Words & Photos - Matthew Curtis. Read about our lunchtime visit to Hair of the Dog brewery here...
So my Dad and I plus our friends Mike and Laurie who had driven down from Walla Walla, Washington to join us for a couple of days in Portland had finished our tasting session at Hair of the Dog Brewery, checked in to our hotel and stepped out in the early afternoon to explore more of the city of Portland. We were staying in the Southwest Quadrant of the city a mere ten minutes walk from downtown and a stones throw from a handful of great looking breweries and bars. We didn't have any plans set in stone but there were several places that had been highly recommended to me so we decided that these were the best bars and breweries to check out.
Portland, Famous for really well designed signs
We wandered towards Broadway and I took in the surroundings, tall modern buildings are occasionally flanked by older, more beautiful ones and there's a slightly more relaxed vibe here than in Denver (if that is at all possible) which being the only American city of similar size I've visited I instantly began comparing it to. We turned a corner and saw a row of street food stands, the epic Powells bookstore stood proudly across the street and we dipped into an independent record store just for a quick look around before we headed onward for a beer.
At the end of the block with the record store stood our next destination, Henry's 12th Street Tavern which boasts a mere 106 beers on tap. The turbulent hangover I was suffering from this morning seemed all but a distant memory and I peruse the menu before plumping for a Ninkasi Total Domination IPA. It's a pleasant enough IPA, lovely citrus notes mingling with a little toast like quality from the malts but when I taste what I my Dad is drinking, the Ninkasi Tricerahops Double IPA I find myself wishing I'd ordered one of those instead as huge waves of grapefruit and pine cascade over my palate, it's a true delight and a beer I hope I don't have to wait too long to taste again.
We stay for just the one in Henry's as we decide we'd rather hit a brewery tap than just sit in a bar and so we walked a short distance to the Rogue Brewery bar. Rogue, who are based in the nearby coastal city of Newport are surely well known by all beer geeks on both sides of the Atlantic by now. They have been championed by several craft beer destinations in the UK, most notably Brewdog who often showcase Rogue beers on keg and in bottle in their chain of bars. I've personally never been bowled over by their beers, I find their flagship Dead Guy Ale far too sweet and unbalanced but a couple of their IPAs have made me smile when tasting them. It's one thing trying beer that's travelled several thousand miles but another completely trying them close to the source with all of those essential hop oils still whole and intact so I was expecting big things from one of the Northwest's biggest hitters.
We arrive outside the rather grotty looking building that houses the Rogue tap room after a short walk from Henry's via a brief stop to pick up a triple shot Americano to pep myself up. We step inside and take a seat at a sticky table that clearly hadn't been cleaned for some time, it's adorned with tatty menus and a bottle filled with hops and malt in a dire attempt to show what a beer is made of but the ingredients in the bottle are so rotten and stale that it's almost enough to put you off beer for life, almost. We wait a little and eventually a server arrives to take our order, I was disappointed that she didn't have all the answers to my questions about the beer on offer and in the end I choose a flight of five Rogue beers that I hadn't tasted before at random. We wait for another while and I take in my surroundings, this pub is in desperate need of a deep clean, a lick of paint and some new upholstery, it's a far cry from the sleek, modern design of the Brewdog bars that champion Rogue beers on UK shores.
Eventually our flights arrive and I get stuck in, first up is the relatively well known Juniper pale ale but I find all the flavours far too muted and watery and I can barely taste a hint of the Juniper that this beer promises. The rest of the beers in my flight continue to disappoint, the Double Chocolate stout in particular falls flat on its face thanks to it tasting of foul, synthetic chocolate syrup, being very thin and not stout at all. The one saving grace is the delicious glass of Brutal IPA my Dad was supping away at, it was arguably one of the better Rogue IPAs I've tasted with delicious notes of orange, lychee and pine resin being underpinned by a healthy, rich malt base. Despite this I left feeling a little dejected and probably won't rush out to buy a Rogue beer if I see them again, there was no sense of pride in this pub and that reflected in their beers, not a place I'd recommend if visiting Portland. This pub also houses one of Rogue's distilleries but we didn't hang around to taste any spirits as there were plenty of more nearby bars to investigate.
I was so busy taking photos of signs that I forgot to take any photos of beer
Thankfully our next destination could not have been more of an opposite experience, a mere hop, skip and jump from Rogue is the grand old building that houses the elegant Deschutes Tap Room. Where the Rogue bar was half empty, Deschutes was heaving, there was almost an hours wait for a table if you wanted food, and people were swooping like sparrow hawks as soon as a free table became available at the bar. Luckily, my Dad and I are excellent table swoopers and we spot two ladies finishing a late lunch and lunge towards the table. After a spot of polite conversation, something that comes much more easily in America than it ever will in England the table is ours and we get around to ordering some beers. After so many tasters and lots of walking about I'm ready for a full pint and I opt for a glass of Creative Juice, a 6.1% ABV IPA limited only to Deschutes own bars. It's supremely zingy and refreshing, waves of lemon and mango all cascading together in a dry, moreish finish, it's exactly what I wanted and it lasts me all but a few minutes.
After that palate livener I'm ready for a bit more tasting and custom build a flight from the large range of Deschutes beer available on tap, some of which is brewed using the in house microbrewery and sold exclusively in the pub. I then proceed to try a lot of excellent beers and I won't bore you to tears with details of all of them but a real highlight was the Hop Henge 'experimental' IPA. I'm not sure what was experimental about it but it was a real hop heads dream, the beer was rich with raw, vinous hop resins and left a supremely bitter finish that sang for minutes after you finish your last sip. The other real treat was the Obsidian Stout which is one of Deschutes' core beers except this was being served from a cask under gravity. It was a pleasure to have a cask beer that was done properly in the United States, I've been to a lot of places in the USA where a cask or 'firkin' as they often prefer to call it is done as a novelty but this brew in particular I felt was really enhanced by the cask conditioning. Rich notes of coffee and bitter dark chocolate mingled with a bit of caramel and a little grassyness from the hops, it's an excellent stout and it capped off a great experience at the beautifully laid out Deschutes bar which is definitely worth a visit if you ever find yourself in Portland.
One thing that differentiates the USA from the UK is that you don't just get bars, EVERYWHERE serves food from bar snacks through to full meals which as a Brit can get a bit irritating when you just want a beer and keep getting asked if you want to see a food menu. Despite this the four of us hadn't eaten yet and although the food being served in Deschutes looked simply wonderful we had been recommended to visit a restaurant called Higgins and so we called a cab and headed off on our merry way. Little did I know that one of my beer geek dreams was about to be fulfilled...