Will Travel for Food

Oregon Brewers Festival

The author
The author (Photo courtesy of Margaret Bridgeman)

If you've read our News section lately, you've no doubt seen many articles praising the livability of Portland, Ore.: Its mass-transit system, bicycle-friendliness, and initiatives on vertical mixed-use development have been hailed. Overlooked by policy wonks, however, is the crown jewel: Portland's amazing beer scene. You can't swing a dead cat in that town without knocking a tasty microbrew out of someone's hand.

That was especially true during my recent vacation to the Pacific Northwest's "other city," which I planned around the 20th annual Oregon Brewers Festival (www.oregonbrewfest.com), an orgy of hoppy goodness staged downtown at Gov. Tom McCall Waterfront Park on the Willamette River. Walking into the fest was overwhelming -- 73 different brewers (mostly from the Northwest) offering up their wares paralyzed me with indecision. The brewers knew that the festival's SNOBs (Supporters of Native Oregon Beer, www.oregonbeer.org/snob.html) were an adventurous lot, so almost all eschewed their flagship beers in favor of more experimental stuff. True beer lovers relish a challenge.

But I eventually found my groove and identified a few favorites. I lean toward the extremely hoppy or the Belgian-influenced; for the former, the Double India Pale Ale by Standing Stone Brewing (Ashland, Ore., www.standingstonebrewing.com) blew my mind (and taste buds) with its rich hop overload, only to be topped by another double IPA, Russian River's (Santa Rosa, Calif., www.russianriverbrewing.com) Pliny the Elder, maybe the best IPA I've ever tasted. But even that was topped by Stone Brewing's (Escondido, Calif., www.stonebrew.com) Stone 07.07.07 Vertical Epic, a golden Belgian-style saison farmhouse ale with a powerful flavor typical of the brew house that also makes Arrogant Bastard Ale.

Although the festival lasts four days (always the last full weekend in July), I never made it back, because my host, an avid cyclist, took me on a pedaling tour of Portland's many, many brewpubs. Seemingly every block has a place that brews its own. Weaving through the town's easy-to-navigate streets, we made our own moving beer fest. If you enjoy the Widmer Brothers' Broken Halo IPA or Drop Top Amber Ale that recently arrived in Austin, you absolutely must have it fresh at the brewery (www.widmer.com). Other highlights among too many to list here were the England-themed Horse Brass Pub (imagine a larger version of Austin's Draught House; www.horsebrass.com), and the Lucky Labrador Brewing Co. (the Hawthorne Boulevard location, www.luckylab.com), where I sampled a beautifully bitter IPA, and we shared a glorious barley wine.

And the beer abundance extends beyond Portland. A trip to the beach at Pacific City yielded not only great brews but fantastic seafood and a stunning sunset at the Pelican Pub & Brewery (www.pelicanbrewery.com), and a drive up Mount Hood rewarded us on the way down with a stop at the Ice Axe Grill ("the microbrewery with an altitude," www.iceaxegrill.com). Both matched anything in the city.

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