Chapter 1 – Beervana

This entry is part 1 of 1 in the series Beer, Beards, and Bicycles

“Fancy popping to the pub brewery?”

It takes a bit of getting used to. Especially when London, land of the pub, has been your old stomping ground for twenty something years. Maybe the overt Britishness of the phrase ‘pop’ shorn up against such a Portlandish icon doesn’t help trying to fill the void either. The absence of a good ol’ British Public House in America is a serious problem for British exchange students. America simply doesn’t do pubs. Unless it’s something like this:

(That’s Nashville for you)

(That’s Nashville for you)

But when you must inevitably seek cover from the infamous rain in Portland, Oregon (Portlanders shun the umbrella) you may well find yourself being pulled into what stereotypes might be trying to deceive you into thinking is an empty kombucha warehouse or an organic kale storage shed.

More often than not however, it will be awash with beardy, bicycle donning, beer drinking Portlanders. Microbreweries (micro as in small scale independent breweries) are as synonymous to Portland as The King’s (insert limb here) is to Blighty. Apparently Portland is home to more microbreweries than any other city on the planet. Welcome to beervana.

Now, on leaving the UK I hold my hands up to being privy to a £3 Tesco deal bottle of red wine but, after a strange brief flirt with vermouth when I first arrived in the US, Portland was very intent on enticing me into the ways of American craft beer (to the great delight of my older brother).  So why did I succumb? Aside from $2 Tuesdays at the Mash Tun up in Alberta (NE Portland)?

The taste for one. Coffee or apricot or ginger, chilli and lime suddenly makes the idea of stomaching thinly veiled vodka unbelievably unappealing. Unusual flavours and an adventurous nature had me curious.

The price. Not going to lie, a big draw. Trying to get a pint for less than £4 in London is a feat! And being able to get really tasty beer for less than $4 means that nesting down as a regular is almost inevitable. Barely a ten yard stumble from my college campus in Portland’s south east is Gigantic, whose crazy cheap prices and crazy strong cider transformed an exhausting day into a beautifully chill evening, and it came to be a regular little haunt.

The joy of asking for a ‘flight’ – a little sample tray of usually around six beers, a try before you buy snifter if you will, for the indecisive of us – without having to lift a toe into the air (or delve the fingers too far into the wallet).

Burnside Brewing Co.

Burnside Brewing Co.

Some key differences between pubs and microbreweries.

Microbreweries/Brewpubs are not pubs. A crucial and fundamental fact. And there are subtle and nuanced differences between them both which are not to be confused. A microbrewery only produces its own small batch beer; a brewpub not only brews its own joy, but also has an onsite space for consumption (and often, in conjunction with nibbly things).

Don’t be showing up to a microbrewery and expecting to be chilling on comfy sofas and being enveloped with local artwork. Get yourself to a brewpub – the British pub 2.0. They brew and sell their own magic (and occasionally an outsourced craft cider). The drinks menu can be much tinier but is honed more beautifully which creates a much more intimate, friendly environment. They can also often actually be much more extensive at some of the larger places like Cascade Brewing Barrel House without losing the whimsical charm.

There’s not a Budweiser, Echo Falls bottle, or tequila shot in sight. This means you also have a perfect excuse to be adventurous, and TALK to the bar staff for recommendations. Nothing like trying out your British edge on some super friendly, super hot bar tenders! But don’t ask for a pint. This is confusing for Americans in general. It’s like forgetting to ask for hot tea in the South in December and ending up with the confused anguish of having to drink an icy pumpkin mush. You only make that mistake once… but I digress.

Alcohol tends to be served in 20oz (less than a pint) or 12oz (more than a half) servings. Don’t be a fool, those little cups of joy will take you out with no warning. Keep it small, keep it slow. The alcohol percentage in some of the bad boys I tried had me down in barely two half measures.

Some brewpubs, like Deschutes in the Pearl District, feel much more pub-esque than others, with waitress service dinner in addition to just the bar, which was pretty handy for bringing less beery fans out on an evening with you.

Burnside Brewing Co.

Burnside Brewing Co.

Once it gets its claws into you, you’re hooked. Wherever I was in America – be it along the Californian coast, Austin, New York – like a beery homing pigeon I managed to end up tucked away on a slightly dodgy industrial estate finding Portland at the bottom of a beer barrel.

“Fancy popping to the brewery?”

The answer is only ever yes.