Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Damnbeerblogger Goes To Portland

Portland is an interesting city. While Seattle is represented in the public imagination as either a grey, rain-soaked hangout for murderers (The Killing) or as a refuge for broken-hearted architects and the women who stalk them (Sleepless in Seattle), Portland is best-known for Portlandia, a TV show that lampoons a sort of hipsterish miasma of beardy bicyclists and crunchy granola types.

On the other hand, Portland is Beer Mecca. So yes, the populace may look like the cast of Napoleon Dynamite after a shopping spree at American Apparel, but its worth braving the sea of card-spoked fixies and iconically-moustached douchebaggery for some great micro-brew. Hell, at least these kids in skinny jeans and silly hats seem quite peaceful, as compared to the gold-chained, white-shirted louts that smashed up Vancouver and now blubber into CTV's microphones. I guess it's because every third person in Portland looks like Jesus. After he ate Buddha.

So, with a smoky pall hanging over the Big Smoke, what better time to get out of town and hit the road?

Vancouver to Portland is about six hours plus or minus Godawful Lower Mainland commuting issues and tailbacks at the border. We left mid-day, thus dodging both handily, but requiring a mid-way pit-stop. Thankfully, a quick perusal of the Northwest Brewing News had identified a likely spot.

Red Hook is no destination brewery, less'n you happen to live in Woodinville. However, their beer is pretty good, as is the food. Or so we remembered from the last time we were there.

I had an ESB, the Mrs. a Hefe of some description. Both were good. The food was less so. The service was less so. Mrs. DBB added a buck's worth of guacamole to her burger. It looked like someone had sneezed on the bun. Lightly. I asked what the password for the advertised free WiFi was. The server seemed bewildered, as though INTRNETZ 'tweren't allowed 'round these here parts and then disappeared to "ask someone".

By which, of course, she meant, "I'm going to bugger off and not come back ever." Which, quite frankly, is what we did after grabbing a quick growler-fill of porter at their attached beer store. An employee there suggested a nearby stop for us on the way back up, but more on that later.

After staying overnight in a charming campsite (Lewis and Clark State Park - recommended for leafy quietude), we meandered through Vancouver - the other one - and into Portland around lunchtime. First stop? A McMenamins.

If you've not been to a McMenamins before, you are very strange. Get off the computer and go. Their institution in Troutdale, Edgefield, is a must-go for every beer-head. Not that their beer is so amazing, but it's just so much fun. McMenamins Edgefield is essentially Beer Disneyland and is best enjoyed with a couple of friends. They are booked up from now until the End of Time. Best of luck.

We've been to Edgefield numerous times, so we wanted to check out the Kennedy School for a spot of lunch. It was typical McMenamins fare: lots of funky folk art, meandering old building, harassed waitstaff. Here's a tip servers (no pun intended), if you are short-staffed, apologizing once is perfectly acceptable and will win over the customer immediately. Complaining incessantly about how horrible the management is will not.

Mind you, this place still gets a recommend, simply because you can get cajun tater-tots and mix different beer-styles together (Ruby Red and Terminator Stout = Rubinatior, etc.).

Continuing on in to Downtown Portland, we made our way through the usual maze of one-way streets to our overnight stay, the Ace Hotel.
This place is as awesome as everyone says it is. Yes, you may be knee-deep in beardy weirdos, but it matters not: the Ace oozes charm from mural-painted walls to funky lobby. There's even this filing cabinet on floor 1-and-a-half that's full of random pencilled notes from guests.

Unfortunately, parking is an extra expense, so we scurried off to lodge the car above the REI and then wandered around the Pearl District, finally stopping in at Deschutes for a quick one (but more on them later).

After a quick pint there, it was on to Powell's books (a staple) and then back to the hotel to regroup. We identified a likely-looking taproom and hit the streets.

In hindsight, the above juxtaposition of signage illustrated above should probably have been paid attention to as a harbinger of coming events. Not that there was anything wrong with the place, in fact it's a must-go.

However, sub-$5 proper pints of 8%+ beer are not a good idea in a place that doesn't serve food. Also, there were these bunch of guys:

Who, if you can't tell from the bleary photo, are playing Connect-4 with the slow intensity of Russian Chessmasters and wearing fedoras.

I believe we went to Whole Foods next and bought more beer and food to eat at the Hotel, but don't quote me on that.

