On the regular, I have friends that come to town who want to experience as much of the beer scene as they can within a day or even half a day. It’s not an easy thing to do.
With roughly 75 breweries in Portland, it’s no wonder that even the locals might feel intimidated by all the options at hand. And while there are great pockets of wonderful suds to be had within relatively finite areas, if you really want to get a grasp of the city, staying in one neighborhood won’t do it.
Herein lies the beauty of what BREWVANA Portland Beer Tours does. Established by beer lovers with 7 years now of brewery tour experience, they’re experts in providing an insiders guide to what Portland craft beer is all about.
I just recently hopped on their bus to learn how BREWVANA is able to do Beervana right, enabling beer tourists to capture the local beer scene in an efficient fashion.
Kicking Things Off
We gathered at the SE taproom staple that is Growler Guys, a great place to start and finish our voyage. Here we were quickly dispensed our implements for mass consumption: a cool can-shaped taster glass, a pretzel necklace, plus a notebook and pen.
Our mission for the day? Visit 4 breweries located in 3 of Portland’s “5 Quadrants” as part of their new “Pacific Northwest is Best” tour, learn about the brewing and tasting process, do a complete brewery tour, all while sampling a variety of beers.
As our knowledgeable guide Kelene got us loaded on the bus, she helped us get waivers completed, explained the rules (you can drink on the bus, but not come and go with beer… and no puking!), and we began to meet everyone in the group.
As an informed local, it was fun to live the experience through the eyes of visitors from Los Angeles, Brooklyn, Colorado, and even Toronto. It was quite a diverse group, making the day all the more intriguing.
And before I knew it, we were arriving at our first destination in SE Portland.
The focus at our first stop, Gigantic Brewing, was to learn about the ingredients of beer, how they’re sourced in the Pacific Northwest, and to examine the process of tasting beer. Upon arriving, we immediately walked through their taproom and back to their expansive barrel room – an apropos space for some Beer Tasting 101.
To get a grasp on tasting, we partook of some of the raw ingredients that went into each of the beers we sampled (a Kölsch, a Dopplebock and a Hazy IPA) and learned the basics of how to properly sample beer. Each beer provided a broad range of flavors, ideal for examining the grains and hops required to conjure the specific colors, aromas, and tastes that make each style unique.
It was also a great opportunity to better understand the history and meanings behind each beer, as well as get a gauge for the palates of those in the group. For to taste beer in a group and know what others like and perceive, adds another layer of enjoyment to the whole experience.
With a few minutes to spare, one of our companions bought a number of bottles to take home, plus one to share on the bus. This turned out to be a recurring theme at each location we visited and I couldn’t think of a better way to spend our time between locations – bonus beers!
Next we took a quick jaunt northeast to one of Portland’s best known regional breweries.
Hopworks Urban Brewery
Not quite tipsy yet, we emerged from the BREWVANA shuttle, ready to embark upon the brewery tour segment of the trip. Luckily, Hopworks Urban Brewery (aka HUB) has a mid-sized brewhouse, easy by which to explain the brewing process and walk through the entire production floor on the lower level of their brewpub.
But first we got to sample their crisp Pilsner and the Long Root Ale – each an easy drinking beer, neither short on flavor nor PNW character. As we sipped those beers, our tour guide and HUB brewer, Quinn, walked us through each step and answered all the questions we had – like how fermentation works, why use cans vs. bottles, and how far HUB distributes.
Lastly, we headed upstairs to their bike-themed space, a model of sustainability – from their bike frames above the bar and LED lighting, to the second-use growler light shades, this place is arguably Portland’s most organic and eco-friendly brewery.
We tried a few more beers, including a sturdy Belgian Pale Ale and our first sour, a Berliner Weisse with Organic Kombucha Tea (that’s pretty damn “Portland” right there…). Both were beers I hadn’t tried before, each enjoyable in their own way, and the entire group seemed impressed by the variety on hand.
After picking up a few more souvenir bottles, our benevolent friend from Brooklyn popped another during our the ride to destination number 3. This time it was an Imperial IPA called Moment of Clarity – which after two breweries, maybe we were a bit hazier than clear… and I was seriously beginning to gnaw on my pretzel necklace.
We then took our longest drive between locations – leaving Portland’s SE Quadrant, heading over the Willamette River to the NW Slabtown District. We arrived at Portland’s oldest craft brewery still in operation and were ready to nosh on some food, plus of course, have a few more samples.
I was pretty excited to visit Bridgeport Brewing, as it was my first time since the recent renovation of their brewhouse and taproom area. This former hemp rope warehouse has always been a beautiful red-brick space filled with warmth, though the new taproom and small-batch brewery were both great, much need additions.
In addition to the tasty apps we happily dug into (pretzel bites, a vegetable and hummus plate, and a basket of French fries), a few others also ordered some delicious pizza to share with everyone. To drink, we sampled what I found to be a classically conceived ESB, plus one of their newest offerings, a wine-like Rosé IPA.
This time, upon leaving, our friend from New York picked up a crowler of something to enjoy on our voyage… I’m pretty sure it was in a crowler and poured dark, and I definitely recall it being good.
Having crossed back over the river, and possibly finishing off the crowler (?), we landed on Mississippi Ave in the North Quadrant of Portland. We’d arrived at our last stop, Stormbreaker Brewing. The tour didn’t really have a specific focus here, except to hang out and talk about what we’d learned, while enjoying the company of the group and a few more delicious offerings.
This time we tried three different beers. Probably the most interesting was their award-winning Total ReKölsch, offering an interesting comparison to Gigantic’s Kölschtastic, our first of the day.
One of my favorites of the tour though was their “When I Froot, I Froot for the…” – a Blonde Ale with Guava & Mango, a tropical, easy drinking delight. And while we had one other beer, a Session IPA, we were also drinking a lot of water to prepare our bodies for the return to reality.
Though we did try one more bottle, of course, on the way back to Growler Guys, Stormbreaker’s Triple Double. It was a good thing I took the train home…
In the end, I had a phenomenal time. I learned new things about the breweries we visited, tried new releases I’ve been meaning to try, and met a fun group of folks who enabled me to see Portland’s beer scene from a fresh and different perspective.
And keep in mind, BREWVANA has visited over 70 breweries since they started, so they don’t replicate the same itinerary over an over again. Thus, the breweries I visited might be different than those you would.
Not to mention they now have a “Beer & Barrels” tour that adds whiskey to the mix, “Down to Ferment” which focuses on Kombucha, Cider and Gluten Free Beer, plus “Coffee, Beer & Donuts,” which is exactly what it sounds like.
Plus, if you have a special event or want to “Create Your Own Tour,” you can do so at the same price as the tour I took, or add full meals and more activities for an additional cost.
So, if you’re planning a visit to Portland and aren’t quite sure where to start craft-beer-wise, hit up BREWVANA for a one of a kind experience. And be sure to pick up those extra bottles at each brewery to ensure you’re able to properly achieve Beervana.