Friday, November 2, 2012

Boozequest goes to Portland

I spent the weekend in Portland, Oregon visiting a friend. And while I was there, I drank some beer. Okay, it was more than some. I drank a lot of beer.

Portland is a beer-lover's paradise, where brewpubs abound and the smell of yeast and hops chases you down the street. My Portland beer adventures started in the airspace above with a complimentary oatmeal stout on my Alaska Airlines flight, and ended with a Laurelwood Brewing Co. Organic Red while I waited for my delayed flight back to San Francisco.

Ninkasi Oatis Oatmeal Stout

And that was just the airport booze...

Beer-related fun to be had in Portland:
1. Fly Alaska Airlines. Complimentary beer and wine. Even at 10AM, not that I'd know.

2. Watch a movie with a pitcher of locally-brewed beer. They have this figured out in PDX, where you can see a new movie on the big screen and enjoy the show from comfy couches and armchairs with a legally obtained glass of beer. I saw The Campaign at The Kennedy School, a delightfully confused mix of a hotel, movie theater, public pool, and event space, where movies are $3 and you can buy a pitcher of locally-brewed McMeniman's on draft.
*Full disclosure: my friend and I actually opted for the PBR. It was $5 cheaper for a pitcher and we're poor...
**Full disclosure x2: I liked The Campaign. I am not usually a fan of Will Farrell's brand of humor, but this was funny. I mean he punched a baby. He PUNCHED a BABY.

3. Taste some local microbrews. All of the breweries I went to were also brewpubs with full food menus, and they all had a very approachable, non-intimidating, friendly vibe, which I really dig. I stopped at: The Mash Tun, Deschutes Brewery, Rogue Brewery, and the Green Dragon.

Mash Tun brewery
The Mash Tun is a cute lil brewpub in the quirky Alberta neighborhood. They brew six beers, none super outstanding, but all were perfectly fine. I did love the literary-inspired names of their beers, like the Watership Brown and Kilgore Stout (Vonnegut, anyone?) They also have board games like bananagrams and Scrabble.

My favorite was Deschutes. These guys are on a bigger scale, and have another brewpub in Bend, OR as well. They have a menu of more than twenty beers at a time, and you can try a pre-selected flight of six or choose your own. All twelve of the ones I tried were tasty. The all-around favorite among my friends was the Jubelale, a winter seasonal spicy caramel-y brew with silky malt, fragrant hops, and a medium-heavy body that'll warm ya right up. Honorable mention at Deschutes was the Fresh Hop River Ale, a pale ale featuring some really interesting sour and fruity and grassy notes. But really everything there gets honorable mention because all the beers were delicious.

Deschutes. Bad pic, but you can sort of see the brewery through the window
At Rogue , also a multi-establishment-within-Oregon kinda brewery with a distilling arm as well, the favorite was the Oregasmic Pale Ale (does the name give it away?), with the Hazelnut Brown Nectar receiving honorable mention- it tasted like an unsweetened hazelnut latte, in a good way. Less honorable mention at Rogue includes the Juniper Pale Ale, which lacked any discernible juniper flavor and differed from a regular pale ale not at all. Also lost a few points in my hugely nerdy book because the waitress didn't really know anything about the spirits so I had no one to geek out with...

*Being the equal opportunity alcoholic that I am, and since Rogue makes spirits, I tried a flight each of beer and liquor. I liked the pink gin, which is their spruce gin lightly aged in pinot noir barrels, which had a smooth, nutty, vanilla taste to it. Definitely not your typical London Dry, but at least they're doing something different. Mostly I thought their other spirits were just meh.

Last up: the Green Dragon,  which is a brewery and craft beer collective, offering a bunch of rotating craft brews on tap (62, says their website). There I headed straight for the seasonally-appropriate Elysian Night Owl Pumpkin Ale. This is a solid pumpkin ale, with a nose of pumpkin pie, a pallet of spice and pure pumpkin, and without the thick syrupy sweetness where some pumpkin beers go terribly wrong.

A noble crusade
4. Go to a dive bar. Which is pretty much any bar. Portland bars all seem to come with dim lighting, well-worn wooden furniture like picnic tables or ancient well-graffitied booths, unadorned outdoor smoking patios, board games, flannel, and facial hair. And jesus christ, coming from San Francisco where a shitty draft beer is often upwards of $6 a pint, the prices in Portland were a welcome change: ~ $3 for a draft local craft brew! Goddammit, SF. Then again it's all relative- Portland locals lament the rising prices and recommend hitting up Vancouver, WA, just across the border, for the really cheap booze.

While in Portland, do NOT:
1. Go to a wine bar. This is the city of beer, not wine. Trust me.
2. Wander around downtown in search of an awesome independent coffee shop without any particular destination in mind. I seriously walked around for like 45 minutes and could only find ONE non-Starbucks coffee shop. And there were no seats, of course, so (*SIGH*) Starbucks it was.
3. Forget waterproof shoes. That would be a mistake. It rained 97% of the time that I was there. Also, do NOT listen to the stuff online about how if you want to blend in with the locals you'll leave your umbrella at home. You know what I want? To not walk around all day in wet jeans.

Pretty Portland!
Other, non-boozy things I learned in Portland: it is the city of bridges, and also of hazelnuts (who knew?). SFMUNI has nothing on PDX TrimMet/MAX. No sales tax is amazing. Such an eclectic city: I was proselytized to at a bar, then on a bus I overheard a group of 15-year-old wannabe gangsters brag about a super cool slash petrifying encounter with an armed associate. I waited in a down-the-street line to see a trendy reggae concert (John Brown's Body, FTW!), and got lost in the enormity of Powell's City of Books. It was a pretty great weekend, all told.

But now I'm back in SF, amd I don't even want to look at beer again for at least a week.

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