Review: Hopworks Urban Brewery
2944 SE Powell BlvdHopworks has been one of the most anticipated brewery opening in recent years, due perhaps to the very long renovation period. That brewer Christian Ettinger started releasing beers almost a year before the pub opened only heightened interest. It's been open a month now, and the interest has not waned--on weekdays, lines still start forming just after five. Sally and I snuck in last Thursday just before five and there was already a waiting list for the restaurant; we found the last free table in the bar.
Portland, OR 97202
503 / 232-HOPS
Hours: Sun - Thu: 11a - 11p, Fri - Sat: 11a - midnight.
Happy hour: M-T, Sun: 3-6pm; 10-close Fri, Sat.
Prices: 16-ounce pints: $425, pitchers $12, sampler tray (8): $6.50
Food: Sandwiches, burgers and pizza. [menu]
Other info: Seasonal outdoor seating; kids allowed until 9; no smoking.
Beers: A range of NW-style ales with an emphasis on hops, seasonal lagers and Belgians.
Brewers: Christian Ettinger and Ben Love [Bios].
Christian Ettinger had two assets most first-time brewpub owners lack: $2 million and an architect father. The result is a striking and intentional space that will thrill most webfeet, but probably alienate a minority. The building is the old Sunset Fuel building some will recall seeing on Powell Blvd; it's set into an industrial space that's still surrounded by light industry (to get to the parking lot in the back, you have to dodge workers and trucks). Inside, the space is a mixture of motifs. The rafters supporting a curved roof have been exposed, giving the space a grandeur and height, but the space still feels industrial. Powell, with four lanes of roaring traffic visible through large front windows, does not allay the effect.
More interesting are the architectural features, like a curved bar surmounted by a scultpture of 42 bike frames, looking something like the skeleton of a giant snake. In the bathroom, two banana seats from 70s bikes have been mounted above the urinals. Not all the elements work. The northwest corner features a huge, round window--the first thing you see, actually, when you're heading east on Powell--that also harkens back to the 70s, and not in a good way.
But perhaps the best metaphor for the way Ettinger designed the buildings is outside: pony kegs have been cut in half lengthways to create planters. Kegs are objects of modernity, of industry--steel and sleek and wholly non-natural. The space outside the pub is similarly gritty, so the appearance of fragile blooms in this context is slightly disorienting. Ettinger's brewery, which is a recycled, eco-wonder in a super-urban setting, is much the same. It's pure Portland, and that's probably why it's so popular.
After stints at three breweries and brewing school, Ettinger honed his style at Laurelwood. Much like his pub, the beer appeals to most and alienates a few. Hops come first, and not delicately--though he does seem to favor porters and stouts as well. But what characterizes his style most is a very dry palate. This accentuates a husk quality of the malt and draws out the long hoppy finishes. I'll confess to finding it prickly. At Laurelwood, there were only a couple of beers to which I really gravitated. I wasn't surprised to find that was the case at Hopworks. Of course, its this very quality that has earned Ettinger such a loyal following, so adjust for your tastes accordingly. Here are capsule reviews of the beer currently on tap (April 2008):
Doppelbock (seasonal) - Fruity-nutty aroma. Looks like dark maple syrup. Thick and chewy body. Surprising fruitiness, as of an ale and also some bubblegum-and-spice phenolics. Although it's thick, I found it not particularly complex of malt. (Rating: C+)Food
Organic Lager [5.1%/11.5° Plato/32 IBU] - Brewed with Saaz and pilsner malt, it is a lovely golden color. A bit slight on the tongue, and bearing an unmistakeable honey note, it deviates from the pilsner style. Hops do add crispness and it refreshes. The finish is astringent. (Rating: B)
Velvet ESB [5.2%/13.5° P/30 IBU] - Deep amber, wonderful head. Toasty sweet first note gives way to the house astringency and an extremely dry finish. I'd like a bit more body and a sweeter terminal note. (Rating: B-)
Porter (Seasonal) - Wonderful smoky, roasted-coffee aroma. Smoky palate; smooth and creamy. Middle supported by a dark-fruit malting. Flavor lingers after a swallow. Very nice beer. (Rating: B+)
El Diablo (seasonal, brewed with Ardenne yeast) - Gorgeous beer, with an aroma of singed rubber. Sweet palate with notes of licorice, banana, and lemon candy. Funky and Belgian.
Crosstown Pale [5.3%/12.5° P/45 IBU] - An intense, slightly catty hop aroma. In the mouth, not quite as intense as you anticipate. Floral and volatile hopping. Malt sweetness balances the beer and offsets the house astringency. Delicate and refined beer. (Rating: B+)
Deluxe Organic aka "DOA" [1.9%/16.8° P/ 55 IBU] - I wonder if this beer was an answer to Rogue Dead Guy--it is similar, but an improvement. Call it comfort beer for the mouth. It is thick and hearty, slightly sweet, but with enough hopping to add interest. The malt is meaty, like a meal, even slightly savory and carmelized. It's a mouth-pleaser, and my favorite. (Rating: A-)
Survival Stout [5.3%/15° P/35 IBU] - Includes seven malts (and nicknamed "7-Grain Stout")--barley, wheat, oats, amaranth, quinoa, spelt, and kamut, and Egyptian grain. Unfortunately, it also includes a healthy dose of Stumptown coffee, which overwhelms the subtlety you might find in the quinoa, say. It's a bit sour, dark and roasty, and includes that astringent finish. I would love to try a decaf version of the beer. (Rating: C+)
IPA [6.6%/15° P/ 75 IBU] - The beer that most exemplifies the hops and astringency of the brewery, and I think the most popular. I have reviewed it in the past: "Ettinger made a minor specialty of beers with Amarillo and/or Ahtanum hops--both of which appear in this IPA. Hops react differently on the tongues of different tasters, and on mine, these have a slightly harsh, chemical signature." Still my view, but yours may well differ.
I will update this post when I have tried the food. As it was, we had a happy hour salad and thick-cut steak fries, both of which were tasty, but don't provide any real insight into the kitchen. A pdf of the regular menu is here, the happy hour menu is here, and the kids menu is here. (It's probably good I didn't try the food--early reviews are not positive. I'll give them some time to get their mojo working. Sometimes it takes pubs a little longer with food, their attention being so firmly on beer.)
[Note: post updated 4/29]