11 November 2016

Goodbye Portland

There comes a time on every holiday, regardless of where I am, that I decide it's time for a curry. Not every place is accommodating, but Portland, Oregon was. I don't know if it's a coincidence that the restaurant we found in IPAville was called East India Company, but I found it amusing nonetheless.

The beer list was thoroughly uninspiring but it had one thing I didn't recognise and was intrigued enough by to order. Have you ever had Haywards 5000? "World's favourite strong beer" boasts the label, so if you like strong beer you must have heard of it. It's 8% ABV and brewed in Mumbai. And is absolutely terrible. There's tonnes of residual sugar in this, giving it that sticky tramps' brew taste. To make things worse it adds in a plasticky sweetness as well. It's not remotely refreshing or cleansing and as such is not a suitable accompaniment for curry or anything else.

The other Portland restaurant we went to was Little Bird in downtown. It's quite an upmarket place but there's still a decent selection of draught beers. I had Ecliptic's Quasar pale ale with my dinner. It has a huge and gorgeous tropical fruit flavour, bursting with mango, pineapple and guava, while the aroma adds passionfruit to the mix. There's properly bitter edge on the finish which helps balance it. Impressive stuff.

So that's the restaurants. Portland does have a number of independent pubs as well, so you don't have to limit your beering to the breweries. One of the best reputed ones is Bailey's Taproom, also in downtown. We visited briefly one evening on the way back to our hotel. I had Oktoberfresh by Portland's German style specialist Zoiglhaus. It's 5.5% ABV and a pale amber colour. The texture is nicely chewy and although it's a little overly sweet and fruity, it's nicely done. There's a green herbal effect which tastes properly German without reminding me of any particular German beer.

Beside it there is Sin Tax, an imperial milk stout with peanut butter, from Mother Earth Brew Co. in Vista, California. It smells of honeycomb ice cream and only gets sweeter from there. Among the mountains of sticky sugar there's a hint of lavender perfume but any other complexities are drowned out. I found it hard to believe it's only 8.2% ABV: it could pass for double that. Anyway, it's terrible. Like that execrable Omnipollo Yellow Belly peanut butter stout, it's not for people who like the taste of beer.

Across town there's a roomy lounge bar specialising in local beers, called Loyal Legion. Here I found Berliner, a straight Berliner weisse by pFreim in the town of Hood River, east of Portland. It's a harmless little fella, just 3.5% ABV and a clear watery yellow with a very mild sourness and not much else.

Herself went for something rather more ambitious: Fork Lift, a double IPA by Barley Brown's. It's a medium amber colour, 9% ABV and has a massively dank aroma, the weedy hop oils infused with oranges as well. The flavour has a spiky bitterness and while there's a definite warmth, it's not as hot as it could have been. Still too hot for me though: one of those double IPAs I find just too heavy to enjoy.

Further out east, one comes to The Horse Brass. Established in 1976, this English theme pub was instrumental in the formation of Portland as a beer destination, supporting the local microbreweries as they were beginning to find their feet, and acting as a focal point for fans of imported and craft beer back when these were very specialised interests. It looks quite unassuming from the outside and inside is all dark wooden beams, cluttered with memorabilia.

The beer list is pretty decent and I went for RPM, the flagship IPA from Bend icons Boneyard. They've deliberately dialled the bitterness way back in this 6.6%-er, and you just get a hint of mandarin rind in with lots of juicy flesh. It's very smooth and sinkable, the alcohol very well hidden. Beautiful, classic, stuff.

Unsurprisingly I did almost no hotel room drinking in Portland, except for one evening when I arrived back with a bottle of Hopworks IPA, Hopworks being one of the many Portland breweries I didn't have time to visit. It's a bitter beast, searingly strong with jaffa overtones. By way of balance there's a candy-sweet base making it a little sticky. And yet it's rather enjoyable in its own raw and slightly crude way. Maybe I was just in a good mood. Portland's like that.

But all good things must come to an end. I left off yesterday's post with Jeff driving us from Ex Novo brewery to Widmer, not far away. Despite being part of the furniture in Portland's brewing scene, Widmer still commands respect. The production brewery is on one side of the street while across from it there's a brewpub and restaurant, one which does rather good steaks too.

Crystal Gayle Goschie
Though we get a decent selection of Widmer beers in Ireland (presumably from the parent company's facility in New Hampshire rather than Portland) there were plenty of offerings here I'd never heard of. One such was Crystal Gayle Goschie, a clear gold weissbier using Crystal hops for a very north-western resinous hop aroma and bright fresh citrus in the flavour, sitting happily alongside the wheat beer smoothness.

It's The New Style is a pale ale which caught my eye in the menu as it's brewed using Irish pale malt and Lemondrop hops. The name turned out to be quite ironic as it's very old-fashioned: amber in colour with a toffee and lemon flavour profile.

And my very last beer in Portland was Hawaii 3-0, a fruit-infused IPA which is not something I normally have much time for but this one is great. There's a no-nonsense aroma of ripe cantaloupe to signal just the sort of Carmen-Miranda's-hat experience you're about to have. The flavour is pure fruit cocktail, with pineapple and pear being the most distinctive elements to me. It's not overdone, the hops are on the down-low so don't interfere, and it's all very drinkable and easy-going.

Portland is a really wonderful place to spend time, and not just for the beers. There's a generally upbeat attitude, a sense that the inhabitants know they have a good thing going and take responsibility for maintaining that, whether that's with food, or the environment, or indeed beer. Everyone should go to Portland at least once. It'll make you a happier person. A special thanks to Jeff Alworth for generously giving of his time and transport to improve my visit.

It was back to the east coast for me, and a city rather less idyllic and upbeat than Portland.


  1. Had Hayward's 5000 once. Once.

    1. Welcome to the support group, have a cookie.

  2. It was my great pleasure.

    Also, there's something appropriate about you trying an Indian beer in Portland, since I spent two years living in India and over-identify with my home town. The non-craft beers in India are absolutely the worst in the world. They're expensive and designed to do one thing: get you drunk fast. A few brands are only bad (Kingfisher, Taj Mahal), but that's their high-water mark.

    Hope to see you again soon--here or there.