Thursday, September 10, 2009

Riding the Portland Brew Bus

Portland (and Oregon in general) is one of the best beer places in the country (if not the best). There are over 35 breweries in the Portland metro area and over 90 in the state. A few of them are located in the downtown area, but the rest are spread around and not easily accessible by public transit. My wife mentioned that I was interested in the beer scene in Portland while we were talking to the concierge after checking in at our hotel and she mentioned the Saturday afternoon Brew Bus tour. My wife was interested in wandering around the art festival and the Pearl District that afternoon and strongly urged me to go. I took the hint and a quick phone call later, my wife was dropping me off beside a school bus next to a guy with a long grey ponytail and wearing a shirt with beer mugs all over it. This was Jim Long, the tour guide as well as local historian, author and inventor of the blue pages in the phone book (for those who remember what a phone book is).

There was 24 of us on the bus, not including Jim and a first-time driver of the tour bus who spoke broken english and didn't know his way around Portland very well. The tour lasted 5 hours and we managed to visit 4 breweries, an average number, Jim said, based on the size of the group. As we drove between breweries, Jim entertained us with stories of the local brewing scene, historical facts about the area and general beer knowledge.

Hopworks Urban Brewery - Probably the most "green" brewery I've ever seen with all organic brewed beer and powered by 100% renewable energy. The beers were all very good with the stout and ESB (cask) being my favourite. Beers sampled:

  • HUB Lager
  • Crostown Pale Ale
  • Velvet ESB
  • Hopworks IPA
  • Seven Grain Stout
  • Deluxe Organic Ale
  • ESB (cask)
  • Ace of Spades Imperial IPA
Amnesia Brewing - According to our guide, Amnesia Brewing was opened about five years ago by a former brewer from Rogue Brewing. It's located in a small converted garage or warehouse, but the brewer who gave us a quick tour (guy in the red hat in the photo) said they're moving to a new location and expanding their operations. However, these were probably the beers that I liked the least during our tour and I was not alone on that feeling. They were all just okay at best and some had an odd sour like flavour in the finish. Beers sampled:

  • Goldie Hops Summer Ale
  • Dusty Trail Pale
  • Slow Train Porter
  • The ESB
  • Desolation IPA
  • Copacetic IPA

MacTarnahan's Brewing Co (Pyramid) - Formerly the Portland Brewing Company, it was bought by Pyramid Breweries in 2004 which was then purchased by Magic Hat Brewing Company in 2008. This location was named after Robert MacTarnahan who was one of the original investors in Portland Brewing Company. Although its located in the middle of a commercial warehouse district, it has a nice restaurant and bar that overlooks huge copper kettles, We were all provided with free orders of their rosemary and garlic fries as a snack, but a lot of the people ordered food as well. Their beers are generally good, but typically not well regarded by beer geeks as they're often thought of as being too mainstream. My favourite of their beers was actually one that was not part of our official sampling. On the way out, I noticed a stack of Lip Stinger Farmhouse Ale and asked one of the employees about it. Its a Belgian farmhouse ale spiced with black peppercorns. He was surprised we hadn't sampled it and quickly poured a couple of us a glass. Very tasty and the use of peppercorns were a nice change from the more typically used coriander. We were being rushed back to the bus, otherwise I would have bought a bottle. Beers sampled:

  • Audactious Apricot
  • Haywire Hefeweizen
  • Ale House Amber
  • Honey Beer
  • Curve Ball Blonde
Lucky Labrador Brewery - We visited the beer hall location which is in an old Freightliner Trucking warehouse. Its essentially just a huge wide-open space with long rows of tables and chairs. Their beers were all generally good, but nothing that particularly stood out from the rest. However, this was our last stop and we were pretty much rushed through the sampling in order to get back in time.

  • Crazy Ludwig's Alt
  • Super Dog IPA
  • Stumptown Porter
  • Brown Brown

Overall, I'd have to say that Hopworks Urban Brewery was the definitely the winner of the day. They had a good variety of styles on tap and I genuinely liked all of their beers that we sampled. Although busy, the brewpub looked liked a cool place to hangout and it actually reminded me of Austin (probably from the whole organic and green vibe they had going). I would definitely recommend it and I'd probably try to get back to it the next time I'm ever in Portland.

If travelling to Portland, I would recommend hopping aboard the Brew Bus Tour. The breweries that are visited during the tour can vary each time depending on the size of the group and how busy the various breweries are that day.  We got around to a few that I would have otherwise probably not visited and Jim did a great job of both informing and entertaining us. Here are a few more photos from the tour and of our tour guide:

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