By Andi Prewitt
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
Higgins Restaurant and Bar
It’s all too easy to get seduced by the hottest new restaurants in Portland while longtime favorites are taken for granted. Like an old, comfortable relationship, we just assume they’ll always be there when we need them. And at more than 20 years old, it doesn’t look like Higgins is going to up and abandon you when a warm corner bistro is what you’re looking for in the heart of downtown. But February might be the perfect time to renew that spark with the farm-to-table establishment, though not a brewery it has always boasted an impressively long beer list. Forgo the white tablecloth side of the house and slide into a well-worn, high-backed booth enveloped by floor-to-ceiling dark wood paneling. It’s a little cozier among the beer handles, cask engine and hurried keg traffic that crosses the bar floor every time one empties. Beyond the 12 taps are dozens of bottled varieties, including more than 40 Belgians on a recent visit. And if you need to impress that special beer geek in your life during a night out, Higgins has you covered with a $326 bottle of 2001 Chimay Grand Reserve. However, a $10 pour of Chimay Cinq Cents White Label will probably hit the spot, too.
1239 SW Broadway
Kells Brew Pub
If all you think of when you hear the word “Kells” is the Old Town location known for its slotted ceiling stuffed with dollar bills, raucous St. Patrick’s Day celebration and proximity to bro nightlife — blocks teeming with clubs for 21-year-olds looking to blackout the day they can legally drink — then you’re missing out. The original Portland site can be a hell of a good party on a Saturday night, but it’s not necessarily the most romantic venue — at least in the traditional sense. However, the Brew Pub, which opened on Northwest 21st Avenue in 2012, offers a more intimate experience with its oversized cobblestone fireplace and booths with hinged doors that provide you and your date unparalleled dining room privacy. Those secluded seats could be hard to come by since they’re kind of like a VIP section — everyone wants in and you can’t help but wonder what’s going on inside those wooden partitions. Ornate details also help set the mood: stained-glass windows stamped with a green clover, wrought iron-style chandeliers and even a handful of throw pillows in each enclosed area should you find yourself in need of a cushion mid-embrace while waiting for the check. In the case you can’t score a booth, sink into one of the supple leather sofas positioned next to the glowing hearth. There’s a view of the brewery in back as you share a sampler tray of Kells’ house-made beers. And if the fire isn’t enough to ward off that winter chill, nothing beats a hearty Irish dish like the velvety Shepherd’s pie or crispy Fish and Chips. You can also rely on the warmth of your lover, but don’t get too handsy -- St. Patrick is watching from the bar.
210 NW 21st Ave.
McMenamins Kennedy School
Admit it — as an adolescent you always dreamed of someday making out with your crush under the bleachers on campus. Well now as an adult, you can actually get past first base inside the school’s walls. McMenamins should hold a special place in any Pacific Northwest resident’s heart because of the franchise’s dedication to restoring historic properties. And of all the Portland locations, Kennedy School is the best because the story of its unique past is prominently displayed throughout the building and the array of rooms offer a unique drinking experience as you explore the sprawling property. Start your night in the now-unrecognizable cafeteria adorned with funky, mismatched pendant lights and mahogany booths. No miniature cartons of milk here. Just think how much more entertaining fifth period math would’ve been had the lunchroom come equipped with a bar. Although you may think you’ve experienced all the McMenamins beers — from Ruby to Terminator — don’t forget that each brewer has the freedom to create unique recipes that are only produced at that particular site. Do your homework and be sure to sample those offerings in The Courtyard Restaurant. After dinner, grab a pint to-go and roam the long corridors that have been transformed into a museum dedicated to mosaic art and the history of the school, which was founded in 1915. Then have fun discovering what kind of student you are. Skipping class and smoking? Head to Detention. Teacher’s pet with a penchant for opera and subdued debate? Honors Bar is the place for you. Remember: if the date goes really well, Kennedy School has overnight accommodations.
