Wine Wednesday: Portland Craft Beer and Spirits
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
There’s a saying that winemakers have that goes, “It takes a lot of good beer to make great wine,” and no man (or woman) can live on wine alone, so for today’s #WineWednesday, we are switching it up a bit to taste some great brews and spirits in Portland, Oregon. TPG Contributor Casey Hatfield-Chiotti takes us around some of the area’s best breweries and distilleries to knock back a few pints and shots to clear the palate before another wine tasting.
Portland may have stolen the phrase Keep Portland Weird, from that other fun, funky city Austin, Texas, but it’s certainly a fitting slogan for the city that is known for embracing individuality and supporting local, boutique producers. This DIY mentality has helped make it a craft brew mecca for decades and is the latest wave of the trend towards small batch, artisan goods, boutique distilleries and urban wineries that are popping up all over town.
Portland’s love affair with beer dates back to the arrival of German immigrants in the 1840’s. Immigrant Henry Weinhard opened a brewery in 1856, which incidentally survived until 1999 (some of their beers are still brewed at Full Sail Brewing in Hood River). The beer industry in Portland flourished until the Prohibition hit, then World War II and the trend towards mass production also took its toll and like many other cities in the US, the craft brewing industry saw a steady decline during the mid 1900’s.
However, thanks to beer-friendly laws and a growing awareness about using local ingredients, microbreweries started popping up in Portland in the 1980’s and since then the industry has exploded. Today Portland is home to 52 breweries – more than any other city in the world.
Which is the ideal excuse to hop on a bike, pick your poison and simply taste your way through Portland’s unique neighborhoods.
Where To Taste
With its large outdoor beer garden Amnesia Brewery is the perfect place to enjoy craft brew on a sunny summer day in Portland. Try the Amnesia ESB – named one of Portland Monthly’s Best Brews of 2012 – or the light and refreshing Dusty Trail Pale Ale. Amnesia also serves a simple but satisfying menu of brats and burgers grilled on the outdoor BBQ to soak up the beer.
Serving organic beers made in sustainably built and operated buildings, Hopworks Urban Brewery and its new Bike Bar are considered Portland’s first eco-brewpubs. Award-winning beers like their namesake IPA speak for themselves and dishes, like a made-from-scratch black-bean burger with cilantro-lime sauce, are a step above typical brewery fare. They also serve bike-friendly take-out specials that are easy to carry on two-wheels.
Upright Brewing on Broadway specializes in farmhouse style French and Belgian-style beers made with local ingredients. The boutique producer currently brews only one year-round draft offering– the North German style Engelberg Pilsner as well as four year round beers by the bottle, but look for seasonals like the 2012 World Beer Cup Bronze medal winning Oyster Stout made with real oysters.
The laid-back Lucky Labrador has four locations (two with breweries in-house). Each brewpub features a rustic, beer hall style ambiance and pours the experimental-style beers the Lucky Lab has become known for like the golden Solar Flare Ale (all the brewery’s beers are made with solar heated water) or the coffee-flavored Black Sheep IPA.
Everyone who visits Portland should see at least one McMenamins brewery and restaurant. While the food is nothing to write home about, the eclectic spaces, usually in historic buildings, pretty much epitomize Portland’s quirky style. You’ll be able to sample standards like their best-selling Hammerhead Pale Ale and the raspberry-puree-laced Ruby Ale. There are about 17 McMenamins “breweries” in Oregon as well as dozens of restaurants. Our favorites are the Kennedy Schoolhouse, The Cornelius Pass Roadhouse & Imbrie Hall, and McMenamins Edgefield, a hotel, concert venue, distillery and winery in a former hospital and home for the poor about 30 minutes outside Portland.
Bend’s famed Deschutes Brewery opened a handsome brewpub in Portland’s Pearl district in 2008. The brewery’s 18-tap system features mainstays like Mirror Pond Pale Ale as well as exclusives like “Champagne of the North,” a tart and light wheat beer with a crisp finish. The rustic modern space with wood carved awnings has a distinctly Northwestern feel. Deschutes also makes an amazing elk burger on brioche bun.
Started in 1987, Bridgeport was one of Oregon’s first craft breweries. It’s gone a bit corporate since being acquired by a Texas based company but the two-story Pearl District brewery and restaurant is still worth a peak for it’s industrial-chic décor, locally-inspired menu and a chance to try classics like the award-winning IPA.
Alameda Brewing has a brand-new 20-barrel brewery in Southeast Portland, however to sample both house and seasonal offerings you’ll have to head to their original brewhouse and restaurant location on Fremont, a neighborhood favorite which also serves typical Northwest food like fish and chips.
Saraveza Bottle Shop and Pasty Tavern sells a curated mix of draft and bottled beer from around the world and has been named one of America’s best beer bars by Draft Magazine for the last three years.
If you’ve had your fill of local high-alcohol-content microbrews enjoy a Bitburger or Spaten Lager at German beer hall Prost, located in a building that dates back to the 1890’s on Mississippi Street. Prost serves authentic German food, but they also allow you to bring food from the neighboring food carts onto the outdoor patio.
