Bar/fly: Oregon

By Brett Atkinson

Brett Atkinson climbs aboard Portland, Oregon's Ale Trail of tastes at craft brew pubs.

With more than 50 craft breweries and a population of about 600,000, Portland is a definite frontrunner for Beer Capital of the World. Illustration / Rod Emmerson
With more than 50 craft breweries and a population of about 600,000, Portland is a definite frontrunner for Beer Capital of the World. Illustration / Rod Emmerson

I'm on a funkily repurposed American school bus with Talking Heads' Road to Nowhere pumping through the sound system as we cross Oregon's Willamette River.

We're on a purposeful mission with Brewvana Portland Brewery Tours to explore the city's astounding craft beer scene.

With more than 50 craft breweries and a population of about 600,000, Portland is a definite frontrunner for Beer Capital of the World. The amber liquid is often afforded equal billing with wine in Portland restaurants.

A few days earlier, I kick off my own hoppy research.

Downtown's Bailey's Taproom is the perfect assignation on a warm afternoon showcasing mainly Oregon breweries. A huge screen - also in real-time online - lists brews on tap, and what's lined up next. I get busy working through esoteric brews like a Belgian sour beer made with blackcurrants and an Imperial IPA with coconut palm sugar.

A few blocks northwest are the renovated warehouses and lofts of the Pearl District, home to BridgePort, the city's oldest craft brewery.

BridgePort began in 1984 when the Oregon legislature approved the sale of beer direct from breweries, paving the way for brewpubs. In a restored brick warehouse, BridgePort has more family and mainstream appeal than Bailey's, but their seasonal beers like Hop Harvest Fresh Hopped Pilsner are innovative.

On the funky Brewvana bus, it's soon evident that Portland's diverse beer scene easily accommodates seriously niche breweries across the Willamette River.

Base Camp Brewing - with aluminium bottles that are easily cooled in mountain streams - targets hikers and climbers, while Hopworks Urban Brewery (HUB) is decked out in serious cycling style. It's focused on Belgian yeast-driven brews, and sour beers harnessing Brettanomyces wild yeast are gaining popularity citywide.

Our last stop is at Gigantic, an unpretentious spot with a sunny garden patrolled by two friendly black labradors. Gigantic's The City Never Sleeps Imperial Black Saison is more proof of Portland's infatuation with Belgian styles.

Elsewhere in Oregon, the sleepy river city of Bend (population 75,000) has 12 microbreweries, with the bustling Deschutes Brewpub a highlight.

Near the university city of Eugene, hometown of Ken Kesey, who wrote One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, is Agrarian Ales beside its own hop fields. The staff's tie-dyed T-shirts are sly tributes to the local university's liberal 1960s reputation. Up to 10 seasonal beers are on tap.

In Eugene, hip Ninkasi brewery is driving renewal of its industrial neighbourhood. Ninkasi's super hoppy Tricerahops Double India Pale Ale is an Oregon experience.

Here's to NZ's emerging craft beer scene developing in a such a tasty way.

BEER ROUTE

Brewvana Portland Brewery Tours
Bailey's Taproom
BridgePort
Base Camp Brewing
Hopworks Urban Brewery
Gigantic Brewing
Deschutes
Agrarian Ales
Ninkasi Brewing Company

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Air New Zealand flies daily from Auckland to Los Angeles and San Francisco with connections to Oregon on partner airlines.

Further information: See oregoncraftbeer.org and DiscoverAmerica.com.

Brett Atkinson travelled to Portland and Oregon with the assistance of Travel Oregon.

- NZ Herald

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