5736 NE 33rd Ave.
Occidental Brewing Company
Who says sausages aren’t sexy? Occidental’s Wursthaus may not be an obvious pick for a date since it lacks many of the amenities associated with the typical night out: dim lighting, table service and at least some seclusion from other diners. Instead, the space that opened this past summer has walls bathed in a bright shade of canary, wursts served six ways that you order at the counter and a long, narrow dining room with sturdy bench seating — but no booths. Now if you’re a couple with kiddos, this is actually the perfect place to get out of your house for a few hours when the babysitter falls through. You’re likely to find toddlers squirming away from their parents’ grasp since the place allows minors, unlike Occidental’s Tap Room across the parking lot. Urban Germany Grill, long a popular vendor at beer festivals and farmers markets, now provides a menu for both kids and adults at the Wursthaus. However, even if it’s just you and your partner, the sweeping view of the city’s most romantic span is reason enough to visit. Order some hot, melted cheese in the form of fondue and head to a table near the back wall covered in German beer signs. The gothic arches of the St. Johns Bridge suddenly come into view, with one end of the road disappearing into the rolling hills covered in pine trees across the river. A patio that runs the length of the second-story business awaits nicer weather. It could be the perfect spot to plan a wedding ceremony at Cathedral Park, which sits under the beloved bridge.
6635 N. Baltimore Ave.
Old Town Pizza & Brewing
It’s reportedly the site of a murder and the victim still haunts the space where she took her last breath. Sounds romantic, huh? Old Town embraces the scandalous past of the building it inhabits, and the possibility of running into a ghost is a draw for many customers as well. There’s that and the perfect date night pairing: pizza and beer. If anything, a haunted taproom is reason to hold onto your partner a little tighter, so take a deep breath, stay alert and walk through the low-clearance dining room toward the back of what used to be the Merchant Hotel. You’ll find a seating area partially enclosed by a brick wall. This is the former elevator shaft where the body of an enslaved woman was found. Legend has it that two missionaries tried to help her out of a life of forced prostitution in exchange for information about her captors. However, the woman named Nina was pushed to her death before the planned escape could take place. Fortunately, the scene there now is far less grim. Get comfortable on the red velvet couch (if you can) and as you wait for your pie from the kitchen, search for her name carved in the wall nearby. If the glowing crimson table lamp happens to flicker while you’re there, it’s probably just a coincidence…
226 NW Davis St.
By Andi Prewitt
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
It’s no secret that Oregon’s soil is rich with buried treasure. But only a small segment of the population possesses the knowledge to unearth the goods.
The hunt is unusual — the map moves and the untrained eye can’t tell whether they’ve discovered prize or poison. But over the years, foragers have helped create a thriving mushroom and truffle industry in this state. Lately, beer lovers have been able to sample these intriguing forest organisms in liquid form, as an increasing number of local brewers have started experimenting with tops and tubers to create unique seasonals and one-offs. To better understand these wild ingredients as well as how they can be incorporated into the brewing process, two beer makers helped explain their methods. Additionally, a fourth-generation chef at a mushroom- and truffle-themed restaurant described the practice of gathering the traveling fungi.
“The best season for hunting mushrooms is the season when it rains,” said Christopher Czarnecki, head-of-the-kitchen at The Joel Palmer House in Dayton.
That means hunting for mushrooms in Oregon is somewhat of a marathon. Of course, no two years are exactly the same when it comes to the harvest. A plot of land that was flourishing one season may become a dud the next. Czarnecki said rainfall, humidity and elevation can all affect growth. He’s pleased that 2016 has been particularly good for morels and chanterelles. Just like with crops you’d find at the farmers market, the seasons produce different varieties of mushroom. Finicky morels, for instance, tend to pop up in spring in Oregon and are known for emerging from the charred land following fires.
“Morels are particular. Those are the ‘Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego’ of the mushroom world,” Czarnecki described.
Chanterelles, however, tend to be a little more reliable. Currently, professional and home cooks are taking advantage of Oregon’s fall chanterelles. A smaller, firmer version arrives in spring. The closest thing the state has to a dry period for mushrooms is in the dead of summer. But Czarnecki explained that even then the motivated hunter need only drive a little farther out of town. The region’s consistently damper areas, like coastal woods or the Mount Hood National Forest, still host mushrooms even when temperatures climb in the Willamette Valley.
