Last weekend before my brother Mario headed back to work at his teaching job, we celebrated the new year and the finale of his winter vacation with a tour of some of Portland’s best beer bars. We headed out in the early afternoon to get a jump on things, and to our delight, shared some laughs and discovered some awesome brews, while revisiting some old favorites.
County Cork Public House
Portland’s County Cork Public House on Northeast Fremont Street is named for the Contae Chorcaí, one of the traditional counties of Ireland also known as “The Rebel County.” The original County Cork was a prominent historical region where the War of the Roses and the Irish War of Independence were fought, and the area held Ireland’s position as an anti-treaty stronghold during the Irish Civil War. From the War of the War of the Roses to the City of Roses, Portland’s County Cork is a public house with a distinct Irish attitude. A magnificent wooden bar back, tall ceilings, and a couple of stables housing dart boards make this place quite welcoming. It is quite clean and not as lived in or authentic feeling as other Irish-themed establishments, but definitely a great place for where an imperial pint of good beer can be enjoyed with friends. Actually the tap selection at CC is not just good, it’s exceptional. From what I’ve heard, the owner is married to a local beer distributor giving the pub first dibs on many Russian River beers. It’s a place where Pliny the Elder can be readily found when other beer geek spots can only wish. I ordered a half-liter of Russian River Damnation, a nice, peppery, well-hopped Belgian-style golden ale, while my brother opted for a Victorian pour of Belhaven ale from the cask engine. I am a big fan of a real honest pint that exceeds even the expected 16-ouncer, but the prices at CC are a little steep. Around here, two beers for $10 doesn’t fully promote a public house clientele. Regardless, I’ve enjoyed the pub from time to time and on this day had a good time shooting the shite and some darts before carrying on to our next destination.
Saraveza Bottle Shop & Pasty Tavern
It’s best to never start a pub crawl at Saraveza, because you might feel let down at every following stop. Their great atmosphere of classic breweriana (think Schlitz, Hamms, Blatz, and many more) and beer knick knacks screams from every wall that these people don’t just love beer, they live beer. The appreciation for classic beer is evident and likely a result of owner Sarah Pederson being a from Wisconsin, a land of sky blue waters, and a rich history of German-American brewing.
At Saraveza, the staff is always educated about beer and most importantly friendly and concerned about each and every customer who walks through the front door. During our afternoon visit the narrow interior of the bar was exceptionally roomier, but this would change as night approached. Where County Cork is a bar for a variety of middle class beer drinkers from the casual weekend warrior to part-time beer geek, Saraveza is a haven of indulgence for the utmost geek of liquid malted barley. On any given visit, you can expect anything from an India Pale Ale to a wild yeast fermented sour and have preference of lager or ale. Here you can find something as dark and imposing as Deschutes the Abyss, and something as light and refreshing as a Victory Prima Pils. There is also a schwag tap of American lager readily on tap, usually Hamms or Rainier, for the old school beer nut. On top of all this, Saraveza offers a few hundred excellent beers to go.
We ordered our brews–my brother a Pike’s Naughty Nellie Golden Ale, and myself a New Belgium Wild Fall Shishondra Berry Sour Ale (see what I mean about variety!). We sat by the window enjoying each other’s company, periodically resting our brews on one of the establishment’s handsomely crafted bottle cap-topped tables. Like many of Portland’s classic pubs, Saraveza is quickly carving its own niche and we love it!
Widmer Brothers Gasthaus
The nice thing about this quaint little pub is its uncompromising nature. Despite the success and growth of Widmer’s mainstream brands, the Gasthaus continues to maintain its original personality. On top of that, you can always find at least a couple offerings unique to this taproom that never make it in bottles. In its recent history, the Gasthaus has added growler fills and improved the size and form of their pint glasses. They also serve their flagship American-styled Unfiltered Wheat Ale in a tall, fitting chalace with a slice of lemon–a unique and innovative marketing move. On our visit this day, we were not going to grab the available-everywhere in town Hefe, but rather the latest seasonal release from the brother, the w ’10 Pitch Black Cascadian Dark Ale. The w ’10 is perhaps the best beer Widmer has brewed to date-a dark black-brown bodied beer with fragrant, piney and citrus hops bill of an India Pale Ale with a mild toast character. Simply put: simply fabulous. We could have easily closed out our day faced at the Gasthaus draught system, but we had other bars and other beers to attend to.
