Cascadia on Overdrive! – 36 Hours in Portland for Craft Beer

Loading up the van with Cascadian craft beer

Brewpublic I don’t even know where to begin, but I suppose I will start somewhere… It really irks my bones when I can’t pump out some juicy craft beer fodder for the readers of Brewpublic, and the past few days have been lacking. I know it. I mean, Brewpublic prides itself of giving you a steady, daily glimpse into some of the many many goingson in and around Cascadian brewing and a little more. Being on planes, trains, and automobiles with a Smartphone, a thirsty palate, and a hankering to round up as many beers as possible makes the blogging a bit lacking at times, but it’s not because of will.

They say the road to hell is paved in good intentions, and we intended to scare up some goods for you the past few days, but we were short a laptop, a spare liver, and more daylight hours (heck, we can often muster just fine in the dark!). On Monday we scheduled details for rounding up as many kegs as we could while in and around Portland, Oregon. The reasons were many. SF Beer Week events, a new pub opening, and simply to blow Bay Area artisan beer enthusiasts’ minds. Spending much time in the East Bay of the San Francisco area, it has been my goal to inject as much of the Cascadian craft beer culture into the locals down here as I possibly can. With SF SF Beer Week 2013Beer Week about to pop off (February 8-17, 2013), I couldn’t think of a better way to exemplify what amazingness Oregon’s uniquely saturated yeast culture has to present. Don’t get me wrong, Northern California is home to some legendary breweries and beer halls that rival some of the finest in this world. Further, NorCal is booming with new breweries that vivaciously illustrate the significance of the modern day Post-Prohibition beer revolution. Thus, it makes perfect sense that while living here, I find myself working at an Oakland pub named Beer Revolution with the best selection of regional, national, and international fermented malted pours. Soon, the adjacent revamped train depot in Jack London Square will beef up the neighborhood’s selection almost two-fold. Looking to open very soon, the Olde Depot Taphouse will assert the community as an even more undeniably world class destination.

Hopworks Brewmaster Christian Ettinger (left) with Dan "Bully" BollwinkelAppointed to manage Olde Depot is seasoned professional Dan “Bully” Bollwinkel who has further inspired us to take things on the West Oakland craft beer scene to the next level. Bully and I jaunted to Portland on a plane, rented a modest Dodge Caravan and sought to stock up on as many different beers as we could safely drive back 600 miles south to Oakland. On our journey, we even went a little overboard and maxed out the payload to the point where the chassis began to woefully sag toward the earth. With just 36 hours to obtain an optimal variety of mostly 1/6-barrel kegs and a few bottles, we were focused on making the most of our precious time.

Immediately upon touching down at PDX International Airport with just the clothes on our backs and a few necessary items such as toothbrushes, wallets, and phones, we caught the first shuttle to our rental car station, collected ourselves and headed into town. Our first stop was Columbia River Brewing in the city’s Hollywood District. To me, this was a no-brainer for craft beer gathering. Brewmaster-owner Rick Burkhardt’s affinity of producing award winning beers, especially his darker, maltier selections from his portfolio immediately lured us in. The first beer of the evening was a nitro draught Paddler’s Porter, a rich, chocolaty Baltic Porter with a tantalizing mouthfeel that followed notes of vanilla and silken pitchy grains. If you haven’t experienced this fine 8.5% ABV lager, make sure to do yourself the favor as soon as earthly possible!

Burkhardt’s daughter and CRB beertender Heather joined us along with assistant brewer Adam Fithian-Barrett and Portland U-Brewer Aaron Gillham. We sampled an array of magnificent treats from CRB, including their War Elephant Imperial IPA and a malty-faceted English-style barleywine. It’s places such as this that forewarned us that this task would be daunting. It was all too late that we realized that we forgot to pack our stunt livers and flux capacitors.

L to R: Roscoe's Jeremy Lewis, Columbia River Brewing's Heather Burkhardt, and Olde Depot Taphouse's Bully BollwinkelSoon after departing our first stop, we found ourselves sampling wares at one of the world’s best craft beer bars, Apex, at the epicenter of Southeast Portland’s craft brewniverse. The first release from the brand spanking new Worthy Brewing of Bend, Oregon was an easy decision. Brewmaster Chad Kennedy sure knows how to marry the basic ingredients of beer and kiss them with luscious Northwest hops. This beer: Go Time eXtra Pale Ale, a crisp, refreshing, easily sessionable inaugural brew that any veteran brewhouse would be proud to own. Apex’s vast bottle offering widened our eyes and teased our tongues. Cantillon, BFM, and big bottles of several other precious finds from stateside and across the pond brought wide grins to our faces.  Still, this was the calm before the storm. Tomorrow would come all too soon, and we had some serious work to do.

