The Great American Ale Trail (Revised Edition)

The Craft Beer Lover's Guide to the Best Watering Holes in the Nation


By Christian DeBenedetti

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The Great American Ale Trail is your definitive, state-by-state guide to the best places to drink craft beer.
First published in 2011, The Great American Ale Trail is the most discriminating and thorough guide to the best watering holes in the nation. This newly revised edition features fully updated listings and 150 new entries — a total of more than 500 noteworthy breweries, beer bars, restaurants, festivals, and bottle shops — making it the essential guide for beer pilgrims everywhere. Every entry features the “must-try” beer of the establishment as well as notes on its ambience, patrons, and history — plus contact information to get you there easily. Whether you choose a mom-and-pop brewery or a gastropub with a quirky ambience, Whether you prefer a crisp lager, resinous IPA, roasty stout, or funky farmhouse ale, The Great American Ale Trail is still the best source to answer that age-old question: Where do I get a beer around here?





THANKS TO A BAND OF BOLD BREWING PIONEERS STARTING IN THE LATE 1970S AND early ’80s, the entire state is blessed with hoppy wonders, with Portland as its shining beer capital. Today, there are no less than 90 breweries and counting in and around the small city of 600,000 known to many as Beervana. Some say it’s the rain driving drinkers indoors; others point to the tough, timber-country ingenuity and independent spirit ingrained in the gene pool. Either way, craft beer is so popular throughout the state, you can pick up an artisan brew at the gas station.

The history of this good-beer revolution is well documented, but suffice it to say that Portland embraced craft beer early, becoming the brewing epicenter of the Northwest—and arguably the entire United States and even the world—by being both aggressively provincial and always innovative. With access to top-quality grain and regionally grown hops (and relatively inexpensive real estate), brewers thrived amid a population that loves to drink beer as much as it loves to climb, ski, surf, roast fair-trade coffee, build exotic bikes (and ride them around naked—why not?), and forage for mushrooms. It didn’t hurt that in the 1970s and ’80s the Oregon wine country emerged as a world-class destination amid the stirrings of Oregon’s gourmet-inclined Slow Food movement. Throughout the state, from tiny upstarts to established regional and national brands like Widmer, there’s no town too small for an excellent brewpub these days. With snowy peaks, smart cities, and verdant forests, what other excuse do you need to visit?


1-DAY Portland: The Commons, Cascade Brewing Barrel House, Bailey’s, Gigantic, Higgins

3-DAY Portland plus wine country and the Columbia Gorge: one-day itinerary plus Wolves & People, Breakside, Belmont Station, Double Mountain, Full Sail, Logsdon, Edgefield

7-DAY One- and three-day itinerary plus Fort George, Buoy, Deschutes, and Ale Apothecary



1216 SE Division St. • Portland, OR 97202 • (503) 273-9227 • • Established: 2010


Built in a small industrial garage-like space by former New Belgium Brewing sales representative Jesse McCann, Apex is a squeaky-clean beer bar, which perfectly captures the lifestyle of Portlanders circa 2015: single-speed bike parked out front, barrel-aged Belgian ale in hand. Smoking? Never—that’s so last year. Table service? Nope, stretch those legs. (Dogs, kids, and credit cards are also ixnayed.) But lest the scene sound too doctrinaire, it’s ideal on a sunny day when you can bike there (you can even borrow a lock from the bar’s own stash), grab a taco from the little place next door (no food is sold at the bar), and maybe shoot some pinball. Easy does it, except for the (often) blaring heavy metal.


Serious about beer—intense, even, but not joyless. “I’ve been told I keep my beer too cold,” says McCann, speaking of scolds, with a wry chuckle. But there are beers that are simply better cold—ice-cold—especially when it’s ninety-five degrees in the shade (rare in Portland, but not unheard of). So, thank heavens for one little nod to an older, less uptight mode of beer drinking: amid the list of esoteric brews is a lone “Cheap, Cold” Hamm’s can for $2.50—a nice, if ironic, touch.


McCann brings in bonafide rarities and displays an impressive forty-two-tap selection on a flat-screen TV over the bar, so simply peruse the fast-changing list, try some samples, and engage the beer experts at work behind the bar. There are beers here no other bar in Portland can even think about getting, like Moonlight’s Working for Tips, a garnet-colored 5.5% ABV ale spiced with redwood tips instead of hops that’s only seldom spotted outside of the Bay Area.


