Recently my wife (Sarajo) and I took a week's vacation to the Beer Mecca that is Portland, Oregon. While we did try out a nearly overwhelming number of breweries, we also took some side trips and ate at a wonderful plethora of places. On our third day in, two of our friends (Kathleen and Shea) met up with us from DC and joined in the fun. I'm going to blog about the trip in some detail, mostly to immortalize it in the written word, but consider it a starting point for your own Portland area trip! Feel free to shoot me any questions or clarifications if you like.
Portland Day 3
Dawn arrived too early, but the blackout curtains helped hide the sun's harmful rays from our blurry eyes. Shambling down to the McMenamins Kennedy School restaurant, we met up with our friends--looking much more alert than the previous night. I had a great and hearty dish of house made corned beef hash and about a quart of house roasted coffee for breakfast and started to feel a bit more human.
We spent some time after breakfast exploring the spaces of the old school building that hosted our hotel rooms. One of the stamps for our McMenamins passports was a scavenger hunt for a particular painting, so we wandered the halls taking selfies with any likely and odd artwork we could find. We also invited ourselves into the brewery (as mentioned in the previous post) for a tour (and stamp!).
Having killed enough time before the breweries opened, we headed out for our first stop of the day:
Hair of The Dog is a brewery we stopped at on our last visit to Portland and was at the top of our list for places to revisit. I won't go into too much detail here since I've covered the place before. This brewery has been around for a long time, putting out unique beers unlike anything I've had before. Their penchant for naming beers after people is cool but makes it difficult for me to remember which one I liked or what kind of beer it was. The ladies split some small samplers of these eclectic beers, while Shea and I shared two vintage bottles of strong ale (Putin the Russian Imperial stout, and Matt). Both were turbid, boozy, uncarbonated, and remarkably tasty. Keep making amazing beers guys and I'll keep visiting!
For our first real day in Portland we had signed up for a food and alcohol tour with Forktown Tours to get a crash course on some of the local fare. Started by Heidi Burnette, the tour company has five different walking tours--each focusing on a different neighborhood of Portland. We took the Alphabet District Tour and were quite happy with our experience! Heidi herself was our seasoned tour guide and with our group of four, she tailored the experience even more to our preferences. We started with a bagel and sandwich at Kenny & Zukes deli for starters. Then we moved on to St. Honore Bakery where we relished sweet French pastries and realized we might not have come into this with enough space in our bellies.
Next up was Bull Run Distillery, where we had a short tour and tasted through a large selection of spirits--my favorite was a whiskey aged in red wine barrels that tasted like a pre-mixed Manhattan cocktail! Oh, and then an extra bonus trip to another distillery who specialized in making Aria dry gin where we tasted through several tasty mini cocktails. Getting happy, we moved to Taste on 23rd--a wine bar in a converted old home that served us a really nice dish paired with a wine. And then we finished our tour with a trip to The Meadow--a shop specializing in culinary salts, cocktail bitters, and high-end chocolates. Yes this place is amazing! We sampled chocolates, tasted salts and bitters, and got serenaded with a duet of banjo and guitar in a vividly Portland kind of way. Heidi also gave us some great advice on other places to check out during our travels. This was a fantastic way to cover a lot of ground in an area and get a sampling of some of the food, drink, and culture of the scene. I can't recommend Forktown Tours enough!
|Bluegrass jam session makes this so "Portland!"|
While walking on our tour we had scoped out a few more prime places to check out while we were in the neighborhood. Our next stop was the Lompoc Tavern, located right in the heart of this neighborhood. This used to be the site of an older brewpub (1990's), but in 2012 was razed to add a large new building. They reopened in 2013 in the same spot, but have since moved production of the beer to another location in Portland. With a sunny warm day outside, plenty of folks were sitting in the small outdoor seating area, so we had luck getting a booth just inside the open doors. Despite its relative youth, the place feels authentically old, with weathered woods and old-school pub feel. Having just eaten tons of food on our tour we opted to avoid the beer sampler this time and just focus on a single beer each. Shea got the Batch 69 Baltic Porter which was a well done example of the style and not overly sweet (I gave it a 3.75.) I got the LSD (Lompoc Special Draft) which is a dark smoky strong ale and also gave it a 3.75. Interestingly, back in Minnesota, Indeed Brewing has recently had to change the label on their beer LSD. Small world. Based on the two beers from Lompoc, I'd recommend checking it out, but I've heard since that the Sidebar location is the best place to visit.