Czarnecki is deeply familiar with mushroom growth, and not just because he needs to know how to plan his menu. His family does much of the foraging to supply the restaurant, which was owned by his father before he took it over nearly 10 years ago. The tradition of hunting for and cooking with mushrooms has been passed down, father to son, four times, with Czarnecki’s great-grandfather opening what was initially a tavern in 1916.
Many types of mushrooms can be found within the state’s borders, and Czarnecki isn’t the only one who’s conducted some culinary research on the various options available. Andrew Lamont, head brewer at Old Town Brewing in Portland, can tick off the list of mushrooms that didn’t make the cut: oyster, portobello, shitake. When he decided he wanted to make a mushroom beer, his trial work started in the kitchen. Lamont shared that his wife hates mushrooms, so examining options for the recipe was actually a fun opportunity to cook with an ingredient that rarely sees his stove. Ultimately, for the beer he envisioned, most of the flavors were dull. Lamont wanted something that stood out. He eventually found what he was looking for in the candy cap, which has more of a maple syrup character instead of the typical earthy notes found in many mushrooms.
So why the foray into fungi, beyond yeast, to begin with? Turns out, the answer is pretty simple.
“I’ve never had a mushroom beer!” Lamont said with a big laugh. “That was really the reason behind it. I never had one and it was just one of those ingredients that I never really heard anybody doing before, so I decided to give it a go.”
Lamont was also looking to bring a bold, new creation to the Oregon Brewers Festival last year. The event is one of the nation’s longest running when it comes to beer, which means plenty of producers use the platform to showcase something unusual. For Lamont, that became 1-Up Mushroom Ale, with a nod to Nintendo nerds in the name.
Once the mushroom was chosen, Lamont had to figure out how to incorporate them into the batch. Rather than tossing candy caps into the wort, he “dry hopped” them after standard fermentation. The cold soak lasted almost two weeks, which was plenty of time to allow the sweet mushroom flavor to make its imprint on the liquid. Lamont also researched this route by making a tea beforehand — a practice he employs when working with any sort of powder or peel.
“So I’ll take the dried mushroom, or whatever [the ingredient] is, put it in some hot water, let it steep for a certain amount of time and then I’ll actually taste that tea,” Lamont outlined. “That really gives you a good idea of how those flavors are going to be put into the beer.”
If he likes what hits his palate, the next step is a two-day cold soak in a growler. Almost immediately after a sip of that candy cap tea, Lamont realized Old Town had a beer on tap that would serve as a solid base — an alt. To help ensure the batch with mushrooms wouldn’t taste like a sugar bomb — going form a subtle sweetness to a triple-decker waffle tower dripping in maple syrup and melted Werther’s Originals — Lamont toned down the caramel notes and amped up the bitterness. He only needed about 2 ounces of candy cap per barrel, the supply coming from Oregon Mushrooms LLC in Southern Oregon. In the end, he struck a good balance as evidenced by an August limited-edition bottle release of what many fans have described as “pancake beer” going so fast, it even surprised Lamont.
“I just didn’t think that many people would want a mushroom beer!” he laughed.
Truffle beers have also proven popular, possibly in part because they’re still extraordinarily rare. However, a few Oregon breweries have released bottles made with the beneath-the-surface brethren of the mushroom. One of those is La Truffe, a stout infused with Oregon white truffles and hazelnuts — the result of a collaboration between Wolves & People Farmhouse Brewery in Newberg and the Oregon Truffle Festival. The event, which takes place again Jan. 20-22, 2017, happens to coincide with the beginning of harvest season for the Oregon Winter White. The state is home to four of its own truffle species recognized for their culinary value, according to the Festival. And you don’t necessarily need the exhaustive search party to track them down like you do with mushrooms. Chef Czarnecki explained that if you return to a tree where you found truffles before, you’ll find them there again as long as the roots weren’t damaged.
But that doesn’t blunt the thrill of the hunt. Wolves & People founder Christian DeBenedetti exuded enthusiasm when recounting the opportunity he had to accompany experts and their truffle dogs.
