Thursday, April 12, 2012

Portland: Our Craft Beer Pilgrimage

Off we go for an extra-long weekend in Portland! Oregon is synonymous with craft beer having 107 brewing companies, operating 139 brewing facilities in 55 cities. Forty-eight of those breweries operate in Portland which is more than any other city in the world! Check out their interactive brewpub map. We’ve been looking forward to this trip for months and have a long list of places to try, hence why we needed a couple of extra days. We wouldn’t want any of the brew pubs to feel left out. What drew us down here this particular weekend is the annual Beer and Wine Festival (with cheese and chocolate too!). Not sure how much wine we’ll sample, but since it’s for two days from noon until 11pm, there’s lots of time to explore.

We headed out after work on Thursday and even though it took 45 minutes to get down Steveston Hwy to the tunnel (usually a 10 minute trip), I only asked “are we there yet?” three times. Pretty good for me. Dropped off the dogs at the parental units’ place and headed to the border. Nexus, we love you. Maybe a five minute wait there, the border dude took one look at our innocent faces and shooed us through. A quick stop at Jack in the Box, which I don’t think I’ve ever had, then on to Portland!

The hubby’s alter ego, Mapquest Burbidge, showed up when we were in the HOV lane and it said I5 and 405 in the same lane. I said something about not liking that both lanes veered off to the left, GPS chick told us NO! stay to the right, but the boy said, no problem! Yup, we ended up on 405. Far left was the I5 HOV. So…. a quick trip on the 405, turn around and presto! back on I5. Onward. I must say, the built in GPS is much politer than the Garmin I have. That bitch in a box enjoys yelling  RECALCULATING should one wander off course. Rude. The rest of the drive was pretty uneventful other than the sketchy gas station. I locked the doors and watched two guys fixing (stealing?) a car. Then I got some weird looks from a guy in a truck. Maybe he was thinking I was da blonde gangsta in my black SUV. He was probably tipped off otherwise when he saw the hybrid sign. Anyways, we survived and got to Portland just before 1am. There was another Mapquest incident right at the hotel but I’ll spare him that story, the boy was tired.

Spring Beer & Wine Festival
Friday, we hopped on the MAX free transit (I love Portland) and headed to the Oregon Convention Centre for the 18h Annual Spring Beer & Wine Festival and Tour de Cheese. We got 10 free tokens for being one of the first 1,000 to arrive – score! Kelly’s Hop On t-shirt from Red Racer Beer got a lot of notice and Friday seemed to have more of the beer lovers at the festival but no real line ups.
There were about 40 breweries there and we managed to sample fifteen of them on Saturday before we called a time out. Lots of great beers. The two we sampled from Stone Brewing – the Vertical Epic Ale 11.11.11 and the IPA – both got a 4.5 from us. Really damn good! We didn’t have much interest in the wineries, but they were aplenty as well. Now, I understand putting in food vendors, and we did buy some yummy Fatdog Mustard, scrumptious olive oils from  OMG and Gianni’s Fine Foods, cheap and delicious cheese from Cypress Grove Chevre and a few dip mixes, but why the hell would Party Lite Candles, a dress shop, someone selling sheets and a bath fitter be there? Really? You really think that a bunch of beer snobs want to buy candles? Give your head a shake. We were actually disappointed that there were so many random vendors there – didn’t know we were going to the home show. Sounds like the July Portland beer festival is the one to go to, not this one. Another reason to love Portland, great craft beer at the corner stores! We stopped on the way back to the hotel and picked up five bombers for $21 bucks. Holy cheap, batman!  

What's Better: A Rogue Beer Stand or Voodoo Doughnuts?
Saturday rolled around and we figured we’d go back to the festival to finish off the list of breweries. We had breakfast at this great little place, the Morning Star Café. It’s located in the historic postal building and has great food that’s also cheap. Works for us. Saw that they advertised happy hour was 3pm to close, and even this little café had a great tap list. Sadly, they close at 6pm so it’s not an all-night special. Before hopping back on the MAX to cross the water, we passed the large line-up at Voodoo Doughunts (don’t worry, we’ll go back later), wandered around Old China Town and checked out the Saturday Market by the water. It was your typical market full of trinkets and general crap and a tie-dye place – that’s right, I said tie-dye. Who knew people still wear that stuff. Huh. Best part of the market, the Rogue beer stand. Suffice to say, they had the only lineup in the joint.