4534 SE Belmont St. • Portland, OR 97215 • (503) 232-2202 • • Established: 1976


It was with heavy but grateful hearts that thousands of fans (present company included) turned out for the wake to honor Horse Brass founder Don Younger in January of 2011 when he died at age sixty-nine from complications related to being a wise, hard-drinking old buzzard. To hear the gray-bearded, long-haired, raspy-voiced Don tell it between puffs on his ever-present smoke, he woke up one day smarting from a big night of beer (and whiskey, which he loved dearly) and discovered he had bought the bar with his brother, Bill, the late Bill Younger.

What happened next helped make Portland the great beer town it is. Bringing in scores of rare and hard-to-find beers, and championing the first efforts of the brewers in town, the Youngers’ Horse Brass became one of the most famous and respected beer bars in the land. When Don drove a gray ’72 Rolls around town, he did it in a T-shirt. And there was something else about Don: without fanfare, he loaned or simply gave money to a number of earnest young Portlanders trying to get a leg up in beer, in life—Duane Sorenson, founder of Portland’s famous Stumptown Coffee Roasters, for one—and never made a fuss about it.


Generous and communal. The motto of the Horse Brass (“If it were any more authentic, you’d need a passport. . . .”) is apt, because it looks as if it were airlifted stick by stone out of old London. But Don also loved to say something a bit cryptic, too, something worth considering only with a beer in hand. “It’s not about the beer. It’s about the beer,” he’d say, and then order you another round—on the house.


There are fifty taps and seventy-five bottled selections, but before you drink anything else, order the always-on Younger’s Special Bitter (YSB), named for Bill, who died first, and raise a toast to the Youngers.


630 SE Belmont St. • Portland, OR 97214 • • Established: 2011


In 2010, soft-spoken local founder Mike Wright, with almost clairvoyant business sense, decided to expand his garage-based Beetje (meaning “small,” in Flemish) 1bbl nanobrewery into a 7bbl system based on a quiet street in southeast Portland. In 2011, Germany-trained, Oregon-native brewery Sean Burke joined the team, and with their superb, Belgian-inflected beers and strong word of mouth, that 700 percent size increase soon proved insufficient. By the middle of 2015, Wright and Co. moved into a stunning, 100-year-old industrial building with massive beams and rafters overhead, and added a 15bbl system and several new fermenters. But all this growth, paradoxically, has seemed, to outsiders at least, unhurried. In the airy, sun-lit taproom with exposed brick and shining, but not showy bar, beer lovers feast on creations like Biere Royale (a yogurt-fermented sour ale with currants) and Myrtle (a citrusy, mimosa-like farmhouse ale) that have won the hearts of beer lovers and judges over and over again. Local cheese impresario (fromager, if we’re being fancy) Steve Jones installed a kiosk for small cheese plates, an ideal companion to the Commons’ Belgium and France-inspired farmhouse-style beers. No visitor to Portland should miss it. And with the “House of Sour” Cascade Barrel House, and multitap, beer-garden blessed Green Dragon pub up the street, the southeast Belmont area of Portland is fast becoming a world-class brewery district.


Summer is the ultimate season here, and no weekend says it better than the one known locally as “brewfest”—the OBF, or Oregon Brewers Festival, around the end of July—when upward of 80,000 revelers gather in the city’s sprawling Tom McCall Waterfront Park under massive, beer-filled open-air tents, and, every ten minutes or so, spontaneously start cheering like fans at the Super Bowl, glasses held high. 2015 marked the festival’s twenty-eighth year.

