I had been to Portland once before, for the Craft Brewers Conference in 2015. In that short time there I realized that Portland was not like anywhere I had ever been before. It was green, friendly and inviting all while seeming unobtainable and a tease — I wanted more. In the over 2 years since my initial visit, PDX has sat on the map tempting me, even daring me, to return. I would spend countless hours combing Google Maps and finding spot after spot with great beer selections and food that would cause late night cravings. I needed more of Portland in my life and when I planned for my long West Coast trip I could probably say that it centered around Portland.
Portland itself provides enough food, drink and fun that one can lose themselves for weeks on end and never leave the city limits. I’m fairly certain that in Alberta alone (the neighborhood we stayed in) you could eat at a different spot for each of your 3 main meals everyday and it would take over a month to hit them all. This probably rings true for other neighborhoods as well like Downtown, Belmont, Richmond, Boise and so on.
The the choices of where to eat are plentiful enough to be the size of a phone book while removing plumbers, pot shops and strip clubs — they can all fill another book of their own. Do you want Thai? Pok Pok and Pok Pok Noi have you covered. Are ridiculously big sandwiches the craving that you’re hankering for? Lardo’s two locations will fill you up but just not roll you out after your done. How about some donuts? Voodoo is certainly famous but Blue Star has a loyal fan base that has no problems waiting in line either. Speaking of lines Pine State Biscuits and Salt & Straw ice cream might as well have lines in their mantra. I guess what I’m saying is that there is a choice for almost everything and it’s all pretty damn good. If you’ve ever been to Portland and didn’t walk away with at least one incredible meal inhabiting your stomach then you are mindbogglingly hard to please or you stuck to national chains for fear of something new.
On top of food, people in Portland love beer. There is over 70 breweries in the city limits alone with over 100 in the metro area. You might even think that the love for beer borders on obsession. Is that even a thing? Walking through a neighborhood you are hard pressed not to come across a brewery that the locals call their own. While producing top of the line suds in a geographic area that seemingly demands the highest quality I am surprised by the amount of breweries that also partake in the food aspect of things. Every single brewery that I stepped foot into in Portland had a kitchen in it besides one. That one served cold snacks that had no need for a full kitchen. Pretty much the breweries want to be your one stop shop for lunch, dinner and drinks and many are succeeding at that.
When it comes to the beer itself the end results are pretty on point. Cascade creates some of the world’s best sour beers. I didn’t say city’s best or Pacific Northwest’s best or even the country’s best, I said world’s. If you have a palate for the acidic things in life this could be your Holy Land. My girlfriend, who is far more likely to get wine than beer, had her personal beer epiphany on the sacred grounds of the Cascade Barrel House. She even bought a bottle to bring home.
Breakside covers many styles across the prism of beer and brews them all amazingly well. All four of their core, year round beers would find near constant spots in my refrigerator — especially their Pilsner. I may have even found my favorite summertime brew in their Passionfruit Sour. Just enough tartness mixed with lovely fruitiness in low ABV beer? Yes, please.
Great Notion have taken the city and national beer scene by storm in not even 2 years of existence. Bringing the New England style of IPAs to the West Coast was probably looked at as silly at first but it has paid off big time. Group together their hazy, fruit forward Juicebox with Blueberry Muffin sour and Double Stack imperial stout and Great Notion has shown that a one trick pony they are not. Add in the announcement of a brand new production brewery and restaurant in the works and things are certainly looking up for these new kids on the block.
In the Eliot neighborhood sits Ex Novo Brewing, who have an interesting story. Started off as a non-profit company the brewery is a now a benefit company that allows them to make donations of their profits towards charitable organizations that they feel strongly about. If you didn’t read that and say “that’s so fucking cool!” then we may have to check you for a pulse, because you have no heart. When I first saw this brewery on social media a couple years ago I instantly decided that they deserved my money and get my money they did. Eliot IPA is everything you want in a West Coast IPA. Cactus Wins the Lottery, a prickly pear Berliner Weisse, showed me that while IPAs remain the “style of choice” for the Pacific Northwest that the sour game is strong up there as well.