This is a new addition to the McMenamins empire (see my day 1 write up for more on them) and is a stand-alone liquor store/bottle shop. Just a few blocks down from Lompoc we decided we needed to stop in and check it out. We got our passports stamped and perused the over 800 bottles of liquid heaven available in the coolers. I talked at length to one of the very helpful staff who helped me pick some of the better local bottles (and who suggested some future stops on our beer tour). The place fills growlers off their 16 taps as well and we had a couple of samples while shopping. On the way out I picked up a few bottles of Russian River beers sitting unobtrusively by the checkout counter. Score! I love the fact that you can have a tap beer at a bottle shop, fill a growler, or even pop a bottle and drink it there. Minnesota's antiquated beer laws are cramping my style after seeing this in action!
Not to let the day end there, we headed for yet another brewery: Upright. Many friends had put this on their top Portland brewery lists so I was excited to check it out. We went on a week day thinking it would be less crowded, but failed in that endeavor! The brewery is located in the basement of a large building (Leftbank) and is somewhat difficult to find--even when you're looking for it! We discovered a ghetto hand-written sign near the entrance and still managed to fumble around the basement and back halls of the place before we followed the sound of happy drinkers to our goal. The brewery is small and the tasting room is basically just some chairs and a few small tables thrown into the center of the brewery. There was a charity event going on when we arrived and the place was packed with people. With lower ceilings, iffy lighting, and chaos, this place certainly had character, but was not quite to my wife's liking. I ordered a sampler (probably a bad idea in this crowd but I wanted to try everything!) and the two folks serving were volunteers didn't really know anything about the beers or how to fill sample glasses. They were pleasant enough, just not experienced.
|Hanging in the basement brewery!|
Their beers are a hybrid of Belgian/French and American styles that really are difficult to categorize--and that's the way they like it. Most are nominally "farmhouse" styles so saison-ish. Tasting through Five, Six, and Seven are all standard beers for the brewery and all were respectable farmhouse ales--I gave them all 3.75 scores--but none blew my socks off. Most had a bitter finish that was either yeast derived or possibly just aggressive hopping for the style. Their Pilsner was OK, but a little sulfury. The highlights were the special beers like the Anniversary and Four Play which hosted some Brett funk and added complexity (these I gave 4's). When I went back to the taps to ask about the bottles they had for sale, I was pointed to talk to Alex Ganum who was trying to keep up with stocking glassware for the taproom. It turns out that Alex is the owner and head brewer, so it was nice to get a brief chat with him about the beers! Overall, coming out of the brewery, our group was a little underwhelmed by the beers and overstimulated by the crowd. Looking back now and checking out my beer scores, these were actually some of the higher scores I had given beers up to this point on the trip so I may have just been crabby at the time. I'd be curious to try out more of the special releases from Upright in the future (and did actually take home a bottle of the mysterious sounding Heart's Beat)...
We got back to the McMenamins Kennedy School hotel to drop off swag and refresh--then it was time for a fairly late dinner. This time we let Sj stop driving us and took an Uber to Whiskey Soda Lounge. This is a bar/lounge owned by the same people as the famed local Thai restaurant Pok Pok, but specializes in "Thai drinking food" as well as whiskeys and cocktails. We had the amazing Fish Sauce Wings and some other very spicy and authentic Thai dishes to share. Shea had a cocktail made with Thai chili that was insanely good and also dangerous..."Tastes like burning!" We enjoyed this place, especially the odd Thai covers of 80's pop tunes playing over the speakers.
McMenamins Kennedy School Cypress Room
We ended the day at our hotel (like you do) but weren't quite ready to call it a night yet. The bonus of staying at a McMenamins is that most of them have multiple bars available. We decided to try out the Cypress room this fine night. Located in an old classroom, a long wooden bar lines one side of the room, some scattered tables take up more floor space, and a few old wooden booths line another wall. Reggae music plays over the loudspeakers and rum drinks abound. This is probably our least favorite of the place's bars, mainly because neither of us are big into rum. They still had a couple of house brews available too though, so I was still happy. After a while we hit our wall and scattered to our rooms for much needed rest. #TooOld.