Everywhere I look nowadays there’s a new pub or beer bar: Breakside, Apex, Migration, Coalition, Plew’s Brews, etc. You’d think Portland would burst at the seams, spilling hoppy run-off into the Willamette. Yet somehow we soak up all this beer and never hit a saturation point. Are we spoiled? Burnside Brewing Co., the latest venture by Jason McAdam (Roots Organic Brewing), wants us to think we are. With a locally based array of artisan cured meats and pickled snacks, we’re talking about a food menu that’s several culinary rungs above beer nuts and rubbery wings. Oh, and the beer’s pretty good too.

Located at Seventh and East Burnside, the first thing I noticed about Burnside Brewing was that I never noticed anything before. What I mean by that is, I’ve been up and down this block a gajillion times, and I’ve never, not ever, glanced at this location. Maybe it’s the giant Timbers billboard on the adjoining building that always caught my eye, but I was surprised to see Burnside Brewing right there, across from Rontoms, Le Pigeon, and Farm. It’s odd that from the street this new brew venue bears a striking resemblance to a Verizon dealership. It’s a tricky juxtapose, because the inside features a high, fir-beamed, Nostrana-esque ceiling paired with clean, new wave industrial design, all of which seems properly trendy for a Portland pub.

Kitschy abstract art hung on the walls, and a giant blackboard surrounded by driftwood from the Willamette proudly announced the specials throughout the week. Other than that the space is pretty bare, and I caught myself thinking more than once that it seemed like an Ikea template: new, but not lived in. But the enormous handmade black walnut bar, combined with the strains of "Ziggy Stardust" bopping over the speakers, quickly won us over.

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Happy Hour at Burnside Brewing occurs during the not-all-that happy hours of 3-6 pm. Even so, the bar was jamming, and when we sat down our server immediately poured four generous samples of Burnside house brews, a welcome orientation to newbie clients and a smart way to sell their drafts. The main draw for Happy Hour is the 20 oz imperial pints, which go for a sweet $3.50 ($3 all day on Wednesday). This is a glass of beer with some serious heft, one that encourages thoughtful consumption. Or you could spice things up with a glass of wine for $5 (a bottle is $18), but if you take a look around, chances are you’ll notice everyone at the bar drinking the same thing: Burnside Brewing’s Sweet Heat. This li’l number is a wheat beer brewed with over 200 pounds of apricots, then dry-hopped with imported Jamaican Scotch Bonnet peppers. At first gulp I was unimpressed; despite everyone at the bar slurping happily, I found it more akin to an apricot soda gone flat. But wait! An alluring aftertaste developed, a soft ping of spice at the back of my throat, and the next thing I knew I was eagerly draining my pint for its refreshing kick. You will want to drink Sweet Heat all summer. And unlike Pyramid’s Apricot Ale (and despite the name) this isn’t an annoyingly cloying quaff—think pale ale with a hint of fruitiness. Since the eight people next to me were all drinking it, I felt somewhat beer-pressured. Now I count myself as an apricot believer.

My friend James stuck with the reliable Burnside IPA, and I had the Stock Ale next, a rather tasty year-round pleaser in the ESB family. Some bars relish having dozens of beers on tap, with menus that require a table of contents, but all I really need are the basics: IPA, ESB, stout, a pilsner or wheat, and I’m good to go. And that’s pretty much what we have here (with more on the way), in addition to some guest taps.

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I wasn’t feeling too hungry, but an open kitchen does wonders for an appetite; we watched with glazed eyes as piles of fresh fries wafted over tender pork sliders and smoky grilled cheddar sandwiches, while two cooks assembled a variety of carnivorous snacks. My first beer came coupled with the Brat Burger ($6), a formidable mound of meat slathered with kraut and Dijon on a pretzel roll. The roll was a nice touch, but the thin slice allowed my burger to fall apart halfway through. James ordered the spicy pickled pork slider ($5), which maintained its structural integrity, but drew mixed reviews from us due to the pool of cold sauce it came soaking in. Was it to counteract the potent burn of the pork? We remained undecided, but the spice lingered in our bellies for some time.

We finished up with the humble pickle platter ($4), a zesty medley of beets, beans, and cucumber slices that really delivered a kick. We actually fought over who got the last green bean (we diplomatically cut it in half, but it was totally mine). Thankfully no one was hurt.

When it comes down to it, the fatty pints give this place an edge. I measured almost no head on both beers, so rest assured you’re getting the most out of that $3.50 (hey, some of us are on a budget—the little things matter). They’ve got some respectable beers here that are well worth checking out. The chow was intriguing, if a bit inconsistent, but since Burnside Brewing has only been open for a few months, these nitpicks can slide. In the meantime, I’ll be back on Wednesday for the $3 imperial pints.

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