Portland Beervana? Deschutes Brewery & Pub

Our first brewpub visit in Portland was more by accident than design. Late afternoon on our arrival day we were walking around exploring the Pearl District: it was dinner time; we were hungry; we turned a corner and there was the Deschutes Brewery & Pub.

With the benefit of hindsight Deschutes sets the bar for Oregon breweries, and Portland brewpubs in particular, really high.

I recall buying a 6-pack of their Inversion IPA at our local grocery store some while ago – beyond that all I knew about Deschutes was that they are from Oregon: a place called Bend, not Portland. The 6-pack did not leave a lasting impression.

However, the 18 taps in Portland most certainly did. The Portland pub is Deschutes’ first location outside their home turf and what a wonderful brewpub it is.

First off, the pub is a drop-dead beautiful building – an old brick conversion in the trendy Pearl District. They must have completely renovated the inside – must have spent a small fortune.

Original structural timbers  appear to have been retained, augmented with new. The use of so much wood inside really helps to reduce the reverb that plagues so many modern steel structures when they’re full of loud people.

The brew house is visible from within the pub whose 18 taps feature all of the Deschutes year-round brews as well as seasonals and pub exclusives.

The spouse and I shared two sample trays. Out of the 18 taps we selected 12: these included 6 year-round brews, 4 seasonals/specials, and 2 pub exclusives, one of which was a Gruten-free ESB made from brown rice, sorghum, and caramelized sugar – quite unique.

Across the board the Deschutes brews rivaled anything we’ve had elsewhere. It’s very hard to describe something as subjective as beer – all I can say is I can only name perhaps four Seattle-area brewers who achieve excellence on this scale with such a broad range of ale styles.

The thing that struck us most is that whereas most Seattle-area brews tend to stick closely to ‘type’ in a way that I call ‘in your face’ – i.e. IPAs are very hoppy, Porters very caramelly, Deschutes’ brews are much more subtle.

The spouse captures it best I think when she talks of these beers having a delicacy of flavor, aroma, and mouth-feel and a kind of subtlety you normally associate with wines – you know – how 10 Merlots from the same place, year and grape can all have different characteristics.

The best example of this we know in Seattle-area beers is at Rogue Ales – another Oregon brewer – is this perhaps the trait of the State? The thing that ultimately wins Oregon brewers so many accolades.

Bottom line – if Deschutes Brewery & Pub were in Puget Sound they would definately make the top 5 candidates for Puget’s Perfect Pint. They might even displace one or two of my previous leading contenders.

The dinner menu is upscale typical pub fare, a little pricey – perhaps a dollar or so high for most items but quality is good. Everything we had was well prepared and served. Service was prompt. We arrived when the restaurant was half empty. By the time we left it was completely full with people waiting for tables – on a Wednesday evening before Christmas.

The Deschutes Brewery & Pub is located on NW 11th Ave at NW Davis St. The southbound streetcar passes right outside on 11th; northbound the streetcar runs one block to the east along NW 10th Ave. Get off at the Couch Street stop if coming from the south; Everett Street stop if coming from the north. Pretty much any place in the central downtown area is less than a one mile walk away.

Message to Seattle-area brewpub operators: you better hope Deschutes doesn’t join Rogue to become the second Oregon brewer on your turf. If they do they’ll give you some serious competition.

So, does Portland deserve the Beervana moniker? Well, based on Deschutes’ contribution Portland most certainly does!

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