Brewerism- Portland, Bend & Beyond!

I ordered my first craft beer back in 2003 and while my love for beer has grown throughout my travels, it has taken me 16 years to finally make it to Portland, a.k.a. “Beervana”. I don’t have the hard figures on how many breweries are in Portland, and I’m sure that it is in a constant state of flux. However, it is safe to say that there are loads of breweries not only in Portland, but all across Oregon as well. So, this summer I made the pilgrimage for 10 days from Portland to the northern coast, through the Willamette valley, out to Hood River, down to Bend, and back in a trip that won’t soon be forgotten. In this post I will not be providing an exhaustive review of Oregon’s breweries. However, I will point out some highlights of this road trip through the Beaver State.

Portland

While not the capital of the state, Portland is undoubtedly the beer capital of Oregon. It is not an exaggeration to say that nearly every F&B business has local beer on tap - from restaurants, to cafes, to donut shops. “Keep Portland Weird” is the motto (I thought that was Vermont?) and there is plenty of weird to be found with funky local spots and eclectic people. With few exceptions, Portlanders fiercely support their local businesses (i.e. Powell’s Books, Voodoo Doughnuts, Stumptown Coffee et al) rather than chain establishments which makes it fun to explore the various districts, progressively eating and drinking from countless eateries and watering holes. We spent 4-5 days in the city and never got bored (nor did we manage to visit even half of the breweries!). The Willamette River runs north-south through the city, dividing it into digestible districts that all have their share of breweries. I’ll highlight the ones that we visited in this section

West of the Willamette (Downtown, Pearl District, Old Town)

Deschutes Brewpub

This classic Bend, OR brewery has a satellite brewpub in downtown Portland. Of course you want to go to the source (which we did - see below), but it also has one of the highest ratings for brewery food so I had to try it out. I demolished some pork belly and grits and was able to enjoy half-pours of two of my favorites: Mirror Pond Pale Ale and Black Butte Porter. I may have even had room for some brownie bites made with their Obsidian Stout! Of course they have loads of small batch brews made on premises, but I was in a nostalgic mood I guess. The space is immense, rivaling a German beer hall, decorated with ornate wood carvings of outdoor scenes, only without the long picnic tables.

REPORT CARD:

Overall - A

Atmosphere - A

Quality of Beers - A

Variety of Beers - B

Comment: If you can’t make the trek down to Bend to see the original facilities, this is a fantastic venue with excellent food that goes beyond the typical pub grub.

Backwoods Brewing

Directly across from the Deschutes Brewpub, I enjoyed a nice NEIPA at Backwoods.

Directly across from the Deschutes Brewpub, I enjoyed a nice NEIPA at Backwoods.

Backwoods is actually out of Carson, WA but they have opened this beautiful facility (Backwoods in the Pearl) directly across the street from the Deschutes Brewpub downtown. Admittedly I only had a half-pour of a hazy IPA and I didn’t try any food, so it wouldn’t be fair to include a full review here. However, the beer was nice and they definitely had the “swanky cabin” feel going on in this renovated industrial building. I’d stop in again to try more of their line-up next time.

Von Ebert Brewing Co.

Von Ebert has two locations in Portland, but I visited the one in the Pearl District (the other is in Glendoveer). It’s a massive space with a huge bar, long tables, and TVs all around. They’ve got a clear German thing going on with the logo, name, long communal tables, and the stein club. However, the beers are certainly not limited to classic German styles. I had a “Brewer’s Choice” flight, but this selection varies regularly. In my case there were a few hoppy styles, a pilsner, and a saison. Definitely a lot of money put into this place for a clean, industrial look. They have loads of taps, with room to host a considerable amount of guest taps - as well as several dedicated to gluten-free options which is unique.

REPORT CARD:

Overall - B

Atmosphere - B

Quality of Beers - A

Variety of Beers - B

Comment: Seems like a great place to pre-game for a Timbers match and the sheer size of the place would welcome large, private events. Nice beers but I think it lacks authentic character as it is somewhere between a traditional German beer hall and a modern, industrial craft brewery.

