As promised, I went to Portland, Oregon last week and I loved it. I love the Pacific Northwest mainly for 3 things: the beautiful scenery, the weather (yes, I like rain), and now the beer. Of course, I have long known about the vibrant beer culture up there, but to actually go to the place where it is all happening was really something. First stop upon arrival (around dinnertime) was Henry’s Tavern. This place was a kind of spontaneous decision, as we had yet to get our bearings and were very hungry. This is one of those tall brick buildings you’d expect in a historic district, but since many parts of Portland are historic, Henry’s place on 12th Street was hardly out-of-place. Walking in, the place seemed huge, with a large room that served as its bar area to the left and a long double row of seating to the right. Above and directly in front of the front door was a narrow loft with even more seating. It definitely had the feel of an old-timey feel, with unfinished wood floors and brick everywhere. They were very busy and short-staffed, but on to the beer.
Although they do not brew their own beer, they offer more than enough local and regional fare to choose from. Though they had a respectable list of stouts, my love of reds immediately drew my attention to that section of the menu. I was tired and wanted to get some bang for my buck, so I chose the Lompoc Proletariat Red. This was a pretty good one and at 6.2% ABV, very drinkable. It took so long to get to the table after I ordered it that I couldn’t tell you about the head, but it the beer had a dark, cloudy amber color to it. It smelled somewhat malty and sour, though that was not altogether unpleasant. It was not a cold beer, probably again owing to it taking so long to get to the table, but was surprisingly refreshing. At first, I was hit with the sourness and I thought I had gotten a beer different from the one I ordered. Then the heavy malts started coming through, making it almost creamy in texture and taste. Afterwards, I had mostly the heavy malt left to remember it by. Not a bad beer, but I was hoping for more.
Then we went back to the hotel and sat by the fire at the restaurant, Nel Centro. Their beer selection was not extensive, but the Amnesia Porter caught my eye. It came cold, which was quite welcome after the semi-warm beer at dinner. This dark beauty had little head, but swirling it a bit in the glass left some nice lacing. It smelled heavily of my second love, coffee, which excited me. At first the taste was like a shot of espresso, followed by that characteristic chocolate bitterness. The alcohol content was just enough to pleasantly warm my insides. That was pretty much it for the first day in Portland, as it was pretty late by then. I mean, we went to a pretty cool ice cream shop after dinner, but I want this to be less a travelogue and more about the beer.
The next day we got up early to see some of the sights and went to the Portland Japanese Garden. Again, I won’t bore you with details, but suffice to say it was pretty and tranquil.
From there, we ventured forth in search of a brew pub called Kell’s Irish Brew Pub that I saw on the list of area attractions on our map. This is a fairly out-of-the-way place on the western side of the city. Inside, it is basically one big room, with a large fireplace on the left, the bar toward the back, the brewing room behind that, and the seating area just kind of haphazardly set around the whole floor. After being seated, I ordered my second coffee of the morning, this time an Irish coffee. As always, this was a tantalizing treat. I had somewhat underdone waffles to eat, topped with Jameson maple syrup that was too good to pass up. After I drained my coffee, I followed it up with one of only 3 brews they had. As usual, it was a red. It was a bright red color, came cold and without head. It smelled somewhat hoppy, with floral notes and something like a citrus, though I couldn’t readily identify it at the time. With my first sip, however, the fruitiness came through. It then kind of fell away to become somewhat flat in both flavor and carbonation. The finish was much the same and left only a slight malty taste. Not a great beer, but good enough for an experiment.
From there, we really didn’t have a destination, so we cruised around until we happened upon a very nondescript industrial building. Upon closer inspection, it was actually a listed attraction: Clear Creek Distillery. Now, I know this doesn’t really belong with a writing about all things beer, but I thought it was a good enough experience to share it.
