…Brewpubs are in every neighbourhood…
The next day we faced a dilemma … with all those brewpubs, how to narrow down our choices? We decided to focus on well established breweries that consistently receive the most accolades, the beer competition medal winners, and some of the newer places getting lots of buzz. That got us started at Hopworks, partly because it qualified in many of those categories, but also because it was reputed to have the best food (agree!) and we thought a little lunch might be a good idea as we launched our beer tasting for the day.
Our second stop was adventure-oriented Base Camp Brewing Company and we could see why their colourful lightweight aluminum beer bottles would be perfect for a hike or picnic — drop one on a granite outcropping and it might dent a little, but it would never ever break. Base Camp brews a full range of fine beers, but their rich, chocolaty S'more Stout that comes with a torched marshmallow on the rim was particularly tasty (and amusing!).
On a trip like this it's important to find out where brewpub staffers go for a beer… and every time we asked the question, the name Commons Brewery came up. Just a few years old, it specializes in Belgian beers, farmhouse ales, and sours, utilizing yeasts originating from Europe. Owner/brewer Mike Wright explained, “Everyone was already doing plenty of fantastic IPAs, so why not try something completely different?” His Urban Farmhouse Ale has already won multiple medals, including bronze at the World Beer Cup in 2012 and Beer of the Year in Portland in 2013. Light, crisp and refreshing with the tiniest touch of hop bitterness, it uses a blend of Northwest hops grown in the neighbourhood.
And speaking of hops, fuelling Portland's beer mania is the abundance and variety of hops grown just a stone's throw away in the Yakima and Willamette Valleys, two of the most important hopgrowing regions in the world. The current brewmaster best known for his hops chops is Bolt Minister of Old Town Brewing — his Fresh Hop Ale won the gold in that category at the 2013 Great American Beer Festival. Bolt has been awarded other medals in the two short years he's been with the brewery/pizza pub, too — his Kolsch won a silver and my favourite, his smooth, toasty Irish Red Ale, won a bronze.
Beer's other key ingredients are plentiful in the area as well: topquality water, barley for making malt, and a yeast laboratory that is one of the nation's two main producers. That, plus a culture of beer making that goes back to before Oregon was even a state and today's beer-crazy populace have created an explosion of beermaking experimentation.
Most craft breweries today sell their own refillable bottles called ‘growlers' that you can bring to the pub and fill up with fresh beer to carry home. But Portland takes it one step further — local supermarkets and even convenience stores have installed taps where locals can fill their growlers. There are even a few stand-alone growler filling stations around town, making it easy to load up on fresh local brews to sip on your porch or patio.