Journey to the source: Oregon's beer trail

The brewpubs and breweries of Portland provide a dizzying introduction to the city for John Lee

It's easy to believe that Americans drink only Budweiser. Step into almost any bar and the Missouri-based behemoth's neon signs and red taps dominate the scene like noisy drunks at a frat party. But instead of drowning their sorrows, those with more discerning palates should instead head to Portland, Oregon, or "beervana" as some glassy-eyed locals call it.

"This is a top location for beer drinkers – there are more producers here than in any other US city," claims Megan Flynn, editor-in-chief of Portland-based Beer West, a magazine which covers the brewing scene from California to British Columbia. "It's a very eclectic mix: there are bigger brewers as well as nano-breweries producing everything from traditional ales and IPAs [India Pale Ales] to experimental sours and barrel-aged beers."

There are apparently more than 40 breweries and brewpubs in Portland. I began my tour with a liquid lunch at BridgePort Brewing Company. One of Oregon's oldest – dating back to ye olde days of 1984 – it's in the Pearl District, a neighbourhood of gentrified warehouses with several breweries on offer. Its brick-and-beam-lined tasting bar was packed with chatty drinkers tucking into pub-grub meals, including some families; many Portland watering holes welcome children until about 9pm.

But while most of the high tables were topped with pints, I opted for an $8 (£5.30) sampler: eight small glasses placed on a laminated mat that tells you exactly what you're drinking. The mildly fruity Blue Heron Pale Ale and smoothly malty ESB slid down easily – both are top-sellers – but the lip-puckering Hop Czar won me over: a brash, hop-packed IPA. "It's really punchy," said BridgePort brewmaster Jeff Edgerton. "This region specialises in IPAs – hops are grown locally – and it's hard to find a brewer in Oregon who isn't a total hophead. But there's also diversity. If you can't find a beer you like in Portland, you're not really trying."

Determined to try harder than anyone, I wove my way to nearby Rogue Ales Public House for round two. Known for its bold bottle art and brews with knowing names such as Dad's Little Helper and Yellow Snow IPA, Rogue's beers are produced in nearby Eugene. The laid-back bar, in a former brewery building, lures locals with an eye-popping list of more than 30 drafts.

Already slightly merry – BridgePort's tasters were up to 7.5 per cent alcohol – I slid into a corner table and ordered another sampler: this one an $8 (£5.30) four-glass set. The bitter Double Mocha Porter and creamy Santa's Red Ale were a little heavy for 3pm, so Mogul Madness Ale emerged as the winner: a smooth, copper-red citrusy brew. At this point, it was easy to nod sagely over the Benjamin Franklin quote I found on the menu: "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy."

Back outside in the sobering fresh air, I hunted down an early dinner to soak up up an afternoon of overindulgence. Alongside its drinking habit, Portland has a celebrated street food scene with innovative carts colonising empty corners and the edges of car parks. Far from the dodgy kebab vans that lure drinkers in Britain's city centres, there were hundreds of tempting options here, including anything from Thai and Mexican to Italian and Chinese.

I settled on a spicy Japanese curry and was soon back on the beer trail for an evening at downtown's smallest and most charming watering hole. Stepping into Tugboat Brewing is like nosing around someone's front room: its candlelit walls are lined with books, the tables thronged by groups of merry regulars and the barman works the room as if hosting a party.

Trailing him to the bar, I tried a swig of Imperial Stout before settling on a pint of Hop Gold, chased with a sample of Farmers Brown: a strong ale.

Needless to say, the next day I rose late. Breakfast was at one of Portland's other local legends: Voodoo Doughnut is a hole-in-the-wall that attracts long queues for its doughnuts topped with everything from crushed Oreo cookies to Fruit Loops. Then, after a quick visit to the Portland Art Museum (with its impressive Native American art), a little hair of the dog suddenly seemed in order.

Lucky Labrador Beer Hall is a cavernous, canine-friendly tasting room lined with doggy memorabilia – including a "No barking" sign. Locals are encouraged to bring their pets (bowls of water are provided).

After a sampler of fairly mild brews I wound my way back to the Pearl District for an evening finale at Deschutes Brewery. Deschutes takes the beer hall approach even further. The massive room, lined with glossy wooden tables and heavy wood carvings, was so packed that I had to wait for a table. It was worth it, though. I added a $6.50 (£4.30) six-beer sampler to a Brewer's Platter of sausage and cheese; the rich Super Jubel my favourite. A sweet and spicy winter ale partly aged in pinot noir barrels, it's surely the ideal after-dinner drink.

"Most of our beers are traditional English-style ales," said Deschutes' assistant brewmaster Ryan Schmiege. "But the full-flavoured seasonals are getting more and more popular – people wait for them to appear throughout the year." He said he encouraged out-of-towners to be adventurous with their Portland quaffing. "If you want to try something different, the best approach is to know your tastes and then ask people for tips as soon as you arrive."

Or, like me, you could just sample everything in sight.

Travel essentials: Portland

Getting there

* There are no direct flights from the UK to Portland. You can fly from Heathrow with United (0845 8444 777; unitedairlines.co.uk) via a range of North American hubs.

Drinking there

* Use the Beer Places link on Beer West's website (001 253 468 1824; beerwestmag.com) for brewery and brewpub listings.

* BridgePort Brewing Company, 131 NW Marshall Street (001 503 241 3612; bridgeportbrew.com).

* Deschutes Brewery, 210 NW 11th Avenue ( deschutesbrewery.com).

* Rogue Ales Public House, 1339 NW Flanders Street (001 503 222 5910; rogue.com).

* Tugboat Brewing Company, 711 SW Ankeny Street (001 503 226 2508; d2m.com/Tugwebsite).

* Lucky Labrador Beer Hall, 1945 NW Quimby Street (001 503 517 4352; luckylab.com).

More information

* Popular festivals include the Spring Beer & Wine Fest ( springbeerfest.com) from 22 to 23 April and Oregon Brewers Festival ( oregonbrewfest.com) from 28 and 31 July.

* Travel Portland: 001 503 275 9750; travelportland.com

Suggested Topics
News
peoplePaper attempts to defend itself
Voices
voicesWe desperately need men to be feminists too
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
tech
News
Mike Tyson has led an appalling and sad life, but are we not a country that gives second chances?
peopleFormer boxer 'watched over' crash victim until ambulance arrived
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
tv
News
i100
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Sport
John Terry, Frank Lampard
footballChelsea captain sends signed shirt to fan whose mum had died
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Rita Ora will replace Kylie Minogue as a judge on The Voice 2015
tv
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Food and Beverage Cost Controller

    18,000 to 20,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our fantastic leisure client i...

    Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Manager

    £50 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Mana...

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Day In a Page

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits