Portland Beervana? BridgePort BrewPub

BridgePort Brewing is one of Oregon’s oldest microbreweries. Together with the brothers Widmer and McMenamin, BridgePort is regarded with almost mythical reverence as still leading the craft brewing charge that earned Portland its “Beervana” moniker. So how can I put this kindly? Simply put, I can’t: our visit to BridgePort BrewPub, like our Seattle-area McMenamins visits, was a huge disappointment.

From the start of our limited Portland stay we knew we must forego some downtown brewpub opportunities. Having previously been underwhelmed by McMenemin’s three Seattle-area pubs, we saw no reason to visit one in Portland. But BridgePort, with their reputation; surely we had to include them, right? So we passed on visiting Widmer Brothers, for example, in favor of BridgePort. Sad to say, big mistake. Here’s why…

The BridgePort BrewPub, as a restaurant (i.e. judged only by its food), isn’t all that bad. Great location in the Pearl District. Neat red brick building (National Historic Register): warm and inviting from the outside. Yet once inside the decor is cold, sterile and soulless, what some urban hipsters might call industrial chic.

Bridgeport’s renovation is 180 degreees from what Deschutes did with their building: BridgePort chose to rip out most of their original structural wooden beams, replacing them with black steel girders. The dining room and bar areas follow suit: sparsely furnished in faux onyx and steel using tables and chairs that wouldn’t look out of place in the food court at our local shopping mall. Such a shame.

But the beer – it was inexcusably weak and  watery. The spouse and I shared the sample tray – seven year-round brews plus the winter seasonal. It was like the beer at Pyramid – only much, much weaker, and with no distinguishing flavor whatsoever. Out of all the beers only the Hop Czar even approached being halfway decent – we were pretty desperate to find at least one we could like.

So, is there any reason to visit BridgePort BrewPub?

Well, yes: if you’ve eaten everywhere else in Pearl District; want to go somewhere new; and want to drink wine, hard liquor, or soda (the house root beer is probably more potent than the Haymaker Ale). I gotta say, when I tasted Haymaker, I couldn’t believe it – MGD out of a can would be better. BridgePort Brewing has all the hallmarks of a corporate hand pulling the strings – where the local brewer has lost control to the suits and the bean-counters who don’t know their mash from a hole in the ground.

Indeed this appears to be the case since BridgePort hasn’t been a Portland company for quite some time; apparently since 1995 it has been owned by a certain Gambrinus Company, located in the beer mecca of San Antonio, Texas. With a background not in brewing beer but importing – most notably the Grupo Modelo brand portfolio – Corona Extra, Corona Light, Modelo Especial, Negra Modelo and Pacifico. OK, so I’m a beer snob – need I say more?

Now I’ll say this: in my book there are corporate brewpubs,  and there are corporate brewpubs. In one category I place McMenamins, Pyramid, and now BridgePort. In the other category I place our old standby – always reliable Rock Bottom. So, how did we leave BridgePort? We passed on dessert, settled the bill, and skedaddled out of there as fast as we could, to seek out Portland’s Rock Bottom brewery for dessert and some real ale.

So, does Portland still deserve the Beervana moniker? Well, based on BridgePort’s contribution, which is about as far from Beervana as you can get, I’m no longer quite so sure as I was when we left Deschutes.

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