I recently made a trip to Portland, Oregon for a wedding. This trip qualified as the annual reunion of a bunch of beer friends from around the country (the Europeans, save the ex-pat groom, couldn’t make it), so what better way to hang out than to visit a bunch of beer places in one of the best beer cities in the entire country?
Hopworks Urban Brewery, known as Hopworks or, more simply, HUB, stands as a rather unusual brewing entity: the organic brewpub. They embrace the environmental responsibility of so much of Portland, from the organic angle to the embracing of bicycles as transportation — those are bicycle racks all the way around the patio.
Why, we don’t mind if we do!
While HUB handles a full slate of good pub food, we’d already enjoyed the delicious sandwiches at Laurelhurst Market (post to come, eventually), so we settled in for a few beers in a half-empty space at 2:30 in the afternoon. Happy Hour didn’t start till 3:00, but we figured we’d be there a while.
We each ordered pints, but then looked a little harder at the big board and realized a sampler would be a smart idea on top of that.
And so the tray of ten (cask beers aren’t on the sampler) was brought over for our enjoyment. Little did I know I should have photographed this early, but it does point out some of the more intriguing beers. All ten house beers are included in four-ounce glasses, making subsequent pints easier to choose.
My very basic notes on the beers, ordered from about 1:00 on the numbered platter and moving clockwise:
1. Lager (5.1%) – a solid basic lager, the standard offering your server would serve if you asked for “something like Budweiser” — or, since this is Portland, Pabst Blue Ribbon. Clean, a faint sweetness, nothing exciting but well-brewed.
2. Crosstown Pale Ale (5.3%) – very pleasant pale ale, clean, appropriately hoppy, on the thin side, but about where I’d want a pale ale to fall on the spectrum.
3. Velvet ESB (5.2%) – beautiful rendition of this English beer style. Lots of malt character, reminiscent of Fuller’s, which isn’t easy to do.
4. IPA (6.6%), a winner all around (see below).
5. Seven Grain Survival Stout (5.3%), an “espresso stout” that I also ordered as a pint (see below).
6. Deluxe Organic Ale (6.9%), an American Strong Ale, a la Stone Arrogant Bastard. Much more focused than the Stone mediocrity, with a big hop charge backed up by a chewy, even a little chocolately maltiness.
7. Ace of Spades (9.7%) – an Imperial IPA, quite dry, quite a good example of how this beer style should be brewed, bright hop flavors, but too strong to really order so early when so much more drinking was to come.
8. Muscles from Brussels (8.1%) – a Belgian Dark Strong Ale (really closer to a Dubbel), sweet candy sugar accompanied by a raisiny malt body. A decent Belgian-style beer, but not to my tastes that day.
9. Galactic Imperial Red (9.5%) – more caramelly than its Imperial IPA cousin, this was also piled high with hops, but it too had to be relegated to a taster only.
10. Rise Up Red (5.8%), a “NW Style Red” ale – not really a smaller version of the Imperial Red, more an Irish Red Ale with a focus on the malt, though this being a hop-happy brewery, the bitterness was still quite evident. Another very good beer.
I’d started with a pint of the IPA, knowing full well that I needed my West Coast IPA needs satisfied to their fullest on this trip. It was lovely enough that a second one was ordered, and the bartender turned out to be quicker than I expected. The IPA was overflowing with citrusy hop aromas, and the taste? Well, if you enjoy your Pacific Northwest hops, this was a citrus bomb worth savoring. The malt crept in a little more than some of the enamel strippers I drank in Portland, but it wasn’t intrusive and just added body, rounding out a very tasty, bitter IPA.
In between sips, I snapped the occasional photo of the interior. Over the entire bar hang bike frames of every color, creating one of the more unusual art-y installations I’ve seen in any brewpub.
After the sampler was thoroughly dissected and evaluated (and my two pints of IPA drained), I decided that the Seven Grain Survival Stout would be a lovely beer on which to finish. Deep coffee aromas and flavors — locally-sourced beans, of course — dominate but don’t overwhelm in this beer; I was pleased to also taste the roasted barley in this stout. Plus, bucking the trend, the American Stout base beer was actually rather low in alcohol instead of being a monster! How novel! Rich and oily, the espresso stout satisfied my need for a quality dark beer to mix it up from days of steering my tastebuds mainly to the IPAs and pilsners dotting many a bar menu.
If you do choose to eat at HUB, you can choose this nice little room: a safe, complete with its original door. It’s quite cozy in there, but I would probably go nuts if someone closed me in. It’s bright and cheerful, however!
Hopworks Urban Brewery is a complete recommend, both for its wide range of well-made beers and for its quick, helpful service. As the pub filled, service didn’t drop at all. Plus, pints are typically $4.25, dropping to $3.50 at happy hour. Unheard-of in New York! I was mocked for giggling when the bill came at a number of bars on the weekend, and HUB was no different: 14 pints among the five of us, plus the sampler ($8.50) came to a whopping $62 before tip (there’s no sales tax in Oregon).
There are many good breweries in Portland, and there are brewpubs pushing the envelope more than Hopworks, but I’d tab this on the must-visit list for any visiting fan of good beer.