Portland's Best Breweries 2019
I get emails, dozens of them every year, from people coming to Portland. They want to know one thing: which breweries should I go to? Here's your answer, updated for 2019.
This list is not static. New breweries come on the list, others fall off, and still others quit the scene altogether. Each year, I make my recommendations based on the breweries doing the best work at that moment. Though ambiance and food are important. I make recommendations solely based on the beer. To evaluate that, I look at things like overall quality of the core lineup, number of exceptional beers, creativity and new products, and how often I encounter a misfire. I also like to expose people to the range of different kinds of breweries Portland has--this is not just an IPA town people imagine.
In terms of qualifications for this list, I don’t include contract/nomadic brewers—each brewery must have a physical brewery and there also has to be a physical pub to visit. Outposts of breweries whose main locations are elsewhere (Double Mountain, Deschutes, 10 Barrel) are considered for the Best Oregon Breweries list; on the other hand if the only place to drink the beer is in the city of Portland, even if the brewery is outside the city limits (Little Beast), it’s included here.
My goal with the list is to provide visitors with a selection of breweries so that at least a few are smack-dab in their wheelhouse. Everyone should go home feeling like they’ve tasted Beervana’s best beer.
Openings and Closings
In 2018, we lost two fairly high-profile breweries and a legend: 22-year-old Alameda Brewhouse and nine-year-old Burnside Brewing led the bad news, and then just days ago BridgePort, Oregon’s oldest brewery, announced it was kaput. In addition, several pubs closed, including the surprising and immediate shuttering of the Widmer pub. It’s a level of churn we haven’t seen in well over a decade, and while each case seems to have certain particularities unique to its situation, the overall trend speaks to the larger truth: the market is getting crowded, and not every brewery will survive.
But for every departure, there seemed to be a new arrival, and this year we had some impressive ones:
Modern Times, the lauded San Diego brewery, set up shop in the space vacated by The Commons.
Although Ruse Brewing had a spectral existence within the walls of Culmination Brewing, it got its own place in 2018. (See more below.)
Threshold Brewing recently opened to much fanfare but is so recent I haven’t even visited yet.
West Coast Grocery Company opened to strong notices but a sexual harassment incident in January darkened its bright debut.
Finally, Von Ebert opened not one but two locations, with an incredibly ambitious project to make wild and lambic-style ales in addition to a core lineup of standard lagers and ales. It didn’t make this year’s list in part because it is still in the process of unfolding—but there’s a bookmark waiting for it in 2020 if things continue like this.
One final note before we turn to the list. I consulted with a group of Portland-area beer folks I trust about their favorite breweries—the method I use to make sure I haven’t overlooked anything. This year, every one listed Upright, Breakside, and Wayfinder (and maybe Little Beast). Then there was a group of no more than 15 other breweries cited. In a city with dozens of breweries, that kind of consistent opinion is rare and illustrates how solid that top-15 or top-20 are in town. Finally, this list can help you form a great itinerary for your visit, but there’s more to know about the drinking culture of Portland, Oregon. Click through so you’re fully up to speed.
All right, into the breweries, listed in alpha order.
When Breakside debuted in 2010 in the distant Northeast neighborhood of Woodlawn, it was known for its eclecticism, including many “gastronomic” beers with fruits, vegetables, and spices. Within a few years, the reformulated flagship IPA won gold at the GABF, and its new reputation was solidified as Portland's IPA king. Breakside has devoted its new Slabtown location to showcase hoppy ales almost exclusively. Breakside's greatest asset may be its consistent excellence, whether making a Salted Caramel Stout, Passionfruit Sour, Pilsner, or one of its many IPAs. The original Dekum location is one of the city’s great pubs, especially in the summer.
SLABTOWN. 1570 NW 22nd. Location: Sun-Thu 11am-10pm, Fri-Sat, 11am-11pm.
DEKUM 820 NE Dekum, Hours: Sun-Thu 11:30am-10pm, Fri-Sat, 11:30am-11pm. Food: full menu both locations.
If there is a godfather of Oregon brewing, his name is John Harris. John got started in the 1980s with the McMenamins before becoming the founding brewer at Deschutes. From there he spent 20 years at Full Sail before opening Ecliptic in 2013. From his body of work, everyone knew John would offer a lot of IPAs, and they were right. What was unexpected was his devotion to light sour ales, typically made with fruit. At first, John’s beers had a traditionalist bent, but now they’re among the city’s cutting edge. As an example, Ecliptic’s brut IPA was the best version I tried last year. John loves astronomy, which accounts for the name and design accents in the pub.
Brewpub: 825 N. Cook. Hours: Mon-Thu 11am-10pm, Fri-Sat 11am-11pm, Sun 11am-9pm. Food: a full, seasonal menu.
