Beer Travel: 48 Hours In Portland

September 26, 2017, by Kerry McBride
Beer Travel: 48 Hours In Portland

To suggest you could conquer Portland in anything less than literal years is an utter falsehood. And, yet, every single week more and more beer devotees stop in to this Oregon town in the hopes of cramming as much beer into a quick visit as they physically can.

The best one can hope for is to tick off a pilgrimage to beer meccas such as Deschutes or Cascade, while also discovering some new favourites, and hoping – just for a brief moment – to get under the skin of one of the world's best beer cities. 

As part of a US tour of duty, Kerry McBride gave it a go as best as she could. Here's what she uncovered.

For all the effort you could exert trying to hit as many breweries and beer venues in Portland as possible, you'd almost exert more trying not to end up at one.

So, given 48 hours and some kind tour guides from the local beer industry, I embarked upon my own whistle stop tour of Portland beer. The only goal was to drink good beer with good people. And, in a city like Portland, both were easily achievable.

Below you will find a list of tried and tested breweries and beer venues worth putting on your own Portland to-do list. But Portland offers so much more than just good beer, meaning you'll also find killer sandwiches, delicious cocktails and perhaps even a super-sized game of pool. 

Because, when in Portland, you should do as the Portlanders do.

Stop One: Apex Bar (Eastside)

With 50 beers on tap and 250 bottles available for takeaway, Apex Bar was the perfect first stop for two beer-hungry travellers in need of a kickstart. This place doesn't muck around. It's cash only, offers no food, has one big long bar to perch yourself along, and outdoor space for those who wish to take it slower. Their focus is beer, and that's it. If you're after a place to watch the local sports team on television, you're in the wrong place.

On the day of our visit, the tap list ranged from Russian River's Pliny the Elder to North Coast Old Rasputin on nitro, to sours from the likes of Crooked Stave and Stillwater. You could spend all day here, but there's too damn much Portland to get on with.

Stop Two: Lardo (Eastside)

The beer need not stop at lunchtime and, if you're a lover of sandwiches and meat, then Lardo is an essential addition to your Portland itinerary. Their Porchetta sandwich is world famous in Portland, and their Korean Pork Shoulder sandwich with kimchi isn't far behind. Add some sides and you'll be happily rolling out the door.

With two Lardo branches to choose from – one with 12 taps and the other with 18 – you won't go thirsty. If you're short on time, stick to the local stuff and you'll be right.

Stop Three: Cascade (Eastside)

You'll quickly discover that distances between beer venues is almost non-existent in Portland, allowing visits to silly numbers of breweries in single days. Yet, if you're in search of quality rather than quantity, ensure that the Cascade Brewing Barrel House is one of those visits.

Known for their command of barrel ageing and sours, Cascade has been doing its thing since 2006, pumping out krieks, barrel aged blonds and quads like it's nobody's business. On any one visit, you can try 14 different beers on tap – plus one on nitro – as well as a huge range of bottled beers and vintages. Grab a table and order a selection of tasters, then, if you're anything like me, order the dark chocolate bourbon balls and match them to the Kriek. Just do it.

Stop Four: Rogue Pilot Brewery (Eastside)

It's across the road from Cascade so you might as well, right? 

The Rogue Eastside Pub and Pilot Brewery allows you the chance to park up at the bar and try some of Rogue's small batch creations. But alongside their 36 taps of Rogue, you'll also find 19 taps filled with brews from other American breweries. Work your way through their hop series IPAs, try a Voodoo Doughnut variation, or something straight from the pilot tanks tucked in behind the bar. Either way, it's a good chance to pay homage to your brewing elders – Rogue has been brewing in Oregon since 1988.

Stop Five: The Commons Brewery (Eastside)

If you were lucky enough to try some of their beers when one of the brewers headed to Melbourne during Good Beer Week 2017, you'll know The Commons is one hell of a brewery. Their Urban Farmhouse Ale is something of a Portland classic and their wider range of farmhouse style saisons and Belgian inspired beers are phenomenal.

But, sad to say, their time in Portland is quickly drawing to a close, as they shut up shop in their Southeast Belmont St brewpub to make way for San Diego's Modern Times. If you get there before the keys are handed over in January, you'll find a stunning brick brewbar in full view of their impressive barrel collection. Here's hoping The Commons will rise again elsewhere.

Stop Six: Wayfinder Beer (Eastside)

As one door closes, another opens. Wayfinder Beer is one of the newer kids on the block in Portland, having opened its doors in October 2016, and adding its own range of beers to the tap lineup over the last couple of months, including the standout Flower In The Kettle Hazy IPA (pictured above).

But, beer aside, Wayfinder is all about that ridiculously good beer garden. The 2,000 square foot deck with added fire pit has made this space an instant favourite with locals and visitors alike, and the food ain't too shabby either.

Stop Seven: Loyal Legion (Eastside)

One of the most effective ways to get bang for buck and try as many local Portland beers as possible is to make sure you don't skim over the beer bars in favour of brewery visits. One stop at Loyal Legion and you'll have access to 99 – yep, 99 – taps of Oregon beer, all in one place.

