to four breweries/pubs. That will be the topic of next week’s post on “Not My Father’s Beer.” In two weeks, the topic will be Portland’s sour beer scene, one that’s on the forefront of the sour explosion in craft beer.

To wrap up this week, I’ll answer the question a friend asked on Sunday: what was your favorite beer on this trip?

I Am a Jelly Doughnut

I Am a Jelly Doughnut (Purloined from Hopworks website)

Being a hophead, I think The Immortal IPA by Elysian was probably the winner. Never mind that Elysian is actually out of Seattle and now part of the Anheuser-Busch InBev stable. At 62 IBUs, it’s a darn good IPA, with a great balance between the floral hops and malt. And hands down, my favorite novel beer was Hopworks’ I Am a Jelly Doughnut, a terrific pink (it’s the cranberries) sour Berliner Weisse.

Today, amid the usual return to reality after a great trip—empty fridge, dirty clothes, pile of unopened mail, long list of errands—I’m already dreaming about my next trip to Beervana. If you haven’t yet been, put Portland on your bucket list.

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