Oregon has been called the heart and soul of craft brewing and it’s not hard to see why. It’s world famous for the quality and range of its beers and while once it may have conjured up an image of John Wayne on the Oregon trail; think of it today and hops and IPAs are more likely to spring to mind.
Oregonians take their beer drinking seriously-they drink some 40% of the state’s output. And since we’re not talking Budweiser type outfits here, that’s a lot of craft beer to tuck away. Sadly we don’t get to see too much of this (or the Pacific Northwest generally) great stuff over here. So the best place to sample it still is on home turf. There are several large beer festivals throughout the year, but Sep/Oct is particularly good.
And right at the centre of Oregon beer culture is Portland. It’s been known as the Rose City or Stumptown, but likes to revel in its modern nickname: Beervana. It boasts some 40 breweries; more than anywhere else in the world, not bad for a city of just over 590,000. The place practically oozes beer. It’s packed full of brewpubs, bars, restaurants and grocery stores all keen to show off their craft beer credentials.
I was told on arrival that you couldn’t set foot in any licensed premise without finding a local beer on offer. And that’s how it seemed. Even my swanky downtown hotel boasted three local craft beers on draught. And every night offers some event or other in one of the taverns. Cask ale Monday, Hoptimum Tuesday etc as well the regular meet the brewer type evenings are just some of the events you can expect to come across.
There are also pub walks and the excellent Brewvana tour bus. I’d highly recommend a trip or two with them as a great way to acclimatize and see some of the sights. Any tour where it’s not only permitted, but practically compulsory to drink on the bus, gets my vote.
Portland is divided vertically by the Willamette River into east and west and horizontally by Burnside Street-north and south-which gives you the four quadrants: Northeast, Northwest, Southeast and Southwest. There’s also North Portland, but let’s keep it simple for now.
Getting round the Portland metro area is a doddle. It’s got one of the, if not the, best integrated public transit systems in North America. You can get the light rail MAX into the city from the airport; although a scenic option for city-to-city travel is to get the Amtrak, as I did. A 7 day pass for the TriMet network only costs $26. This is great value as apart from the Max, you get access to buses and streetcars. Unlike over here, they cover some distance and will take you to the furthest reaches of Beervana. And you must try the aerial tramway.
Service in Portland is generally excellent with friendly and very knowledgeable bar staff. The norm is to tip even if it’s not table service and it’s per round, so get ready to tip even if you’re just having that one drink. Unlike some states, they can display the abv of beers-although it’s not always obvious-but often this is given along with an International Bitterness Unit level.
Get used to asking for a 10oz glass to avoid confusion although the majority of brewpubs etc offer tasting trays. A pint is usually 16oz, but you can come across larger measures. I’d say the average price was a very reasonable $4.50 a pint, but there are extensive happy hours that bring this down even further. A nice touch is the complementary water that is often provided to rehydrate your between rounds and to cleanse your palate.
So, that’s the background to Beervana. Next time, I’ll delve into the specific beers and pubs that I enjoyed.