“One minute, you’re standing out in an open field; next you’re crouching in the underbrush of a young pine forest. And the dogs are going crazy, and pretty soon you’re digging,” he described. “You’re on your hands and knees digging through the soil to find your own truffles and picking them out, one by one. It’s really incredible.”
After that, he knew he had to follow through with an idea he’d been kicking around for years: making a truffle beer. DeBenedetti approached Oregon Truffle Festival organizers, who essentially ended up loaning him 5 pounds of Oregon white truffle for the project. That’s right — Wolves & People could return the fungi since they weren’t being destroyed or altered by the brewing technique. So truffles that helped shape La Truffe could have gone on to make another truffle lover happy by showing up in a different form on a dinner plate.
The borrowed truffles got very cozy with 50 pounds of custom-roasted hazelnuts from Springbrook Farm near the brewery. “We don’t like to go into extreme detail,” DeBenedetti explained, “about our method.” But he did say that the filbert was an excellent vehicle for the truffles.
“We found that by infusing those hazelnuts, which are very rich in fatty acids, with the aroma of truffles that the essence really kind of hitchhiked into the beer nicely,” DeBenedetti said.
Using a whole truffle “in all its glory,” as DeBenedetti puts it, was imperative. Experts advised him to avoid extracts, oils and salts, which are sometimes composed of artificial or chemical ingredients. And then, of course, there’s that addicting smell emitted by a ripe truffle that just can’t be beat. Researchers have found that that truffles have chemical compounds that mimic the reproductive pheromones of mammals. What’s not so clear, though, is how that translates in terms of flavor.
“One of the most common questions I get is, ‘What does a truffle taste like?’ And I’m like, ‘Well, it doesn’t really taste like anything.’ It in itself does not have any flavor. It’s all in the aroma,” Chef Czarnecki said.
DeBenedetti characterized the gas as exotic and almost fuel-like. “Some have compared it to the aroma of ozone, which is not something I could pick out, necessarily, in a lineup. But once you learn to identify the smell, it’s a little fusel-y.”
The key is that the gases attach themselves to fatty oils — those found in meats, cheeses and eggs. When a truffle mingles with steak or butter, for instance, it imparts its unique properties to those foods.
“Something fatty that really likes to coat the palate, that’s when you can ‘taste it’ because what’s happening is its coating the inside of your mouth. You’re inhaling, you’re exhaling,” Chef Czarnecki said. “You’re getting what my dad likes to refer to as the ‘truffle burp,’ and that’s the closest thing you ever get to tasting the truffle.”
While most brewers haven’t yet taken a chance on mushrooms or truffles, Lamont and DeBenedetti seem to be part of a growing, brave group — including Portland’s Base Camp Brewing Company and de Garde Brewing in Tillamook — that embraces fungus along with all of the challenges and rewards that come with it. Increased interest in these ingredients can be attributed to a few factors: brewer curiosity, the urge to express originality and relying on the local environment to provide sustainable, inspiring new resources.
“To me, it’s just something that’s unique. Something different. Whenever you go to a bar, it’s the inquisitive nature of, ‘Hmmm … mushrooms,’” said Lamont. “I think brewers are just being more creative, especially up in this region.”
“I think any brewer who is interested in taking his or her brewing to the next level in terms of local ingredients — foraging, sourcing from right here where we live — that it’s a natural progression to try something with mushrooms or truffles,” DeBenetti offered. “As difficult as it may be, I think it’s at the very least a fascinating experiment, and at its best can be truly something delicious.”
Tyler Craven, owner and creative director of BeerQuest PDX, is shown here leading a haunted pub tour through Old Town Portland. In addition to stops for craft beer at two locations, participants get to learn about the city’s sordid history and supernatural experiences. Photo courtesy of BeerQuest PDX
By Andi Prewitt
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
Portland’s Old Town is the kind of area where you’d expect to find 20-somethings lined up outside of dimly lit clubs bumping along to the same incessant electro-beats, bar tops packed as tightly with people as the dance floors and even an increasing number of craft breweries. You might’ve even had the experience of stumbling around some of those cobblestone streets during a 21st birthday or other booze-fueled party.
Old Town has certainly sealed and even embraced its status as an entertainment district. But that reputation is anything but new. A cursory glance of the setting reveals brick buildings, fountains and roads that are more than a century old — and these landmarks have seen their fair share of raucous drinking throughout the years. In fact, today’s scene might look downright tame compared to the activities that used to define the city’s nightlife. You can, in one sense, experience the history of Old Town almost anytime you’d like through walking tours hosted by BeerQuest PDX. And while they’re offered year-round, the Halloween season might be the best time to go because you not only learn about the questionable characters who inhabited old Portland; you also hear stories of some of the spirits who continue to visit their stomping grounds today. Sound a little spooky? Not to worry. The crawl includes plenty of beer to take the edge off.
Tyler Craven knows what it’s like to take Portland’s history and beer for granted. The owner and creative director of BeerQuest PDX grew up in West Linn and didn’t really have much of an interest in Portland’s past. In fact, Craven, who still leads many of the tours and conducts all of the research that goes into them, didn’t even major in history, despite your likely expectations. He got his degree in biology at Creighton University in Nebraska. But that’s also what helped spur his interest in craft beer. Like many an undergrad, Craven downed plenty of Coors Light and similar domestic lagers lacking in flavor. Moreover, craft brewing options in the Midwest were notably bleak. It was only when he’d returned to Oregon that he began to take notice of the burgeoning beer culture. The science behind the production, yeast’s role in particular, also intrigued Craven. He then started trying out every brewery he could in Portland.
The path from beer fan to beer tour guide is neither straight nor simple. Freshly armed with his academic credentials in 2009, Craven once again found himself having a similar experience as many in his cohort, just this time as a new graduate. He didn’t know what he wanted to do next. So he worked for a summer and decided to travel abroad. That led to a volunteer year in South Africa where he taught English and worked at a rural medical clinic. It didn’t take long to fall in love with the culture, so Craven extended his stay another year. During this period, he got his first experience leading people on tours. He wasn’t talking about beer quite yet. The subject matter instead revolved around the animals at a game reserve in Swaziland. The background in biology certainly helped him flesh out all of those random facts about zebras, giraffes and water buffalos. But perhaps more importantly, Craven discovered a strength.
“That’s where I kind of learned that hey, I’m really good at telling stories and people are really interested and just kind of honed my craft as far as that goes,” explained Craven. “And then when I got home, I just kind of applied the same thing to beer in Portland.”
While combining his two passions — entertaining crowds and craft beer — seemed natural, not all of Craven’s initial business ideas took off. He laughs now when admitting there were actually a lot of failures. That the original plan, a beer scavenger hunt, didn’t work is somewhat of a surprise. When you consider the adoration for events like the adult soap box derby, it seems like you’d have to crochet bomb quirky Portlanders to street signs in order to keep them away from signing up for a beer scavenger hunt. But popularity can be a problem. Too many moving parts and not enough experience were overwhelming.
“I really got pretty far into the development of it,” said Craven, “but at a certain point I decided that I needed to do something that I was better at myself and with less people. Five-hundred people is a lot. I don’t know what I was thinking.”
Craven reached the point where he wasn’t sure whether starting a business would work and even began looking for jobs. But a conversation with a friend on the East Coast turned everything around. He happened to know some guys behind a ghost tour company in Washington, D.C. Craven got in touch with one of the men, who didn’t know much about Portland, but encouraged him to look into it.
And so the research began.
If you’ve ever taken the haunted pub tour, you’ll know that this isn’t some surface-level, brochure-style lecture. The stories are detailed, vivid and engaging. And Craven has certainly done his homework. The Oregon Historical Society has been a primary resource from the beginning.
“They keep basically every Oregonian [newspaper] that’s ever been made, which is really cool. So I would learn about a character, learn about someone in Portland history, and go back and read the original articles about it or look at some of the photographs,” Craven described.
He also worked to find a consensus among sources when accounts of certain events would vary. And as far as digging up material for the tales of the supernatural, Craven tries to talk to the bartenders and servers at Kells and Old Town Brewing Co., where the tours pause for beers, on a regular basis. The guides, of which there are now four, appreciate being able to mix things up a bit to keep their talks fresh.