Van Havig and Ben Love had nearly thirty years of combined experience as brewers when they founded Gigantic in 2012. The original notion was to have only one regular beer--an IPA--and brew everything else one-time only. Their commitment to rotation has weakened as complaining fans saw their favorite beers vanish forever. Gigantic now does a few regular beers, but variety and experimentation remain the brewery’s DNA. Their beers feature original artwork that suggest the eclecticism you’ll find. If you visit the taproom (known charmingly as the "Champagne Lounge") you'll also find beers that never make it into bottle—plus an unlikely community who gather for beers in this industrial pocket of the city.
Taproom: 5224 SE 26th. Hours: Mon-Weds 3-9pm, Th-Fri 2-10pm, Sat Noon-10pm, Sun Noon-9pm. Food: Hawaiian food truck (closed Sunday).
Founded by three beer industry veterans in 2016, including two brewers and a pub-owner, Level debuted to high expectations but sometimes inconsistent execution. In 2018, everything came together, with a sortie of wonderful beers, including my favorite of the year, Cool Kids Drink Pale Ale. It is illustrative of what they do well—wonderfully crafted beers that find expression in execution and balance, not bombast and intensity. You’ll always find a few lagers along with session ales and solid IPAs. The taproom is located near the airport, which makes them a great first or final stop for travelers.
Taproom: 5211 NE 148th Ave. Hours: Sun-Thurs 11a-9pm, Fri-Sat 11am-11pm Food: Three food trucks serving Latin American, gyros, and burgers.
Charles Porter and Brenda Crow founded Little Beast in 2017 in Beaverton, in a location few people visited. Little Beast filtered into the marketplace, but it wasn’t until Crow and Porter repurposed the former Lompoc Hedge House that the beers got a proper showcase—and they have left people impressed. Porter has brewed for decades at great breweries, most recently Logsdon Farmhouse Ales, but with Little Beast he’s able to execute his vision. The emphasis is decidedly on saisons and mixed fermentation wild ales, usually with fruit, but this fall one of the Czechiest Czech pilsners outside of Prague appeared on tap. The space is fantastic, especially in the warm weather.
Brewpub/Beer Garden: 3412 SE Division Hours: Weds-Thu Noon-10pm, Fri-Sat Noon-11pm, Sun-Mon Noon-10pm. Food: Snacks, small plates, and sandwiches.
As I mentioned at the top, there is an upper-tier of Portland breweries aficionados routinely identify. Beneath that is a tier of maybe two dozen breweries doing fine but not quite exceptional work. This past year, Old Town Brewing moved up to the premier league. Brewer Andrew Lamont is a formalist with scientific degrees and experience at Sam Adams who loves delicate ales and lagers, and Kevin Burgess is an avid young apprentice with an affinity for juicy, milkshakey beers. Together they ensure two complimentary lineages of beer flow from the tanks. Old Town has quietly been making some of the most interesting and diverse beer in Portland, and thanks to their viral videos, people have finally started to notice.
Brewpub: 5201 NE MLK Jr Blvd. Hours: Sun-Thu 11:30am-10pm, Sat-Sun 11:30-11pm. Food: Pizza is the house specialty, including gluten-free options.
Ruse Brewing, which opened in a remote industrial tract of Southeast Portland in 2018, has perhaps the most buzz of any current Portland brewery. It hasn’t filtered out into the public consciousness yet, but serious fans have found the place and kept it hopping even through the dark winter months. It’s a curious brewery; it seems to be stealing some of the hazy-and-pastry thunder away from Great Notion, and yet when I was there last Sunday, more lagers were pouring than hazies. And the flagship is a classic West Coast IPA (and a very good one). My favorites are the saison (barrel-aged and otherwise) that stud the taplist, but there’s something for everyone. It may be capturing the zeitgeist, but there’s a lot going on at Ruse.
Taproom: 4784 SE 17th Ave. Hours: Tues-Thu 3-9pm, Friday 3-11pm, Sat Noon-11pm, Sunday Noon-9pm. Food: No food.
This is the brewery, because of its limited taproom hours, most likely to be missed by visitors--but one many Portlanders consider our best. Founder Alex Ganum was heavily inspired by the beers of Belgium when he opened Upright in 2009, but over time he has extended his approach so that it has become entirely original. The show-stoppers are barrel-aged wild ales like Fantasia, Hearts' Beat, and Pathways saison. Because of their restrained acidity and supreme balance, Upright makes the kind of wild ales that nearly everyone enjoys. You'll also find a pilsner, IPA, and other more simple fare--but none of it standard. Even if you don’t like IPAs, try Upright’s—it tells you as much as anything how the brewery dances to it’s own tune. This is truly one of America's standout breweries.
Tasting Room: 240 N. Broadway, in the basement. Hours: Thu-Fri 4:30-9pm, Sat-Sun 1-8pm. Food: none.
