Words & Photos - Matthew Curtis - Find out just how I got myself in this damn mess in the first place...
The tasting room is a 100% must visit when in Portland
My alarm is going off and my phone is vibrating away still clutched loosely in my hand, it's 5am and I'm catching a plane to Portland, Oregon in a couple of hours time. It's clear that I managed to get as far as setting my alarm before collapsing in a heap but I never managed to actually get in to bed. I hit the snooze button and manage to grab a glorious nine minutes of half sleep before I throw myself into the shower and get ready to leave. Yesterday I 'accidentally' imbibed far more of the ale than I had intended to but when you're on holiday in the USA for only a week and there is a plethora of fabulous beer begging to be drunk a beer geek really has no chance of taking it easy.
As we drive to the airport my Dad and I watch the Sun rise over the high plains and illuminate the snow-capped Rocky Mountains and I begin to realise just how bad my hangover is. My Dad has lived out here for over two years and so he's used to the 5000 foot altitude but as my head pounds and my stomach churns I quietly curse Colorado for its lack of oxygen which makes it seemingly impossible to recover from overindulgence in reasonable time. We breeze through security, even the triple shot americano and breakfast bagel fail to get me kick started but we make our plane in plenty of time. I sit for most of the journey with my head between my knees praying that I don't release any chunder which would only serve to escalate this already dire situation. We fly over beautiful, snow covered peaks as we head to the pacific northwest, the flight lasts just over two hours and before long we touch town in PDX.
As we step off the plane I take a deep breath and taste oxygen, glorious oxygen and instantly feel revivified, the large bottle of coca-cola and dose of co-codamol seems to have kicked in too, I feel like I could take on the world, almost. We are met at the airport gates by my Dads friends Mike and Laurie who are joining us in Portland for a couple of days and later in the week will be driving us down the Colombia Gorge to their home in Walla Walla, Washington. For now the only place they are driving us to is a brewery and that brewery couldn't have a more appropriate moniker, Hair of the Dog . Before I came on this trip I asked the Internet what the best places to go in Portland for a beer are and Hair of the Dog appeared at the top of almost everyone's recommendations, it also just happens to be placed very handily half way between the airport and our hotel. We park our car just behind the tasting room where there is a wonderful view of Downtown Portland and the Willamette River in the distance (pronounced Wil - AMIT apparently) and the building is smartly emblazoned with the brewery's excellent branding so is nice and easy to find.
We head inside the spacious structure that looks like it might have been used as a shipping warehouse by its former tenants but now it's smartly dressed up with a u-shaped bar and plenty of large tables scattered about the place. The decor is clean and simple and the walls on the far side are adorned with some very cool merch which punters like me simply can't resist splurging their hard earned cash on. The four of us take a seat at the bar, although I'm recovering I still don't feel up to a full pint and while Mike and my Dad order lunch with their tasting flights Laurie and I just choose just a few tasters to start with.
Hair of the Dog prove that beer can be as elegant as wine
An empty bottle of Cantillon Gueuze sits idly on the shelf next to me and I gaze at it for a few seconds before my tasters arrive in elegant small stemmed glasses that look like they would be more at home in a wine tasting room than a brewery. The first glass contains a beer called Ruth, an American style pale ale that exudes aromas of citrus and freshly cut grass. The first sniff of this beer lifts my senses and I know instantly that this tasting session is going to either repair me or ruin me completely. As the first sip slides easily down my throat and hints of lemon and pine mingle on my palate I start to feel much better, so much better in fact that I flag down the barmaid and immediately order one of the sausage sandwiches which Mike is busy munching away at.
Beer two is Blue Dot, Hair of the Dog's double IPA and it's a much more intense version of Ruth but with a more pronounced malt character, hints of garden herbs and a citrus bitterness which is more on the side of grapefruit than lemon. It's a lovely beer and it further strengthens my resolve. I was starting to feel much more human again and soon began devouring my sandwich as I worked my way through the remaining selection of beers in front of me. Fred is a 'Golden Strong Ale' and gives a large nod in the direction of this brewery's European influences, I can't for the life of me detect much of the 10% alcohol content behind the veil of honey malt and lemongrass. It's subtle and complex, something you'd enjoy late on a summer's evening as the sun disappears behind the horizon and you fancy switching from something refreshing to something altogether more challenging, top stuff.
The fourth and final taster in my flight is a beer that I'm very excited about as several people encouraged me to seek it out while I was in the North West, it is of course Hair of the Dog's strong old ale 'Adam.' There is much about Adam that reminds me of a great imperial stout despite it technically not fitting in to this genre of beer, rich aromas of toffee and molasses and a not indiscriminate amount of booze fill the nostrils and translate beautifully onto the palate. Hints of leather and smoked meat creep up on you as this beer gradually warms to room temperature, it's a true delight and one to savour and age further if you ever manage to get hold of a more than a couple of bottles. I hang on to my tiny glass of this delicious beverage for as long as I can before I finish my lunch, the food is good here, so good in fact that Mike decides to order another sandwich and I can't say I blame him. Hair of the Dog have lived up to their namesake, I am healed of my self-affliction and I'm ready to discover what other delights Portland has in store for me.
Before we leave though my Dad spots a beer on the menu called 'Matt' and insists we order a bottle despite it being twenty dollars for just 12 fluid ounces. Matt is an 11.5% ABV strong ale that's brewed with copious amounts of German malts including some smoked malts and has Belgian Candi sugar added to the brew to really get that alcohol level up. It's then aged in both Bourbon and Apple Eau de Vie barrels which allows this beer to become mysterious and complex, just like a good Matt should be. We pour the bottle, which is a 2010 vintage, into four glasses and I take in the huge aroma of green apples and black treacle. There's a tartness to Matt as notes of sour cherry tangfastics and cooking apples mingle behind rich vanilla and burnt sugar bitterness. It's a truly remarkable beer, maybe not the ideal tipple for drinking at lunchtime when you're suffering from a raging hangover and you've another full day of drinking ahead of you but I might never get another chance to try it so the chance simply had to be taken. The empty bottle found it's way into my suitcase and came back with me across the Atlantic to sit proudly on my desk, the smell of this beer still lingers in the bottle several weeks later.
So, we finish our Matt and make our way to the hotel, join me next time for an afternoon amble around Portlandia, if you will...