I’ve wanted to write this guide for over a year now. It all started when I visited a small brewery in the heart of Portland that I had no idea made such wonderful beers.
And it got me thinking…
There are so many breweries in Portland that too often the smallest breweries get overlooked in favor of the multi-location, big dining room, largely distributed, newly opened, and/or highly touted operations. So I compiled a list of those I needed to visit and have been steadily checking them off since December.
The compilation that follows features those breweries who persist despite unconventional business models that are more often driven by their passion for brewing. They generally operate on a small brew system, are hidden away in non-retail locations, may not have a kitchen or a taproom, and/or be minimally distributed on draft. Quite often, their beer can only be found at certain taprooms or in a select few stores.
The idea here is to highlight places and breweries that might appeal to those looking for unique creations, classic styles, and something different from the often hype-driven environment prevalent in town today.
- only have one brewhouse/taproom
- ~2K barrels or less sold in Oregon during 2018
- distribution primarily in Portland
- brew system in Portland (might be contract brewing or off-site)
- taproom or restaurant not required
What I’ve detailed below also includes a few nano-breweries and three that currently brew on residential property. When it comes to defining a nano-brewery, it’s kind of vague, though they’re commonly seen as producing on ~3 barrel systems or smaller, or brew less than 500 barrels annually (or less than 2,000 barrels, as defined by licensing in New Hampshire).
To learn more about the nano scene, be sure to check out the Nano Beer Fest, happening today through Sunday at John’s Marketplace in Multnomah Village. They’re all creating beers as unique as the stories behind them. And I really wish I could have visited more of Portland’s nano-breweries, although that wasn’t the original intent of this article.
Of note: the first brewery I visited, Royale Brewing, is no longer producing beer at their NE Farragut location (last I heard) and has quietly put their facility up for sale. But I wanted to include their story here as well because they’re still part of the story – and who knows, maybe someone will take interest and buy their location.
Feel free to comment here or on social media about what I missed and I’ll be sure to check them out!
Back Pedal Brewing
I first visited, then wrote about Back Pedal back in August of 2017 when I was still writing for American Craft Beer. It is this awesome nano-brewery, hiding in plain sight next to a macro-brewery owned brewpub at NW 14th and Flanders, that spurred the concept of this guide.
What started as BrewStop, a 14 tap restaurant and launching point for their BrewCycle taproom tours (which continue to this day), has now quickly become a stellar brewery, routinely winning awards for their hand crafted delights. Their head brewer, Greg Passmore, is one the city’s most under-the-radar brewers, regularly pushing capacity while constantly rotating through flagships and ever new creations via their 3.5 bbl system.
Having now purchased the location next door, they’ll soon be adding another 1,800 sq. ft. to the equation, including a large bar, 7 bbl brewhouse, cozier interior, and a limited food/snack menu. As of now, Back Pedal Brewing is an operation unlike any other in town, something I expect will only amplify further as they grow into their coming expansion.
Food Options: 3 brewpubs within a short walk, plus TILT, Cha, Cha, Cha, and more.
Distribution: Self-distro kegs around Portland. Crowler fills available on-site.
Favorite Beer(s): Prism (Dry-hopped Saison – multi-award winner), Guava Slap, BMX Session IPA, Flockahops IPA series.
2018 Production (OLCC Sales in Oregon): 145 Barrels
Future Plans: Adding 1,800 sq feet of tap room & production space, a new 7 BBL brewhouse, and more. Opening date TBD.
Visiting with Andrew Shaw – the founder, sole brewer, and owner of Brewery 26, was the most interesting and enlightening of all my stops when researching this guide. With the entirety of his 3 BBL brewhouse exisiting in his residential two-car garage, I was not only impressed by the utilization of space and do-it-yourself fabrication of his operation, but also the quality of the beer he conjures from it.
The brew process involves the moving of water and wort back and forth between 3 one barrel kettles and a 3 barrel mash tun. He houses 4 fermenters and two oaks barrels in a temperature controlled fermentation room, then stores his finishing beer and kegs in a custom made cooler containing a 3 bbl brite tank and 25 barrels worth of storage space. Shaw has been brewing for 8 or 9 years, but only the past 2 to 3 years at a larger scale.
His success at last year’s Nano Brew Fest garnered him Gold for Oregon Sun NE IPA, which led to becoming the first brewery to sign with High Road Distribution in January. You can find Brewery 26 beers all over town and in the burbs now, specifically the Oregon Sun NE IPA in bottles and draft (soon in cans), plus regularly available and rotating seasonal drafts. Keep an eye out for Brewery 26 dedicated drafts after 4pm, Thursdays through Saturdays, at Beeswing in the coming months.
Favorite Beers: Silent Rock Stout, Oregon Sun NE IPA (Gold Medal, 2018 Nano Brew Fest).
Distribution: High Road Distribution. Oregon Sun in bottles and soon cans, plus assorted drafts around metro Portland.
Unique Attributes: Custom DIY fabicated brewhouse, fermentation room, and cooler.
2018 Production (OLCC Sales in Oregon): 98 Barrels
Future Plans: finalizing dedicated taps at Beeswing in late spring/early summer.
I visited Coalition during my first Zwickelmania tour of Portland breweries in 2011, just one year after they opened, making them the most tenured of the breweries featured here. Founded by Kiley Hoyt and Elan Walsky, their 10 barrel brewhouse has always focused on easily accessible, straight ahead styles, though they primarily feature beers infused with either CBD (a non-psychotropic compound in cannabis) or Terpenes (flavor and aroma compounds also found in cannabis).
One of the faces of the brewery, Phil Boyle (seen above), acts as their Marketing and Sales Manager. His great sense of humor and knack for storytelling, all wrapped in a sturdy Irish lilt, embodies their motto of “community through beer.” It’s this approach that creates an always a casual and easy going vibe in their petite taproom. Yet with the addition of an expansive new patio deck, it feels even more like taking a mini-vacation.
While their King Kitty Red Ale and Space Fruit IPA may have put them on the map, it’s their Two Flowers IPA with CBD (now distributed in bottles) that has truly set them apart. When I visited in December, their tap list included 4 CBD infused beers, as well as a terpene beer, accounting for over half their tap list. They’ve been working with CBD for going on 3 years now, all the while learning the ropes of regulation and the limitations inherent in distributing alcoholic beverages containing cannabinoids.
It’s this attention to detail and thorough knowledge of the fusion of hops and CBD that make them one of the world’s few pioneers of the sub-style and one of the most unique breweries in the United States today.
Food Options: Ankeny Tab & Table, Holman’s Bar & Grill, and The Goose, plus a cart pod and 10+ other options within a few blocks.
Favorite Beers: Two Flowers IPA (w/ CBD), Pineapple Upside Down Wheat (Terpene Infused), Loving Cup Maple Porter.
2018 Production (OLCC Sales in Oregon): 924 Barrels
Unique Attributes: This “Home of CBD Beer” has become a must visit for weed tourists and with the new patio they added last year, there’s now much more space to accommodate them.
If you’re looking at this guide from 1,000 feet up, you might be thinking “isn’t Culmination too big for this list?” Well, they do meet the criteria outlined, are tucked away in a mixed-zoning neighborhood, and it’s a rare thing to meet a beer tourist visiting Portland who’s heard of what I consider to be one of this town’s best breweries. And yes, they are the largest producer on this list and you’ll find their beer in Japan, but nowhere else outside of Oregon and Washington.
The brainchild of founder, owner, and certified master brewer Tomas Sluiter, Culmination has become an incubator for brewing talent, just as Old Market Brewery was before it. While Sluiter spends a lot of time in Montana and Japan as a brewery consultant, much of the operation and brewing is now overseen by Conrad Andrus. Along with his brew team of Sonny Thomas and Ryan Bartley, he’s been conjuring some of the most interesting and tasty creations you’ll find anywhere.
The most difficult aspect of writing about Culmination for me is that rarely a week goes by that I don’t visit their location – it’s one of the nearest to me and always on my way home from work. So I’m clearly biased. Had I more space here, I’d write about all the amazing beers I’ve had, the countless discussions Conrad has afforded me, the delicious food options on-site, how Devin Benware and Shaun Kalis of Ruse Brewing started here, the long list of collaborations they’ve done, the friendly vibe, and on and on.
If you’re visiting Portland, it’s a must stop. If you live in town and haven’t been to Culmination Brewing, you owe yourself a visit, post-haste.
Food Options: their kitchen offers cheese/meat boards, burgers, sandwiches and other comfort food. Sundays feature Jackfruit Kitchen, a vegan pop-up.
Must Try Beers: Momentary Lapse of Reason Hazy DIPA, Illusions of Grandeur Imperial Coffee Stout, Foed For Thought Farmhouse Ale, Phaedrus IPA, and any of their German-style Lagers.
2018 Production (OLCC Sales in Oregon): 1,596 barrels
Unique Attributes: Culmination’s gravity fed, side-by-side 5 vessel brewhouse enables them to make tons of small batch specialty beers, easily filling 20 taps with their own creations.
When I asked head brewer Carston Haney about his brewery’s name, Dirty Pretty, he said “well, I didn’t come up with the name, but I can tell you what it means to me. We’re in kind of a rough area here in SE Portland, so it’s kinda dirty,” said Haney, “but then you look up and see Mt. Hood… that’s the pretty part.”
Operating in the same space that was once Carston’s Ross Island Brewing, Dirty Pretty is a new endeavor that enables him to focus more on the brewing and less on the administrative side of things. While their taproom isn’t currently open to the public, it was completely remodeled a few months back, and available for private events, as well as special fundraisers.
The purpose behind Dirty Pretty is to raise money for Fighting Pretty, a non-profit agency devoted to supporting women going through cancer treatment, by donating 25% of all their profits to this worthy cause. The bulk of their beer sales are done via draft accounts, especially those associated with co-owner Kurt Huffman’s ChefStable Group. In fact, Haney has worked with the chefs at a number of ChefStable’s locations (including Grassa, Lardo, and Ox) in helping to conceive beers that work with their menus.
Open less than a year, Dirty Pretty is brewing on a unique copper jacketed 7 barrel system procured from Golden Valley Brewing. While their current business model is one-of-a-kind in the Portland area, I do expect to see continued growth considering all the tasty new beers out recently and the events they’ll be putting on this spring & summer.
Food Options: you’re likely to find Dirty Pretty beers at ChefStable associated locations including Lardo, Loyal Legion, and other fine dining establishments around Portland.
Must Try Beers: Herb’s Cargo Schwartz, Loyal Lager, Call Me Hazy (collab w/ Breakside)
2018 Production (estimated): ~400 Barrels
Future Plans: More special events in their newly renovated taproom, plus greater distribution might be on the horizon.
Another brewery I first visited while enjoying Zwicklemania, on two occasions actually, Grixsen feels like another brewery hiding in plain sight. Yet with their recent expansion and renovation of their existing taproom, It’s now a full-fledged brewpub with a little bit of everything on offer.
Found on the corner of SE Division and 10th, Grixsen has been in operation since October of 2015. Brewmaster and Co-owner DJ Moxley is the lifeblood of the operation, a central force in the recent expansion, and definitely someone not afraid to get his hands dirty. The taproom itself has 13 of their own brews on tap (3 on nitro), guest taps, cider, a full bar, and now delicious menu filled with “small bites” and sandwiches.
The former taproom, back behind the taps and kitchen, is undergoing a renovation of its own, intending to be a special events room, then otherwise reserved for their growler club members. To have seen this location evolve from a small taproom with a huge and mostly empty production space, to what it’s become today is exciting to see. Be sure to stop by and check it out – it’s too fun to miss.
Food Options: kitchen on-site. Menu features fancy appetizers (small plates) and tasty sandwiches
Must Try Beers: Sorachi Pils, Coffee Milk Stout, English Bitter.
2018 Production (OLCC Sales in Oregon): 197 Barrels
Unique Attributes: Recent expansion and renovation has changed the location from a small brewery taproom into a brewpub with a sports bar vibe. If you’re a Zags fan, this is your spot. Arguably the best food of all I tried on this list.
Leikam Brewing was yet another brewery I visited during Zwicklemania, though this time only a few months ago in February. And I wouldn’t recommend doing so without reaching out to Theo and Sonia Marie Leikam before doing so, since their 5 barrel brew house occupies a portion of their backyard.
Portland’s only Kosher Brewery, and the first to be certified outside of New York, Leikam is another recent signee with High Road Distribution, so you can find their cans and draft all around the Portland Metro area. What’s even more exciting is the Community Taproom & Brewery on East Burnside they’re planning to open this summer.
In operation for over 4 years now, the Leikam’s aren’t about publicity, starting trends, or becoming a big brewery, they’re simply passionate about brewing beers they love and making a business of it. I can’t wait for their new spot to open up, which will initially feature a Kosher food cart, with the hope of eventually having a full-scale restaurant on premise.
Unique Attributes: They are one of the few certified Kosher brewers in the nation and brew their beer in a dedicated building in their backyard.
Favorite Beers: Grateful Red, Haze the World NE IPA, The Kuppel Porter
2018 Production (OLCC Sales in Oregon): 40 Barrels
Future Plans: They’re currently in the process of setting up a Community Taproom & Brewery at 5812 East Burnside. It’s slated to open this Summer, with the brewhouse expected to join the location before the end of the year.
Look Long Brewing
I first encountered Look Long Brewing at one my favorite smaller beer festivals each year, the St. John’s Winter Beer Fest and Record Show. Having so enjoyed their Sage Porter at the fest, I high-tailed it to their North Interstate and Rosa Parks taproom and brewery.
Set up in the back of the Homebrew Exchange shop, they operate a 1 bbl brewsystem which regularly supplies their often rotated 5 taps in their taproom. Both the supply store and brewery are run by Stan Barnes, Brandon Edwards, and Rory Schellinger. Regularly playing old movies or sports on their large projection screen, they also have a foosball table and classic video game consoles set up on a TV, giving the space a cozy clubhouse vibe.
What I find most impressive is that over the course of last year, following their opening in early February, they sold 87 barrels of beer according to the OLCC. That’s over a batch and a half each week! I was truly impressed with the 3 beers I had on draft upon my visit and recommend checking them out.
Food Options: Long Do Thai food cart in the parking lot; Nite Hawk diner one block south.
Favorite Beers: Their tap list constantly rotates, but I’ve yet to have a beer I didn’t like. For what it’s worth, the Imperial Stout w/ Chocolate and the sage version of their Mansplainer Porter were both excellent.
2018 Production (OLCC Sales in Oregon): 87 Barrels
It was at yet another beer fest, this time the Holiday Ale Fest, that I first encountered Jason Blair’s MadCow Brewing in the form of his Hansel and Gretel’s Revenge, a Winterized Imperial Stout. So I sought him out, visiting him in his brew space, located in a custom addition behind his garage.
After years of success as an award-wining homebrewer, Jason officially became OLCC certified in 2017 when he and his wife Kelly began hand bottling MadCow’s beers, which she primarily handles to this day. What blew my mind is how well distributed MadCow bottles are, which can be found at four Grocery Outlet locations, three New Seasons stores, plus John’s Marketplace.
Last year the brewery sold 25 barrels of beer in the form of four flagships and three seasonals, was featured on Ss Brewtech’s website (documenting his use of their 1 bbl fermentation tanks), will be attending the Oregon’s Brewers Festival for the first time this summer, and hopes to open a taproom in the near future.
Favorite Beers: Evening Milking Stout, Rooster Rock Red Ale.
2018 Production (OLCC Sales in Oregon): 26 Barrels
Future Plans: Participating in the Oregon Brewers Fest for the first time this summer and looking to set up a taproom location soon.
Montavilla Brew Works
My understanding and appreciation for Montavilla Brew Works was a slow burn – occasionally trying Owner and Head Brewer Michael Kora’s beers as they came into view, not the other way around. But once I got out to his taproom, a converted auto garage, I finally understood what it was all about – gathering with others over fresh, well made pints.
Kora’s space is a neighborhood pub, in the truest sense of the word. You won’t find trendy beers, a kitchen, or gimmicks to draw in crowds, but instead regular customers from the neighborhood, a friendly game of chess, a sunlit patio (when it’s sunny), and some of the tastiest beers in town.
MBV’s beer sees limited distribution around town and bottling has only been done once, to my knowledge, furthering the notion that this is a place to visit and enjoy first hand, not taste from a distance. So if you live on the other side of town or were unaware of Montavilla Brew Work’s oft rotated 15 drafts from their 10 bbl capacity system, you’re now privy to one of Portland’s most underrated breweries.
Food Options: 10+ restaurants in the neighborhood, plus food trucks on weekends.
Favorite Beers: East Glisan Mosaic IPA, Ben’s Barleywine, Lil’ More Righteous Session IPA
2018 Production (OLCC Sales in Oregon): 415 Barrels
Unique Attributes: No nonsense, classic beer styles. A mellow taproom featuring one of Portland’s best adjoining patios.
One of my early appearances on The Brew Happy Show coincided with the recent opening of the Nation Brewery taproom back in September of 2017. Spending the evening chatting with Owner and Head Brewer Ian McGuinness over a few pints gave me a sense of what Natian’s beer is all about – a balance of approachable styles and big strong ales.
McGuinness, who also manages production at the Portland Bottling Company – where his 10 BBL brewhouse also resides just a few blocks away, has now settled into Natian’s cozy 13th and E Burnside location. When I visited in early February, most of the 20 taps were flowing (4 of which are occupied by vintages of the delightful Cease & Desist Imperial Milk Stout) and snacks were available at the bar. This past year was tough for Natian, having left distro with Columbia to join General Distributing, only to have them bought out by Columbia. As a result, McGuinness felt lost in the shuffle. But they just recently released their own cans of Undun Blonde and CuDA Cascadian Dark Ale and Ian seems optimistic for 2019.
In spending a bit more time chatting with him, I learned that more than anything he enjoys a good laugh and providing a fun place for people to gather – whether it be for Trivia, a pot-luck, a Timbers match, or just to turn your brain off whilst watching Bob Ross paint fluffy clouds on one of their TV’s featuring non-sports programming. Revisiting Natian gave me a new appreciation for who they are and what they offer Portland – something I need to revisit more often.
Food Options: aside from snacks in the taproom, there are 7+ restaurants in walking distance serving anything from chic cuisine to pub grub.
Favorite Beers: Cease & Desist Imperial Milk Stout, Irish Water Honey Beer, Imperial IPL.
2018 Production (OLCC Sales in Oregon): ~250 Barrels
Unique Attributes: three Veiled Chameleons reside in the taproom, which also features 3 TVs playing Bob Ross episodes, nature programming, and Chive TV, plus regular trivia nights, Timbers matches on the big screen, pot-lucks, and bottle shares.
Encountering Pono Brewing for the first time coincided with my first visit to the St. John’s Winter Ale Fest in 2016. I tried their Tropical Thunder, a juicy West Coast IPA that I had less than positive things to say about on Untappd/Twitter. Their Owner and Head Brewer Larry Clouser reached out to me immediately, encouraging me to try it again soon at a different location.
It’s this initial interaction that has always stuck with me – it’s not often you have a brewer message you directly, though it’s also been a bench mark for my appreciation of the work Pono does. I’ve since had a number of conversations with Larry (plus partner Erick Russ), watching them manifest some of Portland’s most unique creations, including their stellar Pineapple Express Kölsch – one of the best on hand at last summer’s Portland Craft Beer Festival.
Pono, which in Hawaiian means “everything in balance” or “to do what’s right,” operates their brewery as a joint-proprietorship at Zoiglhaus Brewing in SE Portland. Over the past 9+ months, they’ve withstood some tricky waters in dealing with the OLCC which has delayed their ability to open a new brewhouse and taproom. With the hope that this red-tape will be cleared in the next few months, it’d be great to finally see Pono in their own dedicated space. They’ve certainly earned it, as what they’re brewing continues to evolve each time I get my hands on one of their newest releases.
Where to Find Their Beer: regularly on draft at Loyal Legion, Bailey’s, Belmont Station, and draft accounts all over Portland.
Favorite Beers: Pineapple Express Kölsch, Brimful of A.S.H.A. NE IPA, Raspberry Stout
2018 Production (OLCC Sales in Oregon): ~500 Barrels
Future Plans: Taproom and Production Brewery in planning. Hoping to open before the end of 2019.
While it may be unremarkable that I first had Royale’s beer (an Inspector Red) at Shandong a few years back, I didn’t visit their space until it became the first brewery I chose to visit for this guide. Sadly, they announced that they were putting the brewery up for sale a week later.
One reason it took me so long to visit the brewery might have something to do with it’s remote, out of the way location – for me at least. It shocks me that this brewery made over a 1,000 barrels last year, yet it was conflict within the ownership that ultimately split apart the future of Royale Brewing.
I was always impressed with their barrel-aged beers and experienced something new and different with each one I tried. If you know anything about what’s happening with Royale, feel free to comment below or send me a message – I’m truly curious. I’ve heard varying rumors I can’t confirm and saw a random tweet just a few weeks back that makes me think they are indeed open on the weekends.
Favorite Beers: Noise Annoys (Wine BA DH Belgian), Willamette Stone Session Wheat, Royale Porter.
2018 Production (OLCC Sales in Oregon): 1,024 Barrels
Status: Uncertain. The brewery was put up for sale in December, yet the taproom is apparently still open Friday-Sunday. Their website is active, social media is almost non-existent, but not listed as closed on Google. The brewhouse is apparently no longer operable.
Second Profession Brewing
Last, but not least, is the brewery closest to my house in NE Portland. I met Owner, Brewer, and Jack-of-all-trades Charlie Goman when a media preview took place prior to Second Profession opening in October of 2017. Maybe it’s because I moved here from Minnesota and Charlie’s from Wisconsin… I don’t know, but I’ve always enjoyed catching up with him, trying the newest beers he’s created, and providing him honest feedback.
And while I know it hasn’t always been easy drawing regular foot traffic for SPB (former occupant, the Chinese Food Brewpub BTU, also struggled), Charlie’s always buoyant optimism and hard working mentality has translated into more success for the brewery over the past 9 months. During that time I’ve seen SPB beer appear around town at new and bigger taprooms, appearing at events and fests, not to mention everything happening at the taproom – BINGO, Trivia, sports events, and an expanding food menu.
I go back from time to time, about once every 4-6 weeks, to see how things are going and try the newest things Charlie’s working on, which continue to impress me more upon each return, as does the food on hand. But it’s instances like when I stopped by for lunch on my birthday in February that I won’t forget. It had snowed maybe an inch the night before and he captured himself shoveling the parking lot in their instagram story (very tongue-in-cheek). So I had to stop by and when I did, he was attending to three or four parties of people on his own – taking orders, cooking the food, serving the beers, taking care of everything.
This is what defines Second Profession and all these smaller breweries in Portland: a sincere passion for what they love and a never ending pursuit to improve.
Food Options: the most extensive food menu on this list: Apps, Salads, Burgers, Sandwiches, Mac n’ Cheese, Sausages.
Favorite Beers: Sundance Kid Saison, Marc’s Morning Elixir Coffee Vanilla Porter, Drama Llama Guava Gose.
2018 Production (OLCC Sales in Oregon): 139 Barrels
Unique Attributes: family friendly brewpub, with easily approachable styles, regularly rotating taps, comfort food, BINGO and trivia nights, projected sporting events, pinball machines, a back patio… a little bit of everything.
Don’t just take my word for it. Be sure to seek out each of these breweries by visiting their taprooms, try their beer at festivals, and/or pick up a few bottles/cans at the store. Follow them on facebook and instagram to learn more about where you can find them, their coming events, expansion plans, and new releases. For there’s more to life than choosing the obvious. Finding diamonds in the rough can be an even greater reward in the end.