Commons brewmaster and owner Mike WrightTuesday morning arrived all too quickly as we bolted into the day to face our agenda. Already in Southeast Portland, we rallied to bust into one of our favorite Oregon breweries and one of the finest in all the land – The Commons Brewery. Here we met with owner and brewmaster Mike Wright and brewmaster Sean Burke. A keg of 2012 GABF silver medal winning Flemish Kiss awaited us kegged and ready. We stole a peek at The Commons’ expanded quarters where a new walk-in cooler was soon to come to life and several barrels would soon house many a-wonderful creation.

Sean Burke, brewer at The Commons Brewery

soon to be operational walk-in cooler in the new expansion of Commons Brewery

Alameda Brewmaster Carston HaneyThe great thing about Portland is that we wouldn’t have to travel far to knock out a bunch of the best beers around. Southeast Portland is home to some of the region’s finest breweries, including our second stop, Alameda. In the quiet shadow of thick gray rainclouds and the Brooklyn railyard near where the legendary Hair of the Dog brewery once operated , Alameda’s relatively new production facility unsuspectingly continually produces some devastatingly scrumptious beers. Brewmaster Carston Haney met us inside and provided us with a quick tour of the facility before sending us off into the elements with a sixtel of his 9.8% ABV Imperial Stout.

Alameda Brewing

Gigantic brewmaster Van HavigJust around the corner from Alameda is Gigantic Brewing, a modest neighborhood brewpub founded by two of Portland’s most respected brewmasters, Ben Love (formerly of Pelican and Hopworks) and Van Havig (a longtime disciple of the craft who made his name at Portland’s Rock Bottom Brewery).  The passion in the building behind the pub was so thick you could cut it with a knife. And this translated to not only the imaginative ever-rotating selections, but also the artistically labeled bottles.

Gigantic Brewmaster Van Havig moving kegs

Foeder and barrels at Gigantic Brewing

Hopworks Urban Brewery Brewmaster Christian EttingerJust around the way from Gigantic resides a Portland staple – Hopworks Urban Brewery. Under the watch of accomplished brewmaster Christian Ettinger, Hopworks’ masterful staff of brewery personnel run one of the most efficient and sustainable brewhouses anywhere. The atmosphere is as clean as the beer itself with a range of styles from their popular hopped up regulars and rotating one-offs to their lagers and Belgian-inspired creations. Ettinger and production manager Tom Bleigh showed us around the bustling quarters giving us insights into their new canning line, impressive filtration system, and Ettinger even obliged us to some exclusive samples of zwickel-fresh brite tank works of liquid art.  We could have ended our day here and it would have been fuller than most spent in the Bay Area, but, as you might suspect, we were far from done. We snagged a few specialty kegs of mouthwatering good, including a rare wine barrel-aged Abominable winter ale. Of course, we couldn’t refuse stealing a mixed case of cans including the flagship IPA, HUB Lager, and Abomb!

Hopworks brewers Walker Pruett (left) and Michael Neubauer

After a necessary bite of food, we dashed over to Burnside Brewing in the heart of Portland’s Eastside where Brewmaster-owner Jason McAdam and brewer Chip Conlon agreed to part with a corny keg of their 2012 GABF gold medal winning fruit beer, Sweet Heat, a spicy wheaten ale brewed with Jamaican Scotch bonnet peppers and apricots. As an added bonus we also ran into the new Coalition Brewing brewer Dave “Chowda” Fleming, who built a solid reputation making beer formerly for Lucky Labrador, Three Creeks, and Lompoc Brewing.

L to R: Coalition brewmaster Dave Fleming, Burnside brewmaster Jason McAdam, and Green Bottling owner Mike Weksler

Our dear friend Morgan Miller, brand manager of Ninkasi Brewing in Eugene, graciously aided us in obtaining a few one-of-a-kind kegs of Oakshire beer while he was down south. These included “Collaboration Evil”, a 2009 Pinot Noir barrel-aged Belgian Golden Ale brewed with two popular Northern California brewers, Todd Ashman of FiftyFifty in Truckee and Steve Altimari of Highwater of San Leandro; and a very rare blend from Oakshire’s cellar put together especially for Beer Revolution’s 3rd Anniversary Celebration. Mobile bottler Mike Weksler of Green Bottling even gave us sample bottles of his new Porter that was contract brewed at Calapooia Brewing in Albany, Oregon. Now we were starting to hit our stride…

Upright Brewer Bobby BirkAnticipating the arrival of some empty 1/6 barrels that were FedEx’ed up from Oakland, we descended upon Upright Brewing near Portland’s Rose Quarter close-by. Just in time, Upright brewer Bobby Birk assisted us greatly by rinsing and sanitizing our empties to fill elsewhere (did we mention how awesome Upright is?!) and providing us with a rare keg of Upright’s Blend Edmunds, a very small batch mix of several barrel aged beers, comprised of their Six dark rye ale, and aged with brettanomyces. With the addition of dark sweet cherries, a cask of boysenberry Four and a cask of two year old raspberry Six, this beer named for Breakside Brewmaster and friend Ben Edmunds was aged in Pinot barrels and will be a highlight of our February 9th Wine Barrel-Aged Beer Tastival at Beer Revolution during SF Beer Week.

