By Bobby Bush
No trip to the fabled beer city of Portland is complete without at least one stop in a
McMenamins’ joint. They’re hard to avoid and, heck, the beer is always good. This
particular mid-summer visit would find this happy beer boy slurping a Terminator or
Hammerhead or two in three different McMenamins pubs.
I waited patiently at the bar of McMenamins Sunnyside Pub, in the southern
suburb of Clackamas, for my partners in crime for the evening. The wait wasn’t long
enough, for, with Sinatra on the stereo, I was only able to sample a couple of their ten
brews, all brewed at other McMenamins facilities including the Edgefield, their main
brewery in nearby Troutdale. The Consta Bull IPA was pungently hoppy with medium
body and lightly bitter aftertaste. Is was a little warm in the un-air conditioned bar but the
smooth Ananda Nitro Porter sent a tingle down my spine. Sunnyside also features a
variety of wines, Oregon and Washington micros and the regular tasteless megabrewed
Drat, the boys are here, so we’re off to our first brewpub of the night. In just a
few short years Lucky Labrador Brew Pub has become a must visit on the Portland
scene. The place hadn’t changed a bit since my previous visit over a year ago. Barn-like
with spare decoration and furnishing; okay pub fare; reminders that it’s the beer we’re
here for reverberated in thirsty and empty bellies as we side up to the stool-less bowling
alley long bar to order a pitcher of brew. Unfortunately, our first selection, Reggie’s Red,
was disappointing- winey, thin and downright not good. Hawthorne’s Best Bitter,
available in regular and nitro style, was better, mild, hoppy body and well-rounded. We
were too eager to keep moving to try the Top Dog Extra Pale, Stumptown Porter and
Black Lab Stout.
Next stop was to the Crystal Ballroom. The McMenamins borthers revitalized an
aging dancehall several years ago with a steady flow of music, including real big band
dancing on Sundays, a downstairs pub/restaurant (Ringer’s Pub) and a brewery. Our first
choice was again discouraging. Cascade Head, usually among McMenamins’ best, did not
live up to its billing- thin body and sour hoppiness. A cask-conditioned Hammerhead,
nitro Dry Irish Stout and crisp Kolsch were better, much better. After generous samplings
of single malt scotches, we left this art deco bar, unable to view the spring-loaded dance
floor on this dark Wednesday night, and headed to dinner.
Widmer Gasthaus, Portland’s tribute to Germany, is another of the Rose City’s
brewing landmarks. The Widmer Brothers, who built fame and fortune (without outside
help from the megabreweries) on the popularity of their Americanized Hefeweizen,
opened a showcase of a facility on Russell Street a couple of years ago. With their
massive brewery across the street always in view from this well-appointed restaurant, we
supped on German cuisine and partook of some mighty fine brews. Sticking to the
Reinheitsgebot purity law (beer made only from grain, hops, yeast and water) on all but
the fruity Widberry, the Widmer beer list is amazing. Although the Dopplebock and
Golden Bock were out for the summer, there were plenty of others. The aforementioned
Hefeweizen was cloudy and refreshing. Pilsner brimmed with lip smacking Saaz hops.
Altbier, one of the few German ales, presented a medium body with a nice bitter finish.
Hop Jack, a relatively new Widmer ale that is golden and sufficiently hoppy, was an
attempt to compete with the region’s popular adaptation of English pale ales. Ray’s
Amber Lager was rather ambiguous with red hue, medium body, big white head and
telltale hops finish.
Resulting from a joint effort between local homebrewers and Widmer and intended
to revive forgotten or neglected historic beer styles, Collaborator Milk Stout was milky
smooth was an inoffensive coffee flavor. Black with brown head, the Germans among us
said there was “too much coffee,” this initial brew offers hope for other near-extinct style
with future collaborations. Save the Ales... and lagers too.
This trip to beervana- Portland, Oregon - continues:Portland Partaken.
This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush