Editor’s note: Oregon’s COVID-19 restrictions have eased, but businesses may ask you to wear a face cover – bring one along and be patient and kind if asked to wear it. It’s also wildfire season – plan ahead and do your part to prevent wildfires.
In a state with hundreds of craft breweries — all of which have had to pivot and adapt amidst challenges — it’s thrilling to see the scene evolve to both meet fans where they are and yet push the boundaries. Brewers are adventurous spirits, constantly innovating and collaborating, rediscovering old-world ingredients and reinventing flavor profiles and styles. While many breweries and businesses have shuttered in recent years, others have gone all-in — expanding locations and outdoor seating, offering signature brews in bottles and cans for enjoyment at home, and collaborating with local artisans to create unique, one-of-a-kind products. Here are several of Oregon’s experimental breweries for you to check out.
One of Portland’s most award-winning breweries, Breakside is highly regarded for its constant innovation. One of their many barrel-aged beers shares the same flavor profile as a triple-fudge brownie — a barrel-aged stout made with Madagascar vanilla and Ecuadorian chocolate, aged in bourbon barrels, for a richly complex sipping experience they call Cute Metal. The brewery is undergoing a major expansion in 2021. Two new locations, in downtown Beaverton and Lake Oswego, are slated for summer openings, each with their own style. The Beaverton space will resemble an Oktoberfest-style beer garden with benches, string lights, fire pits, a stage and greenery to warm up the large space. It will be the latest buzzy food-and-drink spot to land in these blocks of downtown Beaverton in recent years. The Lake Oswego location, one block from the lake, will focus on draft beer and grab-and-go bottles and cans, with a small food and snacks menu. Fans can also find their favorite Breakside brews at the CORE food-cart pod in Southeast Portland, served in style out of Breakside’s Winnebeergo. When it comes to innovation, Breakside is always on the cusp — not just in beer style, but in reaching visitors where they’re at. Many of Breakside’s flagship beers are coming to cans in 2021, so you can also enjoy them at home.
Reach Break Brewing
Two blocks west of Fort George Brewery in Astoria, Reach Break Brewing is an experimental brewery with an affinity for wild, indigenous and farmhouse yeast strains produced in their own seven-barrel brewery and underground barrel-aging cellar. Visitors can sample from 20 taps of beer, wine, seltzer, kombucha and cider, with several food trucks on-site and a large outside patio. Take a four-pack of cans to go — all showcase Pacific Northwest ingredients and are fermented with a Norwegian farmhouse heritage yeast strain. If you’re a fan of wild and sour styles, there’s lots to come in 2021. Offerings underway include a margarita-inspired mixed-culture gose brewed with house-made Pacific Ocean sea salt and aged in Diablo Azul barrels from Portland’s Pilot House Distilling; a wild ale aged with handpicked spruce tips, locally foraged by the brewer’s father; a cranberry farmhouse ale brewed with local hand-harvested cranberries; and a collaboration with 7 Devils Brewing Co. in Coos Bay that combines a dark farmhouse version of their Symbiosis ale aged with figs.
Wolf Tree Brewery
Wolf Tree Brewery is most famous for its award-winning experimental brew made with an unexpected Oregon Coast ingredient: Sitka spruce tips. Each spring the brewing team harvests the buds off spruce trees at the ranch where their production facility is located, in Seal Rock. So rather than use hops as a flavor ingredient, the beer takes all of its flavor from spruce tips, which gives it a slightly sweet taste with a warm mouthfeel. Wolf Tree’s Coolship series is another flagship — wild ales that are open fermented, allowing wild yeast from the environment to get into the fermentation process for a tart, bright flavor. Families can mosey into Wolf Tree’s taproom in the South Beach part of Newport for draft beers, cider, wine and a full, kid-friendly food menu — everything from burgers and nachos to street tacos and three types of grilled cheese. Furry friends are welcome on the covered and heated outdoor patio with tons of space.
Launched in 2017, Level Beer now has two Portland locations with a hip vibe. A wide-open floor plan at the Northeast location lets you see the production tanks, while the large, heated greenhouse provides covered, outdoor seating for visitors year-round. There’s a food cart on-site for noshing. Visitors to the Southwest Portland location can have food delivered from a nearby food cart. A back deck and sidewalk cafe tables provide open-air seating. Both locations offer a fun lineup of boundary-pushing brews, many with video game-themed names. There’s a stout conditioned on cocoa nibs (Chocolate Dynamite); a high-ABV caramel malt body with a peaty smoke and a spicy rye whiskey finish (License to Yill); and a double IPA with bright citrus, pine and tropical hop aromas and flavors (Mostly Karate Chops). The brewers debuted their limited-release of new beers called Bonus Worlds series in 2021. They’ll also be releasing their barrel-aged beers in 500-milliliter bottles on a quarterly basis.
This little farmhouse-style brewpub in Yachats, on Oregon’s Central Coast, loves to innovate. One of its latest innovations is the smoked-oyster stout beer collaboration with Hama Hama oysters and Flying Fish Co., a fresh seafood market in Portland. The process involves smoking the oysters for three hours, then putting the whole batch of oysters with shells into the tank at the end of the cook cycle, letting it soak for a few days before straining. Finally, the brewers add squid ink to the final stage of brewing for an added sea-flavored umami burst. Taste it on draft or take it to go in a can. (And remember to take a photo of the “Oregon is Magic” mural outside.)