Inside it's a sparse place, little more than tables on a bare concrete floor. The brewery itself is out back, and proprietor Alan was kind enough to take me through and show me around. They've been going for 23 years but, astoundingly, are still using the same brewkit cobbled together from old dairy equipment that they've always had. It still does everything required of it so Alan doesn't see the point in upgrading. There have been add-ons, of course: the serving tanks are new and there's an intriguing space-capsule-like concrete egg over in the fermenting zone. These are commonly used in the wine industry and apparently improve the texture and flavour of the liquid: the porous container allows it to breathe as it does in a barrel, but without picking up any flavours. The brewery's menu offers a variety of beers both "from the wood" (barrel ageing is up the other end of the room) or "from the stone".
For herself, the 6% ABV Cherry Lager. I was expecting lots of sticky sweetness from this, but no, it smells of properly dark sour cherries, in keeping with its blood-red colour. The dominant flavour is an exotic spiciness, a little like cherry pipe tobacco, perhaps — sweet but not sugary. This is closer to quality kriek than a novelty candy beer, clean but without the sourness.
Thanks to Alan for the tour and for comping the beers. On deeper into eastern Portland next.
A few blocks along the street (and one up), one comes to The Commons Brewery. It's a big open space, having been a tile and flooring warehouse until last year, and most of it is occupied by the 15-barrel production facility which wraps around three sides of a kitchen and bar area.
Originally founded in the owner's garage in 2010 and now in its third home, The Commons specialises in dry Belgian styles: anything wild or farmhouse is within its remit, and I had a great view of the big wooden foeder from where I was sitting.
|L: Flemish Kiss; R: Stay Awhile|
Across the table, a rather more American session IPA, called Stay Awhile. This had a slightly alarming sweet aroma, sickly like orange cordial. Thankfully, on tasting, this pivots to become an oily hop character, adding an intense citrus acidity to the thick sweetness. It also tails off nicely quick instead of haunting the palate longer than it's welcome. Another great beer by The Commons and another brewery I wish I could have spent more time with. But onwards!
Herself went for the IPA again, another knockabout beer, called Slamarillo, brewed with fresh hops, to 6.3% ABV. It's a hazy orange colour and has an insanely dank aroma, followed by a massive sweet and oily flavour. This builds on the palate, eventually coming to resemble chewing raw hop pellets — not recommended however much one professes to love hops. It's a bit of a palate burner and we both found it hard to enjoy. I pity anyone whose lupulin threshold has shifted this far.
The wife's choice was Trailside ESB, which I guessed from the style designation wasn't a good idea, and I was right. Unlike real ESB this is all hot and cloying, tasting of toffee and marmalade with a dense and unpleasant mouthfeel. A bit like at Cascade, it seems to be all about piling as much flavour in as possible without considering whether it works or not.
I had much better luck with Bretta Livin' Apricot: a fairly self-explanatory farmhouse fruit beer. The apricots have been used very effectively, filling the aroma with their enticing scent and the flavour with a fresh juiciness. There's no funk, perhaps oddly, but I definitely get a certain tartness, one which helps the fruit shine even more. Perhaps this could be criticised for being one-dimensionally apricotty but I really enjoyed its simple and clean profile.
We'll be back on the east side for some pubbing before we go, but tomorrow it's north Portland's turn. And maybe the chance to stay in a couple of breweries for more than one beer. Luxury!