Portland: Liquid Assets

Craft beverages have made a stir nationwide in recent years but Portland has been sipping inventive concoctions for decades. Starting with wine in the 1970s, the city’s thirst for locally sourced beverages has since spilled over into beer, spirits, coffee and other refreshments. The city’s top shelf taste has even drawn international acclaim. Here’s what you need to know to drink it all in.

BEER

Brewing typically involves many steps and ingredients, but only two factors were required to get Portland awash in suds. The first was a proximity to hops and barley. Second only to Washington state in its hop-growing output, Oregon is home to dozens of different types of the flavoring flower, making it easy for local brewmasters to produce fresh hop beers. The second was a progressive Oregon legislature that legalized brewpubs in 1983. Since then, small brewing has become big all over Oregon, with more than 65 craft breweries operating within Portland’s city limits today. In fact, four of the country’s largest operating craft breweries are based in Oregon (Widmer/Craft Brewers Alliance, Deschutes, Full Sail and BridgePort), all with headquarters or outposts in Portland.

Proudly known as “Beervana,” Portland has more breweries than any other city in the world. Ranging from large, nationally distributed breweries, to small, yet highly respected, neighborhood brewpubs, these beer experts blaze trails through both new innovations and the renewal of long-lost traditions. With reverence for the taste-making pioneers who first stirred up the scene, a fresh batch of brewers has also emerged throughout the years, giving local drinkers an always tasty mix of classic brews and bold new flavors.

Early Craft Breweries

Operating longer than any other brewery in Oregon, BridgePort Brewing opened its Pearl District facility in 1984, carving a retrofitted brewpub out of a late-19th-century factory, and pouring many a BrigdePort IPA along the way. Widmer Brothers Brewing (the state’s largest brewer) also tapped the first kegs of their lauded Hefeweizen that same year, and opened its Gasthaus Pub in North Portland a dozen years later. Also cementing its status as a brewing pioneer, McMenamins has more than 50 locations throughout Oregon and Washington, including atmospheric neighborhood bars, historic hotels and festive concert venues.

The New Guard

Putting a twist on traditional ales, lagers, and stouts, another wave of brewers opened shop in Portland in the 1990s. Veteran microbreweries like Lompoc Brewing, Lucky Labrador Brewing Company, and Laurelwood Brewing not only have many taps to their brewpubs, but also operate multiple locations around town.

New breweries continue to open all the time, with a new class having established itself in the last decade. Hair of the Dog has earned high regard with beer lovers for its unusual beer styles. The patio at Cascade Brewing Barrel House is frequently full of beer nuts enjoying distinctively sour, hoppy pints. Hopworks Urban Brewery, with two eco-friendly locations, crafts only organic beers and powers its facilities with 100% renewable energy. Upright Brewing, meanwhile, attracts discerning palates with an emphasis on barrel-aging and farmhouse-style beers. Discussing the city’s best breweries is a subject of fierce debate as every local has their personal favorites. Some standouts worth visiting include The Commons, Gigantic, and Base Camp.

Great (Non-Brewery) Beer Bars

Many Portland bars specialize in craft beers from all over the world alongside dedicated local taps. Apex, is a modern favorite with its giant, picnic-table-packed patio and 50 taps of craft beers and ciders. Occupying the space where Henry Weinhard’s beers were brewed back in 1860s, Henry’s Tavern is rich in Portland brewing history and boasts more than 100 beers on draught. Featuring 62 rotating taps, The Green Dragon, owned by Rogue Brewing, pours taster trays that amaze, while the lovably raffish Horse Brass Pub, one of the first places to sell Portland micros, serves brews from around the globe, alongside spirited conversation.

No city in the nation drinks as much cider per capita as Portland — a fact underscored by the more than a dozen craft cideries dotting the city. Portland cider makers, including Reverend Nat’s Cidery (first craft cider maker in Portland) and Bushwhacker Cider (first urban cider pub in the country), have led the nationwide charge in cider’s popularity. Close proximity to farms and orchards provides fresh local ingredients to create delicate, crisp and refreshing hard ciders. While traditionalists may still prefer a classic apple-based hard ciders, inventive concoctions from Portland cideries have incorporated berries, hops, ginger, pineapple, carrots, sour cherries and specific yeast strains.

CIDER

No city in the nation drinks as much cider per capita as Portland — a fact underscored by the more than a dozen craft cideries dotting the city. Portland cider makers, including Reverend Nat’s Cidery (first craft cider maker in Portland) and Bushwhacker Cider (first urban cider pub in the country), have led the nationwide charge in cider’s popularity. Close proximity to farms and orchards provides fresh local ingredients to create delicate, crisp and refreshing hard ciders. While traditionalists may still prefer a classic apple-based hard ciders, inventive concoctions from Portland cideries have incorporated berries, hops, ginger, pineapple, carrots, sour cherries and specific yeast strains.

DISTILLED SPIRITS

With an ardent brew culture and access to the fresh harvests of the Northwest, Portland’s Clear Creek Distillery led the way back in 1985, crafting pear and cherry brandies from Hood River fruit. In addition to pioneering Portland’s brewpub revolution, McMenamins was another early adopter of micro-distilling. In 1998, the company launched the Edgefield Distillery, which produces craft whiskey, brandy, gin and coffee liqueur.

