The veil over what is really going on in Oregon is that of the big breweries, but under that veil is a bubbling brew culture that will shine the light on the darkest of dogs asses. On our trip to the promise land this last year I was introduced to a new level of mantastic that will shape who I am as a craft beer enthusiast for the rest of my life, or until it becomes a problem…
I have never been immersed in a culture that is so completely about a common way of life/thinking (other than Disneyland) and they are about it in a way that is so indifferent to how things are everywhere else that it makes you believe that nowhere else exists. Its not only about the breweries that are a bottles throw from each other, but the establishments that perpetuate an environment only suitable for good times with good people through great food and even better beer. The Beer Stein in Eugene has everything you could ever need for awesome memories and anticipatory excitement. I cannot even express the majesty of it all, but if you are in the area you need to make it a priority to stop there and see it for yourself.
Then there were the breweries. And let me tell you that there was no shortage of these houses of hops here! What started as a casual trek through the vast landscape populated by the bearded and bundled, ended up being the most epic brewery crawl I have ever been on. In less than a two day span between Eugene and Portland, more than 50 beers passed through these lips, and each one of them as memorable as the next. The ability to set yourself apart when so many others are excelling as well is inspirational, and I am inspired.
In Eugene, the gates of Ninkasi Brewing Company are castle-worthy, with the metallurgy giving you a sense of artistic expression that you can feel extend through those gates and into the vats. A simple set up of tents, benches and an amazing fire pit for those cold Oregon nights. Beer by the fire with some friends? You tell me of a more ideal situation. The beer was exceptional and when the environment is stripped down to this perfect arena you really can focus on the nuances that make your Tricerahops or Dawn of the Red so good… so Ninkasi.
Exploring Eugene, we took a break (or three) to quench our parched throats at some of the many smaller yet established joints like Falling Sky and Hop Valley. While Hop Valley has expanded to full on restaurant with a truck stop-esque sign beckoning all to abandon freeway travel for a drink and a bite, Falling Sky remains unapologetically contained and simple. The difference is that Falling Sky has a separate shop located in front of their brew pub that caters to the inaugural craft brewer, selling equipment, supplies and even training sessions. This is the culture in Eugene. I didn’t get a competitive sense from any of these establishments, only encouragement. Which is a breeding ground for innovation and potentially the birthplace of your next favorite brew. That in itself is worth its weight in kegs.
Back to Portland where the pub crawl ended at Bridgeport Brewpub and their 30 years of doin’ it right. The Trilogy series here was worth some solid nodding of the head in admiration and approval. Their barleywine, while not a chart topping hit, could serve as a benchmark for standards and taste characteristics for the style. There were four different IPA’s on tap for hops sake! Four! Not to mention a delicious red and a saison that was unique. The beers were easily enjoyable, and the food? Painfully good, like hurt yourself because you can’t stop eating good. Respect Bridgeport… respect.
A craft beer culture that is engulfed by a community that embraces it, supports it, encourages it, and they made it work. The people are nothing short of wholesome, down to Earth “Hey lets talk about beer” folk that at no point ever made us feel unwelcome. This place only makes sense so why can’t the rest of the country get on board? I don’t have an answer for you, but then again I don’t need one, because just knowing that Oregon exists is enough for me…