New Places: Hawthorne Hophouse, Columbia River Brewing, and the Guild

The Oregonian recently published a fascinating chart. It showed the vacancies of commercial spaces throughout the city over three time periods. I can't find it for you and I don't recall the details. The upshot, though, was that within East Portland, vacancies have fallen during the recent economic catastrophe. I suspect all those new businesses are involved in brewing or selling beer--anyway, based on all the new places opening lately, it sure seems like it. Below are a few quickie reviews are a few of the new places I've visited recently.

Hawthorne Hophouse (4111 SE Hawthorne)
I'm not sure what the Beeronomist would say about this, but I've observed a trend I suspect reflects market impulses. Portland is already the most-breweried city in the world. If you're a beer lover who wants to open you own place, it makes far more sense to forgo the brewery and just serve surfeit of great beer brewed locally. And so many people have concluded: alehouses are the new brewpub.

Into this crowded field comes the Hawthorne Hophouse, and it makes quite a debut. I visited when Widmer and the Brew Crew released their latest Collaborator. (Actually a throwback to the first-ever Collaborator, a sweet, spiced Dubbel. I found it a bit cloying and one-dimensional; a useful exercise in showing how far Belgian ales have come in 12 years, but not my first choice for a winter pour.) The space is located in a little strip mall that was mostly derelict until recently, and from the outside it doesn't seem especially promising. Walk through the doors, though, and you're greeted by a wonderfully inviting space. On the winter night I visited, it was cozy and warming. With lots of windows, I suspect it will feel light and airy in the summer. Another huge bonus is the tap list--24 handles devoted almost exclusively to Northwest beers. Lots of nanos, some rare beers, and a few classics. I didn't have food, but it gets generally positive appraisals from the Yelpsters. Definitely a welcome addition to Portland's beer scene, and a place I'll visit regularly.

Guild Public House (1101 East Burnside)
There are a lot of pubs in Portland, and most of them serve good beer. They don't get a mention on my blog because, honestly, there are just too damn many of them. But the Guild does! In rank partisanship, I want to review it because my friend Jesse Cornett is one of the owners. (I have no financial stake in it, though, full disclosure.) It's located on the ground floor of the Burnside Rocket building--the one which is crowned by the Noble Rot. The environment is very urban; black and sleek inside, huge picture windows looking out onto a concrete and automotive tableau. One can retire to the loft upstairs, where there is a comfy sectional couch and a nice flat screen. (Ideal, I discovered, for watching the Packers in a living-room like environment.) The menu features great pulled pork and Gorgonzola sandwiches and a well-selected taplist of eight or so beers. I want to give a special shout-out to the wait staff, who have been absolutely stellar. I watched the Ducks game and the State of the Union speech (owing to Jesse's political roots, it may well become a pol-watching hangout) there and the waiters handled crowds with grace and good humor.

Columbia River Brewing (1728 NE 40th Ave)
The final stop on our mini-tour is a baffling one. Columbia River Brewing has taken over the former Laurelwood Pizza spot--the original Laurelwood location. As such, it is a familiar experience to walk in. Everything looks the same: tables and bar in the same place, brewery in the back. The menu is different, of course, and so are the beers. Still, I felt instantly at home. Check and check.

Before I get to the troublesome aspect, let me praise the food. Sally had a sandwich and salad which she praised in high terms (and she's tough). I had the halibut fish and chips, and they were excellent--the fish was fresh and the chips weren't greasy. It's traditional pub grub, but done better than most.

Ah, but the beer. I am not sure what to make of it. Recall that CRB sent a very tasty porter to the Holiday Ale Fest--I did as I sat down to a taster tray of the ten (!) beers currently pouring (a bock, Vienna lager, Irish red, golden, ESB, pale ale, stout, IPA, DIPA, and dubbel). As far as I could tell, the recipes were well-designed. The double IPA used five hop infusions, for example (the waiter happened to tell us about it). The Vienna was a beautiful burnished red. The stout, rich and chocolately. The problems were two. First, all the beers seemed to have a harsh, chemical note. I'm still not sure how to describe it--something like grain huskiness gone mad. Each beer seemed to have it in roughly the same proportion (which meant the bigger, hoppier ones were less affected.) The second problem was--I think!--DMS. My palate is almost wholly insensitive to DMS (diacetyl I can spot at ten feet), but Sally was getting a very strong flavor in all the beers. We talked it through, and it seemed to match DMS.

I've trawled the internets and seen no criticism. Angelo, in fact, has a huge rave following a visit a couple months ago. (Pointedly: "Each beer tested was, across the board, clean, crisp and full-flavored.") I am left wondering if I'm insane or there was something momentarily off in the system. Both seem equally plausible.

I'd love to hear your impressions if you've stopped in. A most curious riddle.