Barley Mowat 

Portland Part I

with 4 comments

OK. I’m back for real. It turns out that work doesn’t stop if you go to Beer Mecca for a weekend, and thus you can expect to get snowed in for a few days upon your return. But I’ve now had sufficient time back to both sweat the last of the liquor out from my pores and to also write up a review of Portland as a beer holiday.

Short Version: Go there. Now. I don’t care that you’re at work. Quit your job and go.

Long Version:

It’s often said that Portland is 15 years ahead of us when it comes to the brewery industry, and I’d have to agree. My initial reaction was to say “more like 30!” but 15 years is an awfully long time. Think about what 1996 was like. I was still in university, not a single iWassit had been invented, and the notion that craft beer was for everyone instead of a small select audience was only just beginning to sound non-ludicrous.

So with this in mind I rolled into P-Town and set about seeing what all the fuss was about. An unexpected 4 hour layover in scenic Tacoma at the suggestion of Amtrak modified my Friday evening plans somewhat, but I was undeterred and made my way over to Deschutes Brewpub to sample some of the fine beers available. A 1 hour wait to get into one of the many good beer bars in the Pearl District instantly set off my “This is not Vancouver” sensor.

As did this barrel full of spent coasters.

Luckily we were welcome to pass the hour waiting in the adjoining bar, and have a pint or five. Despite the crowd, the brewpub was a delight, serving up all of Deschutes’ normal offerings and some of their rarer ones for absolutely tiny sums of money (Black Butte XXII was crazy good). This will be a recurrent theme: Portland is cheap compared to Vancouver. How cheap? Try ordering two 20oz pints of excellent ale at a jam-packed downtown brewpub, handing the bartender a $10 bill, and see how much change you get back here. I got $2. The food was excellent as well, making this place a definite must-see on your list.

From there it was a short jog through the rain to Whole Foods. Yes, a grocery store specializing in high end organic foodstuffs was my next stop in beer nirvana, because we ain’t in Kansas any more.

Pictured: Groceries.

That’s not a stock photo. That is what was on my hotel table 10 minutes after walking out of Whole Foods at 10:15pm on a Friday night. Pictured are beers whose scores are (from left to right): 100;98, 100;97, 97;59*, 98;97, 100;99, 100;99, and 100;98. I’ll leave researching what a score means to the reader as an exercise. * Sidenote: the 97;59 for ST Creme Brulee doesn’t reflect Sharon’s near addictive lust for this beer, which she desires even more than water.

Plus, there were plenty more beers in the 100;95+ range but frankly my arms are only so strong.

For reference, here are a few BC entries and their respective ratings:

  • Phillips Hammer Imp Stout: 95;44
  • Driftwood Naughty Hildegard ESB: 92;98
  • Crannog Backhand of God: 66;44
  • Central City Red Racer IPA: 98;97
  • Howe Sound Pothole Filler Imp Sout: 93;37

Now, ratebeer is not the end-all of beer ratings, and does have a slight US bias (in particular, I take exception to the Crannog BHoG score), but it is a good overall guide. A good beer might not get a high score, but a highly scored beer will likely be excellent.

Next I hit up the marvellous Hair of the Dog Brewery & Tasting Room.

I have to say it. Coolest brewery logo ever.

HotD unfortunately didn’t have any of their crazy one-off brews on offer, but no matter, their regular lineup is the stuff of legends. Despite being absolutely crammed to the gills with beer lovers for Portland’s annual Zwickelmania, I managed to sample the full set of HotD beers, and wander around their brewery a bit (hint: it looks much like other breweries).

HotD is a short walk from most downtown hotels, but unless they are serving up some of their odder ales I can’t recommend it as a stand-alone destination if you’ve had their beer before. If you haven’t, then absolutely go there. In either event, it makes a fantastic pit stop en route to my next target: Cascade Brewing Barrel House.

Cascade Brewing has an interesting side project in SE Portland: their Barrel House. The normal brewpub for Cascade is way off to the SW of Portland, but at the Barrel House (just a short 15m walk from HotD, by the way), they roll up their sleeves and make very odd beers (that’s a good thing).

None of the beers on offer here are brewed on site. Instead, they’re all trucked in and stored in old wine or whiskey barrels for at least 18 months. Storing beer that long means you need a lot of space, since barrels don’t exactly efficiently use the volume they occupy. Yes, that means the building is essentially a warehouse for beer.

Oh my god. It’s full of barrels.

So, after 18 months in a barrel, they crack that sucker, carbonate it and serve it, right? Um, no. Not even close. At 18 months they sample the beer, figure what direction the flavour has gone, and concoct some sort of crazy fruit to add to it. It might be peaches, it might be ginger, it might be ground up apricot pits–whatever they think will compliment the beer is sourced, ground up and crammed into the beer, along with yeast to restart fermentation.

Surely THEN they must serve it, right? Nope, it’s re-barreled and optionally conidtioned with brettanomyces or lactobacillus to kick start the souring, and then left for several more months before it’s ready for your taste buds. It’s a long process, but it produces wonderfully complex, completely unique beers. No two runs of the same recipe will be the same. It also produces some complete flops, as one of the brewers confided in me “we’re not doing our job right unless you sometimes go too far and have to pour it out.”

While I was there, they were kind enough to tap a few barrels mid-process and hand out samples. The samples came with both backstory on the original beer as well as their hopes for what will be added to the mix and what was in the beers’ future. You can just tell that these guys love their jobs, and it shows when you talk shop with them.

I’d be smiling too if my job description was “make good beer awesome any way you want.”

Cascade hands down was my highlight for Day Two of my trip, and very nearly took the cake for the whole trip. A visit to Portland is worth it even if you never make it to another brewery. Heck, having to leave after sampling only 1/4 of their beers made me incredibly sad, despite the fact that my next stop was one of the best beer stores in America, but that’s a story for the next instalment.

Until then, enjoy this great sunset picture Sharon grabbed about a block after Cascade.

Not pictured: Freezing cold.

The saga continues in Part II

Written by chuck

February 25th, 2011 at 10:37 am

4 Responses to 'Portland Part I'

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  1. Isn’t Whole Foods awesome for beer in the states? Up here, I only go to Whole Foods for the cheese samples.

    Next time I’m in Portland, I’m going to try and check out Cascade and HotD — both sound very cool (and the odd beer thing is dear to my heart).

    Looking forward to hearing about the rest of your Portland trip.


    25 Feb 11 at 13:03

  2. […] the first instalment of my two-part Portland review, click here. Or scroll down you lazy bastards. You clicked, didn’t you? […]

  3. Awesome post, great to hear you enjoyed Zwickelmania!

    One minor thing to note, aside from a barrel here and there (eg. Beckberry) Cascade sours strictly with Lacto. Beckberry is the only beer I’m aware of that’s been inoculated with brett at Cascade.


    1 Mar 11 at 11:03

  4. Good point. For the sampled barrels the story very much went along the lines of “then we condition with Brett.” This did raise my eyebrows, though, as Brett is a bit… notoriously dangerous 🙂 I’ll update the article.


    1 Mar 11 at 11:10

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