Two weeks ago, I lounged at the U-shaped bar of Hair of the Dog Brewery in Portland, Ore., finishing one of the best beers I’d had on my five-day trip. In all, I tried 36 beers and visited seven breweries, but what stood out to me was how mediocre most of them were.
Portland has an esteemed reputation in the craft-beer scene. I’d read about many of the 100-plus breweries in the metro area and envisioned one on every street corner, and every beer the highest caliber of its kind.
So I visited the trendy (and, in my mind, overrated) Deschutes, rubbed literal elbows with bros at Old Town Brewing and followed the brewery trail through the city’s Inner Southeast neighborhood.
If you did the same, we probably wouldn’t agree on favorites. I tend toward darker beers, Belgians and hoppy or juicy IPAs, all of which were high on my list of Portland faves. But farmhouse ales and goses are pretty popular, and lagers are becoming a trend I could really do without.
That’s the beauty of beer: the subjective and transitory nature of it, how you and I can disagree on the quality of fruit beers that are probably just one-offs anyway, how brewers change recipes and experiment with styles no one has heard of before and not everyone will have the time to try.
In Portland, every time I sampled the burnt-berry ale I hated, I thought about the happy experiments I love: Shaina Gold’s strawberry-banana hefeweizen at Gibb’s Hundred in downtown Greensboro, or the Triad Brewers Alliance Belgian tripel that I tried before my trip. For each ho-hum Portland stout, I conjured the flavors of Hoots’ Morning Coffee, Preyer’s Vladibeer Russian imperial, Four Saints’ bourbon-barrel-aged Impending Grace and the Satisfy My Soul nitro at Wise Man. (Please bring it back!)
Sure, the West Coast has some gnarly IPAs, like Hop in the Pool from Base Camp, which tastes just like juice. And I don’t think I’ll ever have anything quite like the Bourbon Little Brother Belgian dark strong ale at the Commons. But the Bière de Garde from Joymongers is out of this world, and the hefeweizen at Small Batch in Winston-Salem beats anything on a hot day.
Denver, I’ve heard, is another Western brew mecca, and I’ll probably go someday. But will I be thinking of drinking People’s Porter from a plastic cup at a Winston-Salem Dash game, or sipping a bottle of Natty Greene’s Red Nose Winter ale by the fire?
Absolutely. The Triad might not yet be a major tourist destination in the craft world, but the brewers here are holding their own. Next time I’m drinking an ESB at Pig Pounder, a Peppers Pale Ale from Kernersville Brewing or sampling the award-winning wares at Brown Truck or Liberty in High Point, I will say to the gods of beer, May Triad brewers be ever faithful to the craft, ever experimental and continue making hella tasty suds.