Fresh off the U-HAUL in 2005, I thought Rogue Brewery’s pub on NW Flanders Street was the jewel in my adopted home’s crown. Just blocks from the streetcar—to think, I took the streetcar then!—the cozy, cluttered little pub reminded me of a lumberjack cafeteria, pouring pints my youthful palate had never tasted: ambers, reds, porters, stouts, and my soon-to-be favorite, Brutal Bitter. A keg of Brutal would pour at my wedding a couple of years later.
Fast-forward to now: Portland’s microbrewery scene has advanced light-years beyond those simple days, and with it, the tastes and expectations of most beer-drinking Portlanders. Is a comeback nigh for Rogue and its old-school brethren? Here are three retro breweries remaking themselves for the New Portland beer scene.
There’s no better indicator of changing tastes than the fact that this iconic Pearl District brewery—whose flagship IPA defined Portland beer in the mid-’90s—now serves its own East Coast–style hazy IPA. Indeed, the cavernous brick and steel building underwent a full-scale renovation this winter, with a brand-new menu (vegan and gluten-free options abound), fresh branding, and a new “experimental” tap system for head brewer Jeff Edgerton to play with. The best part: the comfy new bar area, where you can order a surprisingly solid old-fashioned.
Widmer Brothers Pub
Thirty-four-year-old Widmer Brothers Brewery made the surprise decision late last year to lay off its kitchen staff at the longtime North Portland restaurant and convert the popular lunch spot into a tasting room for a 10-barrel “innovation” brewery. The final result is a bright, modern place engineered for drinking Widmer’s non-Hefeweizen whimsies, with food taking a backseat: shuffleboard, high tables and stools, and, best of all, a spacious summer patio.
Rogue Pearl Public House
Yes, the clutter is gone, along with the trivia nights. This spring, the Newport-based brewery stripped the 19-year-old Pearl District pub down to the concrete floors and studs, keeping the familiar layout and throwing out everything else. Bright woods, clean lines, and solid colors now dominate the space, along with a giant sculpture of a gear. The menu, simplified and condensed, now features fried cheese curds on a burger. But not everything is different: the same surly bartender is there pouring pints after all these years. Ah ... home.