Portland is home to more than 75 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 brews help the city to continually earn its “Beervana” nickname.
Portland’s beer buzz began in 1984 when both BridgePort Brewing (now closed) and Widmer Brothers Brewing opened facilities in what is now the Pearl District, not far from where Henry Weinhard’s brews were made back in the 1860s.
In 1985, McMenamins opened Oregon’s first brewpub in Southwest Portland; you can still knock one back at the original Hillsdale Brewery today. McMenamins now has more than 50 whimsical locations in the Northwest — each unique, but united by their flagship beers and historic locations.
The move to Portland
Other Oregon brewing pioneers opened Portland locations in the 1990s, including Rogue Brewing, which opened in Newport in 1989 and today operates the Rogue Distillery & Public House in the Pearl District, Rogue Hall downtown, a Portland Airport pub and the Green Dragon). Hood River’s Full Sail, which started in Hood River in 1987, has a small brewing operation inside McCormick & Schmick’s Harborside at the Marina in downtown Portland.
More recently, two Bend-based heavyweights have also opened Portland outposts: Legendary Deschutes Brewery, founded in 1988, opened a brewpub in the Pearl District in 2008, and fast-growing 10 Barrel Brewing moved into the same neighborhood in 2015.
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, around since 1993, is continually creating new beers and locations, like Sidebar, a limited-release tasting room. 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 the pub menu, which offers everything from cheese plates to chili.
More recently, the vast selection of organic beers offered by Hopworks and the newer Hopworks North Williams Pub and Beergarden have been drawing rave reviews since they started brewing in 2008. 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 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 (660 sq m) emporium of beer that launched in 2010 and quickly gained attention for its distinct specialty sour beers. Every Tuesday at 6 p.m. they tap a new barrel, and their expansive patio is a favorite destination on summer evenings.
Recent years continue to bring exceptional new breweries to Portland. Some take a targeted approach, focusing on specific beer styles or brewing techniques, but it’s safe to say that they all prize sharing their passion and their beer.
Base Camp Brewing, founded in 2012, taps into two local passions: beer and the outdoors. They brew lagers, experimental styles and a famous S’mores Stout that comes with a toasted marshmallow right on the chalice. 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.
At both its original location in Northeast Portland and the larger brew house in Milwaukie, just southeast of Portland, Breakside Brewery crafts favorites like the Breakside IPA, winner of the coveted gold medal for American-style IPA at the 2014 Great American Beer Festival, and wild experiments like the Duck Duck Drunk, a chocolate porter brewed for Breakside’s third anniversary in 2013 and infused with 100 pounds of locally raised Muscovy duck.
Gluten-free ale is the sole focus at Ground Breaker Brewing, which uses Willamette Valley chestnuts hand-roasted on-site to take the place of grains in their award-winning brews. Taste gluten-free IPAs, pale and dark ales, as well as experimental ales incorporating local ingredients like coffee or squash, and enjoy gluten-free food at the Ground Breaker Gastropub next door.
The 10-barrel Coalition Brewing serves up tasty pints of brews like Loving Cup Maple Porter in their tasting room, open Friday–Sunday. Coalition’s pilot program also periodically produces recipes designed by Portland’s ambitious homebrew community.
A favorite Northeast Portland hangout, Migration Brewing handcrafts beers like Lupulin IPA, a citrus-tinged blend of Centennial, Simcoe, Crystal and Cluster dry hops.
Gigantic Brewing strives to make the best IPAs in Portland, and also to ignore all the rules and come up with unique one-off beers showcasing the veteran brewers’ creativity and the region’s stellar hops. For example, their Catch 23 pale ale was focused around Hop #527, an experimental variety from Roy Farms in Yakima, Wash.
Although Ecliptic Brewing is a newer addition to the Portland beer scene, its founder is no upstart. Local brewing legend John Harris put in time at McMenamins, Deschutes (where he developed the recipe for blockbusters like Mirror Pond Pale Ale) and Full Sail before striking out on his own. Ecliptic combines Harris’ two passions, brewing and astronomy, in celestial-themed brews like the Spica pilsner (named after the brightest start in the constellation Virgo) and Orbiter IPA — all paired with an elevated food menu that rotates with the astrological calendar.
Under the shadow of North Portland’s iconic St. Johns Bridge, Occidental Brewing specializes in European-style beers. Stop by the brewery and taproom to taste their spectacular altbier or popular kolsch.
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.
Baerlic Brewing offers 10 taps pouring a mix of their year-round beers and seasonal or one-off concoctions. Many brews tend toward classic European styles, like cream ales and stouts, but they also make a flagship IPA and use plenty of local hops, living out their motto, “the beer here is near and dear.”
Which Brews to Choose?
With such a rapidly growing beer scene, choice paralysis can become a real challenge: do you start with the classic brewers that set the stage for Portland’s rise to brewery fame, or do you sample beer from one of the new upstarts who are striving to change the game? The answer: head to a taproom and try them all.
With 50 beers on tap from a rotating selection of Oregon brewers like Ex Novo, pFriem and Hair of the Dog, Apex provides a haven for beer aficionados and newbies alike. Their live online menu tells you exactly what’s on tap, what’s new and what’s about to tap out so you won’t miss a drop of your favorite ale.
If you’re looking to learn more about local breweries, try Bailey’s Taproom in the heart of downtown. Their events calendar focuses on hosting brewmasters and taproom takeovers, adding an element of education to your visit where you can sample from 26 beers that encompass a wide range of styles including IIPAs, saisons and barrel-aged stouts.
For the grandest selection of them all, belly up to the bar at Loyal Legion where a menu of 99 taps dedicated to Oregon breweries awaits your perusal. Order a flight of samples from across the state or stick to Portland-born brews—with a full cocktail bar and food menu this elegant pub will satisfy any non-beer-drinkers in your group, buying you more time for another pint.