Don't be worried if you get overwhelmed by choice; the staff are helpful, the menus are divided by style and there are tasters available so you can pick and choose what you like. Grab a few and head outside for a game of pool-soccer, then the next round's on the loser. Oh, and the happy hour from 2pm to 6pm every day should help you with your selections too.

Stop Eight: Horse Brass Pub (Eastside)

You can't come to Portland for the beer and not visit the Horse Brass Pub. This English style local pub has been championing good beer since the 1970s, when owner Don Younger woke up with a hangover and a pub to his name after a few too many beers with the former Horse Brass owners.

Take a seat at the bar or in one of the booths and enjoy proper English style pub grub, and while away your afternoon with pints of beer from the 50-strong tap list, where you'll find plenty of English and European imports alongside local IPAs and sours.

Stop Nine: Little Bird (Westside)

If you're in need of a breather from beer venues, stop in at Little Bird. This French bistro right in the heart of downtown Portland offers a killer wine and cocktail list, one of the best charcuterie boards you'll ever have (the chicken liver mousse is life-changing), and the beer list is small, yet perfectly formed, with Rodenbach, farmhouse ales and sours all making appearances.

A surprise recommendation that became a Portland highlight.

Stop Ten: Deschutes (Westside)

What's a visit to Portland without a visit to Deschutes? The Portland tasting room for one of Oregon's most beloved breweries features 26 taps, from classics like Black Butte porter and Fresh Squeezed IPA, through to pub-only limited releases.

Among those smaller releases you'll find unique beers making use of Deschutes' significant access to experimental hops from the local hop growers – an opportunity not to be missed. Sit up at the bar and the bartenders are more than happy to chat your ear off about it. When you're done with hops, pair a vintage of Black Butte with the chocolate brownie for a seriously rich finish.

Stop Eleven: Fat Head's Brewery (Westside)

Fat Head's came recommended by some local brewers, and they were right on the money. This is the kind of place that would quickly become a local if you lived nearby thanks to its relaxed atmosphere, tasty burgers and even tastier beer.

Try the Love It Or Haze It IPA or the Read Between The Lines pale ale, then sign up for a brewery tour or take away a CANimal of your favourite. If you can convince yourself to leave, that is.

Stop Twelve: 10 Barrel Brewing (Westside)

What else would you do at 10 Barrel other than get the ten-strong tasting paddle? If you're lucky, you'll snag an outdoor table at their rooftop bar in the heart of the Pearl District, so you can take your time working your way through beers like their Sinistor black ale and Joe IPA.

What you won't notice on visiting their Portland bar is that 10 Barrel sold to AB InBev in 2014 but, based on the lines out the door waiting for a table, Portlanders have found their peace with it.

Stop Thirteen: Back Pedal Brewing Co (Westside)

Another example of how tightly Portland is packed, Back Pedal Brewing Co is literally next door to 10 Barrel. As you could well guess from the name, cycling is their schtick, and the brewbar operates as a base for Portland cycling brewery tour company BrewCycle.

You'll find 14 taps pouring and, yes, the cycling continues in the beer names. Try a BMX Session IPA, Pump Head pale ale or break away from the pack with a Flockahops IPA or Prismatic Passion saison. 

Stop Fourteen: Breakside Brewery Slabtown (Westside)

You'll find yourself tripping over Breakside beers in Portland, thanks to their three locations and general beery excellence. The Commons' fellow Good Beer Week guests won Brewery of the Year at the 2017 Oregon Beer Awards and regularly win medals for their wide range of brews. Their northwestern site at Slabtown is the newest, having opened in March 2017.

Once there, hit the hoppy stuff that Breakside is known for, such as their Wanderlust IPA, the Mic Drop Imperial IPA and plenty more, but don't forget to try their barrel aged and sour releases too.

Other Spots Worth A Visit

While beer is the name of the game when on a short visit, here are a few other worthy Portland spots with The Crafty Pint seal of approval.

  • La Moule (Eastside) - divine Belgian style brasserie serving food until midnight. Ask for the Steak Tartare in bone marrow, and say yes when they ask if you wish to luge afterwards.
  • Rum Club (Eastside) - A tropical lounge bar with an impressive rum selection and yacht rock on the jukebox. As it's Portland, even at the dive bars the beer is good.
  • Pope House Bourbon Lounge (Westside) - A cosy whiskey and bourbon bar inside an elegant old American home. Happy Hour from 4-7pm will get a good drink in your hand.

As you may well expect, there's no bulletproof way to see Portland. There are more highlights than a holiday will allow and undiscovered favourites in every neighbourhood. Instead, focus on a handful of must-dos and fill in the blanks by seeing what catches your eye. Quite simply, once you've stepped foot in Portland, a return visit is inevitable.

About the author: Kerry McBride is a reformed newspaper journalist who has taken the well-trodden path from Wellington to Melbourne. Her love for bad puns is matched only by her love of hoppy beers and Hallertau Funkonnay.

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