The festival on Saturday had about twice as many people there and a real cross section of people. Young, old, lots of tie-dye t-shirts (guess we found out who buys them from the market) and the big dude in XXL overalls who we’ll call Cooter for reference sake.  There were more wine drinkers on Saturday and lots of beer drinkers – some of which were there to actually taste the beer vs. those who wanted to get their drink on. Didn’t see too many calamities while we were there besides tokens falling and people scrambling to get them. Token down! The food vendors were actually selling some decent food and we had a slice of pizza from al Alforno Ferruzza. A Sicilian pizzeria that made the pizzas on site, including throwing dough in the air and narrowly missing the winos. They even brought their 850F oven on site. Impressive for a food court.

Kid starting a bit young,
pulling a draft on the
Shock Top Belgian White car
Most of the wineries were selling bottles of their vino, but none of the breweries had clued into this sales tactic. Too bad as we would have bought a few bottles. Overall, we had a number of really good beers and some ok ones. I love my IPA’s so when I have one that doesn’t knock my socks off, it gets a meh. Should  I ever brew one myself, I think the label will be Take My Bra Off IPA. Not literally, but if that hoppy kick couldn’t unhook a bra, I’ll keep trying. We’d had enough Cooter sightings for the day so we left to grab the MAX back to the hotel. The wait was 15 minute so we decided to hoof it instead. The day turned out to be quite warm and this canary even got some colour. We stopped at Voodoo Doughnut on our way back to the hotel and the lineup was now at least twice as long as it was that morning. Forty-five minutes later, we get to order. Crazy, I know. Tons of great flavours to choose from so we got double chocolate, Portland cream, maple bacon, apple fritter, lemon chiffon, rex and one called no name. But here’s where the story gets sad. Grab your Kleenex. We get back to the room and there’s no maple bacon or lemon chiffon! The hell? We paid for all of them but got voodoo’d out of two awesome doughnuts. I tweeted a pissed off text but they didn’t respond. Bad voodoo, bad karma, I say.

Untappd - Intervention Badge Coming Up
Back to the room for a beer nap and to update Untappd. Well, apparently my multiple beer updates were concerning some on Twitter. Really, I wasn’t drinking pints, just tasters that I was sharing with Kelly otherwise you would have been pouring me into the MAX. Note to self, next time don’t tweet the updates.

Rock Bottom Brewery was just a couple of blocks away so we headed there for dinner since our paws were a bit sore after walking around all day. Food was pretty good but we weren’t impressed with their brews. I had a mediocre IPA (clearly it didn’t knock my bra off) and after the IPA, I didn’t have any desire to try any of their other brews so we called it a night.

Traditional Easter Dinner
Easter Sunday and low and behold, the Easter Bunny found us all the way down in Portland. Smart Bunny. Breakfast consisted of a shared Voodoo doughnut then we drove out to John’s Market Place as we heard they had a great selection of beers (check out their web site for the list of breweries). Turns out John’s Market isn’t in the nicest area of town, but we powered through and got our shopping cart. There were 1,000’s of beers there from every county and we quickly filled up our cart. Amazing selection but I wonder about the shelf life as not many are refrigerated and I doubt they’re rotated out. I guess we’ll see the quality when we crack them open at home.

Alamada Brewhouse Pub
Upright Brewing Taster Room

Beer Score!

After John’s beer haven, we headed over the bridge to Alameda Brewing for their tastings and some lunch. They had twelve of their own on tap and we shared a sample of each. We wouldn’t want any of the beers to feel left out, you know. Their saisons and IPA’s were our favourites and we took a bottle of the Yellow Wolf Imperial IPA and Klickitat Pale Ale home with us.

