Bar review: Top breweries in Portland

Shandelle Battersby makes like a local and explores Portland's famous craft beer scene on two wheels.

The White Stag sign at the west end of The Burnside Bridge, Portland. Photo / Jamie Francis
The White Stag sign at the west end of The Burnside Bridge, Portland. Photo / Jamie Francis

Beers and bikes. They go together in Portland, Oregon, like Simon and Garfunkel or potato and gravy.

In this most hip of cities, you can't escape either — and nor should you — so it makes sense to try them together, especially if you're short on time.

Rental and retail store Cycle Portland has been offering a variety of tours in the city and surrounding area since owner Evan Ross spotted a gap in the market back in 2008.

On a Brews Cruise the guide chats with participants to find out where they've already been, if there's anywhere they're interested in going, and if they have a preference in styles, and tailor tours to suit.

Portland has a ridiculous number of breweries — nearly 100 in the metropolitan area — so there's plenty of wiggle room even if you've tried to drink your way around them already.

If guests are happy to leave it to the experts, guides will gravitate towards smaller breweries on the up that you may not have heard of ...

yet.

The daily tour leaves at 2pm and takes around three hours, though as the last tour of the day, things are fairly relaxed.

Groups are kept to 10 and under, making it a more personal experience, and it's an easy ride of 8-10km suitable for all ages (over 21 of course) and abilities.

On a sunny Sunday afternoon in mid-August, the 35C+ temperatures of the past few days have eased slightly and our group of four — me, two girls from California, and Guthrie Straw, our affable and knowledgeable guide — set out from Cycle Portland's Old Town HQ for the shadier eastern side of the river.

As we make our way down to the waterfront park, cross over the Willamette River on the city's historic double-decked Steel Bridge, and ride on the longest floating bikeway in the United States, at 350m, Guthrie chats to us over his shoulder about the geology and history of the area, how Portland's beer scene has developed due to these two factors, and about the city's bike culture.

He has answers for anything we can throw at him: one of the Cali girls wants to go rock climbing and what kind of bike light works best; I'm interested in where to get good tacos and Portland's cycle-friendliness.

He tells about "taking the lane", which is when cyclists ride in the centre of two lanes going the same way, making them much more visible to drivers.

The city has designated "Bicycle Boulevards" designed to give priority to cyclists using vehicle speed and cut-through traffic restrictions.

We cruise through the Eastside to visit two of Guthrie's current favourite taprooms, Baerlic Brewing Company and Base Camp Brewing.

Coincidentally it's Sunday Parkways day; a monthly event that moves around the city closing streets to traffic to get people active and engaging with their community. It feels pretty cool to join the throngs for a few blocks.

Baerlic (said "Bear lick", a ye olde English adjective meaning "of barley") is a young operation that brews as locally as possible and sells only in Portland.

The very cool taproom, which always has 12 beers on tap, has fun signage, a great contemporary fit-out with popping colours, and fresh flowers on the tables.

Over at Base Camp Brewing, whose name reflects its adventurous approach to brewing, it's all about its Nepalese namesake — adventure photos hang from the walls and a tent-like structure in the beer garden looks straight off Mt Everest.

There are food carts outside order at the bar, meaning you can check off another Portland must-do.

The beer at both is, of course, delicious, and proves inexpensive per tasting.

I prefer lighter beers, not too hoppy or sour, and I taste a variety at both taprooms, from a classic cream ale, oatmeal pilsner, lime lager, and a superb German Kolsch (Bike Crush, hopefully not an omen for the ride home) at Baerlic, and a mango lager and extra special bitter at Base Camp.

Back at Cycle Portland HQ we relax over more beer — this one complimentary, with a cool pint glass or drink bottle to take home.

Usually the shop has a keg of Hopworks beer on tap; today we get to try a dark mahogany draft from guest brewery Lompoc.

I think these Portlanders might really be on to something with this beer and bicycling bike thing ...

Guthrie Straw's top Portland breweries

Base Camp Brewing Company

Breakside Brewery

The Commons Brewery

Upright Brewery

Ex Novo Brewing Co (non-profit)

Baerlic Brewing Co

PLAN YOUR ROAD TRIP

To book your USA road trip: See House of Travel.

Further information: See travelportland.com and visittheusa.com.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: American Airlines flies daily from Auckland to Portland, via LAX.

Details: Cycle Portland is at 117 NW 2nd Avenue. Brews Cruise Tours depart at 2pm daily.

BE IN TO WIN

Take the quiz, find your roadie and be in to win $10,000 towards your ultimate USA road trip!

- NZ Herald

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