The New Wave of Portland Breweries

We know, it’s hard to keep track of the city’s rapidly spawning microbrewery scene. Start with these five standouts.

By Kasey Cordell, John Chandler, Zach Dundas, Aaron Scott, and Marty Patail July 1, 2013 Published in the July 2013 issue of Portland Monthly

Gigantic Brewing

5224 SE 26th Ave

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Image: Dylan Harkavy

If Gigantic’s austere Southeast tasting room were a stage, the IPA would be its lone actor, delivering a silver-tongued soliloquy. “We make IPA. All year. That’s what we do,” says master brewer and Rock Bottom veteran Van Havig. In 2012, Havig teamed up with former Hopworks brewmaster Ben Love to build a brewery around Portland’s favorite hoppy ale. (Havig and Love both wrote down the hops they wanted to use on separate papers. Lo and behold, they matched!) The result is sunshine in a glass: a golden-brown IPA with just the right amount of bite on the tongue and flower in the nose. 

You’re Drinking: IPA. But to keep things interesting, Gigantic has rotating guest taps: hurry in this month for the floral, dry-hopped High Fidelity Beer

Base Camp Brewing Co 

930 SE Oak St

Image: Dylan Harkavy

You can practically smell the testosterone at this brainchild of former Klamath Basin Brewing Co brewer Justin Fay. If the North Face opened a bar, this would be it: exposed timber beams, tables chainsawed out of hunks of fir, chairs woven from climbing ropes, adventure images postcarding the walls, a giant canoe hanging from the ceiling, and 10 brews made on-site. (Be warned: in this super-gnarly atmosphere, men can outnumber women at an astonishing ratio.) Wishing you could toast a marshmallow at the fire pit outside? The bar staff will blowtorch one for you when you order a pint of the S’more Stout. 

You’re Drinking: The balanced and slightly fruity Meridian Hops Magnetic IPA—the second in Base Camp’s “Meridian Series” of brews made with the “bastard hops” that sprouted wild in one Willamette Valley farmer’s field.  

Occidental Brewing Co 

6635 N Baltimore Ave

Image: Dylan Harkavy

Shunning unusual ingredients, exaggerated flavors, and even (gasp!) IPAs, Occidental is the only brewery in town that focuses exclusively on German beer styles. Started in St. Johns in 2011 by uncle-nephew team Dan and Ben Engler, Occidental serves Kölsch, Hefeweizen, Altbier, and Dunkel, with a rotating cast of seasonals. While the flavor profiles tend toward the balanced and subtle, the after-work joviality in the corner taproom of the brewery’s raw warehouse space is anything but.

You’re Drinking: With trademark banana on the nose and clove notes on the tongue, Occidental’s classic Bavarian Hefeweizen is lighter than domestic hefs due to its higher wheat content.  

Breakside Brewery 

820 NE Dekum St & 5821 SE International Way, Milwaukie

Image: Dylan Harkavy

Image: Dylan Harkavy

A delightful lineup of standards (a mighty stout, a woozy IPA) and mad-science oddities (Aztec Ale, with habanero chiles and cacao nibs) made three-year-old Breakside the new social heart of the Woodlawn neighborhood. (Manager Travis Puckett calls the Northeast community “our life force.”) During a sunny recent visit, kids darted around tables and earnest beer geeks talked hops at the bar. Meanwhile, a huge new brewery complete with an adults-only taproom in Milwaukie gives Breakside the capacity both to brew on a near-industrial scale and conduct countless more small-batch experiments. 

You’re Drinking: Sane? Go for the floral Woodlawn Pale or a seasonal wonder like the malt-licious Kellerbier. Feeling ... insane? Try out the 10-percent ABV Aztec—especially the limited-edition version aged in bourbon barrels.  

The Commons Brewery Tasting Room

1810 SE 10th Ave, Unit E

Image: Dylan Harkavy

You can find Michael Wright’s award-winning beers on sale at high-end markets like New Seasons and Zupan’s these days, but nothing beats pulling up a chair at the tasting room, conveniently located smack-dab in the middle of the seven-barrel brewery itself. There’s a bar just big enough for eight taps, a couple of small tables with a few chairs each, and abundant barrels for leaning on. There’s a chalkboard, but no menus and no happy hours, and you may find yourself chatting up a weary brewer, like head man Sean Burke, as he removes gloves and boots after another day on the job. Buy him a beer. Or maybe he’ll buy you one. 

You’re Drinking: The Urban Farmhouse Ale, which took bronze at last year’s World Beer Cup, is a lovely Belgian-style brew that bristles with honey and lemon notes.  

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