If you’ve ever chatted with anyone about Portland, read anything about Portland, or seen anything about Portland, you’re probably familiar with the phrase. Having now visited this city famous for its culinary appeal, world class craft breweries and beautiful outdoor spaces, I have a deeper understanding of why it’s so important to Keep Portland Weird.
My first ever trip to the city was to take part in the 31st annual Oregon Brewers Fest, which traditionally takes place over the last weekend of July, Thursday through Sunday. It is held outside, along the Willamette River in the Tom McCall park. Eighty (yes, 8-0) different breweries come to the festival, each with one beer to showcase for all four days. In a beautiful display of organization and 30 years of practice, the festival runs like a well-oiled machine. Four large refrigerated shipping containers are filled with kegs and rigged with draught lines that are punctured through one side of them. The lines are then run down to a set of old-school insulated plastic coolers that have been outfitted with draught taps. A volunteer pulls a pitcher full of their assigned beer, and from that pours tasting sample and pints for thirsty festival goers.
Luckily, great beer was not just confined to the festival grounds. Portland proper is currently home to 58 breweries, and 84 in what’s considered the Portland Metro Area. Of those breweries, here are some of our favourite stops:
Cascade Brewing and Barrel House Cascade is pretty widely agreed to be at the top of the heap for “New World” sour breweries, the number one house of sour worship in North America - and for very good reason. All the sour ales they produce are barrel aged and vintaged like wine, and can be aged further in bottle just like wine. Most of their beers include a fruit of some kind, such as the Peche Fume - a smoked grain beer aged with peaches. Or classics like their Blueberry Sour, which is included in our upcoming Portlandia beer tasting on September 8th. There’s no such thing as “subtle” in the Cascade world, and yet it’s strangely easy to find yourself at the bottom of the beer list and wondering if it would be acceptable to start again back at the top.
If ever you should choose to visit Portland, and in turn decide to stop into the Upright Brewing tasting room, a word of advice: do not arrive before they open. Not because you’ll have to defend yourself against a volley of ridicule for your eagerness, but because it is shockingly difficult to find until the small A-frame sandwich board is placed on the sidewalk in front of the mix-use building. Upright specializes in classic Franco-Belgian saisons, and it is well worth the hide-and-go-seek to enjoy their incredibly refined ales in the basement-level taproom while a collection of oddball records is played and the brewery dog does hoop-jumping tricks on the floor.
Disclaimer: I have not actually stepped foot in the Gigantic Brewery taproom. But this is only due to their large shaded patio, the +38 degree heat, and the fact that right beside the brewery sits a food truck that serves up the classic comfort plate-lunch dishes of my Hawaiian Island upbringing - and that food truck’s food is allowed on the aforementioned patio. Also I had a chivalrous travel companion who offered to bring my beers to me. But! Gigantic is known for their high-quality tried and true styles, as well as some unusual ventures into experimentation. I can certainly attest to the perfection that is a Gigantic Brewing Kolschtastic alongside a hearty portion of mochiko chicken.
The city of Portland certainly has much more to offer both tourists and locals than just it’s dizzying list of grain-based, fizzy boozy beverages. Too much to be discussed in just one article. But all of what it has to offer comes together in one strange soup of creativity, passion, and quirk. If ever there was a city where the so-called misfits of the world could gather in harmony, it would be Portland - and there is a special kind of beauty in that. But maybe that’s just the beer talking.