But even with extremely pleasant visits to Deschutes Brewpub, Fat Heads, Hopworks and Upright I must unfortunately bring a sad tale — but not because of the beer, service or experience. Prior to our visit to Cascade we made a stop, a couple blocks away to a brewery that I have followed closely on social media and looked forward to the day of my visit to their tasting room.
On the corner of Belmont St and 7th Ave sits The Commons, a brewery that I read about a couple years ago, that started up as a nano/garage brewery and eventually expanded into the 10,000 square foot building at 630 Belmont. The story of their owner creating a brewery doing interesting beer that were outside of the norm for Portland drew me in. I was sold and I wanted to drink their beers and I did exactly that. Urban Farmhouse Ale was the type of year round offering that says “Why follow the trend?” by making a saison as their number one beer.
The building is beautiful with exposed wooden beams and brick walls inside their wide open space. The taproom is in their brewery and it is open for all to see. I smiled as I spoke with an employee about their system and tank sizes as they were exactly what I was used to from my time at Due South (15 bbl brewhouse with 15, 30, 45 and 60 bbl tanks).
The beers were wonderful with varying degrees of European influence especially Belgium, France and Germany. Fleur de Blanc, a farmhouse ale with rose hips, rose petals and elderflowers, and a Brett Berliner Weisse were refreshing, complex and delightful.
Unfortunately a couple weeks later I read the news that Modern Times would be taking over the space that The Commons occupies in early 2018 — bringing a, temporary at least, end to The Commons. This could be looked at in the traditional one door closing and another opening scenario but you can’t help but feel those feels. I for one hope that The Commons is able to open back up someday but if they don’t they should all be able to hang their hats knowing that they made fantastic beer that they should be proud of. In the meantime, Modern Times will almost certainly do just fine. No pressure Modern Times!
Just like every city, Portland has some stereotypes that come along with the mentioning of it’s name. This is unavoidable and I talked a little about this when it came to Seattle. They get the rain thing thrown at them just like the city north on I-5 but locals will all seemingly agree that they get far less than the Emerald City.
You hear hippies and homeless and strip clubs are abound. Hippies, or even hipsters? Sure, I’ll give you a bit of that but pretty much any major city with a large left wing population is going to find them. You know why? Because they agree with the politics of the area and want to live somewhere where they feel comfortable. And just go about your business and don’t look them directly in the eye at coffee shops or Whole Foods and you’ll be just fine.
Homelessness is an issue all over our country and Portland is not immune to this, even reporting a 10% increase in homelessness in the past 2 years. But with more programs and shelters opening up the city is not giving up. They have even reported the more homeless are using shelters than before as well. And in my completely unscientific, judging by eye study I found far less seemingly homeless in the streets of Portland than I have in many other major cities I’ve spent time in. That means something right?
And strip clubs. Well, not that I was looking for any but I only recall seeing one strip club in my entire time in the city. Sure, not seeing something absolutely does not mean they don’t exist just like we know that Donald Trump is the real life inspiration for Honey, I Blew Up the Kid and Disney just refuses to admit to it. We know this Disney, we’re on to you! But what I’m trying to say is that people make it seem like there is a strip club on every other corner just like Starbucks.
By the end of my 6 days in Portland I realized that even with 6 days it wasn’t enough. We didn’t make it to the Oregon Zoo or the Japanese Gardens. I didn’t indulge enough at the seemingly hundreds of food carts plotted all over the city. And I didn’t even begin to scratch the surface of all of the breweries.
Portland is filled with culture. Beer culture. Food culture. Art culture. Life culture. People of this city seem to know that we only have one life and that they aren’t going to waste any time not enjoying it all. Immersing yourself into Portland is the only true way of taking it in and getting an idea of why people in this city are like this.
Go. Walk or bike around. Don’t count your calories and just do it.