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Portland Troika

July, 1999

By Bobby Bush

Continuing our brief visit to the beautiful city of Portland, Oregon into a Saturday, we visited the big three brewers (McMenamin's makes big four, but their story is different) back to back to back.

Teamed with a pair of neophyte beer hounds/old school buddies from Florida, we rendezvoused with local friends at Widmer Gasthaus Pub and Restaurant, located adjacent to Widmer Brothers Brewing Company. Kurt and Rob Widmer opened their original brewery in 1985 and have grown exponentially to become the top selling craft brewer in the Pacific Northwest, ranked number four (with the closure of Strohs) nationally. America’s Original Hefeweizen, their own version of Bavarian-style wheat ale- less spicy and smoother -outsells the majors on draft locally. The introduction of bottled Widmer beers last year sent their already busy brew kettles into overdrive.

But we were hungry and thirsty and took little notice of the 15th Anniversary placards as we ordered samplers and pints for all. Starting with that cloudy Hefeweizen, served with lemon, we slurped our way through a sweet, slightly smoky Altbier, malty Ray’s Amber Lager, liltingly light Summerbrau lager, fruity but not sweet Widberry, the mellow UK-hoppy HopJack Pale Ale and the wrong colored (reddish brown) but great tasting Porter. Cheese fondue and smoked salmon potato pancakes were followed by pasta, wurst and sandwiches, though lunch entrees such as chicken schnitzel, porkloin chops, sauerbraten, paprika chicken and fresh salmon, a Portland staple, also sounded delicious. Bellies temporarily satiated, we stopped in the company store for t-shirts and other Widmer paraphernalia, then headed for our next destination.

Portland Brewing Company recently closed their original Flanders St. brewpub to concentrate on their seven year old brewery, which occupies a good portion of their three acre site on NW Industrial. Annual capacity is in excess of 100,000 barrels. In the same structure they have a fancy Taproom & Grill as well, with gleaming copper everywhere.

Blending “Bavarian traditions with Northwest attitudes,” Portland offers five “core beers.” Of course, we had to try them all, and more. Oregon Honey Beer, the “original honey beer,” was light, golden and only a tinge sweet from pure white clover honey. Locally grown Willamette hops helped make it the brewery’s biggest seller. Oregon marionberries, a sweeter form of blackberry, gave Wheat Berry Brew a soft but tasty flavor spectrum. The GABF gold medal MacTarnahan’s Scottish Style Amber Ale was medium bodied and smooth textured with rich caramel tones. English hops are employed in the traditional Haystack Black Porter, a full-bodied creation that could not deny its chocolate and black malt recipe. The newest of the regular line-up, Bavarian Style Weizen was very true to style, combining Northwestern winter wheat with imported traditional wheat yeast. The seasonals on tap included the European-esque Zig Zag River Lager, sultry Woodstock IPA, thick Thunderhead Cream Stout, distinctive Berlinerweisse, an American Hefeweizen and lightweight Portland Summer Ale.

As we headed toward the door, a quick trip to the men’s room left me laughing. Above the urinal, for leisure reading, was the catching phrase: “You wouldn’t be so ashamed if you were holding a good beer.”

Still chuckling we headed to the Rose City’s oldest brewpub/micro, Bridgeport Brewing Company. Founded in 1984, the Bridgeport pub has undergone a recent remodeling and enlargement. Still a no-frills, no-smoking establishment with great pizzas and superb beer, we pushed on through their offerings, starting with the light, dry Rye ‘No seasonal. Copper-hued Blue Heron was malty with small hops effect at finish. Amber was maltier and medium bodied. ESB offered great balance, while IPA, served in both cask conditioned and regularly carbonated, was heavily scented from four different hops additions. Porter was thin for style, while the cask version was simply wonderful. Black Strap Stout, made with real molasses, was big, but the Old Knucklehead Barley Wine, served in 1/2 pint portions only, was sweet and very thick, with a bold hop closure.

Yes indeed, the beer in Portland is fantastic.

This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.

© Bobby Bush

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