It wasn’t until 2004 that craft spirits began going mainstream. Today, at least 12 of the more than 30 members of the Oregon Distillers Guild, are based in Portland, with strong representation around “Distillery Row” in Southeast Portland. Open for tastings and occasional behind-the-scenes tours, this collection of artisan producers includes House Spirits Distillery, with the ever-popular Aviation Gin; New Deal Distillery, which offers a vodka lineup that includes flavors infused with cacao nibs and Southwestern chili peppers; and Stone Barn Brandyworks, producing fruit brandies that tickle the taste buds.

And with an abundance of noteworthy cocktail bars, it’s always a good time for a cocktail in Portland. Clyde Common is noteworthy for its sophisticated cocktail innovations, including pioneering the barrel-aged Negroni. Teardrop Cocktail Lounge is known for concoctions that use house-made bitters and tinctures, while perennial favorite Rum Club is consistently named by Portland bartenders as their off-hours bar of choice. On a national level, Multnomah Whiskey Library routinely receives recognition for its speakeasy vibe, extensive collection of whiskey and expert staff behind the bar.

WINE

Wine grapes were first planted in Oregon in 1847, but it wasn’t until the 1960s that the area’s acclaimed winemaking tradition began. Prime growing conditions, favorable soil types, and a temperate climate have fostered the state’s more than 670 wineries, at least 500 of which are located in the Willamette Valley. Just a 30-minute drive from downtown Portland, this premier wine-producing region has helped Oregon rank second in number of wineries and fourth in gallons of wine produced, nationally.

Willamette Valley vintners are warm, and inviting, specializing in making wine appreciation an accessible pursuit. Prominent early wineries Erath and Ponzi helped put Oregon on the world wine map. The Eyrie Vineyards planted the country’s first Pinot Gris vineyards and, with its South Block Reserve Pinot Noir, ranked among the top three at an international tasting held in Paris in 1979. During a 1985 blind tasting in New York, experts could not distinguish Oregon wines from Burgundy vintages, placing only Oregon pours in the top five.

OREGON VARIETALS

Oregon has the false reputation of being a “one-note” state when it comes to winemaking. While slightly more than half the wine grapes planted are Pinot Noir, this is because the Willamette Valley is one of the world’s most ideally suited regions for the complex, delicate, medium-bodied varietal. White wine varietals also thrive in the region, including Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and the popular Pinot Gris. Other parts of Oregon — notably the Umpqua and Rogue valleys to the south, and the Columbia River Gorge AVA an hour east of Portland — are developing cachet as first-rate wine-making regions. Warmer and drier than the Willamette Valley, they grow a wide range of grapes for classic Bordeaux-style (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot) and Rhonestyle (Syrah, Grenache) wines.

SUSTAINABILITY

Oregon’s wine producers pioneered the green movement within the industry. In 1999, the state became the first American region certified by the International Organization for Biological Control and Promotion of Integrated Systems (IOBC), the official European certifying agency for sustainable agriculture. Currently, it is estimated that nearly 50% of Oregon’s 20,500 wine acres are sustainable or organic. The state is also home to numerous biodynamic wineries and vineyards that are certified as Salmon-Safe in their growing practices.

COFFEE AND TEA

Like Portland’s brewers, distillers and vintners, a collection of artisan coffee roasters keeps the city wired with freshly brewed cups from more than 40 Portland roasters. Valuing the work that goes into every pour, Portland has a coffee culture dedicated to fair trade single origin beans and precisely prepared beverages.

In 1999, Stumptown Coffee Roasters founder Duane Sorenson pioneered Portland’s embrace of high-quality coffee by introducing direct trade. He revolutionized the industry by working with the growers throughout the growing and buying process and purchasing the beans at directly at fair-trade prices. In recent years, the company has been acquired by Peet’s and spread to New York, Seattle and Los Angeles, but it remains Portland’s most vaunted roaster, with five shops around the city. Meanwhile, other local roasters have gained prominence. Water Avenue Coffee turns out expertly roasted beans at its Central Eastside café. The three Ristretto Roasters locations percolated from the founder’s own passion for home-roasting beans. Heart Coffee Roasters has been a local champion of micro-roasting since it opened in 2009. And just a block from Pioneer Courthouse Square, Public Domain is a longtime artisan roaster that’s close to many downtown hotels. These are but a few of the small-batch roasters that have opened throughout Portland over the past 15 years.

For nearly as long, Portland has steeped a rich tea scene. Tea titan Steven Smith founded Stash and Tazo in Portland before launching Steven Smith Teamaker, which produces high-quality, small-batch teas — available at its charming tasting room in Northwest Portland or its production facility in the Central Eastside. A real treat for tea lovers is visiting the Tao of Tea’s Tower of Cosmic Reflections, set within the tranquil landscape of Old Town’s Lan Su Chinese Garden. Tao of Tea also operates the city’s oldest teahouse in the hip Belmont neighborhood. Townshend’s Tea Company, with locations on Alberta and Division streets, serves fine teas from around the world, alongside their Brew Dr. Kombucha.

This article was used with permission and originally published on TravelPortland.com.