Portland, Oregon has long been considered a great beer destination. The Oregon Brewers Guild’s 2016 report counted 70 breweries in Portland proper, and 116 in the greater Portland area. For my visit, I was determined to visit the best the city had to offer, so I ready a number of article & blog posts, and also checked to breweries overall ratings on Untappd. I ended up visiting 11 breweries in Portland (plus one in Vancouver, Washington). The following list is in chronological order, visited, not by any ranking.
Great Notion Brewing Company-
In researching Portland breweries, Great Notion came up a lot. In the couple years they’ve been open, they have developed quite the avid following and a reputation to match. One of their taglines is “With a passion for hops and the patience for sours”, they really do excel at both. As I noted on my Untappd while checking in, I ran out of superlatives while here. The Imperial breakfast stout, Double Stack, mad with Vermont Maple Syrup & Clutch coffee, was every bit as impressive as two similar legendary beers, Founders CBS & Toppling Goliath’s Morning Delight. (Those two beers are BBA, but still…) The other beers on my flight were super juicy IPAs, of which my favorite was Mosiac beauty Juice, Jr, and sour/fruit beers, including the apply named Blueberry Muffin. They are currently located in NE Portland, but a reported to be moving to Slabtown in NW Portland within a year or so.
For this brewery, the name Culmination is appropriate, as their opening was the culmination of a longer than expected to finally open in 2015. Located in NE Portland, their focus is on ‘old world beers and a few new ideas’. Their Galaxy/Amarillo NEIPA, Obscured by Clouds was by far the favorite on my visit, but I also enjoyed their more traditional, dank West Coast style IPA, Phaedrus too.
Not originally part of my list, Migration got a visit because it was close the my AirBnB in NE Portland’s trendy Laurelhurst neighborhood. Located in an old auto shop, the space includes a wonderful outdoor beer garden space. The best beers included the bitter West Coast IPA, Straight Outta Portland, and Outlaw Josey, a “Northwest Red Ale’ with a nice malty backbone, which was a nice change from all the hoppy beers I’d been having.
Baerlic Brewing Company-
The name of this Southeast Portland brewery comes means ‘of barley’. Their slogan is “The beer here is near & dear”, and that has to be true with all of the recommendations I received for this one. The taproom is a pleasant, open space. I was especially impressed with the Elijah Craig BA Stout, Woodworker Black Grove.
Cascade Brewing Barrel House-
This is one of those bucket-list breweries and a Portland icon for good reason. Considered the pioneer of the Northwest-style sour movement, I’ve enjoyed Cascade’s beers whenever I could get my hands on them in Michigan. (They now distribute here on a limited basis.) The tap list was so incredible, with both current versions of their sours, and with some older versions of both barrel aged and sours. They also have a couple “Live from the Barrel’ beers on tap too. The taproom is as pricey as buying bottles of their beer, but that isn’t a complaint- with the artwork that their beers are (and the time they spend in barrels), one should expect these beers to be more expensive than most. I spent a healthy amount here- and would gladly do it again. The 2013 version of the spiced double porter Bourbonic Plague was a special treat- one of the most complex beers I’ve ever had.
Two things I kept hearing from people when asked for Portland brewery advice- “You MUST visit The Commons” and “They are closing at the end of the year- such a shame.” The news that this beloved brewery had sold their East Portland space to San Diego based Modern Times was big news in the weeks leading up to my trip. I thought it noticeable that they weren’t closing, just selling the space. I find it hard to believe a brewery that is as well-reputed and adored just goes away. My hope is that they find a space that more fits their business model and they’ll be reincarnated. I really enjoyed their Farmhouse ales, especially Raspberry Ricky, a saison with raspberry & lime.
Hair of the Dog-
This is certainly one of Portland’s oldest breweries, and their lack of distribution in the east has certainly helped them develop an almost mythical status. They had a bottle the Dark Ale, Dave, brewed in 1994, for an ambitious $1500- the menu says it is “the most sought after beer in the world”. They are extremely proud of the fact that 99% of ingredients used in their beer was grown within 350 miles of the brewery. I was glad to get to try the Strong Ale, Fred, and the Old Ale, Adam, two of their most famous flagship beers. Both were excellent, with Adam probably being the best Old Ale I’ve ever had.
Upright Brewing Company-
“Upright Brewing specializes in farmhouse inspired beers rooted in France and Belgium but made with a Pacific Northwest twist” is the way their Untappd page describes them, and I couldn’t have come up with a better description. This is one of the oddest and hardest to find taprooms I’ve visited. They are located in the basement of a shared building in Northeast Portland. Visiting on a Saturday, when all the other businesses in the building were closed mad me wonder if I was in the right space. The ‘taproom’ is a some tables and chairs set up amid their barrels, and is cash only. This review isn’t meant to talk people out of visiting- the beer here makes this a must stop- especially the ‘Four Play’, a 18 month barrel-aged farmhouse ale with tart cherries that was exquisite.
Ex Novo Brewing Company-
It was a pleasure to visit this place, a local brewery with the stated goal of donating 100% of their profits to charities. This really goes along with their decidedly ‘Portland-esqe’ vibe. The beer list was also excellent, and it’s diversity made it essential that I have a second flight. Especially nice was Are You Afraid of the Dark?, a gorgeously fruited farmhouse with boysenberries & black currant, and B.W.A., a triple IPA that was good and hoppy but also dangerously drinkable at 10%.
This relatively new brewery is from John Harris, a legendary brewmaster who has spent time at both Deschutes and Full Sail. This brewery combines two of his loves- beer and astronomy. The tap room has a great outdoor space, while being part bar and part restaurant inside. The two IPAs on tap, Orbiter & Starburst, were both very good. As expected, all of the beer names were astronomically inspired.
Stormbreaker Brewing Company-
This is also a newer brewery with a good reputation. Located on the gentrified Mississippi Avenue Historic District on Portland’s Northeast side. Named after one of Mount Hood’s many nicknames, this brewery is determined to be a local, neighborhood brewpub while also being the ‘winner of an unknown amount of 4th place finishes at quite a few beer competitions, and a gold here or there’. My favorite here was one of their standards, the 7 hop CloudRipper IPA.
Trap Door Brewing Company (Vancouver, WA)-
I visited this attractive brewpub across the Columbia River in Vancouver, Washington because I was over in Washington state doing some sightseeing, and I was looking for lunch. (It also allowed me to visit my first Washington brewery.) The place was very friendly, and I had a good meal at one of the options in their unique permanent food cart pod, which can provide up to 4 options depending on hours. They had a great oatmeal stout called Breakfast, and a couple of very good Northeast style IPAs.
I had a great time in Portland, and could have easily spent a few more days visiting the breweries I missed, as well as a number of famous beer bars. I also didn’t visit the Portland brewpubs of two of Oregon’s more famous breweries, Rogue & Deschutes, as I was visiting their original breweries later in the trip.