We parked it what was essentially an alley and upon trying to enter the place, we discovered the door was locked. Turns out there is a sign on the door that instructs entrants to knock…read for comprehension, kids (Hooked on Phonics worked for me!) We entered into a tasting room with various bottles set on tables and counters around 3/4 of the room. We were given a card that served as our “passport”. In it, we could browse the menu of “Eau de Vie” (brandy), grappa, whiskey and liqueurs, taste up to 5 and check them off so we remember what we had. I started with the single whiskey selection they had: McCarthy’s Oregon Single Malt Whiskey. I knew nothing about this one before tasting it, which was why I was surprised and a little dismayed at the thick peat and smokiness in both the smell and flavor. I was a little afraid this would set my chest afire with heartburn, as this kind of whiskey usually does, but I pressed on. Next I tried two of the brandies- the apple and the pear. Both smelled heavily of their respective fruits. Both were relatively thin and clear. Both started with a quick hit of alcohol, then the fruit flavor, finishing back with the alcohol burn afterward. The next one I tried was grappa. I had never had this type of alcohol before, so I had to look it up. According to Clear Creek’s website, it is made from the crushed seed and skin leftovers from wine makers. The result is a rather harsh, vodka-like burn, with (for me) very little fruitiness. I tried it– then I moved on. The final one I tried was easily the most intriguing of the bunch. It was the one the reps in the store recommended I try last. It was a Eau de Vie of Douglas Fir. That’s right: pine flavored booze. It looked much the same as the pear and apple brandy, with the slightest green tint. One smell told my confused brain that I was about to drink a liquid pine tree. The taste was not any different from the smell and gave me a bit of indigestion. Even though I wouldn’t buy a bottle of it, I am glad for the interesting experience of it.
Next, we went in search of dinner. What better place, I thought, than the brewery we had an inexplicable amount of trouble finding upon our arrival the day before: Deschutes Brewery. This was the one place I was looking forward to making my whole trip. Despite not being able to find it in the dark the previous night, we had no trouble getting there this time. A popular place, we had to wait a bit to get in and seated. Once inside, it has a very warm noisy (but not over the top) feel. The beer menu, as you would imagine, is extensive. For me, the best way to deal with this…”problem” is to order multiple brews at the same time. Of course, IPA crowded the menu, but they were easy enough to avoid and I filled my sampler thusly: the seasonal Jubelale, Double D Imperial Spelt Ale, Black Butte Porter XXV, Fresh Hop Saison, River Ale, and Nitro Obsidian Stout. It was quite a tray. I tried them in order, so let’s dive in.
First was the Jubelale. It was a pretty dark red color without much head, but what head was visible was a light off white color. It smelled of mulled spices and made me think of hot cider. The taste, on the other hand, was not cidery, but reminded me of dark fruit like plum and raisins. Very warming, it was a pleasant experience with a medium malty fruit aftertaste. Next up was the Double D Imperial Spelt Ale. In my journey of beer learnings I had never come across the term spelt before. Turns out this is a type of malt. I like malt. I liked this beer. It had almost no head left when I got it and it was a bright red-orange color. It smelled spicy and fruity, like banana and citrus. The taste was not far off these flavors. It was light to medium bodied with a little alcohol warmth on the finish. Then I tried the Black Butte Porter. I had had this one before, but couldn’t remember. I have a soft spot for porters and it was a good one anyway. This one, too, had no head left, but I imagine it was tan and thick. It had a bitter smell and I couldn’t quite make out any chocolate or coffee. Tasting it, they definitely came through. It also had a slight richness to it that tasted like roasted brown sugar. The finish was pretty light and tasted mostly of chocolate. For a porter, this is a pretty mild beer, but I liked it. Fourth up, the Fresh Hop Saison. This was the riskiest part of the sampler for me since hoppy beers usually bother me so much. What head was left was very white and frothy. The brew was very bright yellow and opaque, as you might expect from a saison. I got lots of citrus from both the smell and the taste alike. The aftertaste was slightly sour and tart. Moving on, I went to the River Ale, which looked like a lighter version of the Double D. Its head was well dissipated by then. It smelled like spiced fruit and a slight floral aroma. The taste was not so heavy on the flowers, but the fruit did come through, with a peppery accent. The finish was mild, with the fruity spiciness lingering a bit. Last was the one I was most excited to try: Nitro Obsidian Stout. This one was super dark, I daresay darker than the porter, with very creamy tan head that stuck around for a good long while, which I appreciated. The taste–oh man, the taste. First I was hit with the rich roasted barley, then it got bitter, finishing with the prominent coffee and chocolate that I love in these beers so much.
Thus concludes my trip to the northwest (at least where beer was concerned). A very good trip, for sure and I will be back.