Namaste For A Beer: A Beercation To Beervana Pt. 3
Portland, Oregon, known to many beer geeks simply as “Beervana” A journey to this beer-centric city has been on my beer bucket list for years. This summer’s beercation blog series, “Namaste For A Beer,” is all about learning about the craft beer culture that has been alive and well in Oregon for decades. My travels will lead me on a pilgrimage of sorts to Portland, the craft beer crown jewel of the Pacific Northwest. My beercation purpose is threefold: to meet great people, drink great beer, and understand what the Oregon craft beer culture is all about. For this purpose, my route will lead me through Tillamook, Newport, Corvallis, Eugene, Bend, Hood River, and finally, Portland.
On The Road Again
Leaving Corvallis is tough because the town won me over with its awesome vibe, great beer, and coffee. Eugene is the next stop on my journey. The main event in Eugene is Ninkasi Brewing Company. This brewery first piqued my interest when a friend introduced me to Tricerahops and I have been smitten with them since. However, other than Ninkasi, Eugene is uncharted beer territory for me.
Ninkasi Brewing Company is a must-stop for people who appreciate friendly taproom staff and quality beer. I arrive on a sunny day and it is a bit warmish. I decide to forego the patio for the friendly confines of the air-conditioned taproom. When I sit down, I am greeted by Alex and Tyler, the dynamic duo holding down the fort today. Alex helps me pick out some tasters and assures me that I can take a look in back in a little bit, but they are short-staffed for a while. This is music to my ears because I have nothing but time to sip and enjoy their fantastic company.
The taproom is a cozy, yet modern space. I like the turquoise blue accent to everything. Their logo is bright and easy to spot in a crowd. The tasters come on a fancy metal tray with cards describing the beers that patrons can keep. The beers I select are all new to me and I am always excited to try new things.
Helles Belles is the first beer in the flight and it is bright and crisp. I am ecstatic to see so many well-made Helles beers on my trip. This German style is a clean and crisp embodiment of summer. The cracker malt flavor holds up the bright and subtle lemon and honey flavors. It finishes crisp and a with no residual sweetness. Yours Truly, a blonde ale, is up next. It features a subtle bready malt character with some light and citrusy hops. This beer is low in ABV and the perfect beer to kick back with and relax. Because of its light body and big flavor, I am a big fan of this beer and wind up ordering a full pour later.
The Total Domination IPA is a traditional hoppy beer. Total Domination has a nice bitter finish with a grassy and floral hop lightness. The Sage Wit is part of an experimental series and I think that if the sage were dialed back a bit, I would like it more. The last beer in the line is the Barrel-aged Ground Control, a big velvety stout. BA Ground Control is smooth and has a nice body. Lots of malty goodness in this beer. I get hints of raisin, plum, and star anise in the flavor. This beer is a wonderful sipper, and the smoothness prevents it from feeling heavy.
As more help arrives to tend the bar, Tyler informs me that it is time for the tour. I slap on my safety glasses and head back. It becomes apparent quickly that Ninkasi brews a lot of beer. The can and bottle beer and keep a lot of the West Coast happily drinking their beer. They also send beer to New York and Washington D.C. because that is where the founder went to college. I will hold out hope that someday they will make their way to Minnesota, but it is not in their immediate plans.
The level of automation at Ninkasi is staggering. Tyler is the perfect tour guide because he has worked in all areas of the brewery, from the cellar to packaging. He is in the process of trying to get into the brewer rotation, but it is a bit crowded at the moment. Tyler is affable and is more than willing to answer questions and wait for me to snap photos.
Ninkasi recently opened a new facility across the street where they do a lot of the major production of their flagships. It is awe-inspiring, to say the least. They have a lab and Tyler explains how they pride themselves on consistency. Ninkasi wants every beer to taste the same. The quality standards at Ninkasi are high and it shows in the finished product. The tour winds down and it is time for me to move on. I have to check into my Airbnb and get some dinner.
I thoroughly enjoy my time at Ninkasi Brewing Company. When you break it down, a successful brewery needs quality beer and people. Lucky for me, and anyone else who stops here, Ninkasi Brewing has both of those elements in excess. I can’t wait to come back.
When you visit Eugene, you are bound to be hungry after drinking all the good beer. I know that the farther inland I traverse, the less likely my chances are of finding good seafood will be. After a little Internet sleuthing, I discover a place that is within walking distance of where I am staying to get more seafood. Fisherman’s Market is a casual place to dine, but don’t let that fool you into thinking the place is not legit.
I walk in and it is crazy. There is wine sampling happening, crying babies, and a dude with a soup ladle in his back pocket. Are they shooting a Federico Fellini film tonight? I get in line and order a crab cake, a cup of chowder, and a sampler plate. The sampler plate is supposed to come with fish, shrimp, and clam strips. The guy at the counter informs me that they are out of clam strips. I am instantly crestfallen. The guy at the counter reads my body language and sees if he can just add more shrimp to the plate to keep me from openly weeping. More shrimp is a wonderful consolation and I am as happy as a clam strip that I won’t get to try.
A unique extra about this place is their wide array of tartar sauces. They have a curry tartar sauce, an Asian-inspired sauce, and a traditional sauce. All three are tarter sauces are fantastic. The crab cake is good but straddles the fence of being oversalted. The fish is flaky and the batter is crisp. The shrimp are huge and delicious. However, the thing that really puts me into the state of culinary bliss is the clam chowder. The chowder is creamy without being heavy. There are a lot of sizeable pieces of clams in here and they are tender and succulent. The potato chunks are all perfectly diced cubes and do not dominate the spoonfuls.
I am blown away by this place and wind up returning for lunch the next day. The best part of the Fisherman’s Market is the price, my lunch the next day is 12.00; simply unheard of when you are talking fresh seafood. When I come back to Eugene sometime down the road, I will be coming here again for at least 2 more meals.
After some dinner in my belly, it is time to jumpstart the palate with more beer. I am close to Oakshire Brewing Company, a place that came highly recommended from some folks in the know. Oakshire is located in the same cool residential area as my commune-style Airbnb. The garage doors are open and the Oakshire is hopping with thirsty people. Lots of picnic tables outside and I see a spot at the bar and grab a seat. The two ladies working the taproom bar are efficient with their movement and friendly with their demeanors. I order a taster flight and start sipping.
Veering away from anything over-the-top hoppy, I select flavors that showcase more malty flavors. The Czech Pilsner is a refreshing way to start off my tasting. Not a ton of malt sweetness, but the cracker flavor from the malt is there. It is a well-attenuated beer resulting in a crisp finish. The Nitro amber ale is more of a pub ale and is delectable to me. The malty breadiness in this beer is alluring and goes well with the velvety body of the nitro. The cucumber Berliner with tart and briny, just like I like them. Extremely refreshing with a bright vegetal essence from the cucumber. The Nitro Overcast is an oatmeal stout with a lot of espresso and coffee flavor. It is also smooth and sensationally sippable. The Tropical stout rounds things out in a unique way. The toasted coconut becomes more evident as it warms and is definitely worth the wait. It finishes nice and dry thanks to a delicious amount of toasted malt.
I enjoy relaxing at the bar, but with each sip, I notice my eyelids getting heavier. I wish I had more energy for another beer stop tonight, but the only pub I will be visiting is the Sleep Express Tavern located in my bed. Heading back, I have to dodge bikers who are looking like they will be carousing well into the night. Ah, to be young again.
The next morning I am up early to make some coffee and do a bit of writing. I finally meet some of the other people staying at the Airbnb. I younger gal who was out early and then two gentlemen from northern California who are in the cannabis oil industry. Yes, we live in a brave new world. After chatting beer with them, they headed out for a meeting. It was getting to be time for me to head out for one more mouth-watering lunch at the Fisherman’s Market. The clam chowder is too good to pass up. After the chowder and some tears of happiness, I hit the road to Bend, Oregon.
Brewers Union Local 180
To break up the drive from Eugene to Bend, I was hoping to find a place to wet my whistle. Luckily, my friend and beer travel agent, Jim Stroner suggested I pay a visit to Brewers Union Local 180. Jim knows my affinity for cask ales and British style beers. So, I set my GPS for a little mountain town that breaks up the drive nicely. Walking in, I feel like I am stepping back into a Lord of the Rings movie. I expect to see hairy-footed Hobbits not minding their P’s and Q’s. Instead, I find Jacob sitting at the bar chatting with the bartender, Molly.
Molly gets me situated with a half-pint of ESB on cask. Being that I have a ways to go until I can really let out the beer clutch, a half pour of a low ABV beer is perfect. Remember, safety first when you are on the beer trail! As I am enjoying the smooth and flavorful cask beer, Jacob and I strike up a conversation. Jacob is probably 24 going on 50, an old soul, for sure. He is excited to share all his favorite haunts in Bend with me. I am glad to take his advice. He rattles off enough information to keep me busy for five weeks. He also gives me some breweries that I can steer clear of because they do not meet his standards. Jacob is a fan Brewers Union Local 180 and is in here often.
Jacob is the type of person that every brewery needs. He is talkative and welcoming and makes me stay for another half-pint. Eventually, he hits the road and I am left to my thoughts. It is a peaceful experience. The only sounds are the occasional cue ball breaking up the other pool balls in the one-man billiards game and Molly training in a new bartender. A biker or two come in for lunch and a beer, but otherwise, the brewery is quiet. It is the perfect respite from the road. As the minute hand marches on, I realize that I have to head to Bend. I thoroughly recommend Brewers Union Local 180. If you like cask beers and great people, it will whet your appetite in a great way.
So, with cask beer in my belly and wanderlust in my head, I continue the winding roads through the mountains and Oregon’s National Forests. A drive this beautiful should be reserved for royalty. I consider myself lucky to have the opportunity to view natural beauty up close. It is good to be alive and on the beer trail. Prost!