Visiting Beervana with Brewvana

A Brewvana bus

A Brewvana bus

Because my husband Hugo and I were going to Portland, Oregon, aka Beervana, for Thanksgiving, I checked out beer tour options beforehand. There’s Brew Cycle Portland which offers pedal-powered tours on 11- and 15-person BrewCycles and a 14-person BrewBarge. The barge only sails during warmer months, but I didn’t want to pedal between breweries anyway. Given the unpredictable weather, I also wasn’t interested in booking a tour with PDX Pedicab. While Beer Quest PDX’s Haunted Pubs tour sounded interesting, it only included two pubs and seven beer tastings. I’d seen Brewvana buses on previous Portland trips and a few minutes of online research turned up good reviews.

Leslie and Brewvana guide, April

Leslie and Brewvana guide, April

Next came the decision about which tour. We didn’t want a simple pub crawl. Like most experienced beer people, we’re not into it to get smashed. We do enjoy trying beers we haven’t had before. I often order flights with four or five 4-oz. glasses, which is less than two 12-oz. beers. We wanted to visit pubs we hadn’t been to before, and we wanted to get inside some breweries.

I signed us up for the 3.5-hour Pursuit of Hoppyness, $79.00 tour, billed as “all about the brewing process, from big to small!” We’d get to visit Breakside Production Facility (a brewery with no restaurant or taproom), Portland U-Brew (a small brewery where homebrewers can come and use the commercial equipment) and Ex Novo (a non-profit brewery).

Unfortunately, several hours before the tour I got a call asking if we’d mind changing to the Imbibing Tour since we were the only participants signed up for the Hoppyness tour. Imbibing included four breweries and cost a few dollars more, for which we weren’t charged. Since our pick-up time was 11:30, we ate a light breakfast and no lunch.

Baerlic Brewing Company

Baerlic Brewing Company

Even though we only got into one brewery (Hopworks), it was a fun experience. Our tour mates included two couples from Cincinnati, a woman who had just moved to Portland and a friend of hers, plus two guy friends who were locals. April, our guide and driver, kept up a steady banter about the city, the beer scene and the pubs we visited.

Our first stop was Baerlic Brewing Company, a newer brewery and pub. April handed out mini journal tasting guides and pretzel necklaces before walking us through tasting our first four beers. It wasn’t Advanced Tasting for Beer Geeks, but it was fun and we sampled a nice variety of beers—a cream ale, a brown ale, a winter gose and an IPA.

I Am a Jelly Doughnut

I Am a Jelly Doughnut, photography Eric Steen, Hopworks Urban Brewery

Hugo and I had previously been to the second brewery, Hopworks, known for their 12-sample flight. We hadn’t toured the brewery, which we were able to do on this trip. We also tried some new beers including an ESB on nitro that I didn’t care for much and the funnest beer on our entire trip, I Am A Jelly Doughnut. The name is a take-off on President Kennedy’s famous opening to a speech in Berlin when he declared, “Ich bin ein Berliner,” meaning “I am a Berliner,” but which can also mean “I’m a jelly doughnut.” This pink, highly carbonated and tart Berliner Weiss gets its color from cranberries. Even with 35 IBUs (international bittering units), the aroma didn’t give away the flavor or the pleasant tartness.

Burnside Brewing Company

Santa in his canoe, Burnside Brewing Company

Before you pay for a tour, be sure to understand what you get for your money. With Brewvana, we got plenty of beer, the tasting journals and nice glasses plus a generous sampling of dishes at our next stop, Burnside Brewing Company. Hugo liked the fried cauliflower best. I voted for the grilled pimento cheese sandwiches. By this time, we’d had our fill of sour beers and hoppy beers. We both decided the Couch Select Lager was our favorite beer.

At our last pub, Lompoc Side Bar, it was just us and the bartender who shooed out a couple that walked in the front door, telling them the bar wasn’t opened to the public yet. Nice. Meanwhile, he served us a variety of beers. By then, I wasn’t writing down names and can now recall only that I wasn’t in the mood for more sour beers, which included most of the offerings. April ran a beer trivia game with multiple choice questions, sort of a pop quiz about what we’d learned during the tour. Prizes included a Brewvana hat and a poster from The BeerMongers.

Lompoc Side Bar

Lompoc Side Bar

Over four hours, we sampled eighteen beers, I think. Those who wanted full glasses got them. Hugo and I ate and drank so much that we skipped dinner. By the time we left the third brewery, it was cloudy, cold and windy. Running a few feet from the pub to the warm bus was nice indeed.

On the next Portland trip, maybe we’ll make it to the Pursuit of Hoppyness. For sure, our first Brewvana tour was worth the time and money.

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