Rogue Pearl Public House

Ask most Portlanders and they’d tell you that Rogue beer sucks. There is a genuine disdain for this large, Newport, OR-based brewery and I’m not exactly sure why. For me, it was a no-brainer to visit one of their locations since I have a personal connection with this brewery. Their flagship beer, “Dead Guy Ale” (Maibock, how’s that for a flagship, eh?), was the first home-brew recipe that I attempted back in 2013. They sold ingredient kits and I went for it with a friend, struggling through the tedious steps and waiting patiently for the most mediocre swill I’ve ever made to ferment to completion. Of course I enjoyed a “build my own” tasting flight that included a fresh draft version of Dead Guy to bring it full circle. A very large tap selection illustrates their wide range of brews with some mainstream and some small batch offerings. This location sits across the street from the ever-popular 10 Barrel Portland (with an impressive rooftop patio), offering a quieter alternative.

REPORT CARD:

Overall - B

Atmosphere - C

Quality of Beers - A

Variety of Beers - A

Comment: While I didn’t make it to the other two Rogue outlets in Portland (Rogue Hall and Eastside Pub & Pilot Brewery), for me it would’ve been a crime to visit Oregon and not pay a visit to at least one Rogue establishment (somehow I drove right past them in Newport!). Loads of beers, ciders and spirits to try here at their original distillery location.

East of the Willamette (Lloyd District, Central Eastside)

Culmination Brewing

Culmination Brewing is the first on the list of breweries on the “other side” of the river (not downtown/Pearl District that is). It’s tucked away in a quiet little neighborhood with ample seating both inside and outside (albeit not on the scale as some of the larger brewpubs previously mentioned). This was a necessary visit as I have previously worked with the founder, Tomas Sluiter, in Hong Kong of all places. I enjoyed a tasting flight plus a few more samples and what stuck out to me was the large number of collaborative brews available and that they have a culture of being a little more experimental with their brewing ingredients and techniques. The beers were nicely made and demonstrated a mature level of skill in pulling off everything from rice lagers to clean saisons, to fruited sours, to balanced hoppy beers. They’ve got a relatively small brewhouse, so they’re able to keep churning out a variety worth sampling often.

REPORT CARD:

Overall - A

Atmosphere - B

Quality of Beers - A

Variety of Beers - A

Comment: Props to Tomas and his crew for literally building this place from the ground up and popping out interesting and consistent brews, and for promoting a collaborative culture in craft beer.

Modern Times - Belmont Fermentorium

This San Diego-based brewery has opened several satellite locations in recent years and the Belmont Fermentorium is one of them. They offer stuff brewed on-premise as well as San Diego and the variety is respectable. Having never been to any of the other locations I can’t speak to how well the beer travels, but I genuinely enjoyed everything that I tried (“Old Money” and “New Money” tasting flights). Their entire menu is vegan friendly which is a huge draw for some, and a huge miss for others. What I did like was the eclectic decor, from a yarn-covered hallway to the toilet with dioramas made from old action figures in hollowed-out t.v. sets, to a gigantic Macho Man Randy Savage piñata suspended from the ceiling. It’s a fun place worth a peek.

REPORT CARD:

Overall - A

Atmosphere - A

Quality of Beers - A

Variety of Beers - A

Comment: Aside from the food that I didn’t try (personal preference), this place was one of the best spots in Portland. They have a great take-away section for their beer (and coffee) in cans, they’re making excellent stuff, and the place is just weird and funny.

Little Beast Brewing

Little Beast Brewing has a unique little tasting room/beer garden that looks like you’re strolling up to grandma’s house. Inside you’ll find a tap and bottle selection, while outside you’ll find picnic table seating and a small lawn to lounge and sample beers. We hit this one up pretty early one day so practically had the place to ourselves and it was very relaxing.

As for the beers, they are self-proclaimed to offer “rare beer” which basically consisted of loads of sours, farmhouse ales, and mixed culture beers. They experiment with fruit additions, foeders, barrels and blending to create a unique line-up. This place is a must-see.

REPORT CARD:

Overall - A

Atmosphere - A

Quality of Beers - A

Variety of Beers - B

Comment: Fantastic atmosphere and interesting beers to try. I dinged the “variety” score since they are narrowly focused on mixed fermentation beers, but honestly it’s probably a good thing to not try to do everything. It’s also dangerous to be brewing clean and sour beers in the same facility.

Oregon Coast

An entire trip could’ve consisted of driving along the coastline, but since we wanted to dabble in Portland, Bend, Hood River and wine country (Willamette Valley), we only had time to cover a the northern coast - Astoria to Yachats. If you’ve ever driven the California Hwy 1 (PCH) then this was reminiscent of the northern part of that. The coast is windy, cool, rocky, and occasionally decorated with evergreens. There’s plenty of camping going on, but the beach activities are less about working on tans and more about flying kites, surfing, and exercising. I can only speak for the northern coastline, but it was incredible - and I’ve heard that the rest of the coast shares that standard.

