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Sampling serious suds and quirky culture

Storied beer history and brewing innovation in Portland, Oregon

A brewer checks his current batch in the Ecliptic Brewing brewhouse. Photo credit: John Ferri

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Breweries abound in the Pacific Northwest, but even in that environment, Portland, Oregon, is known as a craft-beer mecca. According to, the Rose City has 77 craft beer breweries; that grows to 117 when you leave Portland proper to include the greater metro area of the city straddling the Willamette River.

Just a 2.5-hour drive south of Tacoma on Interstate 5, Portland's eclectic and funky neighborhoods are filled with restaurants, pubs and taprooms to go along with all the brewing activity, plus unusual lodging options for a weekend stay. How do you navigate Portland's brew geography with so many choices? If it's your first Portland brewery adventure, consider checking out a handful of newer breweries and a couple Portland brew pioneers.

A relative newcomer with a pedigree, Ecliptic Brewing was established in 2013 by Oregon brewing icon John Harris, former head brewer at Oregon's renowned Deschutes Brewery and Full Sail Brewing. Offerings at his new venture are IPA heavy, but also feature a red ale, a Belgian-style ale, a sour ale, a porter and a hoppy pilsner. Enjoy all of these and more at Ecliptic's casual taproom, where a long bar and comfy booth seating get an indoor-outdoor feel when they roll up the garage-style door. During nice weather, it opens to the outdoors and a tented patio seating area. The menu goes beyond pub fare with a country-style plate ($9), a half-pound burger with pancetta and gruyere cheese ($15), and a sumptuous porter-braised lamb Osso Bucco ($24).

Wayfinder Beer recently opened after converting a nearly 9,000-square-foot, century-old brick warehouse space into a state-of-the-art brewhouse and industrial-chic taproom with 2,000-square-foot deck and firepit area. In this massive space, they ply an interesting assortment of lagers and ales, with lighter styles dominating the list. Offered are a Czech-style pilsner, a Helles-style lager, a coffee pilsner and a German wheat beer served in traditional style with choice of fruit treacle syrups added. A sour farmhouse ale and several IPAs are also brewed. The scratch menu is varied, to say the least, including chicken schnitzel and Dungeness crab cakes and fire-grilled burgers, with side offerings like kimchi and braised sauerkraut.

Burnside Brewing Co., which opened in 2010, is known for its innovative brews and quality cuisine. Of the eight beers brewed year-round, only two are IPAs, along with a porter and a collection of lighter styles, such as Couch Lager, a Vienna-style lager and the aptly named Smooth Premium Ale. They also concoct something called Sweet Heat, a wheat beer with apricot puree and Scotch Bonnet peppers. An extensive list of seasonal taps also rotates continually at the brewery and pub, housed in a 1927 building with open wood beams for a rustic, intimate vibe. The pub's wide-ranging menu has as much character as the beer, featuring unique starters like deviled eggs with smoked trout and seaweed ($10) and elevated main dishes like Waygu Steak Frites ($25). Lunch is served on weekdays and brunch is offered Saturday and Sunday.

For a taste through Oregon craft beer history, seek out the suds at the stalwarts that helped start the craft brew revolution in the Pacific Northwest. Widmer Brothers Brewing opened its first brewery in Portland in 1984, as did Bridgeport Brewing.

While brewery visits are an obvious place to seek out Portland's beer culture, the city's independent taprooms offer the chance to sample beers from multiple local breweries in one spot. Among Portland's standouts for their extensive tap lists are Imperial Bottle Shop and Taproom (two locations), Bailey's Taproom and Proper Pint Taproom. For a more ambitious type of sampler, check out the guided beer strolls offered by Beerquest Walking Tours and Brewvana.

For ultimate brew immersion, plan a trip to coincide with one of Portland's beer celebrations: the Fresh Hops Beer Fest in September, the Portland Spring Beer and Wine Festival in April and the Oregon Brewers Festival in late July. 

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