It is a perfect, blue-skied day in Portland, Oregon, and Angelo De Ieso II is going to spend it drinking beer. So are about 100 other Portlanders who have joined De Ieso at the Victory Bar on Southeast Division Street. The corner bar, which has punched-tin ceilings and a George-Orwell-in-Spain ambiance, has opened at noon to accommodate what is being billed as the city’s first meet-the-brewer pub crawl. “It’s an art walk, in a sense,” De Ieso says. “The art being the beer, the artist being the brewer.”
The beer walk is the brainchild of Brewpublic, one of the most popular beer blogs in a city crazy for craft beers. De Ieso is its head blogger. Today, he is the pied piper of pub-crawlers.
Portland is famous for having the most craft breweries — small, independent beer producers — of any city in the world. At last count, 39 of them operated within the metro area. The explanation can partly be found in Brewpublic’s motto, displayed on T-shirts, bumper stickers and coasters: “Yeast, malt and the pursuit of hoppiness.” In an era where local is everything, beer’s main ingredients are close at hand for Portland brewers.
The recipe for beer sounds deceptively simple. Malted barley is crushed and soaked in hot water to release the malt sugars. The solution is boiled with hops to add bitterness and seasoning. Then it’s cooled, and yeast is added to ferment the sugars and produce alcohol.
Barley is grown east of the nearby Cascade Mountains. Pure, fresh water comes from Mount Hood, the snow-cone peak rising east of town. The Willamette Valley, with Portland at its base, specializes in unusual hops, including heirloom and fragrant varieties. (Oregon is second only to Washington as the nation’s top hops producers.) One of the nation’s two main laboratories for making brewers yeast is just up the Columbia River Gorge in the town of Hood River, Oregon.
But local ingredients are just part of the magic. Where the art comes in is making choices: about varieties and quantities, about mixing and balancing.
Art of the brew
Ben Love, assistant brewmaster for Hopworks Urban Brewery, explains beer making this way: “It’s got art, science, heavy lifting,” he says. “It’s a job where you get to do everything.”
Love is at the Victory to showcase Hopworks’ “For Those About To Bock” lager. Six of the brewery’s beers are available year-round. Additional one-time offerings depend on the season and the brewmasters’ whims.
“For Those About To Bock” is a one-off. Traditionally, bocks were brewed in the fall for drinking at the end of winter, so it’s fitting that today is the first day of spring. “Bock beer’s all about the malt,” Love says. That’s about all he’ll say about his recipe, although he does reveal another secret ingredient of Portland beer: Portlanders. “People here have always supported better beverages, whether coffee, wine or tea,” he says. “The business couldn’t have survived if the general public didn’t support it.”
Portlanders do love their beer, De Ieso agrees. They also love to talk and — increasingly — blog about it. “If you throw a rock into a tree, six beer bloggers will fall out,” he says. “Everybody here’s at least a part-time beer blogger.”
The next stop on the tour is Hedge House, a Lompoc Brewery restaurant in a lovely yellow house, an easy walk west on Division Street. Pub-crawlers spill across its big lawn and fill its dog-friendly patio. I nurse a pint of lemony Simcoe Survivor Belgium IPA and strike up a conversation with a fellow who seems to know everyone milling about the restaurant’s homey front porch. Sure enough, it’s another beer blogger/writer. Marc Martin is a correspondent for Brew Your Own magazine. He and his buddy Larry Walters fill me in on some of the best beers in town.
Craft beers have a past
Oregon’s beer history dates to the 1850s and the arrival of German immigrants Henry Saxer and Henry Weinhard. (Weinhard once suggested using fire hoses to fill a city fountain with beer.) Today’s craft beer renaissance started in the early 1980s and was led by such brewers as Bridgeport, Widmer and the McMenamin Brothers. Their beers and those of brewers Full Sail, based in Hood River, and Deschutes, in Bend, can now be found nationwide, or at least where discriminating beer drinkers gather.
But ask pub-crawlers which beers they fancy, and the names will probably be unfamiliar to those outside of Beervana, as Portland is known. Martin and Walters ticked off some of the must-tastes: Laurelwood. Upright. Alameda. Hair of the Dog. “Per capita,” says Walters, working himself up to a boast, “Portland has more golf courses, strip clubs, coffee shops and brew pubs than anywhere in the nation.”
Heading west again on Division Street — pub-crawl organizers wisely plotted a walkable route and encouraged public transportation — we come to the sleek Bar Avignon. By now it is midafternoon and an unseasonable 70 degrees. A furry puppy tethered outside the door is attracting lots of scritches. (Portland just may have the highest number of dogs per capita too.)
The first person I chat up is — you guessed it — a beer blogger. Kerry Finsand is the CBO — chief beer officer — of Taplister, an ingenious website that collects and broadcasts information about the ever-changing selection of beers on tap at local watering holes. The information is filed by bar owners and fellow craft beer aficionados, who can email or “tweet” in a listing. (Two bars have installed webcams displaying the beer black board.) Beer lovers can learn what’s on tap by logging onto the website, following the Twitter stream, or installing an iPhone application.
“It rains a lot here — we have nothing else to do but drink beer,” says Finsand, ignoring the teeny fact that he and dozens of other pub-crawlers are nursing Full Sail Hop Pursuit and Fort George’s Vortex IPA on a gorgeously sunny afternoon.
There’s one more stop on the tour, but I’m going to catch it on the webcam. After all, I’m a newbie Portlander, and a nap in a backyard lawn chair beckons.
Mary Engel is a former editorial writer and health and medical reporter for the Los Angeles Times.
Photos, from top:
The pied piper of pub crawlers, Angelo De Ieso II, is the head blogger for Brewpublic, one of the most popular beer blogs in a city crazy for craft beers. Credit: Nolan Hester.
Hopworks’ “For Those About To Bock” lager was one of crawl’s highlighted beers. Credit: Nolan Hester.
Describing brewing, Ben Love, assistant brewmaster for Hopworks Urban Brewery, says, “It’s got art, science, heavy lifting.” Credit: Nolan Hester.
Rick Logan of Lompoc Brewery’s Hedge House tries to keep pace with walkers’ thirst. Credit: Nolan Hester.