Chalk the good cheer up to the setting: With the city and its Willamette River as a backdrop, some 100 breweries from around the country show up to pour their latest. Guest brewers are flown in from Denmark and New Zealand. Live bands jam on stages as local-fave restaurants like Horn of Africa proffer healthy, spicy, beer-friendly fare. Trading wooden nickel tokens for tastes, imbibers mingle good-naturedly, old friends reunite, and, as the sun goes down, those cheers grow longer and louder, and, well, a heck of a lot more infectious. When the kegs run dry—sic transit gloria mundi—downtown taprooms fill with beer lovers celebrating the bounty until the wee hours. Go early in the day; lines for the buzziest brands form immediately. And keep an eye out for growing, but cozier Portland summer events like the Portland Fruit Beer Fest, which pack a punch in a much smaller format. (




To speak beer-ese in Portland, or just about anywhere else these days, you’ve got to know what makes sour beers pop the way they do. Simply put, they’re usually made by fermenting beer with a complex grain bill (for long, slow, layered fermentations) with Lactobacillus and/or other superactive, benign bacteria and wild yeasts, and aging them. This can happen in stainless steel and it can happen in oak barrels that once contained wine, port, sherry, absinthe, rum, whiskey, or bourbon, occasionally with fruits and other flavorings added. After a period of, say, three months to three years, the acidified brews are blended with one another in a stainless-steel tank to taste, at which point fresh fruit additions or brewers’ sugars are occasionally added again. Lastly, they’re kegged or bottled like Champagne, often with a cork and wire cage. Executed well, these acid-forward ales echo the heft of certain big wines (meaty tannic reds, bright whites, and tawny old ports), and pair well with rich foods like cheese, charcuterie, and pork belly. One look at the beer lists in Portland’s top restaurants confirms: sour is the new black.


Gather around beer is the Commons’ mantra, officially. Unofficially, one employee tells me, the modus operandi is “kick ass quietly.” They do it well. In a sea of new breweries competing for attention with aggressively hopped beers and thumping heavy metal in the taprooms, the Commons stands out for its methodical, thoughtful, and above all excellency-minded approach.


Urban Farmhouse, a spicy, classic saison, put the Commons on the map (and pulled down medals including a prestigious World Beer Cup bronze). It’s delicious, with a balanced, grassy, peppery bite. Also look for Flemish Kiss, a GABF silver medal–winning Brett pale ale, which has a fruity funkiness made for soft cheeses. Then work your way through their ever-changing list of tart and wild ales, esoteric lagers, and other farmhouse-inspired rarities.


4500 SE Stark St. • Portland, OR 97215 • (503) 232-8538 • • Established: 1997


Founded by Carl Singmaster and the late, legendary publican Don Younger of the Horse Brass in that bar’s tiny adjacent alleyway in southeast Portland, Belmont Station was an idea far ahead of its time. With thousands of imported beers, glassware, and other beer-related gifts, it was a hit with locals who would wander in after a pint and perhaps a chat with the irascible, inimitable owner Don Younger, who died in 2011. (Disclosure: By the good graces of Younger, I worked at Belmont Station briefly in its earliest days, helping ship beer, something the place no longer does. I was enormously grateful for the gig.) Since then, the shop has moved a block north to Stark Street and has expanded to include its own bar with 20 taps, 1,200-plus bottles stored behind UV-filtered light, regular tastings, and brewmaster appearances. They even hold their own festival in July: Puckerfest is a weeklong celebration of sour beer.


Know thy beer. Belmont Station’s employees know a ton about beer and are glad to share their wisdom, sans attitude.


The best beer is the one you taste fresh off one of the twenty taps as you wander the aisles, which is a lot of fun. Simply put, the selection here is incredible: up to date, varied, well cared for, and organized.


240 N. Broadway, Ste. 2 • Portland, OR 97227 • (503) 735-5337 • • Established: 2009


You know you’re in a serious craft beer town when NBA fans cram into your subterranean taproom for every home game and sip barrel-aged beers before heading to the stadium. Alex Ganum’s Upright Brewing Company is located a few paces from the Rose Garden arena, home of the Portland Trail Blazers. Ganum moved to Portland (he’s from Michigan originally) for culinary school but fell in love with the beer scene instead. After an internship at the celebrated Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown, New York, he drew up plans for Upright, and these days his beers are all over town, and his brewing capacity is maxed out.

Still, the brewery (named for Charles Mingus’s stringed instrument) remains low-key, with just six wall-mounted taps, a couple of picnic tables, and barrel racks of aging ales to admire as you sip away. Be sure to check out the open steel fermenters behind glass. The five year-round beers are Four (4.5% ABV; light, wheaty, and lightly sour), Five (5.5% ABV and markedly hoppier), Six (spicy and caramel tinged at 6.7% ABV), Seven (8% ABV and floral, aromatic), and the delicious, draft-only Engleberg Pils (5.5% ABV). My advice: order a tasting tray and try every one.