The next stop was Upright Brewing, which turns out to be right across the street from the convention centre. D’oh.  Ten to try here, including the guest cask from Amnesia. All great beers but Five, the farmhouse pale ale, was probably our favourite. The Stout of Monte Fisto also stood out for me.

So guess what’s next? Yup, nap time. We’ve had a long, hard day of sampling beers so enough judgement. Sheesh. We met friends Terry and Jen for dinner at Bridgeport Brewpub in the Pearl District. The area reminds me of Yaletown and Jen confirmed that the area was designed based on our Vancouver neighbourhood. Old warehouse districts lend to charming buildings and inviting streets. It’s a great area. Beer wise, I had the IPA and Kelly had the Dark Rain and Hop Czar. The Hop Czar was our favourite. We spent a great night with friends and heard a pile of funny stories from Jen. Ask her about her rather vocal, Jewish father moving to Arkansas…  I sense she’s going to have some classic stories after they visit!

The Big Guns
Monday, and our last day in Portland, we hit Deschutes and Rogue. First up, Rogue. Since they had 31 beers on tap, we decided it may not be wise to try everything so we picked four each to sample. I had the White Frog, XS IPA, Yellow Snow and Mocha Porter. Loved them all. The White Frog was an interesting Belgian style ale and is made by the Issaquah Brewery. Kelly had the XS Russian Imperial Stout, Brutal IPA, Menage a Frog Ale (Issaquah) and Hazelnut Brown Nectar. The Hazelnut and Menage were his favs. Good thing I didn't have to break the seal as the washrooms were labeled "Barley" and "Hops". For the life of me, I couldn't figure out what might constitute girl and boy parts out of that.

Now off to Deschutes, which was just a few block away. I had the NWPA 511, Red Chair NWPA, Bachelor Bitter, Nitro Obsidian Stout, Bayern Ale NWPA and the Black Butte Porter. Two thumbs up for all of them but my favourites were the Bachelor Bitter, Stout and Porter. Kelly’s sampler was Chain Breaker White IPA, Big Rig, Inversion IPA, Bayern Ale NWPA (oops, we doubled up), Red Rambler Ale and Dark Hugh Lager. His picks, Chain Breaker and Dark Hugh. Our take home from Deschutes was the Stoic (US$12 vs CAD$27) and a t-shirt for me. Sadly, they ran out of the shirts Kelly liked.

There were still two other places on our list to hit – Henry’s Tavern and Bailey’s Taproom. Sorry, Bailey’s, we didn’t get to you but we did stop at Henry’s for a beer. Great beer list and next time, we’ll spend more time there. We had a casual dinner (with wine, for a change) and went back to the hotel. I’m not sure if there’s any correlation, but Kelly was watching a show where a nice dude (supposedly), killed his blonde wife. Ahem. Good thing I’m a light sleeper – just try me, Mapquest.

Thirty-six Bottles of Beer in the Car, Thirty-six Bottles of Beer...
Tuesday came too fast, time to go home. Boo. But we had 36 bottles to take home, sample 83 unique beers (yes, 83!) and a great time in Portland. Some final observations about Portland: there are a lot of pierced and inked people here; ear plugs are aplenty on the guys and as Jen said, it’s pretty white in Portland. I hadn’t noticed until she mentioned that but it’s true. Vancouver is such a diverse city and culture but you don’t see the same demographics in Portland. Menus usually had a large gluten-free section but we never saw/heard anyone ordering from it.

Other than the Washington State Highway Patrol welcoming committee pulling Kelly over for barely going over the speed limit, it was a nice drive home in the sun. And to rub some extra salt in the wound, we were their last victim before he rode off into the doughnut sunset. Weiner. Hey, what’s the deal with everyone driving around with cracked windshields? Must have been one in ten had noticeable cracks. I gather insurance doesn’t cover this in the USA.

We had a fabulous trip to Portland and will definitely be back soon… maybe the July Oregon Brewfest?    

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