While internal startup costs may seem like they’d be minimal — because, after all, it was just one guy walking people around town — there actually were expenses Craven had to deal with. The website and logo were two important elements that didn’t come cheap. A Mercy Corps matched savings grant ultimately helped propel the business forward and Craven quickly noticed that he had a hit on his hands.
“We started Halloween night three years ago, and it was just sold out, like, every night. So I was like, ‘Okay, we’ve got something here,’” Craven recounted. “And just kind of kept it going and figured, ‘Why not? Maybe people will keep signing up.’ And they did.”
Before performing for paying customers, Craven practiced in front of friends and family. That first run clocked in at a longer time than Gilligan’s scheduled boat tour. Four hours’ worth of material was simply too long to endure, so Craven found that he ruthlessly had to cut some of the stories he loved. One of his favorites, though, is about notorious shanghaier [and drunkard] Jim Turk. He owned a boarding house in both Portland and Astoria, kidnapping unsuspecting sailors and teenage boys to then sell to ship captains looking for extra laborers. He was so conniving, Turk ran a scheme where he would shanghai his oldest son Charles, and just as the ship would leave Charles would jump overboard and swim ashore, splitting the earnings with his father. Eventually, their plot did backfire, adding yet another interesting twist to Portland’s history.
Individuals are often drawn to the underbelly of a city, delighted by the sordid details of drinking, killing and sex. Beer played a big role, especially in a city like Portland where sailors were ready to party after months at sea. A culture of brewing was growing even back then as beer halls and saloons became popular places to socialize. On the tour, you’ll even learn that the longest bar in the world was once located in Old Town, along with what was also probably the longest urinal since it was a trough that ran along the bar. Learning about the old way of life is undeniably fascinating and actually spending physical time in that space helps the history come to life.
“Walking around and thinking back to that old mindset and seeing the city the way it used to be and imagining the horse-drawn carriages and imagining sailors running around — I think that hits home with people,” Craven said. “And, you know, knowing that, like, it hasn’t always been this way and we’ve evolved over the years and kind of seeing the past in the present is a fun thing to do.”
During October when the leaves burn vibrant shades of orange and red, when you start to first notice your breath leaves a cloud in the chilling air and when the nights grow longer — the haunted part of the tour tends to be the biggest attraction. More locals sign up whereas tourists dominate during the summer. Craven said that unknown factor is a big pull — empirical proof doesn’t exist when it comes to the supernatural, but it becomes more and more difficult to deny the mounting number of shared experiences. Even as a man of science with a degree in biology, Craven has now heard and seen enough to shake his skepticism.
“Just too many things for it to be a coincidence,” he explained. “And we go to the same places over and over, so we kind of know what it usually is like and we know when something’s really different — there’s just a different energy to it.”
Now the tour isn’t all ghost stories and ghoulish history. The atmosphere tends to get quite festive as costumes are encouraged and also worn by the guides in October. Halloween, of course, will be the busiest day for the haunted tour. Last year, BeerQuest PDX held four different start times for the crawl and all of them were booked.
A good storyteller knows how to weave an anecdote in such a way that you’ll remember the plot and main characters. Certain details will fade with time, but others should be unforgettable because of the level of description and animated delivery. Craven and his team help ensure that quality stories are told about Portland and its past, which is one thing he hopes people take away from the experience.
“I always really like the locals because they’re really interested and really surprised with all the history that is in Portland, in their backyard, that they never knew,” Craven said. “And they’re always really excited they know these stories now, and they’re like, ‘Oh, I can tell my friends all about it!’”
In addition to knowing what shaped Portland, Craven wants participants to gain a strong appreciation for all of the hard work that goes into making the beers they enjoy along the route. And, in the end, the tour is not unlike brewing — Craven has worked to find the perfect balance among differing elements that help define the city.
“You get a greater appreciation for a lot of these places and the history behind them and how old the buildings are, you know, how the brick has been there since the 1800s,” Craven described. “You know I always say, if the walls could talk, the stories they could tell about the olden days around Portland would be pretty dang good.”
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