Ganum’s beers exhibit the spice and earthiness of styles Portland brewers haven’t explored much until recent years: Belgian saison, bière de garde, and other, sometimes wild barrel-aged experiments resulting in funky, sour, earthy ales. But rather than simply mimicking Low Country classics, Ganum is also stretching out with experiments that place these beers firmly in Oregon soil.


Upright’s April seasonal is Gose (5.2% ABV), based on a near-extinct German style developed in Leipzig, which incorporates salt and ground coriander seeds. The result is an unfiltered wheat beer with a cloudy yellow color and appealingly tart, dry finish. That beer put Ganum on the podium at the 2010 World Beer Cup in Chicago. On the other end the spectrum: several excellent stouts and strong ales, from an award-winning oyster stout to the excellent Billy the Mountain, a fulsome, 9.1% ABV old ale partially aged with Brettanomyces (wild yeast), or “brett,” wafting aromas of oak, wine, and leather.


820 NE Dekum St. • Portland, OR 97211 (503) 719-6475 • • Established: 2010

5821 SE International Way Milwaukie, OR 97222 • (503) 342-6309 • • Established: 2012


Breakside might as well change their name to “breakneck,” as in “breakneck speed.” Their rapid-fire approach has been nothing short of remarkable: what started as a 3.5bbl brewpub in the quiet northeast Portland neighborhood of Woodlawn has expanded to include a second, production-focused brewery and twenty-four-tap tasting room (in another location, in southeast Portland’s Milwaukie neighborhood), hundreds of beer releases, reams of press, and stacks of medals. The brewpub continues to thrive and the production brewery is up to 20,000 barrels per year. In other words, what might have gone off the rails in less assured hands has evolved into a super-accomplished company. This is arguably Portland’s strongest all-around—yet still approachably small—brewery. Lazing on the front patio of the original brewpub on a sunny evening with a passion fruit-infused Berliner weisse, seared wasabi tuna sandwich, and sweet potato fries makes all kinds of sense.


The logo is a lawn chair, but the MO is overachiever. When, in 2014, Harvard grad and brewmaster Ben Edmunds collected a gold for American Style IPA (in a field of over three hundred entrants), the proof was served up in tangy, near-perfect balance. He’d entered Portland’s competitive, world-class beer scene with training at the prestigious Siebel Institute and Doemens Academy in Munich, but with no prior professional experience. Not a bad first few years on the job.


Breakside’s award-winning IPA is a ubiquitous offering in many local taprooms, and even Trader Joe’s sells the affordable twenty-two-ounce bottles. It’s become a welcome staple. But don’t neglect some of Edmunds’s more unusual beers, from sour and barrel-aged numbers to the much-loved Salted Caramel Stout, a rich and chocolaty collaboration with Jacobsen’s Salt, an innovative sea salt company based on the Oregon Coast.


5224 SE 26th Ave. • Portland, OR 97202 (503) 208-3416 • • Established: 2012


Gigantic is the brainchild of talented local brewers Van Havig and Ben Love. With a 15bbl brewery housed in a quiet industrial section of southeast Portland, this delicious oxymoron of a brewery is anything but huge—except when it comes to flavor. Havig, once a PhD candidate in economics, spent sixteen years with chain brewers Rock Bottom in their downtown Portland location, gaining notoriety by producing beers outpacing the larger chain’s reputation, and, as he would cheerfully assent, running off at the mouth at industry conventions. Love, formerly of Pelican (on the coast) and the first head brewer of Portland’s Hopworks, plays cheerful yin to Havig’s yang, and together, the duo seems to do no wrong, cranking out batch after unique batch with a sure hand (and terrific, pop-art-influenced labels). Among the beers they’ve gained notice for in a few short years: everything from delicate, hoppy grisette to tawny Russian imperial stouts (the cleverly named “Most Premium”), and an impressive variety in between, many with names rising above the usual stonerish pablum. It’s a refreshing approach. And the beer is very good, too.