Next morning, I awoke feeling like someone had parked me on Georgia Street last week after hanging a Bruins flag on my antenna. In short, I was a bit green about the gills. However, there is one sure-fire cure to hangovers big and small, and you can find it here.

This, my friends, is Night Before kryptonite. Keep it simple with their biscuits and gravy (mushroom is better than sausage) and gradually feel your stomach stop complaining and start chuckling. It's amazing stuff.

Naturally, post-biscuit, you may want to go for a bit of a hike, which we did, and then find yourself hankering for a beer. Time to check off a must-visit pub.

Hopworks Urban Brewery is probably best-known for their florally-excellent IPA, but they had a full dodecuplet of taps available when we popped in. We elected to skip the light stuff in favour of the two cask-conditioned variants: all were excellent, but particular shout-outs to Intergalactic Red, Ace of Spades and the boringly-named-but-delicious Deluxe Organic Ale.

HUB is a bit out of the way, although we didn't check out their Bike Bar, which is something I'd try for next time. Worth making your way over for, certainly.
Post-HUB, we did some varied wandering around and shopping, the details of which I won't bore you with. Later that evening though, it was back to the beer.

By the way, our second Hotel sucked. This was a last minute jaunt, so the Ace only had space for one night; second night we had to stay at the Lucia. There is nothing wrong with this place per se. It's clean and friendly, and quite fancy. It also has all the character of an IKEA kitchen chair and they want to charge you - wait for it - ten bucks a day for WiFi. Ten. Bucks. A. Day. This ain't a cheap place to stay, and how places that try to charge for internet stay alive in this day and age, I'll never know. Not going back.

Anyways, the internet shortage problem created its own solution: we just walked up the street to the Ace Hotel, and caught a bite to eat in their restaurant instead. Moderately good beer list, really awesome cocktail list, pretty kickass food.

Taking the tapas approach, we figured on just grabbing a quick one and then heading on to the next place, Rogue.
Rogue was very cool, gritty and stickily authentic. Amazing list of beers, and any visitor to the Alibi Room might recognize the Frat Bat setup that we put into play to try and sample as many types as possible without getting totally blotto.

Favourites? Well, John John Juniper is worth the price of admission, as is Old Crustacean. I have to say though, that I can't get over how good Rogues Soba Ales are. Morimoto is just so consistently delicious. It's can't-fail beer.

Next up was Deschutes.

I've complained about service twice already, and I'd hate for you to think that I was excessively demanding: I'm not. However, the way you get treated at Deschutes in Portland is the way you should be treated everywhere. They're all ridiculously nice: just as you'd expect people to be who are surrounded by amazing beer all the time.

We had come back specifically for this dessert beer, their fabled XXIII anniversary ale.

It's delicious, and a fitting crown on the other tap-only beers I'd had the opportunity to taste earlier. Also, we got Maple Bacon Cheesecake.

Maple Bacon Cheesecake!

Sadly, this was our last night in Portland, and we hit the road the next morning. Ish.

That last stop near Woodinville on the way up? Well that'd be Black Raven Brewing. Great little tasting bar of a place, and the local pizza joint delivers right to the front door.

All in all, a whirlwind tour, and there were many more joints I'd love to have tried out. As a last bonus, we stopped in at an old friend, the Co-Op in Bellingham.

People might not know this, but you can bring more beer across the border duty-free than any other alcoholic beverage. After a 48 hour stay it's two bottles of wine, 1.5 litres of spirits, or EIGHT AND A HALF litres of beer. Each! We always stock up before heading back to BC. you should too.


  1. 8.5 litres = how many cans?

  2. I'm going to need daycare services on my trip for sure!

  3. it's good to know your litre-age, since as a beer connoisseur you'll probably end up with a mix of "normal" cans, tallboy cans, bottles, big bottles & really big bottles! but just be aware that the border guards do get rather confused when you report your haul in litres instead of, "A two-four"... so be prepared to explain.

  4. The secret is to tell the guard that they're all standard size. Which standard is irrelevant...haha. Bombers or regular, just say standard.

  5. Awesome Post Son!! Ya see you can beer blog from anywhere Son!! Yee Haa!!Victoria is Nice but Vancouver is "The Big Smoke" and you can get really great beer there Too...!! Keep it up Son ..!