Tugboat Brewing Company of Portland is a quaint and affable public house with an interesting assortment of house brewed American real ales. Made in the tradition of the classic English styles, Tugboat’s specialties and guest taps often play second fiddle to the cozy, relaxed atmosphere of the pub. In the alley of SW Ankeny just off Broadway in downtown Portland, Tugboat is stumbling distance from an array of true-to-Portland establishments such as Mary’s Club, a famed strip club just around the corner, Sauce Box, a swanky cocktail lounge with down tempo DJs and perusing hipster-chic regulars, and the neighboring Bailey’s Taproom with its twenty microbrews on tap served in a clean, open coffeehouse environment. Tugboat, with it’s charm, comes grit and a lived-in living room space where hunkering down in a candle-lit booth with one of their many books is as normative as boisterous laughter shared over a cloud of cigarette smoke. The staff are friendly with a tight knit charismatic fervor that illuminates even the most shrouded, musky corners of what is a real public house. For the beer geek, the Tugboat is a worthy stop, featuring a fair assortment of unpasteurized, unfiltered Anglican grog brewed in their on-site brewery. This consists of Rubbermaid horse trough mashtun visible from inside the pub. Italian pickle buckets are used as fermenters. This “open barreled” set-up, may be a clue to some of the inconsistencies and off-flavors of the Tugboat beer line-up, but beer snobbery is not what they are about, and if you are, they offer a nice selection of guest taps ranging from Caldera Red to Fishtale WInterfish, Anchor Porter to Klamath Basin Pale. For the Beer Advocate or Rate Beer critic, the Tugboat will likely not score high, but still shines as a diamond in the rough of sorts. Most of the beer geeks will be in the cleaner, tidier Bailey’s Taproom across the way lost in their laptops, taking notes of the latest greatest seasonal release. Both places have their charm, mind you, but Tugboat is it’s own entity. Like a time warp to a fictional pulp novel or a scene from Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, Tugboat seems like the kind of pub where lost dreams are reminisced about and old friends catch up until the wee hours.
As for beers, here’s a look at some of the beers you might find at Tugboat:
Tugboat Amber Ale: Poured a murky to light amber with no body. Caramel malt notes, thin and watery. Slightly acidic and dull as sin. Difficult to fully palate over the plume of smoke in my general vacinity.
Tugboat British Brown: Another somewhat drab offering from this cool location. Dark amber body with no head. Mild hops presence, but quite homebrew-esque. Flat body, with a mild whiff of lemon-grapefruit and red wine in the nose. Syrupy, but thin. Quite yeasty and unbalanced.
Tugboat ESB: One of the more popular offerings here. Foggy copper color (at least that is how it appeared in the darkness of Tugboat’s tap house). Strong, floral hops in the nose. The body was a little washed in the finish. Hoped for more bitterness or caramel maltiness. Also a bit homebrew-ish and under carbonated. Overall a decent drinkable beer, but nothing to write about (oh wait I am). Try it at least once. Maybe mine was slightly off.
Tugboat Coffee Brown: Poured a ruddy, muddy thin brown body with next to no head. Nose of java and stale wet malts. Same ameteur brewing qualities as other house selections. Faintly nutty and faintly carbonated.
Vintage Belgian Ale: The more than kind barkeep, Linsel at Tugboat let me sample the remainder of this beer from a mason jar he had left for himself after the keg had blown. A wild yeast sour ale, unlike anything purposefully made at the brewpub. Aged for eight months, possessing a tart lactic zing that surprisingly was more than delicious. Fruity notes of cherry and creamy vanilla yogurt lingered all over the tongue. Very nice beer. Wonderingn why they don’t make this one more.
All Hallow’s Ale: Available for the spooky times around Halloween, this bitter cask brown ale had a promising hops presence of an English IPA and a malty underpinning to contend with the creamy yeast strain. A bit under-developed in the overall balance, but still one of Tugboat’s best.
Chernobyl Imperial Stout: Here is my favorite excuse to go to Tugboat. The Chernoble Stout! Just saying the name makes me smile and melt…uh…sorry. Neep abyssmal opaque hue with no evident head. Faint alcohol in nose, sweet and roasty. Slightly chocolate and liquorish on the tongue with hints of smoke and candy in the finish. To think this beer came out of a Rubbermaid bucket is astounding! This beer, in my humble opinion rivals the Dogfish Head World Wide Stout. I know that you beer geeks will think I am crazy by saying this, but isn’t it true that a lot of your opinions on beer are formulated by what you read on beer rating web sites anyways? Perhaps this beer is as inconsistent as the rest and my sample coupled with my experience just did it for me. Who knows. What I do know is that Tugboat is worth a try. If you are like me and secondhand smoke is not your friend, give it a few months when the statewide ban takes place. Tugboat rocks!