Positioned between Beervana (aka Portland) and world-famous Willamette Valley wine country, Forest Grove has quietly vaulted onto the GPS of craft-beverage quaffers in its own right. First-time visitors may be surprised to learn that it has been home for two decades to the nation’s top brewer of saké, a popular Japanese rice wine. More recently, the variety of sippables has expanded to include craft beer and hard cider labels — all of which offer tasting rooms — plus two distilleries that provide their product to local cocktail bars. Here is a short guide to sipping your way through Forest Grove.
In the Water: Jasin Hope, co-owner of Dogwood Distilling, and Scot Lester, founder of Flooded Fox Den Distillery, both celebrate Forest Grove for the quality of water that flows into their products. To sample either label, just pop into Doctor’s Office Bar at the McMenamins Grand Lodge, where you might find “cosmic bartender” Joey Doyle. On a recent visit, one guest ordered up a martini built around Dancing Dog Gin from Flooded Fox, garnished with a blue cheese-stuffed olive. Doyle also pours the corn-based DL Franklin vodka from Dogwood Distilling and says, “I serve it any chance I get. It’s comparable to Grey Goose and Ketel One but more affordable.” Hope says he and distilling partner Matt Hottenroth love the local water, which he says is perfect for their purposes. Striving to produce affordable quality, they boast of prime well spots in the bars of 24 Portland restaurants. Their Union Gin taps a medley of 11 botanicals, and their Haint Absinthe (the only such spirit produced in Oregon) earned a 2015 gold medal from the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Neither distillery yet has a tasting room, so check their websites for upcoming events and tastings.
Rice is Nice: But among tipplers, saké is nicer. Find out for yourself at SakéOne, America’s first and most enduring craft saké brewery. Founded in the mid-1990s, SakéOne welcomes the chance to demystify saké for novices and parade its lineup of premium brews for more practiced palates. Pop into its tasting room and explore the flavor-infused Moonstone brand, the six styles in its Momokawa line or the two distinct offerings from its top-shelf g (yes, lowercase) saké line. “What SakéOne does is brew for America, and that starts with local water,” says Valerie Fayette, who works in the company’s marketing department. “We’re authentic to the roots of Japanese brewing traditions, but we brew what will go with the foods that Americans eat.” She advises first-timers to take the free tour to learn the most, then book a saké flight.
Near Beer: What would an Oregon town be without its own craft brewer? Waltz Brewing, the love child of home-brew buddies Michael Duron, Adam Zumwalt and Karl Glatz, reflects the bootstrapped, hands-on ethic at the heart of Oregon suds culture. Its lineup is a bit broader than some, including two Belgian-style brews along with the requisite IPAs and maltier porter and stout offerings. Just two blocks north is Ridgewalker Brewing, the brew-child of longtime friends and Forest Grove locals, Justin Marble and Storm Brown. Its centerpiece public house offers 34 taps, including their own carefully crafted Ridgewalker beers. Both breweries are a short walk from Pacific University, making them great places to study those who say they’re taking a study break.
Fruit Forward: Dive headfirst into the burgeoning hard cider scene at Bull Run Cider, which pours five of its own — four sparklers and a higher-alcohol pear ice wine — plus a selection of 10 other ciders from around the region. Dedicated to growing and pressing fruit from their own Forest Grove orchards, founders Galen Williams and Pete Mulligan tap juice from more than 60 apple and 10 pear variants. Close by the Pacific University campus, their tasting room welcomes “the core of discovery” on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings.