Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Coast, Bunnies, Beers! Oregon Day 2

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.

Day 2

Dawn arrived at the tiny coastal resort town of Pacific City.  Despite threats of rain, the air was clear and brisk but with a firm grey cloud cover.  Hints of morning sun periodically winked through the looming clouds, illuminating the magical view from our room of Haystack Rock jutting out of the sea.  Side bar here: this was where parts of The Goonies was filmed and I made continual quotes about One-Eyed Willie and the Truffle Shuffle though-out our entire stay.  My wife is very patient with me.  Sometimes.

Camera in one hand, my lady's hand in the other, I made my way to the beach for a long walk.  The briny smell of the sea, the crunch of barnacles underfoot, the raucous cries of wheeling sea birds, all brought home how different this world was from our home in Minnesota.  We climbed on the rocks, looking at colorful anemones and hermit crabs trapped in their shallow depths.  Soon we walked up a huge sand dune to find a spectacular view of sandstone cliffs, a large cave, crashing waves, and gulls galore.  My kingdom for a tripod!

Finishing up our long walk, just as some mild rain started spitting, we stopped in to Pelican Pub & Brewery for a hearty breakfast.  9 AM and I am splitting my attention between hot coffee and Tsunami Stout.  Life is good!

Now full to the brim with breakfast foods, coffee, and stout, we checked out of our hotel.  While doing so Sarajo discovered bags of rabbit food for sale and we invested the 50 cents in a bag.  Taking our spoils out behind the hotel, flocks of black rabbits incautiously approached us and began eating out Sj's hand.  A fun little excursion before heading on!


We took a bit of a long-cut by way of Salem (Oregon's capital) in order to visit a couple of breweries that were totally unknown to us.  We also didn't want to try too many of the Portland breweries without our friends so this was a nice way to widen our brewery net into new areas.

Our first stop in Salem was Vagabond Brewing, which we had discovered on our taster tour of local beers at ABV in Hilsboro the day before.  The brewery was started by a group of  Marine Corps combat veterans who had traveled extensively and discovered beer in all the places they visited.  Vagabond was the culmination of those travels, and the name nods to the wanderer.  They have a cute little kitchen that served up some great Native American style frybread to clear the palate after drinking through two sampler platters.  They had a few local ciders on tap as well so Sj was happy!

The beers were surprisingly good.  I gave nearly all of them 3.75 scores (from 0-5) which place them above average in my own personal tastes.  I really enjoyed the Attack Owl IPA--named for a local owl that was apparently swooping down on unsuspecting park-goers.  We tried the Redshift IRA which was a pleasant hoppy red, (and had tried this with guava previously).  Sj and I also liked the 50/50 Kettle Sour with black currants--a well done version of this style for sure!

After our pleasing stop at Vagabond, we moved over to Gilgamesh Brewing, also in Salem.  This place is tucked into the back end of an office park--they have a cool sign and water feature out by the road, but no signs on the actual building.  The space is more of a brewpub with a large kitchen behind the bar.  The place is a little dark, but cozy.  We of course shared the sampler to try through the beers and I discovered Hoot Attack--also named for the crazy owl--but this wasn't quite as good as Vagabond's version.  All of the beers were decent, with my average score coming in at 3.5.  Their Terry Porter and Springer IPA were my favorites of the bunch, and the Mamba (a beer made with black tea, bergamot, and tangerine peel) was the most unique.  None were seriously flawed, which is always nice to find!

Other than some unusually shaped tap handles, I felt that Gilgamesh didn't play into their Sumerian name enough.  Since one of our local breweries in Minnesota (Enki Brewing) does a better job of Sumerian branding I expect a lot! This place is worth a quick stop (and the food looks great) but I enjoyed Vagabond a bit more of the two.  Why visit just one?!


After our brief sojourn in Salem, we drove back into Portland to pick up our friends Kathleen and Shea, just arriving groggily on a long flight from the D.C. area.  This part of the trip was boring and did not include any beer.  Moving on...

We checked into our hotel for the following week: the McMenamin's Kennedy School.  For those who haven't experienced a McMenamin's property I'll give a quick lesson here.  The McMenamins have been buying up old historic buildings in the Oregon and Washington areas for over 20 years years, refurbishing them and keeping much of the charm of the original structures intact.  These range from hotels, to theaters, to brewpubs, and more.  While this is a "chain" every one of these places is unique and fun to visit.  Strange paintings, hidden faces, old enlarged photos, and more, abound.  Many of the locations have their own tiny breweries (of which some are better than others).  Two locations host distilleries which furnish spirits to the other properties. They roast their own coffee which is served through the other spots.  Now, they also have a passport that you can get to get stamps at all the spots, as well as for special experiences (having a beer or wine sampler, soaking in a pool, seeing a movie at one of theaters, etc.) This really encourages you to explore the nooks and crannies of each property and seek out others.  This is an unusual and intriguing empire!

The Kennedy School is an elementary school from 1915, and has a distinct age and history to it. I love this property and this is actually our second time staying there.  A theater (with its own bar) provides a couple of movies during the week.  There's a soaking pool for the weary traveler.  Multiple bars are present on the property, each with their own specialization (more on these in future posts!).  We started out in the restaurant for a late dinner with our new arrivals.  The food here over our stay was consistently very good, and you can't beat the location.  Antique hanging lamps and paper lanterns dangle in seemingly random abandon from the ceiling and a long bar lies along one side of the room.  An old squat wood burning stove hunches over in one corner--silent this night, but pumping out heat the next morning to fight the chill.

The Kennedy School has its own tiny brewery.  The McMenamin's breweries all have a few core recipes that are brewed at each place (Hammerhead pale ale, Ruby raspberry ale, and Terminator Stout) but the rest are up to the individual brewers.  Many Oregon brewers get their commercial start at these properties before moving on to bigger things.  Last time (3 years ago) we were at the Kennedy School the beers were not so great, but this time things had improved dramatically.  The Outdoor School IPA and the Jam Session session IPA were my favorites from the sampler and I got some more full pints later in the trip.  They also served up a very good off-dry cider from the Edgefield Estate that was a hit with our group.  We ended up getting an impromptu tour of the small but well decorated brewery the next day when we barged in on one of the brewers hard at work sparging a batch of cream ale.  I really appreciated him taking time out to give answer questions.

Check out the artwork on the brewery equipment!  

After dinner and beer it was time for bed...

Running Tally:
Breweries: 5
Pubs/Bars: 1

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