It’s not all beer and bubbles in Portland, though. The city is also home to a thriving spirits scene with tons of great artisanal distilleries to visit.
Distillery Row is a group of five boutique distilleries located in an industrial neighborhood. Contrary to what the name suggests, the distilleries are not all in a “row” but dispersed throughout a 1.5-mile stretch of Southeast Portland. A good place to start is New Deal Distillery, which recently moved to larger industrial digs on the corner of 10th and Salmon. New Deal is known for vodka and gin but, through their limited-release line, they’re making rum, moonshine and grappa.
From there, seek out Vinn Distillery’s modest tasting room for some truly unique rice-based spirits. Owned by a family of Vietnamese refugees who came to the Portland area in 1979, Vinn’s recipes have been passed down through generations and include the national drink of China, Baijiu, which is comparable to a white whiskey.
Bourbon and whiskey lovers should head straight for Eastside Distilling for their 96 percent proof Burnside Double Barrel Bourbon as well as the Cherry Bomb – a Manhattan-ready whiskey flavored with dark Oregon Cherries.
If you still have time, head to Stone Barn Brandywork’s deep SE location for brandies and brandy-based liqueurs that use the Northwest’s bounty like Oaked Apple Brandy, and Oregon Blush Rhubarb liqueur. Tucked in amongst warehouse spaces, the tasting room is a bit hard to find, so make sure to look up directions beforehand.
Finally House Spirits’ apothecary-like tasting room offers samples of its popular Aviation Gin, aquavit as well as small batch whiskeys and liquors.
Okay, well, we couldn’t do a Wine Wednesday post without including at least a few wineries!
SE Wine Collective is an incubator for new winemaking talent. Four local wineries are currently making wine in the space including Bow & Arrow, Division Winemaking Company, Helioterra Wines, and Vincent Wine Company. You can taste the fruits of their labor like Helioterra’s elegant Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, in the space’s tasting bar – basically a wine bar, which pours wines from Oregon, as well as around the world. Check the schedule for special tasting events held in the space by some of the Willamette Valley’s best wineries like Elk Cove.
Where to Eat
Portland’s dining scene has always been praised for its sophistication given the size of the city’s population, and several new restaurants are bringing the city even more culinary cred. On the east side, Ox is putting a new and refreshing spin on the Argentinean steak house. The custom-made wood-fired grill serves as the focal point of the brick-lined “Brooklynesque” space and turns out delicious asado-like bone-in rib-eye, beef short ribs and chorizo. Because of the Northwest influence, you’ll also find plenty of fresh seafood and salads. Reservations are only taken for parties of six or more, so waits can be long – luckily they’ve added a speakeasy-style bar in a building off the back to help take the edge off.
Unfussy Luce is true Italian cooking at its best, stripped down so the ingredients like olive oil and chilies shine through. The small menu is made up of antipasti, handmade pasta and a couple of entrees like hangar steak in rosemary and olive oil. The all-white storefront is unassuming save for the crowds of people who start to gather each evening hoping to snag one of about just 22 spots inside. Luce smartly started a wine bar next door where people can wait on busy nights.
Located in the historic Ladd’s Carriage House, the new restaurant Raven and Rose draws inspiration from the Irish and English countryside and serves upscale twists on pub food like rabbit served two ways and lamb with fingerling potatoes. For small bites and bourbon-based cocktails head upstairs to the Rookery Bar.
A few other not-to-miss spots include colorful and lively Por Que No on Mississippi Street, which serves authentic tacos and fresh fruit margaritas. Toro Bravo is the place to go for pitch-perfect Spanish tapas, and at $30 a person the chef’s tasting menu is a steal. Coffee genius-turned-restaurateur Duane Sorenson’s Woodsman Tavern offers a great rustic NW ambiance as well as craft cocktails and a raw bar.
If you still have a taste for spirits after dinner, follow the hordes to Salt and Straw – an updated take on an old ice cream parlor – for a scoop of coffee and bourbon ice cream, or even more out-there flavors like honey balsamic strawberry with cracked black pepper.
Where To Stay
Portland has no shortage of quirky boutique hotels to match the beer and spirits scene.
The mid-century modern Jupiter Hotel on East Burnside is close to Southeast Portland’s distilleries as well as downtown, which is just across the Burnside Bridge. The hotel’s restaurant and bar, the Doug Fir, is a popular watering hole and live music venue.
The Ace Hotel in a historic building in downtown Portland epitomizes the city’s vintage yet pared-down aesthetic. The library-like lobby is a popular hangout for hipsters and young professionals. There’s also a Stumptown Coffee attached to the lobby and Clyde Common, the hotel’s restaurant, boasts a lively atmosphere and one of the city’s best happy hours when craft cocktails, like the deceptively smooth Bourbon Renewal, are just $5.
For more suggestions on what to do and see in Portland, check out the Destination of the Week TPG featured on it last September.