Portland, Beer Mecca

A rainbow colored flight of sour ales from Cascade Brewing in Portland, Ore. A rainbow colored flight of sour ales from Cascade Brewing in Portland, Ore.

A West Coast beer journal

By Kevin J. Gray

A rainbow colored flight of sour ales from Cascade Brewing in Portland, Ore.

A rainbow colored flight of sour ales from Cascade Brewing in Portland, Ore.

Portland, Ore. City of roses, city of bridges and, most importantly, city of beer. My wife and I have long been fascinated with Portland, so we used our anniversary as a reason to visit. Beer, coffee and wine are all part of Portland’s culture, but craft beer’s presence is larger here than in other cities. Portland brewers, and West Coast brewers in general, are constantly pushing the craft forward with new and interesting beers.

Our flight arrived early Thursday, and we made our way to our friends Joy and Mike’s house, where we would stay the first and last nights. I was instructed to help Mike empty the keg in their new bar. The keg was BridgePort India Pale Ale. This iconic Portland brew is a modest size for an IPA (5.5 percent alcohol by volume), but bright, both in color and flavor. A near orange hue, the malts are subtle and balanced, with hints of soft caramel that allow the bright, citrus hops to stand out without dominating. The beer is smooth, balanced and low enough in alcohol that it makes the perfect session beer — one that you can have over and over again.

For lunch, we navigated to Manzana, an apple-themed restaurant in the heart of the southern suburb, Lake Oswego. The beer list was not extensive, but as I quickly learned, it’s not hard to find a good beer here. I had the Mirror Pond Pale Ale and the Black Butte Porter, two beers I had tried and liked some time ago. I was somewhat disappointed by the Mirror Pond. It was well made, but lifeless compared to the BridgePort I had been drinking earlier. Low malt, low hops, low life. The same is not true of the Black Butte. This black-as-night porter was as delicious as I remembered it — rich, roasty flavors, dark malts and subtle, crisp hoppiness — everything a porter should be. It was the perfect drink for a rainy Oregon afternoon.

After a night of working through Mike’s keg and an obligatory morning stop to Portland’s famous Voodoo Doughnut, we made our way to the Deschutes Public House and Brewery for lunch Friday. The brewpub is large and decorated in rich woods and local art. Polished stainless bright tanks, visible through a large portal, are framed like art in the lobby. And like most brewpubs in the city, Deschutes is kid-friendly, so having our hosts’ two daughters in tow wasn’t an issue. Here, I had the Hop Fresh IPA, a seasonal malty monster made during the annual hop harvest. This beer uses tons of fresh hops — one envisions the brewer chucking them in by the pallet. My wife tried the Chainbreaker White IPA, an experimental beer brewed using wheat and pilsner malts and Cascade and Citra hops, but fermented using Belgian yeasts, giving the beer a spicy aroma. Joy tried the Cascade Ale — a more malt-forward beer with a balanced hop and malt flavor.

After lunch, we bid our hosts goodbye and set out to explore the city on our own. Our first stop was the Cascade Brewing Barrel House. The beers served here are not for everyone, and it’s hard to believe a place like this exists outside of Belgium.

While Cascade brews some traditional beers, it is famous for sour ales. Sour beer? The idea takes some getting used to, but these beers are refreshing and flavorful like cool lemonade. Vinegary, yes, but also tart in the way a fresh blueberry can be. Cascade offers a sampler of the nine sours available, including two that are served directly from the barrel.

Notable in the line-up was the Summer Gose, Sang Royal and Kreik. Gose is a beer style that all but died out in modern times, but is making a comeback with boutique brewers like Cascade. Brewers tint the beer with salt water, giving the gose a slight briny flavor — a light, yellow beer with low sour notes – but the salt isn’t for everyone. At the other end of the spectrum were the Sang Royal and the Kreik. Both of these beers are dark, complex and mouth-puckeringly sour. The Sang Royal is a red ale, aged for several years in different red wine barrels, then blended together. The Kreik is barrel aged with cherries, giving it a warm, pitted fruit flavor buried beneath the sour notes.

Our final beer stop that night was to the Hair of the Dog Brewing Company across the river from downtown Portland, in an area that was clearly once fairly industrial. Traces of the past remain, especially in the Hair of the Dog tasting room. With high ceilings and big garage-door style windows, it’s not hard to imagine that the site was once a garage or a loading dock. Here, I tried the sampler. Notable were the oddly named Fred and Adam. Adam is a 10 percent ABV beast with dark, rich flavors best served sitting in front of a fire. Fred is a tribute to beer writer and historian Fred Eckhardt and blends a large variety of malts and 10 hop varieties in “an effort to incorporate the whole world into this beer.”

Saturday was devoted to wine tasting — there seem to be hundreds of vineyards within about 30 miles of Portland, but that’s a whole other column. As a parting gift, however, back at Joy and Mike’s house Sunday night, they opened a bottle of Nkosi Brewing’s Tricerahops. This double IPA was the perfect beer on which to end the trip. Bold, assertive, and hopped beyond belief, this beer embodied the “pushing it to the limits” nature of West Coast brewers.

Reach DCP freelance writer Kevin J. Gray at KevinGray@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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