Portland is home to 53 breweries and counting — more than any other city on earth. Since the early 1980s, Portland brewers have been hard at work, pioneering the craft beer movement with fresh ingredients like Willamette Valley hops and barley and Bull Run water. Along with bustling brewpubs and a calendar overflowing with beer-themed events, their innovative, tasty brews help the city to continually earn its “Beervana” nickname.
Portland’s beer buzz began in 1984 when both BridgePort Brewing and Widmer Brothers Brewing opened facilities in what is now the Pearl District, not far from where Henry Weinhard’s brews were made as far back as the 1860s. Today, both BridgePort and Widmer offer tours and have bars that serve taster trays, though Widmer has since moved its brewery to North Portland, conveniently located along the Yellow MAX light rail line.
Along with McMenamins, which operates 57 whimsical brewpubs in the Northwest (each unique, but bound together by their tasty beers and historic locations) these companies have all outgrown the “microbrew” designation by producing more than 15,000 barrels per year. But each continue to craft brilliant, mouthwatering beverages, some of which can only be found locally.
The second wave
Agile upstarts are always welcome in Portland’s brewing community, and in the 1990s, a series of newcomers helped keep the city’s beer scene fresh. For example, Lompoc Brewing has been around since 1993, continually adding beers, like its dark, rich Lompoc Special Draft, to its repertoire, and locations, like Sidebar, a limited-release tasting room, to its roster. In 1994, Lucky Labrador Brewing Company started pouring concoctions like their rich and creamy Black Lab Stout, when the first of their four locations opened to the public (and their pooches).
Also coming on the scene in the ’90s was Hair of the Dog, which generated a cult following with its earliest offerings, the bottle-conditioned — and strong — Adam and Fred. To the delight of longtime fans, Hair of the Dog opened a tasting room in the Central Eastside in 2010. Their small-batch brews pair well with their pub menu, which offers everything from cheese plates to chili.
Laurelwood Brewing opened in 2001 and has operated several locations over the past decade-plus. You can find their brews at two locations inside Portland International Airport as well as their brewpubs in Northeast Portland and Sellwood. Laurelwood might not have the highest profile of local breweries, but they consistently win national awards and have grown to become the fifth largest brewpub by volume in the United States.
The Oregon breweries Rogue and Full Sail debuted Portland locations in the ’90s, after being established in Newport and Hood River, respectively. Rogue’s more recent additions include locations in downtown’s University District and at the airport, as well as the Green Dragon beer hall and microbrewery in Southeast Portland. Bend-based Deschutes Brewery opened a brewpub in Portland’s Pearl District in 2008.
The 21st century has brought a new generation of breweries to Portland. Many of these breweries take a targeted approach, focusing on specific beer styles or brewing techniques, but it’s safe to say that they all prize sharing their beer above all else.
Meanwhile, cyclists spin their wheels at the vast selection of organic beers offered by Hopworks and the newer Hopworks BikeBar. The “eco-brewpub” is powered with 100% renewable energy; at the BikeBar you can help generate the building’s electricity by pedaling away on two stationary bikes. When it’s time to refuel, enjoy a delicious pizza and a a thirst-quenching Organic Hub Lager, which has won awards around the world.
Part aging room, part pub, the Cascade Brewing Barrel House is a 7,100-square-foot emporium of beer that specializes in distinctive sour beers. Every Tuesday at 6 p.m., they tap a new barrel, providing the perfect pairing for their selection of smoked meats, nuts, salads and sandwiches. Their expansive patio is a favorite destination on summer evenings.
Importing the concept of French and Belgian farmhouse style beers, Upright Brewing is a hidden gem in the local beer scene. Its basement-level tasting room has few frills but is big on flavor, with a seasonally rotating menu of one-offs and small batches pushing the limits of their Pacific Northwest ingredients.
Wrapped around an open kitchen that kicks out cured meats and charcuterie, Burnside Brewing pours seasonals and steady favorites like Sweet Heat, a tart wheat ale flavored by apricot puree.
The 10-barrel Coalition Brewing has its own pub across the street, where they serve up tasty pints like their Loving Cup Maple Porter. Coalition’s pilot program also periodically produces recipes designed by Portland’s daring homebrew community.
A favorite hangout for Northeast Portland residents, Migration Brewing serves up pub food that pairs exquisitely with its handcrafted beers like their Lupulin IPA, a citrus-tinged blend of Centennial, Simcoe, Crystal and Cluster dry hops.
Base Camp Brewing, founded in 2012, taps into two local passions: beer and the outdoors. They brew lagers, including experimental styles like India Pale Lager and a S’mores Stout, as well as beer inspired by European styles such as the Paulschienbier. Base Camp’s brews are bottled on-site in aluminum bottles, which are perfect for keeping beer cold and fresh on hikes, kayak trips and other adventures.
Started as a nano-brewery in owner Mike Wright’s garage, The Commons Brewery now operates a seven-barrel system and serves two brews year-round: Urban Farmhouse Ale and Flemish Kiss, an American-Belgian hybrid — both award-winners. A visit to its Central Eastside tasting room, open Thursday-Sunday, will reveal a rotating selection of small-batch, seasonal offerings like Brotherly Love, a Valentine’s Day offering: Commons’ Belgian dark strong ale, Little Brother, aged in bourbon barrels with Northwest sour cherries and cacao nibs roasted by Portland’s Woodblock Chocolate.
Breakside Brewery takes a culinary approach, focusing on local, seasonal ingredients and collaborating with local chefs and producers. The result? Wide and ever-changing tap lists at both the original location in Northeast Portland and the larger brew house in Milwaukie, just southeast of Portland. Look for offerings like Just the Tip Spruced Wheat, made with locally foraged blue spruce tips, Aquavit Barrel-Aged Braggot, honey ale aged in Krogstad Aquavit barrels from House Spirits, and Duck Duck Drunk: Brewed for Breakside’s third anniversary in 2013, this experimental chocolate porter was infused with 100 pounds of locally raised Muscovy duck.
Gluten-free ale is the sole focus at Harvester Brewing, which offers tastings at its Central Eastside brewery on Thursday evenings. Willamette Valley chestnuts, hand-roasted on-site, take the place of grains in Harvester’s ales, which include IPA, pale and dark varieties, as well as experimental ales incorporating local ingredients like raspberries or squash.