|At Henry's Tavern, an ice ring around the bar keeps drinks cold.
I’ve never been much of a beer drinker. Over the years when the occasion has called for it (i.e. no other options) I’d order a pilsner, a light beer with a light taste. My husband Michael, a beer enthusiast descended from Czechoslovakian brewers, used to describe my beer “palate” as “highly refined,” when he was talking to me, and “limited,” when talking to other aficionados.
That was before our recent trip to Portland to see friends and to satisfy my husband’s craving to visit “Beervana” or “Brewtopia” as the city has become known. In 2006, Portland’s mayor officially nicknamed the city “Beertown,” which gives you an idea of how big a part craft beer plays in the civic consciousness.
Beer has been in Portland’s DNA for more than a century. In 1888, Henry Weinhard volunteered to pump beer from his brewery into the newly built Skidmore Fountain. Each July, the Oregon Brewers Festival—the largest outdoor craft beer festival in North America—brings thousands of quaffers to town. So as microbreweries have exploded in the U.S., Portland has remained at the forefront.
In 1978, according to a recent New York Times article, there were 89 breweries in the U.S., at the beginning of 2013: 2,336. Today, Portland is home to more than 60 of them, more than any other city in the world, even those in Germany. So Michael was in hop heaven as we checked into the fabulous Hotel Deluxe (which had me in art deco heaven) and strolled into the scenic and historic Pearl District to start sampling.
Like wines, there’s a lot of lingo surrounding the tasting process. However, rather than endless discussions about whether or not a wine is “fruit forward,” you’ll find that beer talk is more informal and usually surrounds whether or not a beer is hoppy, malty, bitter or sweet. My limited palate expanded almost immediately at our first stop, the Deschutes Brewery. There we found 18 beers on tap, along with a selection of seasonal and “experimental” beers. “Woo hoo” said my husband and ordered up the daily special. It was a hoppy blend, normally my least favorite. But to my surprise it was delicious and I quickly ordered one of my own. My beer re-education had begun.
We marveled over the 100-count beer menu at Henry’s Tavern as well as the thoughtful ice ring around the bar that kept your beers cold. My favorite décor (and brewery name) was at the Lucky Labrador Brewing Co. On a far wall, a rendition of the Andrew Wyeth classic “Christina’s World” had been reborn, this time with a lab and glass of beer included in the painting. At each stop, I followed the server’s recommendations and found myself increasingly enamored of craft beer—especially fresh out of the keg.
|"Christina's World" reborn at Lucky Labrador Brewing Co.
It wasn’t all about the beer. We had dinner at Andina, one of Portland’s best restaurants, which serves up amazing “novo Peruvian” cuisine. Instead of waiting hours for a table in the restaurant (it’s a highly prized reservation), we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves in the bar as we sampled the tapas menu. I’m still dreaming about the quinoa risotto (with Grana Padano cheese, golden beets, local mushrooms and truffle oil).
Of course, the sad end result of our beertastic few days in Portland is that I still don’t drink a lot of beer, but now it's because I’ve become a beer snob. I’ll sample all types of beer, as long as they don’t come in a can or bottle, but fresh out of the tap or keg.
If you want to experience Portland’s microbreweries, there are numerous websites that will give you a good rundown of where to go and what you’ll find there. Portlandbrewpubs.com is a good start, plus the city offers a number of beer tours, like experiencebrewvana.com, which will take the brewery decisions—and the driving—off you.
Photos by Michael Rybak.