24 Hours in Portland: Beers, Movies & Secret Diners

Photo Credit - richtpt - http://flic.kr/p/8msmHW
Photo Credit: richtpt

"How about we meet up at the Brew Fest in Portland?" asked my Seattleite friend Matt. Such an innocent question.

From free-flowing taps to a full-moon movie in the park, plus a you-don't-know-about-it-yet diner, our Saturday-to-Sunday 24 hours in Portland turned into one of the highlights of our summer.

Oregon Brewers Festival

Saturday afternoon at the Oregon Brew Fest was a hot, dry day, amidst a massive crowd thirsty for excellent beer. Under 2 massive tents, each at opposite ends of a fenced-off area at the Portland Waterfront, 10 trailers poured a steady stream of beers from 80 craft breweries from all over the U.S.

And oh my, did they pour.

I must admit, Saturday was not the optimal day for quiet introverts such as us to go to Brew Fest. Did we have an amazing time? Oh yes. We also know how we'll have a better time next year — but we'll get to that. (BTW, Kevin at Beer and Coding in Eugene has a great write-up on his 2010 OBF experience.)

The madness of a Saturday at Brew Fest can be summed up easily: tapped-out taps, and the random primal scream.

Timing matters, too, and we knew ours would not be optimal. Our schedules only gave us Saturday afternoon, the heaviest day of the festival. We read the program, and roped in recommendations from friends. Sadly, many taps were out.

It's an ugly truth: there's no way to always have enough beer. Brewers can only bring but so much, and we can always drink more.

We easily found alternates, but I'll wag my finger, Colbert-style, at 2 breweries: Great Divide, your Hoss sounded like one of the most unique, fascinating beers of the entire fest. Yet when I got to the front of the line, Hoss was out, with Hopworks Organic Rise Up Red pouring instead. But the sign still said, "Hoss". I'll gladly drink Hopworks Red — it's a good beer, and after that bloody wait, I certainly wasn't leaving empty-mugged. But change the signs, folks. Just change the damn signs.

Anderson Valley, and your Summer Solstice Cerveza Crema, I'm watching you. Twice you've evaded me now — once at the 2009 Sasquatch Brewfest in Eugene, and again at the Oregon Brewer's Festival. But you can't run out forever, Cerveza Crema, with your delectable name and well-written beer descriptions. You will be mine. Oh, yes, you will be mine.

Then there was the scream.

Random, primal, defying logic or even Bones-level anthropology, the scream would begin with one drinker, spread like a virus, and shake the tent like a verbal vuvuzela.

We never knew when it would happen, much less why. At first we tried to observe, anticipate, hypothesize. "I got it! The scream happens when a new keg is tapped!"

Nope.

"OK — it happens when someone spills their beer!"

An excellent guess… but no.

The primal scream rang, and rang, and rang — and we understood.

The primal scream happened, because on hot July days where thousands of people are off their nuts on well-crafted beer, primal screams just happen.

Notable Pours

Here are some of the beers I'll gladly welcome back to my hand and mouth:

  • Buckbean Brewing Original Orange Blossom Ale — good summer sipper, light on the palate, and a hint of Earl Grey tea-like flavor.
  • Natian Brewery Destinatian — Kevin at Beer and Coding wasn't fond of Destinatian, but I respectfully disagree. The added honey contributed complexity and depth to the dark roast malt tones, and the hops were refreshing and lip-smacking good. I'll be curious to see what else comes out of Portland's 1.3-barrel nanobrewery.
  • Upright Brewing Reggae Junkie Gruit — now this is different. I won't comment here on the "Northwest hops arms race", except that I find over-hopping pretty damn boring. Portland's Upright bucking the trend by eschewing hops completely in this gruit ale. Their "gruit", a catch-all term for the blends of herbs and spices used for beer before hops became the dominant bittering and preservative agent, was light and deep on the palate. Some gruits can be too medicinal; Upright's had tartness, sweetness and texture. As a brewer interested in trying my hand at gruit ales, I'm looking forward to more pints of Reggae Junkie.

Better Luck Next Year

As we people-watched, read the program and pondered, we realized what we can do to ensure a more successful (for us) OBF experience.

Let's qualify this, though. Do you love a crowd? Do you love screaming and rowdiness? Then have at — Saturday is for you. And probably Friday evening, but we weren't there to observe.

But.

Do you want smaller crowds? No "we're out" signs? Maybe even some more specialty beers?

Here's what we're going to try next year, and it may work for you too.

  • Go during the day Thursday or Friday. Earlier means smaller crowds, especially on business-hour weekdays while people work.
  • Hit the specialty "Buzz Beer" tent. Packed with 48 limited release and specialty beers, there'll be fewer people, and this is where to be for some truly unique beer-tasting.

Portland Pandora

Beered up? How about a movie for a nightcap? Parks all over Portland show movies during the summer (free to the public, for places and showtimes see the Portland Parks website).

For our weekend, we left the Beer Fest and headed up Sandy Boulevard… and up… and up, from downtown Portland to Wilkes Park, way out on NE 154th Street. A lush green park full of friends and families patiently waited for dusk — and for Avatar. At 3 hours long, I was impressed with the number of kids who stayed up till midnight to watch the entire movie. One friend among us was seeing Avatar for the first time. Back at her house post-showing, we stayed up until nearly 4 a.m., discussing the movie, its social commentary, and the many ways its story can be interpreted.

State Secret

This ends, as many good things should end, with a damn fine meal.

Making plans for a Sunday brunch, a friend mentioned a new diner near her apartment. Our 7-strong, sleep-deprived group rolled in to City State Diner at 10:30 a.m., and were amazed: no wait for a table. On a late weekend morning in Portland, this is unheard of.

After a palate-tastic brunch, though, we know this will change.

Located at 128 NE 28th between (Couch and Davis), the newbie City State opened not 2 months ago, on June 4, 2010. (The address listing in Google Maps hasn't even updated, as of this writing.) I will suggest that word has not yet gotten out about their homemade muffins, reasonable prices and fill-you-up-but-not-overstuff-you plates. When our server set down my wife's Challah French toast, Jodie noted the jealous looks around the table, and offered up some pieces for all to savor.

As for me, I tucked into a plate of 2 eggs over-easy, hash browns, rustic white bread toast… and oh god, those sausages. Split lengthwise, mixed with a touch of orange zest and topped with feta cheese and sauteed green and red peppers, the Loukaniko Greek sausages were a Sunday morning delight. Not too greasy and with a savory-tart flavor, even if I had wanted lunch I would've skipped it to savor the memory of these sausages.

Brunch at City State Diner boils down to this: It will be worth the wait, once there is one. So go now while it's easy — and spread the word. City State Diner is a secret just dying to get out.

Homeward

All this, in about 24 hours.

As always, Jodie and I are glad to be home.

That way, we're always ready for more in Portland.

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