With a nickname like Beervana, we know Portland is fond of its brews. Seattle – most recognized for craft coffee and cocktails – has joined the beer scene in relatively recent years; but do not be mistaken – this doesn’t mean the Emerald City is novice when it comes to carefully crafted suds. Together, Portland and Seattle make up hundreds of miles of beer lover’s paradise.
Sound a bit daunting? Have no fear. We’re breaking down ten top urban Pacific Northwest breweries sure to satisfy your craft craving. And if you’re thirsty for more, scan the Honourable Mentions lists for even more buzzy fun. You’re welcome.
A brewpub born of social conscience and nestled cozily on Southeast Portland’s ‘Brewers Row,’ Grixsen is lauded by its founders as the culmination of honest effort and celebration of uniqueness. We can also add tireless collaboration to this list, since its very name is a creative combination of each founder’s surname (Kurt Gritman, Dennis Moxley and Scott Petersen). Their brews are squarely in keeping with their philosophy – authentic and unique. Grixsen regularly observes the offerings of its neighbours and is careful to provide something different for its own patrons. We’re impressed not only by the beer of Grixsen, but also the heart. Their motto is warm, simple, and unexclusive – “good beer for great people.”
It should be noted that, at the time of writing, Grixsen just celebrated its first birthday. Happy birthday, guys!
Since we’re on the subject of social consciousness, it’s necessary to mention Ex Novo Brewing – the first non-profit brewery in the country. 100% of the proceeds from their diverse, perpetually rotating bounty (including viddles!) are dedicated to philanthropic causes – including, but not limited to, Friends of the Children and MercyCorps. Their altruistic nature isn’t the only notable quality, however. While Ex Novo does have a handful of delicious trademark brews they keep on tap year-round, their passion for diversity and small-batch quality really shines in their if-you-blink-you-might-miss-them seasonal and limited offerings. (We’re looking at you, Liquid Sweater.) Ex Novo takes food seriously too. Warm (or cool), seasonal dishes made from local ingredients, with love.
If you don’t live under a rock, chances are you’re familiar with this one. If you have lived under a rock until now, we’re honoured to introduce you. Just a couple of guys who love beer and hated working for the Man, the Widmer bros have been innovating with hops since home brewing was legalized in Oregon in 1979. Since the opening of their pilot brewery in 1984, they’ve become the first to offer a special beer for all four seasons (1986), helped establish the Oregon Brewer’s Festival (1988), opened their permanent North Portland location (1990), started bottling their beer (1996), invented a revolutionary collaborator project (1998), and have racked up a plethora of awards. Just living the dream!
As is the case with so many breweries, this one was birthed in its founder’s garage. It has since seen a momentous expansion to a brewhouse, and then to a tasting room. The Commons’ philosophy is rooted in unfussy sociability. Focus is unwaveringly set on fueling interpersonal connection using quality, oftentimes organic ingredients, carefully brewed into unpretentious, interesting, and food-pairable beer. The Commons features a 13-tap system and a great variety of bottled beverages to consume in-house or at home. Their taps offer a rotation of 12 beers and one cider. In the spirit of community, they’ll even sneak in a guest feature every now and again.
We can’t talk about this place without talking about their Cheese Annex. Made possible by partner Steve Jones (of Cheese Bar fame), the Cheese Annex offers a variety of cheese plates, meat plates, combo plates, sandwiches, baguettes, dips, soups, salads, MAC AND CHEESE…ahem. Sorry. This is really exciting for us. Bottom line – the Cheese Annex is a perfect companion for the brews of The Commons.
Founded in 2014 by a hardworking, beer-loving duo – ‘Angry Rob’ and ‘the Danimal’ – Stormbreaker is establishing itself as a neighbourhood staple. Inventive sips and hearty artisan bites help to round out the rustic, inviting vibe of the place. Heavy emphasis on sports here (can you say ‘heated tent with HD projector and surround sound,’ boys and girls?), which is just fine for those of us who need a place to alight during football games where we won’t get the side eye for yelling at the referees.