Gigantic isn’t in the center of downtown Portland, but a trip to the taproom offers a clean, well-lit affair with red and gray highlights, soccer games on flat-screens (especially when the Portland Timbers are playing), and outdoor seating made for sunny afternoons (dogs are also welcome). The site was launched with a “Champagne Lounge” as well, which really means you can order a good bottle of champers or a split of prosecco (but none by the glass). It’s simply more vintage dry wit from the brewers who brought the world “Geezers Need Excitement,” “Whole in the Head,” and “the Most Interesting Beer in the World.” Well played, lads.


Try anything once. Gigantic has only one year-round beer: IPA, and a very good one at that. But every other beer is a one-off. This is by turns satisfying (when, as usual, the beers are excellent), and sad (when you realize it could be your last). But the recipes are posted online, so ambitious home brewers can try their hands at resurrecting the flavors.


Obviously, the IPA, brewed with ample amounts of Cascade, Centennial, Crystal, and Simcoe, is the brewery’s standard. What will they brew next on any given day is anybody’s guess.


939 SE Belmont • Portland, OR 97214 (503) 265-8603 • • Established: 2010


Pucker up, Portland. To the truly devoted beer geeks, tart, barrel-aged beers are the next IPAs, and brewer Ron Gansberg—a veteran of the wine industry and residencies with both BridgePort Brewery and Portland Brewing Company—is Stump-town’s resident chief sourpuss. His award-winning wine-, whiskey-, and port-barrel-aged Belgian-style brews crackle with acidic notes and woody tannins that blur stylistic lines (and go nicely with cheese).

In the summer of 2010, Gansberg opened this 6,000-square-foot facility with barrel-aging rooms and sixteen taps, including at least two directly from the barrels. It was the country’s first bar dedicated to sour beers, which begged the question: In the land of hops, wouldn’t an IPA bar make more sense? Not so fast. Despite a basic food menu (so far) the bar is normally busy if not packed.


“Bring your A game,” says Gansberg. “If a beer isn’t really making a statement, then it’s really hardly worth our time to brew.”


Cascade Apricot (usually around 8.5% ABV) is a crisp, tart ale that goes through sixteen months of lactic fermentation and then spends four months resting on Washington State apricots in French oak wine barrels. Cascade has a huge lineup of beers, but this is consistently my favorite.


61 SE Yamhill St. • Portland, OR 97214 (503) 232-6585 • • Established: 1993


Once housed in a pub-less, ramshackle warehouse space in deep southeast Portland, the venerable Hair of the Dog operation has a new home in the friendly inner southeast industrial district, a chic mixed-use area of start-ups, farm-to-table eateries, and loft spaces in converted meatpacking and produce warehouses. There, founder Alan Sprints and family have set up shop in an airy space brightly painted in hues of teal, gray, and green around a polished eight-tap central bar. Off to the right side of the room is a little open kitchen where Sprints (a trained chef) himself does a lot of the cooking, like a recent dish of beer-braised beef served with whole grain mustard and spring greens.


Innovative and community-minded, Sprints was among the first brewers in the country to adopt the use of bourbon and whiskey barrels to age his beers, some of which are variations of long-forgotten styles like adambier, a strong aged ale from Dortmund, Germany. Sprints got the idea from legendary Portland beer writer Fred Eckhardt, who happily scored the first bottle. (RIP, Fred. Portland will always miss you.)


Sprints made his name with Adam and Fred (named for the late Eckhardt) and other big, boozy brews numbered for the purpose of cellaring; vintage bottles are available at the taproom (batch #1 of Adam, seventy-five dollars for twelve ounces). But today his Blue Dot double IPA is setting a lot of tongues (or tails?) wagging. It’s 7% ABV with waves of sweet, grapefruity hops and a crackingly dry, bitter finish.


2944 SE Powell Blvd. • Portland, OR 97202 • (503) 232-4677 • • Established: 2007



On Sale
Apr 26, 2016
Page Count
432 pages
Running Press

Christian DeBenedetti

About the Author

Christian DeBenedetti‘s food and travel articles have appeared in the New York Times, Food & Wine, Men’s Journal, National Geographic Adventure, Outside, and other publications. He lives in Portland, Oregon.

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