“Beervana”: that’s a word you hear bandied about at the Oregon Brewers Festival, the big beer party held every July since 1988 in Portland’s Tom McCall Waterfront Park. It may refer to the festival itself, hailed by many as the finest crafts beer festival and the largest of its kind in the nation, or to Portland, an exceptionally beer-friendly town with more microbreweries and brewpubs than any other city in the world.
More than 70 brewers from around the world fill grassy Waterfront Park, the city’s front yard spread out along the Willamette River. Festive it is, with good grub from local restaurants and live music that will transport you back to your campus days, though the beer back then never tasted this good.
If the crowded festival scene is not your cup of tea, spend time touring the city’s countless local brewpubs. It won’t take long to realize why Portland is the only logical choice to host a major beer festival. Starting in the mid 1980s, microbreweries and brewpubs began opening in the city at a dizzying rate, touting an independent and small-is-beautiful ethos, Entrepreneurial beer gurus founded Bridge Port (Oregon’s oldest), Widmer, and Portland Brewing, all getting their starts around the same time and flourishing still—these popular brews are widely distributed across the West. The McMenamin brothers started brewing beer while in college and now have 800 employees in the area. Many of the McMenamin operations are housed in revitalized, funky, and sometimes historic buildings; the county’s former poor farm, a movie palace, and even a century-old grade school are reincarnated as microbrew pubs (and sometimes lodging) that promise “the McMenamin experience.” Smaller operations, such as Hair of the Dog, which brews rich, quasi-chocolaty beers, have cultlike followings. And for a real Portland experience, hang out on the dog-friendly back patio of the Lucky Labrador, housed in an old sheet-metal warehouse just over the Hawthorne Bridge from downtown.
Of course, not everyone in Portland has forsaken international or national brands for locally made hoppy ales. At Nick’s Famous Coney Island, a low-key outpost of blue-collar Americana in the otherwise deeply alternative Hawthorne neighborhood, you can get a frosty Heidelberg on tap to go with their famed Coney-style hot dogs.