Fun trivia: this writer – a PNW native – is mildly embarrassed to admit that the name ‘Stormbreaker’ didn’t ring any bells. Turns out it’s a cheeky nickname for Mount Hood, which makes a habit of breaking the storms that drift off the Pacific.
In 2011, Uptown Market used to be just that – a beer market, a bottle shop. It earned notoriety at the time for its boundless variety of specialty flavours and hard-to-find labels. In 2013, Uptown evolved into a full-scale brewery – Beaverton’s first, no less; but they didn’t stop there. Uptown has expanded its empire to also include a Lake Oswego location and a food truck (Beaverton). Despite this well-earned growth spurt, these folks have not forgotten their roots. Uptown remains one of Oregon’s premier purveyors of bottled, hoppy rarities – with a knowledgeable, friendly staff to match. As if that weren’t enough to endear them to us for the rest of our lives, in keeping with their philosophy that variety is the spice of life, the Market also offers a great assortment of wines, ciders, mead, and Kombucha.
Founded in 2009, Fremont Brewing Co. became an almost instant sensation. Hordes of beer enthusiasts flocked to the sleek-yet-cozy industrial space in the artsy Fremont neighbourhood to hob knob and experience the locally-sourced brews. So many people became regulars, in fact, that FBC not only took over the whole building (they had previously shared it with a yoga studio), but also moved and expanded their urban beer garden, and grew the interior to include more seating, a kitchen, and staff offices and lockers. Recount of the expansion would not be complete without also mentioning the indoor fire pit – perfect for enjoying those seasonal winter selections.
Capitol Cider is proud to be the largest independent cider bar in the nation. Not only do they have an impressive array of offerings, but also a kick ass attitude toward food, drink and people. They have 30 taps – a 20 -10 split, cider to beer – that are constantly rotating, and a cider bottle list with more than 150 options from all over the western US, Canada, England, France and Spain. If you can bring yourself to make a decision (can we just order one of everything?), pair your choice with any one of their ‘gourmet comfort food’ dishes. Bonus points: patrons with food allergies rejoice! Their kitchen is 100% free of gluten, peanuts, and soy; and in keeping with that progressively all-inclusive Seattle attitude, they pledge to make every reasonable accommodation for customers sensitive to other allergens.
This is one of the newer brew pubs about town, just having passed their first birthday at the time of writing. (HBD, guys!) Mollusk prides itself on optimizing traditional American brewing and cooking techniques with modern technology and ever-so-slight alteration. One look at their seasonally-rotating menu will tell you just how highly they esteem quality of ingredients and care in preparation. They offer cheekily named drafts (example: ‘Intently Passive Aggressive’ – hilariously fitting for Seattle), growler fills, and bottles. Food is fresh and leans toward the gourmet. Think: loads of dressy vegetables and saucy seafood, served elegantly on white tableware. Rustic and unpretentious, graceful and innovative.
Also interesting: pop in on their website every once in a while and click the ‘coming soon’ link under ‘beers.’ They’ll tell you what’s ready to pop and what’s mulling in the tanks at any given time.
Guys…So. Many. Beers. Unlike some of the other brewery-slash-restaurant contenders on this list, Cloudburst is probably more in line with the traditional concept of a brewery. Big, industrial brick building full of giant silver vats, the smell of barley in the air and swells of hipster beer bellies speckled around. They do have a tasting room, and it’s cozy, but you can tell that the brewing process is their primary focus. Their taps rotate constantly, which keeps the novelty up, but can be frustrating if you’re trying to find an ol’ standby. Lucky for us, Cloudburst beers can be found in over 70 Seattle bars and restaurants – including other breweries.
Note: while Cloudburst is happy to sell you a growler full of any of their delicious beverages, they will not fill growlers on demand.
GrowlerWerks is a company that defines the spirit of travel as we have invented the ultimate travel companion. The uKeg™ pressurized growler was designed with the core idea to savor your beer to the last drop and share it with friends wherever you escape to. With patented technology and a seductive facade, it is the the world’s premiere growler for any occasion at any location.