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Bending an elbow in craft-brewed Portland
By Tom Adkinson

PORTLAND, Oregon – It’s no problem getting a top-quality locally brewed beer in Portland. The problem is choosing where to bend an elbow.

As pioneering brewmaster John Harris put it, “You can’t throw a stone in this town without hitting a brewery, winery or cidery.” He’s been encouraging people to enjoy a Portland pour since the mid-1980s.

portland oregon murals
Dramatic murals at Ecliptic Brewery carry out the brewery’s astronomical theme. Image by Tom Adkinson.

The beer, wine and spirits scene is one of Portland’s big appeals, hence one of its several nicknames – Beervana (a sudsy nirvana). Travel Portland, the city’s destination marketing and management organization, proclaims Portland’s 75 or more breweries are “more than any city on earth.” The beer culture is extensive, hyper-local and very inviting for visitors who prowl this city that prides itself on being a bit weird.

Although Portland can trace its beer history to the 1850s, the craft beer buzz began in 1984, when two craft breweries started flowing, and 1985, when McMenamins opened Oregon’s first brewpub. One of the two original breweries continues to please guests, and McMenamins now has numerous hospitality businesses in the Northwest. Furthermore, every neighborhood in a city that revels in neighborhood culture seems to have multiple breweries or brewpubs.

brewer john harris; portland oregon
Brewer John Harris at Ecliptic is revered as one of Portland’s craft beer pioneers. Image by Tom Adkinson.

John Harris’s Ecliptic Brewery, an anchor business in the Mississippi neighborhood, is an example. Its namesake street a few years ago was more than a bit sketchy, but today, it bustles with restaurants, specialty shops and pubs.

Harris is an astronomy buff, which explains the celestial murals in his establishment and the fact his beers’ names have astronomical references. Examples: Starburst IPA, Carina (a constellation), and Vega and Capella (both stars). His food menu transcends people’s often-modest expectations of a brewpub.

The Ecleptic menu includes grilled lamb top round with honey-roasted carrots, fresh seafood daily and what Harris calls “perhaps the weirdest-looking sandwich on the planet.” It’s a beet melt, with roasted beets, goat cheddar, granny smith apples, pickled onions and grain mustard on sourdough bread. (The “Keep Portland Weird” bumpers stickers apply here.)

The Deschutes Portland Public House, near world-famous Powell’s City of Books, is the city’s outpost for Deschutes, one of Oregon’s most famous brewers. Its full-size restaurant has a real Northwest flavor, and its more than 20 taps offer Deschutes mainstays along with seasonal and experimental brews. Another spot with lots of choices is Rogue Eastside Pub and Pilot Brewery (36 of its own beers and 19 taps for other independent brewers’ products).

beer menuMany of Portland’s breweries and brewpubs offer extensive notes about each beer offered. Image by Tom Adkinson.

A smaller facility is Ex Novo in the Eliot neighborhood. It has a group-friendly private room overlooking the brewing tanks, a variety of beers and a noble business model. The mission of founder and president Joel Gregory is to donate all brewery profits “to those building a better world and bringing hope to places where hope is scarce.” That sentiment alone is incentive to sample an extra beer or two.

There is plenty of beer information on the website of Travel Portland, and there’s a company called Brewvana that offers several tours. Brewvana is part of the multi-location City Brew Tours company. Groups with a serious curiosity about beer often lean on Thom Roholt, tour operations coordinator at Brewvana.

mississippi neighborhood in portland oregonA photo from another era at Prost in the Mississippi neighborhood sets the mood for another beer. Image by Tom Adkinson.

“Our forte is breweries. We take groups behind the scenes at multiple breweries and offer VIP access, special tastings and conversations with brewers. There’s a real pioneer spirit in the brewing community here. We have all the ingredients – great water, hops from the Willamette Valley and Yakima, great grain and local yeast – plus a spirit of cooperation,” Roholt observed.

Beer festivals occur almost every month. Two notable ones are Zwickelmania in February, a tasting event featuring more than 120 breweries from throughout Oregon, and the Oregon Brewers Festival in July, one of the nation’s longest-running craft beer festivals.

rogue eastside pub; portland oregonRogue Eastside Pub reserves 19 taps for brews from other Portland beer makers. Image by Tom Adkinson.


As popular as beer is, distilleries are gaining traction in Portland, as is Oregon’s wine culture. Of note are two wine tasting rooms, Battle Creek Cellars and the Southeast Wine Collective, that don’t require a trip to wine country.

As with the beer and wine scene, Portland’s lodging inventory is growing, too. Among the newest places to rest up after a beer tour is the 600-room Hyatt Regency. It is one reason the central business district’s hotel room total has jumped from 7,500 to 10,000.

Trip-planning resources:

(Travel writer Tom Adkinson’s new book, 100 Things To Do in Nashville Before You Die, is available at

Published March 19, 2020

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