Portland Brews

by Jeff Harding with Antoinette Bruno
November 2011

Coffee and spirits might have joined the party, but Portland’s craft brewing scene has been vibrant and innovative for over 20 years. With the highest number of breweries per capita, and the most breweries of any city in America, Portland has proven its thirst for quality beer made with local ingredients. Whether it’s the pristine water from the Bull Run Watershed, the free-spirited vibe, or the number of brewers with culinary backgrounds, there’s definite craft magic happening here. We tasted our way around PDX, found some outstanding suds, and learned about the variety of beers being made around town. The only down side? Relatively small production means the beers are somewhat limited to Portland’s neck of the woods. Just another reason to visit.

Upright Brewing

Alex Ganum originally moved to Portland to attend Western Culinary Institute, but quickly fell in with a group of home brewers and became fascinated with the idea of making his own beer. After interning at Ommegang Brewing in Cooperstown, New York, focusing on Belgian style beers, and getting hands-on experience in Portland, Ganum was ready to make his mark. He opened Upright Brewing in 2009 with funds from family and the Portland Development Commission.

Upright focuses on open-top fermentation, a labor-intensive process that results in more floral styles, and often uses wine and bourbon barrels for aging to impart vanilla notes and to take advantage of the unusual yeasts. Some of our favorites include:

  • 4 – a distinctly Belgian farmhouse-style wheat beer; at only 4 percent alcohol by volume, its lemony tartness makes it exceptionally refreshing and light
  • 5 – a hoppier saison, copper in color, but more malty with herbal, spicy, and fruity notes, similar in style to a dry Belgian pale ale
  • 6 – by far the maltiest, made with caramel and rye malts, which give it a creamy body, reminiscent of spicy rye bread
  • 7 – the strongest, at 8 percent alcohol content, 7 is a strong golden American take on a saison, the most fruity beer we tasted, with notes of citrus, banana, and hops
  • Hair of the Dog Brewing Company

     » Click images to enlarge

    Former Chef Alan Sprints started Hair of the Dog in 1993, inspired by historic beer styles that were no longer in production. The first beer he made was called “Adam,” named after the German “Adambier,” a strong (i.e., high alcohol content) barrel-aged beer. To carry on this tradition while adding variety, Sprints uses bourbon, wine, sherry, and eau de vie barrels, each imparting unique nuances and flavor characteristics.

    Sitting in the casual but industrial style tasting room, we drank our way through some of the more popular beers made by Hair of the Dog:

  • Adam – made with smoked grains, a nod to the historic process where grain was dried over an open fire, which gives the beer a dark, smoky flavor, with hints of cocoa and vanilla from the wood in the barrel
  • Cherry Adam – aged with cherries in bourbon barrels, resulting in a cherry pie and coconut sweetness
  • Blue Dot – named after the earth, this IPA has lots of tropical fruit hops flavor, a gentle bitterness, and hints of herbs and citrus with a deep golden color from the organic pilsner and rye malt
  • Hopworks Urban Brewery

     » Click images to enlarge

    Owner and Brewmaster Christian Ettinger opened HUB in October 2007, focusing on German brewing traditions, Northwestern flavors, and locally-sourced organic ingredients. His team at Hopworks uses a variety of grains, malts, and aging barrels to create more than 35 different beers every year (six are offered year-round and four rotate seasonally). Some of the standouts from our tasting with Ben Love (who has since moved on to open his own brewery) include:

  • Crosstown Pale – a Northwestern style pale ale made with their base malt and three types of caramel malt, as well as organic Palisade, Cascade, and Amarillo hops, which impart citrus flavor and aroma
  • Survival 7-Grain Stout – made with locally-sourced barley, wheat, oat, amaranth, quinoa, kamut, spelt, and, for a little kick, a dose of cold-pressed Stumptown espresso
  • Ace Of Spades Imperial IPA – aged in Buffalo Trace bourbon barrels for three months, lending it a bourbon spiciness from the wood, relatively high 10 percent to 11 percent alcohol content, and a lovely vanilla and coconut finish
  • Lompoc Brewing

     » Click images to enlarge

    Production manager and brewer Bryan Keilty is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America who got into brewing after hosting successful beer pairing dinners. He learned the ropes at McMennamins in Portland and joined Lompoc in 2007. Given complete freedom by owner Jerry Fechter, Keilty makes beers that don’t fit neatly into any category. But with seven year-round beers, and 30 seasonal beers (including seven holiday), Lompoc is still covering all the bases. From IPA’s, ales, and lagers, to jolly bock and steam beer, their variety of food-friendly beers constantly changes. At their tasting room, The Sidebar, we sampled some of the variety:

  • Drunken Robin – their Condor Pale Ale fermented in bourbon barrels with dark sour cherries, resulting in a light brew with a subtle taste of bright cherry and a lightly tart finish
  • Port Barrel Aged Maibock – Lompoc’s darker take on a German-style lager with enough residual sugar for a malty finish (making it a great beer for wine lovers)
  • Bourbon Barrel Aged Lompoc Special Draft (LSD) – a smoky, strong ale, or bastardized porter that drinks like caramel chocolate coffee with rich earthy notes coming from the variety of roasted, black, and rauch malts
  • Cascade Brewing Barrel House

     » Click images to enlarge

    Known as the “House of Sour,” Cascade Brewing Barrel House is among the leaders of sour beer making in Portland. Using local fruit, Brewmaster Ron Gansberg has become of a master of blending fruit and beer, and aging it in Pinot Noir, Maker’s Mark, and other bourbon barrels. Gansberg got into beer-making after a career in wine production, so his skills and experience with fruit and barrels is a natural fit for this style of beer. As an alternative to the craze for hoppy beers, he commits his best beers to sour fruit brews. And after some tasting, we’re thrilled he does.

  • Cascade Kriek Ale – a Northwestern sour-style ale made with lactic fermentation in small oak barrels and bottle fermented; sour cherry and oak on the nose with a lively tartness on the palate
  • Sang Noir – Pinot Noir barrels from local wine producers leave their mark here, with deep notes of Bing cherries and a smoky nuttiness from the wine and whiskey barrels
  • Bourbonic Plague – once again displaying Gansberg’s mastery of blending dark porters aged in wine and bourbon barrels, this porter is rich in cinnamon and vanilla, and despite its relatively high alcohol content (12 percent), it retains a creamy maltiness