In the land of Beervana, there is no king of beers.
There are so many great breweries here that it’s a tall order to say this one is above the fray, or that one makes “the best” beer in Oregon. There are over 100 breweries in the Portland metro area, plus another 160+ scattered through the state, many of which are excellent.
With so many dialed in, established brewers residing alongside the hot upstarts on the cutting edge, you can’t really anoint a Best Brewery in Oregon… can you?
Well, pFriem Family Brewers have a valid claim as the Best Brewpub in the state and they might just be as close as it comes these days. Let’s count the ways.
On a recent visit to the brewery, for a media focused event, two of the three owners – Josh Pfriem and Rudy Kellner, along with head brewer Gavin Lord, welcomed the us into the brewery as if we were family. They spent over 5 hours answering our questions, discussing the industry, showing us around the brewery, and sharing a meal.
And it’s exactly this kind of hospitality that they’ve been known for since opening in 2012. Over the past 4 years, they’ve won the Oregon Beer Award for Best Brewpub Experience. Then, when you consider that 70% of those visiting pFriem are coming from Portland, in addition to visiting all those 100+ metro area breweries, maybe there’s more to it than their award-winning beer.
It’s an attention to detail, a love for family, a passion for creating great beer, and some of the finest cuisine at a brewpub you’ll find anywhere.
The Brewery Tour
Having arrived alongside a Portland heavy contingent of media, we kicked things off with a pint from the menu and headed down to the brewhouse floor. A few steps past the front facing bar, you’re quickly engulfed by the steel forest of tanks and kettles that make up their relatively humble 15bbl system.
It’s astounding to learn that they brewed 15,000 barrels on this smaller system last year and expect to hit 19,000 this year. And they’ve done it all by adding a lot of fermentation space, not to mention the 600+ barrels in their barrel program, a few large metal totes, as well as the 2 large foeders that age their delicious Flanders Red and Oud Bruin offerings.
And while they still have some wiggle room for growth within their current building (previously housing other companies, but now occupied solely by pFriem), space is definitely getting tighter. Despite it though, they’re starting a spontaneous fermentation program this year, setting up a coolship in the southwest corner of the building. I can’t wait to see how that takes shape.
The Tasting Room
Their rustic farmhouse meets modern steel brewhouse vibe resonates as effectively as their Belgian and German-inspired beers jive with the culinary delights on their menu. The entirety of the dining space feels like a Belgian Farmhouse, with most everything looking to be built with reclaimed wood, and accentuated with modern metal pieces throughout.
There is a new side-bar area, enabling those waiting to be seated (a common thing on weekends – go early) to stay hydrated. It’s has a cool, dark study or library feel to it, so it’s certainly worth checking out, even if they aren’t that busy.
The food menu for the Tasting Room isn’t extraordinarily extensive, but I’ve yet to have anything on it I didn’t like. Pickled vegetables, charcuterie and cheese plates, hand-cut fries, salads, sandwiches, burgers, plus a variety of European traditional fare. All complimenting the diverse beer menu.
Their Classic, Select, and Barrel-Aged Beers
One of the juiciest nuggets of information we learned last weekend was that roughly 70% of their total annual production is made up of two beers: their Pilsner and IPA. This should be no surprise being that their Pilsner (#1 in annual production) has won at least 12 awards over the past 4 years. But how many brewers can say that one of their most award winning beers, a lager, is also what they brew more of than anything else?
When I first visited their location in the Fall of 2012, their tap menu was basically comprised of IPA and Saisons – maybe 10 beers. Today their taplist includes 20+ beers, comprised mainly of traditional German and Belgian styles, their more adventurous seasonal varieties, plus 4 barrel-aged delights.
And it’s clear that an impressive evolution has occurred being that they now bottle roughly 50 different beers each year and nearly 100 total when including draft offerings. It’s really tough to grasp how various their output now is, though they do have them all laid out on one page.
When all is said and done, like most everything in Oregon’s artisanal brewing community, it’s not a matter of who makes the best beer or why one location is better than another. It’s about the complete experience: knowing where their beer and food is coming from, a cozy space to relax after a day on the river, or out hiking or skiing, effectively creating something unreplicable.
It’s this confluence of location, the outdoors, their passionate mindfulness, and top quality beer and food that set pFriem apart. And yes, there are other great destination brewers in all corners of the state – in towns large and small. Though it’s in Hood River that pFriem has set the bar high, not just for the state, or the Pacific Northwest, but for the country as a whole.