Buoy Beer Co. (Astoria)

Besides Portland, there are plenty of other breweries to explore in Oregon. We chose to drive out a couple of hours to hit the scenic coastline, beginning in Astoria which is right across from Washington state. Astoria is a fun little seaside town known for a few scenes from The Goonies (opening jail break et al) and a couple of nice breweries. We did a lunch stop at Buoy Beer Co. for some decent fish and chips and cold ones. They have a cool space on the water with a glass floor panel to look at seals, or a glass wall to look at brewing equipment! There’s a 15 bbl (give or take) for there main production, and then a fun little pilot system (pictured) for one-off projects.

REPORT CARD:

Overall - A

Atmosphere - A

Quality of Beers - A

Variety of Beers - B

Comment: It’s almost worth going to Astoria just to hit up this place. If I wasn’t driving I definitely would’ve stayed longer and tried more off the menu! We did, however, take home a couple of bottled beers - a brett saison with and without cranberry. Very nice indeed, but I preferred the cranberry.

Pelican Brewing Company (Pacific City)

After Astoria (see Buoy Beer Co. above), we continued south along the coast with a few stops along the way before overnighting in Pacific City. It was on my list to see the Pelican Pub & Brewery and their immaculate piece of real estate on the beach at Cape Kiwanda. We had dinner there and a few beers before grabbing some swag (excellent swag shop) and hitting the road. The food is incredibly overpriced but decent - staff is lovely. Beers are classic and solid, but not mind-blowing.

REPORT CARD:

Overall - B

Atmosphere - A

Quality of Beers - B

Variety of Beers - A

Comment: Definitely worth it to grab beers and sit outside, admiring the view. The relatively high prices and less-adventurous beer styles take it down a notch. I did appreciate their take-away can selection with tallboy Cape Kiwanda Cream Ale and Beakbreaker DIPA.

Yachats Brewing

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We cut our coastal drive short just past Newport in an area called Cape Perpetua. There’s a town and a brewery there called Yachats Brewing (pronounced YAH-hots) that was a nice stop for lunch and some beers. They have an extensive tap list and some decent, healthy food options. Besides a couple of draft beers we took home a bottle of “Cetacea”, a saison with szechuan peppercorn.

REPORT CARD:

Overall - B

Atmosphere - B

Quality of Beers - B

Variety of Beers - A

Comment: If you’re in the area it’s worth a stop for decent beer. I wouldn’t call it a “must-see” unless you’re doing the coastal drive. There’s a nice little outdoor seating area that was great on a sunny day.

Hood River

If you’re staying in Portland multiple days and are looking for a nice day-trip then I cannot recommend highly enough the road trip out to Hood River. Take the scenic Columbia River Gorge Highway for some stunning views and eventually arrive at Hood River.

Pfriem Family Brewers

Hood River is a nice place for water sports (i.e. windsurfing) but I was having none of that. I’d heard multiple recommendations to visit the Pfriem Family Brewers which sits in a strip along the riverfront and so we stopped in for lunch and beers. I’ll go ahead and say that this place was hands-down my favorite brewery on the entire trip. Excellent food and beers across the board, from their house Pilsner to their barrel-aged sour beers, this place is a must-see. We weren’t able to squeeze it in, but a few doors down you also have Ferment Brewing Co which looked like a really great venue too.

REPORT CARD:

Overall - A

Atmosphere - A

Quality of Beers - A

Variety of Beers - A

Comment: My favorite brewery in Oregon. I’d kick back that Pilsner on the reg and the balance that they demonstrate in their sour beers clearly shows that these people know how to make great beer.

Bend

The 3-hour drive from Portland is scenic on its own, but once you get to Bend you’ll find an outdoorsy-person’s paradise. It’s definitely an oasis of sorts, and particularly in terms of craft beer with loads of local breweries.

Deschutes Brewery

One of the top 5 craft breweries in the USA, it was worth the 3-hour drive from Portland just to come down and drink Deschutes from the source! They’ve got their original pub from 1988 which is where we landed to try a flight of some of their flagships, as well as some fun one-offs. We didn’t eat here - just enjoyed the flights and the atmosphere, which felt a little dated compared to other newer breweries, but also authentic in that sense. They also do a bit of distilling with spirits to try, although I didn’t try any.

REPORT CARD:

Overall - A

Atmosphere - B

Quality of Beers - A

Variety of Beers - A

Comment: I particularly like Deschutes beers, from their Mirror Pond Pale to Fresh Squeezed IPA to Black Butte Porter. Sure you can get those beers all over the place (even in Hong Kong), but there’s nothing like trying it from the source.

10 Barrel Brewing Co.

Beer geeks may roll their eyes in regards to the “sell-out”, 10 Barrel Brewing Co which is originally from Bend. They obviously have big money backing them to be able to roll out multiple tap room/restaurants in Portland, Bend, Boise, San Diego and Denver. I don’t care too much about who owns who if the beer is good. Based on that principle we sampled an extensive line-up at one of their locations in Bend. I was familiar with them in Hong Kong for their hoppy beers (Apocalypse), but it turns out that they make all kinds of stuff. I thought the beers were decent, with the exception of their sour beers that tended to be overly sweet. Food is excellent since they can afford great chefs.

REPORT CARD:

Overall - B

Atmosphere - A

Quality of Beers - C

Variety of Beers - B

Comment: It’s a fun venue with ample outdoor and indoor seating. I liked the huge taster flight, the food, and the swag. Really disliked their fruited sour beers that tasted like soda.

Sunriver Brewing Co.

Just a stone’s throw away from 10 Barrel (see above), you’ve got Sunriver Brewing Co.’s “Galveston Pub”, one of three brewpub locations (two in Bend and one in Eugene). These guys have a nice little beer selection with great food, indoor and outdoor seating, and a great vibe going. We were able to sample a flight with a range from Mexican lager to Hefeweizen to IPA to Stout. I can’t recall anything really jumping off of the page, but everything was solid and I’d be up for checking them out again.

REPORT CARD:

Overall - A

Atmosphere - B

Quality of Beers - A

Variety of Beers - B

Comment: Solid place for food and brews. The big-as-my-face pretzel won’t be soon forgotten. We visited at dinnertime and it was slammed, so obviously popular with the locals.

Bend Brewing Co.

Bend Brewing Company is located near the old downtown area, with a beautiful spot on Mirror Pond. When the weather is nice this place is amazing for having casual beers out on the lawn with friends and family. Of course there was the obligatory corn hole game going on as well, with beers served inside and outside in a “self-service” model. They’ve been around since 1995 with this brewpub facility and they’ve got some nice beers to complement the facilities.

REPORT CARD:

Overall - B

Atmosphere - A

Quality of Beers - B

Variety of Beers - B

Comment: I don’t remember anything blowing me away in terms of the beers, but nothing that was off-putting either. Clearly the setting of drinking on the lawn by the river and the location downtown made all the difference to me. I’d definitely come back here with a group.

Crux Fermentation Project

Besides Deschutes, I’d say that I was most looking forward to checking out Crux Fermentation Project based on what I’ve read/heard. In an old, repurposed AAMCO transmission shop you’ve got a beautiful brewing kit, cellar, and tasting room with a sizable green space for food trucks and picnic tables. Easily my favorite brewery that we visited in Bend, this one is a must-see.

REPORT CARD:

Overall - A

Atmosphere - A

Quality of Beers - A

Variety of Beers - A

Comment: Mostly focused on IPAs, Crux also has a variety of lagers, stouts, and farmhouse ales as well. Great for families. I could hang out here all day.

Oregon Brewers Festival (Portland - July)

If you are able to plan your trip to Oregon during the month of July you should get to enjoy a plethora of beer events under the umbrella of Oregon Craft Beer Month. One of those events is the Oregon Brewer’s Festival which is held the last weekend in July (Wednesday - Saturday) down at the Tom McCall Waterfront Park in Portland. This was a real treat for us, as we were able to sample beers from many breweries around the state that we were otherwise unable to visit.

The festival is laid out in a green space with shade, tables & chairs, and four sections of draft beer, served from chilled trailers by volunteers. I love the simplicity in that each brewery serves only one beer - in most cases this is a one-off brew that has never before been released. You purchase the current year’s tasting glass and as many tokens as you like where each taster is one token or you can go for a full pour for 3-4 tokens. It’s a family-friendly environment and you can come and go throughout the week without paying additional entry fees. All-in-all it’s just a nice, relaxing environment to sample beers casually.

SIDE NOTE: The highlight of this festival visit had to be when we met our “future selves”. That’s right. We were having beers under the shade when we struck up a conversation with two retirees from Florida - a retired Physics Teacher and School Counselor! Now they cruise around the country doing whatever they feel like, including attending beer festivals. The future is bright!

—Mr. Jackson