Along the banks of the great, wide Columbia River, no traveler should miss the soaring cliffs, the dramatic waterfall hikes — or the growing number of hardworking brewers making some of the tastiest trail-ending beers imaginable. Grab your favorite designated driver (or better yet, go entirely car-free) and take in the outstanding beauty of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, enjoying access along the way to five outstanding brewpubs — all within 60 breathtaking miles (97 km) of Portland.
Gateway to the gorge
Twenty minutes from downtown, McMenamins Edgefield is the crown jewel of the local brothers’ empire of hotels and brewpubs located in character-filled, historic properties. Set on 74 acres, Edgefield repurposes a onetime county poor farm into a veritable good-time kingdom with a brewery, distillery, “pitch and putt” golf course, vineyard, hotel, spa, outdoor concert venue and, of course, scores of taps scattered all over the property. Try a Hammerhead, a classic hoppy pale ale, or a Ruby, which is infused with Oregon-grown raspberries.
Drive a half hour further east on I-84 to the town of Cascade Locks, where you’ll find Thunder Island Brewing. The “adventure-based” riverfront brewery offers a rainbow of small-batch beers — from a crisp kolsch perfect for a sunny day to a dark Scotch porter. Sip the hoppy, citrusy IPA from patio picnic tables and drink in the stunning river views.
From Cascade Locks, cross over the jaw-dropping Bridge of the Gods into Washington to sample the delightfully low-key Walking Man Brewing. Set in the windsurfing hub of Stevenson, Walking Man has kept its chalkboard beer list updated with award-winning, full-flavored beers since 1999. Order up a plate of the excellent steelhead tacos and try the bracingly bitter imperial IPA or the unusual, full-bodied black cherry stout.
To sample a newer Washington standout, continue east on State Route 14, turn north in Bingen and take Highway 141 up the hill to the town of White Salmon, home to Everybody’s Brewing. Inside, a large Douglas fir bar invites beer lovers to browse house favorites like Country Boy IPA and the bright copper-colored Daily Bread Common Ale, a “steam beer” made in the fashion of the original West Coast beers from the days before refrigeration. Out back, take in a gorgeous panorama of snow-clad Mount Hood.
Heading back across the Columbia, suds samplers will find themselves in Hood River, a cornerstone of Oregon’s beer culture. Way back in 1987, Full Sail Brewery took root in a former fruit cannery by the river and became the first craft brewery in Oregon to bottle its beers. Specializing in quaffable “session beers,” Full Sail’s thriving pub anchors one of the best beer towns in the West. Try the malty, fruity signature Amber, or the gold-medal-winning Session Black Lager, and keep an eye out for small-batch Brewer’s Share beers — made each year at the whim of individual brewers.
Just down the street, Double Mountain Brewery & Taproom opened its doors in 2007. The airy taproom feels like a favorite café, but one that pours exceptionally balanced, long-aged ales. Double Mountain also excels at producing one of beer’s greatest companions: terrific pizza. Enjoy a piping-hot pie with a hoppy pale ale or local favorite IRA — a unique India Red Ale.
Across the highway from downtown awaits one of the state’s newest brewpubs, Pfriem Family Brewers. Opened in 2012 by Josh Pfriem (pronounced “Freem”), a former Full Sail star, this glittering new brewery has rapidly won over savvy locals with its exceptional Belgian-style beers. The glasses here are footed, and specials like pork schnitzel and the potato salad are better than they have to be. Enjoy a Belgian Strong Blonde at one of the long communal tables, or step outside, grab a bench and savor the bouquet of pear and clove in your glass as you watch a colorful armada of kiteboarders harness the waves of the wind-churned Columbia.