Things have been a little quiet here due to a fair amount of recent traveling. In the last two months I’ve been in Florida, DC, San Francisco, Minneapolis, and Portland, Oregon and I’ve had some very different beer drinking experiences in these diverse parts of the country. I returned last evening from Portland, Oregon, where it was 58 degrees and rainy most of the week, to experience what the rest of the country has been enjoying, 95 degrees and humidity. It appears that gin and tonic season is suddenly upon us.
I think it may take some time to process my Oregon experiences. I’ve wanted to visit Portland, dubbed ‘Beervana’ by enterprising local publicists, for a number of years. It was perhaps just behind Bamberg on my to-do-list of beer destinations. And while Bamberg exceeded my already high expectations, I’m still trying to figure Portland out. It’s indisputable that quality craft beer has permeated the city. You can find a solid pint in nearly every restaurant in the city, even the diviest Chinese joint. Where most cities would offer Sapporo or another bland lager at an Asian restaurant, we always found Black Butte Porter or Mirror Pond Pale Ale from Deschutes and oddly, Fat Tire was everywhere. And while we visited a couple of dozen breweries, brewpubs, and beer bars in the course of five days in the city and the quality was always high, something about the experience failed to quite live up to the hype. The only comparison I have is Bamberg, which also has a dozen or more breweries, brewpubs, and beer bars in a small city. While Portland definitely offers a greater quantity of beer spots, I think Bamberg may be the better city for beer (even if the diversity of selection is less than Portland).
I can unequivocally say that the Oregon Brewers Guild did a great job with its guide to the state’s breweries. In a dozen pages in its “Guide to All Things Beer in Oregon,” the guild lists dozens of beer events and festivals, 139 breweries, brewpubs, and brewery tap houses, and 9 local tap houses. Add in a helpful map with locations of all of the above spots and visitors have a tremendously handy resource to finding quality pints in the state. I’ve recently been perusing similar guides from other areas and associations, including the San Diego Brewers Guild and the Michigan Brewers Guild, and firmly believe more state organizations should spend a few dollars to promote their interests in this accessible manner.
I can also unequivocally state that a brewery the size of Widmer should run more than 3 tours per week, serving approximately 45 people. In a time when Widmer ought to be concerned with its public image due to its relationship with Anheuser-Busch, one which I support, I think that engaging the community a little more might be wise.
While my feelings on Portland are not yet fully formed, I can say that the Bier Stein Bottleshop & Pub in Eugene is one of my new favorite places to have a beer. The concept here is one that we rarely see, due to expense, insurance issues, or more likely, local and state regulations. The Bier Stein is a package store that also offers patrons a place to stay and drink their recently purchased bottles. If you take away the beer, you get 15% off your bill. If you stay, you’ll be drinking a huge range of craft beers from around the world at substantially cheaper prices than what you would be paying in a bar. Want to try all of New Belgium’s lineup? $1.95 per bottle. How about Elysian’s Jasmine IPA in a 22 ounce bottle? $5.95. The beers are served in appropriate glassware and you can also select from ten or so well-priced draft beers. I’ve also seen the concept of a package store bar in Sonoma, California, at the Wine Exchange, which offers six or so draft beers as well as a much smaller number of chilled bottles. I love the concept and think it’s a great way to sample new beers at very friendly prices, especially in this price sensitive climate.
There were certainly a number of quintessential and memorable beer related moments during the trip, including the visit to the crazy Kennedy School, seeing Don Younger smoking and playing video poker at the Horse Brass, and drinking a number of excellent organic beers (including from the Hopworks in the company of local writer and photographer Matt Wiater of Portlandbeer.org and his girlfriend Becky). During the trip, we also spent some time with the employees of Full Sail in Hood River, the locals at Rogue in Newport, and at various places around Western Oregon. After some contemplation, I’m sure I’ll return to offer some more coherent thoughts on the trip.