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Ask A Bartender: What Beer Should I Order?

Friday, February 06, 2015

 

This is a common question in Portland for good reason. Craft beer has become an integral piece of Portland’s cultural identity. It has become the medium in which slackers pursue perfection. The world of small craft brewing in the Pacific NW can be daunting. The almost infinite variety and experimentation is only limited by the imagination of the brewers. So this small list is only designed to help you get your feet wet. 

Probably the most quintessentially Portland beer is the India Pale Ale. It’s a very hoppy beer. Hops make it bitter. Some IPAs are well rounded, but the trend in Portland tends to be for extremely hop-forward IPAs. The sentiment being, the more bitter, the better. 

Then we have the sour beer. I include the sour beer because it is increasing in popularity in Portland and I like to recommend it to people who don’t usually like beer. They tend to have a tangy sour taste as opposed to a totally bitter one. 

For the season, I’ll include for the last recommended beer, a stout. These are dark, full-bodied beers. But don’t let their look fool you. Unlike many IPAs, stouts tend to have a lesser ABV percentage and are less bitter.

As always, I urge you to try for yourself. Beer is fairly cheap and there are worse things than ordering a beer that isn’t perfect. Bartenders usually allow you to taste from their taps so long as you don’t try to sample everything. Find out what works for you and why.  

There are many events coming up in Portland where you can do this. This includes Zwickelmania, on the 14th of February, a tour of Portland Brew pubs. On this day, Breakside brewery is releasing bottled versions of two popular beers. The Safe Word IPA, they only produced 40 cases of 22 oz. bottles for the event. They are also releasing their Bellwether Sour Double Wit Aged in Gin Barrels with Kaffir Lime Leaf in bottles as well. 

Another upcoming event to check out is the 21st annual Spring Beer and Wine Fest on April 4th, at the Convention Center. 
For the athletically inclined, the Bridge to Brews run on April 12th incorporates a beer festival as part of their post-race activities. The event continues to be the only one that allows participants to run- or walk- across the Fremont Bridge affording some excellent views of the city.  

Portlanders love their beer. It’s not just an issue of taste for taste’ sake. The pursuit of perfection that some of the more renown brewers are known for is a testament to their love of the craft and, by extension, the love of their tasters.    

 

Related Slideshow: 9 Of Portland’s Top Brewers

Here's a look at 9 of Portland's top brewerers and their best creations.

All photos are courtesy of the breweries. 

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Jason McAdam, Burnside Brewing Company

Jason McAdam from Burnside Brewing Company is a quiet craftsman. His lineage includes being at the helm of Roots Brewing. A fan once said of him "if he could get away with putting a cat in a batch of beer, he'd want to try." Even without that, his beer is the cat’s meow. From a big bold IPA as Burnside's mainstay, to a smoked wheat Gratzer, and a more than few things in between, McAdam, should be toward the top of any list of Oregon Brewers.

Recommended: Oatmeal Pale Ale

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Doug Rehberg, Widmer Brothers Brewing

It is said Budweiser may have the best brewers in the world. You'll never hear their names. Unlike in the craft brew world, macro brewers aren't considered rock stars. Doug Rehberg at Widmer Brothers Brewing is somewhat of a crossover. He brews beer for Widmer, who brew just shy of a million kegs of beer annually. Over the past decade when Oregon Brewers entered the recent "creative" era, Doug has ensured these big boys didn't rest on their laurels. If you want to really know what I mean, go visit the brewery, where they have nearly 30 beers on tap on any given day.

Recommended: Ginger Brrrrbon 

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Mike Wright, The Commons Brewery

There is nothing common about Mike Wright, the owner and brewmaster of The Commons Brewery. He started his business in his garage less than five years ago and is already preparing for his second major expansion. That is great news.

Commons zigs when most of Portlands breweries zag. Farmhouse style ales are a gateway drug to the Belgian beer revival that seems to be occurring. Maybe not always as sour as your typical Belgian but decidedly different than your average Portland brew. 

Recommended: Flemish Kiss

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Alan Taylor, Pints Brewing

Pints Brewing at times seems more busy during their morning coffee hour than happy hour, which is a shame. Head Brewer Alan Taylor learned the craft while in Germany and his hiring brought new life to the fledgling Pints - literally. Pints recently opened an out of state off shoot and are in the works to open a second Portland location (each under a different brand name). Pints as a name may not ever become a household name. Taylor’s beer just might.

Recommended: Seismic IPA

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Ben Love and and Van Havig

Ben Love was at Hopworks when Van Havig got foolishly ousted from a chain brewpub. Together they opened Gigantic. Soon the rest of the city learned what beer insiders had long known: Van is the real deal. Ben, no slouch himself serves as an equally talented brewer.  

Recommended: Pipewrench Gin Barrel IPA

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John Harris, Ecliptic Brewing 

John Harris at Ecliptic Brewing has the longest credits of any Portland brewer. Put shortly, he is legendary. In a beer world where the brewer can be a rock star, Harris stands out for not standing out. Instead of shaking hands and retail politics with those who've enjoyed his products for decades, Harris remains behind the kettle further perfecting the craft at a level other brewers should aspire to. Haven't heard of John Harris? You may recognize some of the names of beers he's credited with creating: Mirror Pond Pale Ale, Black Butte Porter and Jubelale for Deschutes Brewery. He went on to spend 20 years at the helm of Full Sail before setting out on his own in 2013.

Recommended: Phobos Extra Red Ale

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Ben Edmunds, Breakside Brewery

If you gain an audience with Ben Edmunds, a former teacher, of Breakside Brewery, you'll walk away knowing that he blended that career with his current one and will have learned a few new things about beer. You'll also gain an appreciation for the creative mind that grew Breakside from a nano-brewery on Dekum to a large production facility in Milwaukie in just a few years. The array of beers that Edmunds produces is impressive. Be careful though, my recommended brew is a might bit spicy.

Recommended: Aztec Amber Ale

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Christian Ettinger, Hopworks Urban Brewery

Christian Ettinger left Laurelwood Brewery to open up his first brewpub, Hopworks Urban Brewery (HUB). Apparently he lived by the motto "go big or go home,” and therefore didn’t face the challenge of other brewers on this list spending their early years building out new space while trying to brew and serve. In what surely was considered a risky location, HUB saw gold in their SE Powell location. They were right. Having a good product surely helps.

Recommended: Organic Abominable Winter Ale

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Alex Ganum, Upright Brewing 

Alex Ganum at Upright Brewing is another chain brewery expatriate and opened shop in the basement of the Left Bank Annex in 2009.  Upright Brewing “specializes in farmhouse inspired beers rooted in France and Belgium but made with a Pacific Northwest twist, while also dabbling in both classic and quirky projects from around the world.” Their limited taproom hours includes before each home Blazers game.

Recommended: Engelberg Pilsener

 
 

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