Beer•cation [bɪə(r)keɪʃn̩] n.
traveling to a foreign destination to drink local beverages at the source, or close to: John and Leslie took a beercation to Oregon.
In a whirlwind almost 3 days in Portland, Oregon, and the Columbia River Gorge area, we visited 16 breweries (and a distillery), saw a gorgeous waterfall, learned about the Bonneville Dam and Fish Hatchery, and even managed to squeeze in some shopping. Portland has a new brewery or brewpub once a week, it seems like, so it’s impossible to do it all but we gave it our best shot. Our strategy was to visit certain “must-drink” places and then seek the advice of the locals. They live there, know the new places and what’s worth a visit.
The first stop was Cascade Barrel House, sort of like a pilgrimage for me, to try all the tasty sours and even a few of their other beers.
Not pictured: Fresh Hop Porter and the Alt Haus Rauch beers John ordered that I tried and was kind of “meh” about. You’ll have to cut me some slack as I was geeking out on being AT Cascade drinking their sours. Check that off the beer bucket list. Standouts (they were all awesome, of course. but for science!) were the Honey Ginger Lime (aptly named), the Bruin, Summer Gose and the Black Cap Raspberry. I’ve not had many chances to taste goses, so that was particularly special. We had a local cheese and charcuterie plate, the first of several more during the course of the trip, and decided to grab lunch at Produce Row Cafe before heading to the St. John area of Portland to visit two places a friend highly recommended. I had a tasty Upright Brewing Yusef Lateef, a sour brown ale that is a blend of four beers with elderflower and lavender named after a legendary composer and multi-instrumentalist from Detroit, that solidified our plans to visit the brewery. It wasn’t overly sour and the elderflower and lavender additions gave it a floral, light note.
In St. John we checked out Plew’s Brews, an eclectic bar with an unashamedly hippie vibe. On the right are several coolers with glass fronts all in a row, with the kegs proudly displayed. On the left, across from the coolers, is a wall filled with board games for your entertainment while drinking strictly local beers. There are event posters strewn all over the walls and ceiling, and the leftover space is covered with random artwork that looks like the artist was on something, in a good way I think. I had a Laurelwood Tree Hugger Porter, made with 100% organically grown malts. When in Rome! Like a good porter, it was roasty, had nice chocolate and coffee notes and even a hint of smoke. Next, we stopped in at Amnesia Brewing, another recommendation from a friend.
We tasted our way through all of Amnesia’s beers: Dusty Trail pale ale, Alt, Slow Train Porter, Desolation IPA, Copacetic IPA, French Connection Saison, Dry Hopped Desolation IPA, and Mother Pucker fresh hop pale ale. My favorite was the fresh hop saison brewed with French hops- Tardis Bourgongne and Belgian yeast. The rest of the selection was pretty unmemorable for me, though to be fair most of it was hoppy.
After a lovely dinner at famed farm-to-table establishment, Clarklewis, we called it a day and retreated to our super hip and swanky hotel, Jupiter Hotel. Highly recommended if you’re staying in Portland.
Thursday morning we grabbed a quick cappuccino at locally recommended Heart Coffee & Roasters and wish I could have had about 3 more. One of the best cappuccinos I’ve ever had. We had breakfast at the requisite Voodoo Doughnuts and had the voodoo and maple bacon (MUCH better than the beer) and headed out toward Hood River.
We stopped at the beautiful Multnomah Falls before having a delicious pizza lunch at Solstice Cafe in Bingen, Washington. They also had a great local beer selection so I tried the Lazy Boy Porter, a nice light beer to start the day and accompany our roasted brussels sprouts and cherry/ chorizo/goat cheese pizza.
While on the Washington side of the Columbia river we visited Everbody’s Brewing in White Salmon. Of course we got a flight of everything, pictured below.
Local Logger, Hoedown Brown, Pucker Huddle Porter, Cash Oatmeal Stout, Law of Nature Pale Ale, Daily Bread Common Ale, Goodwill IPA, Country Boy IPA, Common Law (the Country Boy IPA with lager yeast brewed for one of the owners’ wedding), and Head Stash Fresh Hop IPA. I really enjoyed the Cash Oatmeal Stout- notes of dark fruits, chocolate and coffee and a nice body at only 6% ABV. The Daily Bread was also interesting, a lager beer brewed warm and fast like an ale.
Back in Oregon, we headed to the largest brewery we visited by far, Full Sail. While we get most of their beers in Texas, there were a few on-tap that aren’t distributed to us.
Between the two of us we shared the LTD 06 limited edition Lager, Old Boardhead Barleywine, Wassail, and Wreck the Halls. The LTD 06 was excellent, light-bodied with great caramel flavor and a sneaky 7% ABV. The Wreck The Halls was interesting, I’ve never seen a winter warmer and an IPA meshed together, and while idea might please hopheads, the execution was a bit lacking for me. We took the tour and checked out their lightning speed bottling line and learned about the cool stuff they do to be more environmentally friendly.
