But back to the split. I got the impression in this most-breweried of cities, that the west side attracted the bigger, more well-funded set-ups while the indies gathered more in recently re-purposed sites over on the east. Hopefully the difference will become apparent as we go through this week of posts. I darkened the doors of a mere 14 breweries — barely scratching the surface of Portland's brewing — but hopefully enough to get, and give, an idea of the place.
I opted for a flight to start off with, intrigued in particular that Deschutes Fresh Squeezed IPA was available on keg and cask: an irresistible opportunity to assess the value of cask in America. Both arrived clear and cold although, perhaps unsurprisingly, there was less head on the cask one. The common flavour is a wonderful two-parter stacking spicy orange marmalade against soft and juicy mandarin. The cask is more softly textured and shows the oily orange skin bitterness more than the keg, where the hop flavours just seem brighter and better defined. Both fine drinking beers, and I've no qualms at all about how the cask was conditioned and served, but I definitely think keg suits the style better.
|Clockwise from top: InVersion 2.0, Hop Slice, Fresh Squeezed cask, |
Fresh Squeezed keg, Mirror Pond, Inversion, Pacific Wonderland.
Next up is the session IPA Hop Slice, brewed with Meyer lemon, a fruit I'd never even heard of. It's 4.5% ABV and a deep gold colour giving off a clean and bright citrus aroma. The foretaste delivers a surprise musky sandalwood taste but it fades out quite quickly and there's little behind it other than a raw lemonskin bitterness. I was very surprised there wasn't more hop depth in the flavour, especially given that aroma, but I was thoroughly wrongfooted. Onwards.
Mirror Pond was next, an all-Cascade pale ale at 5% ABV. It shows off the hop wonderfully, making the best of its earthy orangey aroma and flavour for a simple, full-bodied and downright satisfying no-nonsense session beer. The secret, I reckon, is they've kept the bitterness levels low so it doesn't get twangy, as Cascade sometimes can. This is a real blue-collar quaffer and was done no justice at all by the effete measure I drank of it.
Last on the rack was Inversion. Billed as an IPA again, and 6.8% ABV, but a dark red-amber colour and smelling of hot ripe strawberries. I guess they must be going for an English style, despite the strength, as there's a big tannic quality to the flavour, some Harvey's-esque sandalwood spice and a raw vegetal bitterness. It's a big beast, but not terribly pleasant to drink. They also had a 2.0 version of it which was lighter in colour and with extra hop aroma. While it's certainly more approachable I think it lacked the better features of the original — the tannins and spice — while retaining the same hard acridity. No pleasing some people, though the missus enjoyed her pint of it.
|L: Sagefight; R: Pinedrops|
And for me a double IPA (or "imperial" IPA, as America seems to insist on calling them — sounds more stately, I guess) to finish: Sagefight. It's not all that often that double IPA gets dicked around with, unlike its weaker siblings, but this one has had sage and juniper stuffed up it for fun. It's a deep red colour and smells of sage and sugar. As expected, sage features heavily in the flavour, as sage normally does when it's let near a brewing vessel, but the oily herbiness is offset with a more traditional pine bitterness, and while I wouldn't say the two fight exactly, they do hold each other in check. And the drinker gets to enjoy this because the rest of the beer is lightly textured with no horrible boozy heat. Not a classic, of IPA or herbal beer, but a fun and interesting experiment.
|L: IBUsive; R: Head Hunter|
7.5% ABV IPAs all round: IBUsive for me, an orange-gold colour with lots of fresh dank hop resins plus a slightly dry acrid burn, but then balanced very nicely by luscious mango fruit. Almost boringly predictable, but beautiful to drink. And for herself, Head Hunter: the same colour and with similar banging hop resins, but this time with spices rather than fruit. It's a little harsher than the other one though still a classic hop-heavy US IPA and probably just needed a bit of getting used to. But who has time for that? On to the next brewery.
Here we cross into the dark side, to 10 Barrel: once a darling of the Oregon beer scene (HQ is in Bend) but having since taken the poisonous adjunct-crusted shilling of A-B InBev. Not that most of the punters seemed to care: the place was packed, especially its sunny rooftop terrace. By this time we'd been joined by Mr Beervana himself and his other half, and we sulked indoors with our beers. I went with Saazall, a pilsner the brewery seemed very proud of but which I found dry, musty and badly lacking in fresh hop character. Also around the table there was XS IPA, a super savoury 5.2% ABV job with a delicate sprinkle of hop spicing but not nearly enough to make it noteworthy; and Simcoe Smash Bro, a golden, 6.9% ABV IPA which, like IBUsive, pulls off that trick of balancing heavy hop oils with lighter fruit, in this case peaches. It's a winning combination and one I think I'd find it very difficult to tire of.
Though we only stayed for one, I liked Pints. It has the feel of a proper local about it, and it would have been nice to explore the menu more. But, as always, there are more places to go and more IPAs to drink. Jeff was quite keen we visit one of his favourite Portland breweries — one out beyond the reach of most tourist pub crawls — so it was into the car and off to the suburbs.