Hair of the Dog Brewmaster Alan SprintsNo beer herding expedition in Portland is complete without a stop by the world renowned Hair of the Dog Brewery. Situated in the industrial district of close-in Southeast Portland, Brewmaster Alan Sprints has forged the way as not only an epic beer maker, but as an international tastemaker. Sprints accommodated our desires by filling up a small keg of his beer known as Adam, a bold recreation of a historic beer-style, originally made in Dortmund, Germany with intricate dark fruity notes and a wallop of complexities.  We couldn’t resist a few small glasses of 2011 and 2012 HOTD Doggie Claws Barleywine and a snifter of Sprints’ brightly hopped Blue Dot Double IPA. Ka-pow!

Mash tun brewing Fred at Hair of the Dog

2011 and 2012 Hair of the Dog Doggie Claws

Block 15 BrewingThe day was already moving along at a rapid pace and since it was mid-winter, the daylight hours were rather precious, so we needed to hit the road. Our next mission lead us to Corvallis in the heart of the Willamette Valley, more than an hour’s drive south of Portland, where some of the best flavors of fermentables on the West Coast can be found. Block 15 Brewing is housed in a seemingly unassuming brewpub in downtown Corvallis. Founded by masterbrewer and blender Nick Arzner, Block 15 needn’t resort to hype or high prices to get the good word across, no, the beer speaks loudly and is simply astounding. Arzner granted us the extreme honor of touring the underbelly of the brewery where secret doors and passageways lead to a beer lover’s paradise. Barrels filled with a plethora of fusion-inspired tipples breathe life to the world above. Spontaneously fermented Lambic-esque beer achieved from the use of a koelschip was one of the many spectacles that wooed us.

Block 15 Brewery in Corvallis, Oregon

Block 15 cellarman Erik Salmi racking beer

Barrel-aged Block 15 beer

Nick Arzner of Block 15 Brewing (left) and Dave Marliave of Flat Tail BrewingOne telltale sign of a brilliant brewery is a passion that is so eloquently executed. A range of sour and wild ales to hoppy and robust brews reminiscent of very few like Russian River’s Vinnie Cilurzo sets Block 15 above the pack. Arzner and his brewery/cellar staff’s humble approach combined with extreme attention to detail and an imaginative spark demands the utmost respect. After some divine samplings, we rounded up two wine barrel-aged delicacies – a White Framboise and their nuanced Provisions Ale. It was hard to tear away but we ascended for sustenance and one more key stop on our travels – Flat Tail Brewing.

Flat Tail brewmaster Dave Marliave

Flat Tail brewmaster Dave MarliaveJust around the corner from Block 15, Flat Tail Brewing is headed by Brewmaster-co-owner Dave Marliave. A young twenty-something champion of risk-taking when it comes to beermaking, Marliave, treated us to a sample tray filled with his most exotic current creations and a few traditional historical recipes, Marliave continues to impress us with knowledge and drive beyond his year and one of the most articulate demeanors in the industry. We walked away all smiles with a keg of Flat Tail’s Humulous Lambicus, a strange yet brilliant amalgamation of citrusy tropical hop notes and a kiss of fruity strain of Brettanomyces worthy deep study. This beer made a presence at the Brewing Network’s Winter Beer Festival a week prior in Concord, CA. We can not wait to revisit this one soon when it taps this coming weekend at Beer Revolution.

Oregon Beer Sold Here

Pacing ourselves was key at this juncture. We needed to stay sharp and take everything in in small quantities. It was a chore, but necessary in order to continue to our next post back in Portland.

Abram Goldman-Armstrong at Bushwhackers CidersThe sun had set and our driving was soon done with for the day. Back in Portland, we switched gears to cider at one of the first (if not the first) craft ciderhouses in America, Bushwhackers. Under the care of cidermaster Jeff Smith, Bushwhackers sets itself apart in a city drowning in amazing beer with a slew of unique ciders from around the world, including Smith’s own spectrum of accomplished creations. With an astute barrel-aging program not often witnessed in the cider world, Smith laid upon us a uber-limited keg of Rogue Rum Barrel-aged house cider. This dry fruit creation was a prestigious example of why Bushwhackers is known as “the future of cider.”

Bushwhackers Cidermaster and founder Jeff Smith

Coalition Brewing co-founders Elan Walsky (left) and Kiley HoytThe last craft beer stop of the night was at Coalition Brewing where founders Kiley Hoyt and Elan Walsky were on-hand to share some laughs and a refreshingly crisp pint of a brewpub favorite, Wu C.R.E.A.M. Ale. Where many American-style cream ales fail to find balance without an overly sweet cloying nature, Wu, also known commercially as Rooster Cream, is an immaculate illustration of balance and drinkability.

The day was in the books. Great beers and ciders with wonderfully talented artists of liquid refreshment. It wasn’t long until our heads hit pillows and visions of quenching malts and spicy hops danced in our heads. Our van was already packed to the gills and we were just getting our palates wet…

…To be continued…