Next we took a little trek south of Hood River into the mountains to visit Solera Brewery in Parkdale, Oregon, close to the base of Mt. Hood. Besides having an insanely gorgeous view Solera had some of the best beers I tried on the entire trip.
First of all, they had two stellar Berliner Weisses and a Fresh Hop Double IPA that I could have drank all day. Yes, seriously, I loved it. The DIPA was fruity, slightly sweet, a nice big 9% ABV body, citrus hop notes and the best part- it didn’t have a bitter aftertaste that I loathe in most IPAs. John was stunned (and happy) to say the least when I requested a half pint in addition to the taster of the DIPA. The peach sour wheat had such great peach (local, of course!) flavor, a slight sour taste and wasn’t so light-bodied that it tasted watery. Their operation is less than a year old and their tiny 7 barrel system is pumping out some mighty tasty beers. Solera was definitely a treat, I’m so glad we went. I could have sat on their “patio” staring at the mountains all day, but there were more places to visit!
Next, we headed to Walking Man Brewery in Stevenson, Washington. I wasn’t really impressed with their offerings, though the idea of an India Session Ale was new to me. Though I think that’s probably a different way to say hoppy pale ale.
The best of the bunch was the Sas-Squatch Pumpkin Ale, a medium-bodied, creamy, pumpkin beer. The Sas-Squatch also had a nice spice element, giving it some depth that none of the other beers seemed to have.
We didn’t finish the taster and made an executive decision to head out to Acadian Farms in Carson, Washington. Besides the normal farm elements like chickens, goats, homemade cheese and jams, and vegetables, they also brew beer. Their operation, as far as beer is concerned, is tiny. Like 10 gallons (1/3 barrel) small.
There aren’t nicer or more welcoming people than the proprietors of this farm. They gave us homemade bread and would have given us cheese had they not run out. We bought some jam but unfortunately never tasted it because you apparently can’t carry-on a jar of jam. We walked around the farm at our leisure and unfortunately had to head out as it was getting dark. The smoked porter was my favorite, light and roasty with a nice hint of smoke. The English Mild was good too, and always fun to try this uncommon style.
Before heading back to Hood River, we stopped in at Backwoods Brewing, also in Carson, Washington, upon recommendation from the folks at Acadian Farms.
The standout for me was their Blueberry Wheat. The blueberry flavors complemented the wheat backbone without being too sweet or overpowering. The interesting thing about Backwoods was their brewing setup. While waiting for their 10 barrel system, they are (maybe it’s ‘were’ by now?) brewing one barrel at a time. It’s always neat to see a small-scale, successful operation as a community hangout with a friendly atmosphere; you don’t feel like a tourist at these places. Maybe my romance for these tiny breweries stems from not having this kind of culture in Texas, and relying on the legislature for change. Sigh.
We headed back to Hood River to a place called Pfriem Family Brewers, recommended by a local. The owner/brewer, Josh Pfriem, used to brew at Full Sail which is sort of like, “I used to brew at Stone.” when visiting smaller breweries in California.
Pfriem’s beer list was all Belgian style beers except for the IPA. Let’s be honest here, this was the next to last stop on a packed day of visiting breweries. We tasted all 8 beers they had on tap: wit, Belgian strong blonde, blonde IPA, IPA, Belgian strong dark ale, Belgian IPA, BElgian Stout, and a fresh hop Belgian. So, my notes say that I adored the Belgian Stout, we had a delicious cheese plate, and admired the reclaimed hop barn wood covered cold box.
Before heading in for the night at the historic Hood River Hotel, we had to stop at Double Mountain Brewing down the street. Not only did they have two fresh hop beers that John loved, but they also had two Krieks that had my name all over them. Even better than that (for John at least) was that they had just started bottling some of their beers including the fresh hop styles. The Rainier kriek (made with Rainier cherries from Washington, duh) was puh-ker-ing, to say the least, and the Double Mountain Kriek was sour, but not quite like the Rainier.
Hood River is a neat little town with great breweries and even some shopping, of course. It’s also a gorgeous drive from Portland and back, with actual vibrant fall colors and mountains, a surreal experience for this Houston girl.
Friday morning we headed back to Portland, stopping by the Bonneville Fish Hatchery and Dam on the way. It was rainy and chilly (Texas-girl weather whine) but it was pretty neat, I’ve never seen anything like it. Plus, kitschy gift shop postcards and magnets!
Upon entry back into Portland we headed straight to Hair of the Dog, because who doesn’t like 10+% ABV beers for a late breakfast? For me, the Bourbon Fred from the Wood, aged with peaches, was a knock-out and the non-peach version came in second place, tied with our vintage selection. I can’t think of a HotD beer I’ve had and didn’t enjoy, even the IPA, though I much prefer their other offerings. We had a “Brewers Plate” which was a selection of meats and cheeses as well as a plate of fresh, pan-roasted Brussels sprouts (these may be our two favorite things. ever). Then, we tried to decide which vintage bottle we had to have. Their vintage menu is accordingly (or maybe not?) pricier and has to be consumed on-site, an interesting move in the face of eBay, craigslist and the like, but I digress. We chose a 2009 Michael, their Flanders Red. One of the brewers was enjoying lunch at the end of the bar and sent us over a taster of this year’s vintage because, science! Tasting them back-to-back was such a treat, verticals are great learning experiences especially when it’s for a style you love.
There just so happened to be a distillery not too far away, and a flight of hard liquor seemed like the right thing to do on our last full day of vacation. If I’m not drinking beer, I love me some gin and tonics. Hendricks and cucumber, Tanqueray and lime, whatever. So obviously New Deal Distillery was the logical next stop. It’s a tiny operation in a corner warehouse spot on Distillery Row in Portland, filled with boxes and several tiny stills. They were filled with various concoctions from gin and vodka to whiskey and liqueurs, and we had a choice of five spirits out of about ten they had ready for tasting. We tried two of their gins, a chocolate vodka (which I was hesitant to at first), a chile vodka, and a coffee liqueur. Their New Deal Gin No. 1 was so smooth, almost a gin you could sip on. It was different from any gin I had tasted and I was forced to get a bottle in the interest of science (I really like science).
Next, we headed to locally recommended Breakside Brewery. Their Aztec Ale, an American strong ale brewed with habaneros and serranos, was big-bodied, spicy, and flavorful without being regretful. The guest beer we tried, a fresh hop farmhouse beer from The Commons Brewery, enticed us enough to head there later in the evening.
Next, we headed to Lompoc Brewing (5th quadrant) next to Hopworks Bike Bar, after the bartender at Breakside said it was worth a visit. Their sampler was really cheap and we ended up taking a bottle of their bourbon barrel aged porter, Monster Mash, for the journey back to Houston.
Luckily, there was a swanky deli/bar/coffee shop around the corner from Lompoc,Kenny & Zuke’s, where we grabbed a “Jewcuterie” plate. No, seriously. Everything was kosher, and delicious. I haven’t had pastrami rillettes before, that was definitely a treat.
After our quick, kosher snack, we headed next door to the Hopworks Bike Bar, a pub serving Hopworks Urban Brewery beers, for a flight. The only beer on the flight that wasn’t a pale ale, IPA, or hoppy-something-or-other, was their Survival 7-grain Stout that was decent. It’s brewed with Quinoa, Barley, Wheat, Oats, Amaranth, Spelt, and Kamut and then finished with local cold-brewed coffee.
Next, we headed to Upright Brewing, one I was particularly excited to visit. They focus on Belgian and French farmhouse beers and use open fermentation for everything. Hopefully you’ll have an easier time finding the place than we did! It’s in the basement of a building that hosts a coffee shop, businesses and a brewery. Crazy Portland. Anyway, it was cool to see their set-up in a basement with limited space producing such great beers. The place is cash only and they let visitors just roam around and check out their place. There’s limited seating so we shared a table with a random guy who happened to be on a guided tour of select Portland breweries. They were playing trivia for prizes and I blurted out an answer to some hop-related questions and scored a sticker. Back to the beer, it gets difficult to discern subtle nuances in similar beers all of the same basic style (especially after our day) but the Biere de Garde and the Bird Calls brown were standouts for me in the Upright line-up.
Our last brewery for the trip was The Commons Brewery, also recommended to us by locals. It also happened to be one of my favorites of our trip. The people were so welcoming and the beers were fantastic. Turns out one of the employees had lived in Texas, so we quickly got him up-to-speed on how much the craft beer scene has blown up and lamented over our arcane laws that hold things back. He gave us a tour of the equipment, but I was more focused on all of their barrels. There had to be at least fifty barrels filled with all kinds of beer, intriguing to say the least.
They had three beers that I thought were excellent: Bene Tibi, a cherry Berliner Weisse, a regular Berliner Weisse, and a walnut Belgian porter. Their other beers were great too, though I kept returning to the mini snifters of the Berliners and the porter. We bought a few bottles to take home and headed to Caffe Mingo, a loud, but somehow still romantic, dimly lit Italian place for dinner to finish off our time in Portland.
Before heading to the airport on Saturday we made a quick stop at Belmont Station, a bottle shop/bar that had an amazing selection of local beers and European imports as well, to fill up the suitcase. And finally, just because we had time, we stopped at Saraveza, a Packers bar/restaurant/ bottle shop, where I scored a Hair of the Dog 2009 Cherry Adam from the Wood and a 2011 Pelican Mother of all Storms. They frequently release beers out of their cellar to sell in the shop, at an elevated price of course. The pasty was great comfort food for the weather and the bartender chatted with us like we were regulars.
Needless to say, after three days of conquering Portland, both of us slept the entire plane ride home.