The name of this pub says it all. Along the heart of the recently gentrified Mississippi neighborhood of Portland, Prost! is Mississippi’s latest greatest beer bar. Near the likes of hotspots such as Mississippi Pizza, Amnesia Brewing, Crowbar, and Bridgetown Beerworks, Prost! is a unique German-themed watering hole. For fans of German dining, Prost! does it right, featuring bratwurst mit sauerkraut, a wurst sampler, and a kassler rippchen mit sauerkraut. For vegetarians, they offer a housemade Bavarian-style soft pretzel with mustard. We were not here to eat, we were here to drink beer. The ten taps offer a variety of traditional German beers like Paulaner Hefe, Radeberger Pils, Dinkel Acker Dunkel, and Erdinger Dunkel Weiss. My brother ordered a krug of Spaten Lager and I a tall glass of Franziskaner Weiss. I may have been persuaded to make my choice by the Franziskaner lanterns that hung from each wooden column in the pub, or perhaps I knew it was a hell of a good beer.
Prost! did bring some modern American elements to the equation, like a flat screen television behind the bar broadcasting American football. It is said that Prost! is the only bar on Mississippi with a TV. Outside there is also a large wooden deck for enjoying the warmer months. If meat-based German food is not your bag, next door is row of veggie-friendly food carts. I’m not sure how they feel about you bringing in outside food, but you should not take your beer off the grounds. That kind of behavior is not encouraged, or technically permitted.
Concordia Ale House
Twenty-two rotating taps of microbrew makes Concordia Ale House a no-brainer as far as where to go whilst in Northeast Portland. They also offer some great bottled beer choices. The Ale House regularly features blind tasting competitions like their Beer Brawl and Snow Brawl, which are great ways for people to challenge their palates and for Concordia to move beer. My brother is a bigger sports fan than me (if this is possible), so we enjoyed catching some BCS bowl games on Concordia’s flatscreens while shooting some pool. I grabbed a Southern Oregon Vanilla Porter while my brother enjoyed a beer that escapes me at this time. After knocking down the 8-ball and our brews, we headed back to Southeast Portland for our final beer destination of the day.
Horse Brass Pub
The mother of all Portland beer bars. It’s always good to close out on top, so the Horse Brass is the perfect choice for a final brew of the day. Here, you can enjoy more than 50 great beers on tap, served by an intelligent staff with a passion for brew. The Horse Brass is like no other bar. In its more than 30 years in existence, countless noteworthy beers have passed through their tap lines and countless noteworthy beer drinkers have enjoyed them. It is more than a bar, it’s a home away from home. The place has been lived in, smoked in, and loved by the folks like founder Don Younger, who is a pillar of the top notch Portland beer community. If Portland ever had one bar that truly represents the fabric of what an Oregon public house should be, the Horse Brass is undoubtedly it. Most beers are served in imperial pint glasses, the prices are reasonable, and there’s darts, whiskey, and unique traditional beer paraphernalia and memorabilia from the United Kingdom that stamps the Horse Brass with a seal of genuineness beyond words. Here at the Horse Brass there are no television, and rightfully so. As you sit and enjoy your pint, you are actually living a part of Northwest beer history. It’s one of those places that is easily taken for granted to those who live in Portland, but to tourists and visitors from afar, it is an absolute must visit stop when in town. Their tag line sums it up, stating “A bit of England where good companionship is the order of the day.”
A seat at the bar is my favorite spot in the house. My brother and I parked here for imperial pints of ale–he elected a Hair of the Dog Blue Dot Imperial IPA, and I a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. These are two beers you can usually count on at the Brass, and for good reason–they are delicious Northwest specialties. After the final slurpings of our respected brews, we scampered off into the night bidding adeau to the weekend and my brother’s winter vacation.