By Bobby Bush
I’ve said it before and I still mean it. A trip to Portland, Oregon without at least one stop
in a McMenamin’s brewpub is a waste of an airplane ticket. Not to worry, this brief visit
would include two McM’s brewpubs and one of their neighborhood pubs.
The two McMenamin brothers opened their first brewpub, and one of the state’s
first, way back in 1985. Needless to say, with 21 breweries and another 28 pub-only
operations, they haven’t looked back yet. Hardly anyone would argue that their crowning
glory- the one facility that really put them on the map -is the Edgefield Brewery, located
in the Portland suburb of Troutdale. Opened in 1991, this former Poor House now hosts,
on 25 acres, a brewery, winery, distillery, 18-hole 3-par pitch-n-putt golf course, movie
theater, amphitheater, outdoor beer garden, sports bar, pub, restaurant and 100
bed-and-breakfast rooms. Who knows what else they have in store, for the McMenamins
also own and refurbished the old Oregon Hotel; the spacious single story Kennedy school
outfitted with hotel rooms and designed for parties; the 80 year old Crystal Ballroom
dancehall; a handful of movie theaters; and the list goes on. It’s actually hard not to find a
McMenamins establishment in Oregon and Washington.
So where to start, but at the Power Station Pub, Edgefield’s grub ‘n pub place
with movies in the back. While Carolyn roamed the gardens, I sampled the McM’s lineup.
Even though I’d had them all before, my lips puckered in anticipation of Hammerhead,
their top selling brew. Chestnut-colored, this ale was a delicious blend of crystal
malt-inspired caramel contrasted by Cascade hops bitterness. I really could drink it all
night long, but I had to move on to a short taste of Ruby. Allegedly the Northwest’s first
fruit beer- the recipe originated at another McM’s brewery in 1985 -Ruby had just enough
red raspberries to taste. Sweetness was not part of its flavor profile.
Named after Edgefield’s fine restaurant, Black Rabbit Porter was a rich blend of
crystal and chocolate malts, with a hint of brown thrown in. Its red-brown hue, unusual
for porter, was smooth, perhaps a tad nutty. Aptly named Terminator Stout was even
richer than the porter, full-bodied and flush with mocha flavor throughout. Mixed half and
half with Ruby, the Rubinator blend is both pleasant and surprising, like raspberry-flavored
whipped cream atop a cup of thick black coffee. Delicious.
Time didn’t allow me a sample of the other regular beers that afternoon (Edgefield
Wheat, IPA and Bagdad Ale), but the helpful bartender provided a taste of his four
seasonals. Smack 66 was flowery sweet from clover honey and chamomile. Coriander
and the new Amarillo hops made Amarillo Rye a much better selection. Nitro ESB was
appropriately smooth with a swift bitter finish, while Kon Tiki Kolsh did the German-style
ale proud. Its deceiving golden body ambushed my taste buds with potent Hallertau hops
The attentive bartender was so intrigued by my ceaseless questions, that he gave
me a handbook used to educate new-hires about McM’s beers. Or maybe he just wanted
to shut me up. Best of all, McMenamins Edgefield bars offer beer to go in plastic cups,
while on the grounds only. So he sent me away with a smile and a beer.
I really could have stayed all night, but we had our sights on another Troutdale
brewpub. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived at Columbia Gorge it had been closed for
over a year. So much for using up-to-date brewpub lists. My fault, but the facility was
once again in-between. We walked through the vacant building, most recently known as
Jessica’s Restaurant & Lounge, noting a mostly intact brewhouse behind the bar. There’s
an opportunity in Troutdale for some enterprising homebrewer.
All was not lost. We stopped in McVicar’s, an old church-turned-pub and
sampled some of the area’s best: Bridgeport IPA, Portland MacTarnahan and Widmer
Brothers Hefe Weizen. That, my friends, is where this beery story goes next, Portland Troika.
This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush