Later this week Brian will provide a bunch of tips on where to eat and drink in Portland, including several brewpubs. Commenters on our Portland open thread also have great tips. But if you’re a beer geek like me, you’re not going to be happy drinking at whichever decent bar is closest to the convention center. I’d rather go a bit further afield to seek out someplace really good and hopefully also less crowded. So here are the fruits of my background research on beer geek websites like RateBeer, plus a bit of personal experience from the last time ESA was in Portland, plus the suggestions of commenter Brandon Cooper. Please do chime in with your own suggestions in the comments!
Warning: I’m a beer geek, but a slightly atypical one: I don’t like IPAs. I go for English- and Belgian-style ales, wheat beers, bocks, and sours (aside: I was into sours many years before they became trendy, thank you very much). Also, I’m not a fan of really loud bars when I’m out drinking with friends (which is why Bailey’s Taproom and APEX aren’t listed below). My recommendations reflect my tastes. If you want to seek out crazy 100 IBU beers or rockin’ bars, you’re on your own.
Hair of the Dog. By reputation, the best brewpub in Portland, the equal of any in the entire country in the eyes of beer geek websites. A dozen taps with a heavy emphasis on strong ales and lagers. As in, there might be only one offering under 7% alcohol vs. several over 10%. Don’t plan on sitting here drinking for hours! Also a local cider or two. Short-ish menu mostly comprising (i) meat in sandwiches, and (ii) meat not in sandwiches.
Upright Brewing Company. Well-hidden tasting room; it’s in the basement of the building. If you’re lucky, they’ll have a sign on the sidewalk outside. Limited hours (Th 5-9 pm, Fr 4:30-9 pm, Sa 1-8 pm, Su 1-6 pm). Nine taps, several of which rotate. At any moment there will be a nice mix of classic styles (e.g., pale ale, pilsener, wit) and more unusual/creative styles (e.g., open-fermented koptootje, a Dutch style). Very cheap ($3 for a 12 oz glass). Presumably called “upright” because you basically have to drink standing up amidst the brewing equipment. There’s no bar (you’re served from taps coming out of the wall), few seats, and no food.
Cascade Brewing Barrel House. Brewpub specializing in sour beers and barrel-aged beers. I have to say that, personally, barrel aging doesn’t improve sours in my experience. But your mileage may vary. Whatever, I’m definitely going here. Menu is shortish; upscale bar snacks, soups, sandwiches, and salads.
The Commons. Big industrial-style tasting room with limited seating. 13 taps, emphasis on sours. Limited cheese-based food: cheese and charcuterie boards, a few cheese-based sandwiches, mac & cheese, grilled cheese, etc.
Belmont Station. A car ride east of the convention center, so only worth the trip for serious beer geeks. Hybrid bar/bottle shop. Small bar with 20 well-curated rotating taps including a cask ale, plus over 1400 bottles and cans for sale (yes, you read that right). My understanding is that you can buy bottles to consume on or off the premises, but I’m only 95% sure of that.
Horse Brass Pub. If you’re trekking all the way to Belmont Station you might as well go here too, it’s only a couple of blocks away. English-style pub with 50 taps, about half of which rotate. Draft beers are mostly from Oregon and Washington but including some English imports, multiple cask ales and at least one sour. Food is traditional English pub grub.
Cheese Bar. (ht my dad). Cheese shop with some tables and a large selection of wines and bottled beers that pair well with cheese (Belgian ales, etc.) Out of the way, you’ll need a car.
Deschutes. Yeah, I know. It’s a pretty big microbrewery at this point. Its bottled output is available far and wide (I can get it in Canada), and this outpost is a huge bar/restaurant that’s going to be packed because Deschutes is well-known and walkable from the convention center. But I don’t care if they’re big or not, I care if they’re good. The last time ESA was in Portland I had the seasonal Wowzenbock, which was one of the five best beers I’ve had in my life. If the Wowzenbock is on, I’m definitely going to Deschutes one night to have some.
McMenamins Kennedy School. I recommended this place in the open thread, but I’ll do it again here. It is worth the car ride. It’s a historic elementary school that’s been converted into a boutique hotel and brewpub. My wife and I stayed there a few years ago. You have to see it to believe it, it’s such a cool place. Every nook and cranny is put to use. There are several bars, each with its own funky decor; even the boiler room is a (cozy) bar now. The auditorium is now a theater that features classic movies and live music. You can eat and drink outside in the courtyard in the center of the school. The walls are festooned with paintings from local artists, every one of which was commissioned to commemorate the school. And the classrooms are now hotel rooms–that still have the chalkboards and chalk. In the ultra-competitive world of Portland brewing, McMenamins beers are fine, nothing special. Same for the food–it’s average brewpub food. But you’re going for the setting. McMenamins has made a name for themselves with their amazing renovations of historic properties in and around Portland, but they really topped themselves with the Kennedy School. I took my lab group there last time the ESA was in Portland, and might do so again.