Beervana Bests - Best Portland Brewpub Experiences

Let's establish the cred first: Portland is the most breweried city in the world. There are 28 at the moment (not including multiple facilities), and the arrival of Hopworks Urban Brewery and the Green Dragon will bump it to an even thirty by the end of the year. Take that, Munich! And, even though Portland is only the 24th-largest city in America, we consume more craft beer--total, not per capita--than any burg in the land. Take that, San Francisco!

Some visitors to our fair city are aware of this, but confronted with a dilemma: which of these 28 breweries should I visit? It's not actually as easy a question to answer as it sounds. Not all visitors want the same thing. Some want the quintessential Portland experience--the "do in Rome" thing. Others want the best beer. And others, or more likely the in laws of others, want a decent dining experience with a beer so they can say they did a Portland brewpub. The good thing is that, with over two dozen breweries, Portland can meet all needs. So, without further ado, here are my recommendations for best experience. Follow the links for posts on beer and food.

- Best Experience -
There's a reason Portland has so many brewpubs: we like to go out for a pint. And, while the beer is obviously important, the experience is arguably more so. Visit one of these places, and you begin to understand why we do our drinking in public.

Lucky Lab
Almost from the moment it opened, the Lucky Lab has felt like the pubby manifestation of Portland's soul. Portland's urban historian helped discribe this when he characterized Portland a river city instead of a coastal city like many along the West Coast. Coastal cities like Seattle and San Francisco are port towns--they look out toward the world. They are more urbane and sophisticated, more worldly. River cities, by comparison, tend to have a more regional orientation; they're parochial and working-class (think Pittsburgh and Cleveland).

Like other river cities, Portland's roots are sweaty and hardworking, and the Lucky Lab reflects this. Unlike so many restored warehouses in the Pearl, spotless and chic, the Lucky Lab, formerly a roofing and sheet metal warehouse, still feels like a warehouse. The floor is scuffed and there are none of those retro steel beams that add character, if not authenticity. But the Lab is thick with authenticity. It has a worn-in feel that invites drinkers in and keeps them coming back. Out back, on a vast patio, picnic tables are dotted with two- and four-legged patrons (true to its name, dogs are welcome outside).

Brewpubs should feel welcoming, and with its vast bar and friendly publicans, it feels like home. If I can only take people to one pub and they are after the "real Portland experience," there's only one pub to take them to. The menu is very skimpy and the beers can be uneven (ask the publican for advice--the porter and IPA are good bets, though), but that doesn't stop this from being Portland's best brewpub experience.

915 S.E. Hawthorne, Mon 11am - 10pm, Tues-Sat 11am - midnight, Sun noon - 10pm, Kids and dogs okay. No smoking except on the patio. [full Beervana review here.]

One of Portland's newer places, Amnesia is on the corner of Beech and Mississippi, in one of the more interesting resurgent Portland neighborhoods. Ten years ago, there were no businesses in this district, and the buildings were boarded up and derelict. But now it has new life, not so much as a gentrified area (though that is happening) but as a "found" one.

The pub reflects the character of the neighborhood in its unpretention. The building is made of corrugated metal, and except that the parking lot in front has been converted to outdoor seating--picnic tables under white tents--you might mistake it for a metal shop. In fact, once you're inside, you see an old sign on its side up near the rafters that reads "Ornamental Iron" and you might still think it's a metal shop.

More than most brewpubs, though, it has a distinctly neighborhood feel. It doesn't seem like a tourist destination, but rather a beloved local fixture. The kitchen consists mainly of an outdoor grill, but the pub gets a lot of mileage out of it. Particularly nice are the sausages. The beer is above average, and the regular ESB is a sure bet. It's a nice place to visit in the summer; you have a first row view of the neighborhood as it passes by just outside the beer garden.

832 N. Beech, Mon 4 - 11pm, Tues - Sat noon - midnight, Sun noon - 10pm; Dogs okay outside. [full Beervana review here.]

Mash Tun
You would not know it by walking in, but the Mash Tun is only a couple years old. It has been so organically incorporated into the old building it inhabits that it feels like it must have been there for decades. Much like Amnesia, it is very much a neighborhood pub, and the vibe is friendly and familiar. (Incidentally, the name comes from a piece of brewing equipment--the large vessel in which the malt steeps in hot water and begins the brewing process.)

The drinking/dining space wraps around a tiny brewery that's visible beyond the attractive bar. There's a patio out back (covered with a sheet of translucent corrugated plastic), with a big beer mural; the walls inside have local art dotting them. And, as if to highlight the ethos of the place, directly in front of the bar is a pool table.

The menu is larger than at many pubs and includes veggie and organic options. It is on the heavy side, and there's not so many fresh, raw vegetables. The beer comes in a standard slate of adequate if not exceptional Northwest ales; start with the Portside IPA and sample the specials. For such a young brewery, they've managed to get a lot right; the Mash Tun is on its way to being one of the best hang-out brewpubs in town.

2204 NE. Alberta, Mon - Fri 4pm - 11pm, Sat - Sun noon - midnight; Seasonal outdoor seating available (with awning); kids and smoking okay. [full Beervana review here.]

Also Worth Visiting
A McMenamins' joint [recommendations here], New Old Lompoc (1612 NW 23rd Portland), Rogue Portland (1339 NW Flanders Portland), Roots (1520 S.E. 7th).

PHOTOS: Kyle G. Grieser, VJ_Pdx