Wayfinder has been brewing beer for about 18 months, and in that time has quickly come to be regarded as one of the best breweries in the city—all based on brewer Kevin Davey’s remarkably reliable lagers. Those beers perfectly inhabit a vision co-founder Charlie Devereux had of recreating the beer hall atmosphere of Bavaria and Bohemia. The pub is enormous, sprawling out to a huge patio usable in the fairer months, and the beer is exceptional. Davey makes classic German and Czech styles—and appropriately, using decoction where appropriate as well as German and Czech ingredients. Wayfinder offers a few IPAs, including up-to-the-moment hazies that are excellent. But this is the one of the few breweries where you’ll see people eschewing them for tall glasses of sparkling světlé pivo.
Brewpub: 304 SE 2nd. Hours: Sun-Thu 11:30am-10pm, Sat-Sun 11:30am-11pm. Food: a full menu.
After earning his master's degree, Alan Taylor was living in Berlin thinking about continuing with a PhD in language when he decided instead to get a degree in brewing. He went to VLB in Berlin and then spent more than a decade bouncing back and forth between Germany and the US as a brewer. Taylor finally founded Zoiglhaus in 2016, a brewery that uses his skill and interest in producing classic German beers (and a few American ones, as well). In Berlin, he studied the obscure Berliner Weisse style and makes one of the best examples in the world, and in 2017 his pilsner won gold at GABF. Everything Taylor does is good, but his German specialties--often obscure styles--are the reason to visit.
Brewpub: 5716 SE 92nd. Hours: Daily, 11am-10pm. Food: a full menu.
The Rest of the Best
To repeat the obvious: Portland has well more than ten great breweries. When I first compiled the list, I tallied up 16 candidates--and that left off a number of solid breweries that visitors would also love. There are six more breweries that are essentially top-tenners for me but, owing to the harsh dictates of math, I couldn't squeeze in—except by cheating and mentioning them here.
The extremely well-named Ground Breaker is Portland’s original gluten-free brewery, and the most decorated in the country. The beer is good, full stop, not just for gluten-free beer. Consider stopping in whatever your relationship to barley. Gastropub: 2030 SE 7th. Hours: Wed-Sun noon-9pm. Food: a full, gluten-free menu.
Baerlic Brewing was on my 2018 list, and they’re every bit as good this year. They continue to hone their sessionable pub offerings while developing a reputation for eclectic canned releases. Taproom: 2235 SE 11th. Hours: Mon-Thu 4-10pm, Fri: 2-11pm, Sat Noon-11pm; Sun Noon-10pm Food: bar snacks, outside food welcome.
Culmination is another brewery that appeared on last year’s top ten that continued very strong performance. It has possibly the most diverse taplist in the city, with a wonderful penchant for lost or neglected styles. The pub has grown into a side room and now accommodates more than a handful of visitors. Brewpub: 2117 NE Oregon St. Hours: Sun-Thu noon-9pm, Fri-Sat noon-10pm. Food: a small, well-selected seasonal menu
Ex Novo is, forgive me if you’ve heard this before, another of last year’s top ten. The brewery makes the usual assortment of hoppy beers, but has established a reputation for very well-conceived sessionable ales and lagers.. Brewpub: 2326 N. Flint. Hours: Mon-Thu, 3-10pm, Fri 3-11pm, Sat 11am-11pm, Sun 11am-10pm. Food: a fairly diverse full menu.
Occidental has been quietly making some of the best German-style ales and lagers in Portland’s St. John’s neighborhood. The beers are made to classic formulations with no funny business—and they’re wonderfully executed. Their pilsner may be the city’s best. Taproom: 6635 N Baltimore Ave. Hours: Mon-Fri 3-10pm, Sat-Sun, noon-10pm. Wed-Thurs. 4-9pm, Fri. 3-9pm, Sat. 2-9pm, Sun. 12-7pm. Food: snacks only.
StormBreaker has quietly moved up into Portland’s upper tier on the strength of their IPAs—no easy feat in this town. They also make a nice range of sessionable ales. Pub: 832 N. Beech St.. Hours: Sun-Mon 11am-10pm, Tues-Thurs 11am-11pm, Fri-Sat 11am-12am. Food: full menu of pub specialties.
There are three breweries that routinely make best-of lists to round out your consideration: Great Notion (2204 NE Alberta St), maker of juicy IPAs and fruity sours, Hair of the Dog (61 SE Yamhill St.), a Portland OG and king of big beers, and Modern Times (630 SE Belmont St), another brewery famous for its IPAs.
Choose wisely, intrepid traveler; the delights of Portland are too numerous to sample in one visit. Unless you’re here a couple weeks, you won’t begin to exhaust our beery treats—but visit these breweries and I guarantee a good time.
PHOTOS: Brewery websites and social media accounts.