Sampling Beer in Portland by Foot, Bike and Light Rail
From craft beer to saké, the Portland area is chock-full of fun on tap. It was too wet in March to hike, so we opted for a more intoxicating itinerary that included the light exercise of walking, cycling and beer-tasting arm curls.
Day 1: Begin with Beer…Of Course
Our drinking adventure began with a Brewvana walking tour ($69 per person) and included a guide, tastings at four breweries, a beer-tasting notebook and a souvenir glass.
We took MAX Light Rail from the airport to Hotel deLuxe to drop off our bags, which made us late for our noon Brewvana South by Southeast tour. (Better idea: Fly with a backpack so you can take the MAX directly from the airport to your tour’s first brewery.)
By the time we arrived at Cascade Brewing Barrel House, Craig and Wendy—the other couple on the tour— had already finished their flights. Lizzy, our passionate beer guide, sprang into action—ordering our beer flights, outfitting us with a pretzel necklace for snacking and our beer-tasting notebook. Wendy booked this tour because Craig loves sour beer and Cascade is famous for its sours. I discovered I like sour beers too, while my buddy remains partial to IPAs.
Our other stops were at Base Camp Brewing, ADX (aka Art Design Portland) and Burnside Brewery. Lizzy is a self-described “total beer nerd” and really takes delight in sharing the Portland craft beer experience.
We took a break from drinking to shop. (Note: a beer buzz makes shopping more fun.) And since Oregon has no sales tax, the price you see is what you pay. So pack a credit card.
Our day wrapped with dinner at Labrewatory, where brewers are constantly experimenting to create new concoctions. With the Doe! Si! Doh! Peanut Butter Stout, powdered peanut butter is added to the beer. Down 2 Funk Vol. 2 is a farmhouse saison made with wild yeast rather than strictly cultivated yeast. Despite our ongoing beer sampling, Tamale Boy’s tasty tamales soaked up enough alcohol for us to help our Uber driver find our hotel.
Day 2: Imbibing & Biking
We kicked off our second day with “donuts for grownups” at Blue Star Donuts. Locals may love the maple bacon donut, but we were blown away by the lemon poppyseed buttermilk.
My friend lingered for more shopping at the second-hand boutiques along East Burnside Street in southeast Portland, while I grabbed an Uber to Oregon City for a guided bike ride. I met Thom Batty, The Bike Concierge at Coin Toss Brewery to try out his new 9-mile ride that includes tastings at a brewery, a winery and a distillery.
Tim Hohl, Coin Toss Brewery’s founder, says the name is a nod to the event that gave Portland its name. In 1845, two New England settlers—Asa Lovejoy and Francis Pettygrove— flipped a coin for naming rights. Lovejoy was from Boston, and Pettygrove was from Portland, Maine. (And yes, I toasted Pettygrove’s victory, while Batty sipped soda. He doesn’t drink and guide.)
From Coin Toss, we rode to Villa Catalana Cellars, where I enjoyed sampling the fruit of the vine and Trail Distilling, where the tour ended with my tasting handcrafted vodka and gin.(I think Batty should name the tour “The Legs and Liver Ride” because both get a workout.)
Days 3&4: The Drink Goes On
On the third day, our favorite stop was SakéOne Brewery in Forest Grove where Momokawa and Moonstone sakés are brewed. Be sure to take the brewery tour to learn about the intricacies of polishing, soaking and fermenting rice to create a world-class sake. The facility is called a Kura, and much of the equipment is imported from Japan.
We ended our trip with appetizers and beer at Breakside NW Slabtown, Portland’s 75th brewery. While dining and imbibing, you can look at the brew tanks that are openly displayed at the far end of the restaurant. Breakside has great beer, a fun vibe, and the pickled vegetables knocked our socks off. I enjoyed a bottle of their Passionfruit Sour Ale, while my friend had a beer flight. Six more breweries are slated to open this year.
The thing that makes beer grazing in Portland such a care-free, amusing experience is the availability of light rail, Uber and Lyft. Most breweries we visited were less than 3/10 of a mile from light rail. So instead of driving, you can drink, walk and ride.
These days you can find craft beer almost anywhere from San Diego to San Francisco, but Portland beer tasting is fascinating and completely unpretentious. And so is the wine tasting.
And you don’t need to drink to enjoy Portland. It’s a coffee lover’s paradise, where independent baristas rule and Starbucks is pretty much limited to the airport.
The food is only part of the charm.