For a city that bills itself as the craft beer capital of the world boasting 70 breweries within its city limits and another 35 in the metro area according to the Oregon Brewers Guild planning a Portland pub crawl may prove harder than one might imagine but it’s that abundance of breweries in a smaller city with a walkable downtown that allows for a visit to as many taprooms and brew pubs as limited time permits as was the case during my first visit to the “City of Roses”.

The roots of Portland’s vibrant modern craft beer scene can be traced back to the 1850’s when German immigrants Henry Saxer and Henry Weinhard brought their old world brewing knowledge to the rugged Pacific Northwest with the latter becoming  a brewing icon whose beer was made in Portland until 1999. These early brewers found key ingredients readily at hand as both high quality hops were being grown in the area and an almost endless supply of crystal-clear river water and high demand from a thirsty population of longshoreman, loggers and labourers.

Fast-forward to the mid-1980’s when Bridgeport Brewing is founded in Portland’s “Pearl District”, a name many say was given to suggest that some of its urban decay industrial buildings were like crusty oysters and the galleries and artists’ lofts within were like pearls.  Bridgeport and others in that first wave of craft breweries benefited greatly from a change in state laws that that had previously prohibited beer being produced and sold on the same premises and soon taprooms and brewpubs featured fresh-brewed, high quality alternative to the big beer brands for locals who drank it up, literally.

photo by author

My beer of choice at Bridgeport was the King Pin Double Red Ale with subtle spice and caramel flavors.

Bridgeport Brewing is Portland’s oldest craft brewery and offers brewery tours in its century-old brick and timber building with a pub, mezzanine bar and cocktail lounge, outdoor seating.

A short walk south is Deschutes Brewery, a Bend, Oregon brewery founded in 1988 and named after the Deschutes River.

photo by author

My Saturday mid-afternoon visit found the Deschutes brewpub crowded but I managed to carve out room at the bar rail to stand and soak up a pint of what would become my favorite craft beer,  the Pacific Wonderland, a Pilsner with a light citrus and malt flavor and a clean finish.

photo by author

The brewpub features large silver frame windows that show off the gleaming copper kettles used to brew it signature and specialty beers which have helped the company become one of the largest craft breweries in the United States.

photo by author

Deschutes Portland brewpub opened in 2008 and has a really rustic, log cabin feel with huge wooden pillars and intricate wood carvings of Pacific Northwest nature themes.

photo by author

Travelers departing from Portland International Airport, or PDX, can enjoy a parting Pacific Wonderland at the company’s pub in the terminal.

Next on my list is 10 Barrel Brewing which like Deschutes was born in Bend, Oregon in 2006 by a trio of guys who shared a similarly simple mindset: brew beer, drink beer and have fund while doing both.

Despite being sold by its founders to Anheuser-Busch InBev in 2014, 10 Barrel Brewing is still a popular brand and its Portland taproom sports an outdoor rooftop lounge for sultry Summer days.

photo by author

Large industrial size garage doors are opened in warmer weather allowing those at the bar a stool with a view.

photo by author

Right next to 10 Barrel is the small scale Back Pedal Brewing which could be called a nanobrewery as it’s smaller than a microbrewery brewing beer in small batches. Originally opened in 2013 as BrewStop, a restaurant and bar that served as the home base for the 15-person BrewCycle tour. Back Pedal has an industrial loading dock coziness its larger neighbors go for with their design but don’t pull off quite as well because of their size.

photo by author

The bartenders are quick to help with recommendations and explain their beers on tap. While Summer was technically weeks away I chose the Summer Breeze, a light and crisp ale perfect for a warm Summer day which it felt like with the big garage door open.

photo by author

Back Pedal Brewing was one of those happy surprises as its small size means it doesn’t appear on city tourism maps or list of notable breweries but I would highly recommend stopping by for a pint as it’s a hidden gem well worth visiting.

A few doors down is Rogue Brewing‘s Rogue Distillery & Public House, a brewery  founded in 1988 and began brewing the following year in Newport on Oregon’s Pacific coast.

 

photo by author

After standing for what seemed like an eternity trying to choose from all the beer on tap I wanted to change gears and avoid another amber ale so went with the Honey Kolsch, an award-winning beer flavored with honey produced by colonies of bees on land next to where Rogue grows its hops.

photo by author

After the warm welcome at Back Pedal the hospitality at Rogue was more restrained bordering on indifferent but that could’ve merely been my impression after having sampled several pints along the way.

Wanting more than pub grub I headed to a Portland landmark since it opens its doors in 1974, Old Town Pizza & Brewing, for a slice and a pint. While pizza has been served for 40+ years in one of Portland’s oldest standing buildings, the Merchant Hotel built in 1880, beer wasn’t added to the menu until 2012 when a microbrewery was founded in another location in the city.

Legend has it that the historic building is haunted by Nina, a young girl sold into a life of prostitution and who was it’s suspected was killed by her employers when she tried to escape the world’s oldest profession with the help of travelling missionaries. There are Haunted Pub Tours for those wanting to try and meet Nina and see some of the underground tunnels used to “Shanghai” or kidnap drunken sailors and force them onto ships docked nearby against their will.

photo by author

Despite a number of sold-out brews on tap I went with the Sun Dazed Kolsch, a German style Kolsch with a low 4.8% alcohol by volume (ABV) and a light taste with hints of fruit flavors.

photo by author

Old Town Pizza occupies what was the Merchant Hotel’s original hotel lobby and the window where you order your pizza is the original hotel’s reception desk. Also surviving from the original building is the lobby’s original decorative cast iron beam posts.

photo by author

A visit to Old Town Pizza & Brewing feels like stepping back in time with the dining area dressed in mix-and-match antique furniture, adding to the vintage feel of the historic establishment.

photo by author

After consuming both pizza and beer I left not having felt Nina’s ghostly presence.

The last stop on my personal pub crawl was closer to my hotel in the downtown, Rock Bottom Brewery. One of 30 locations spread around the U.S. the Rock Bottom chain is to me in the gastropub category with high end beers and food and a big brand franchise feel. That said it isn’t quite to the same extent as some chains like RedRobin,  Chili’s or Applebees as producing high-quality beer on the premises sets Rock Bottom apart.

photo by author

Rock Bottom Brewing was founded in Denver in 1991 and has a eclectic mix of beers with playful names, so much so  that I almost wanted to order the Sassy Pants simply to say the name aloud but restrained myself and asked for the Urban Lumberjack amber red ale instead.

photo by author

photo by author

Seven breweries and seven pints later I ambled back to my hotel to try and jot down a few notes about my day-long Portland brewery “research” field trip lest I forget most of it in the morning.

Among the pleasant surprises I learned was that there’s a spirit of collaboration rather than competition among Portland brewers and it’s not uncommon to see the fruits of that joint labour offered for sale next to the breweries own beers. Given the number of breweries in Portland that spirit of cooperation is a good thing because otherwise the competition would be cut throat.

There is enough room in Portland for all breweries and beer drinkers so I’ll find an excuse to return to this corner of the Pacific Northwest one day soon for another personal pub crawl.