A pair of Portland, Ore.-area beer lovers is giving beer lovers a greener option for exploring Beervana.
Marc Martin and Charles Culp are embarking on a new pub tour program that leads beer lovers — both locals and visitors, although the duo expects to mostly cater to tourists — on a pub tour around a handful of Portland’s breweries.
Nothing new about that, except this new venture, Pubs of Portland Tours, nixes the usual gas-guzzling van or bus, and instead takes tourists around town using the city’s highly praised mass-transit system.
I got a chance to go on a ride-along with other beer writers last week as Martin and Culp honed their schedules and repertoire for an official start on Sept. 1, and learned that “beer by bus” (and street car and light rail) is a great way to spend a beery afternoon — hitting a handful of brewpubs, enjoying the sights and sounds of downtown Portland, and seeing my hometown of Beervana with fresh eyes.
The group met at about 1 p.m. “under the glass canopy” of Pioneer Place shopping center downtown, making it easy for folks to ride the local transit authority’s popular light rail, MAX, from many locations throughout the city. Martin made sure it was equally as easy for us to find him, although we all knew him, with his official Pubs of Portland sign. You gotta look official if you’re going to herd a bunch of beer fans on mass transit.
Our first stop was actually just a short walk away — Oregon’s only Rock Bottom brewpub, where brewer Van Havig creates amazing beers beyond the usual Rock Bottom regulars. Havig is known for his anti-establishment edge and sharp wit, which means beer lovers get to experience some pretty interesting creations. Most of us went for one of the special beers on draft, a Cascadian Dark Ale that was a delicious marriage of sweet caramel-toffee and a big dose of citrusy hops; but we missed another beer that was about to be tapped — one that Havig, with smirk firmly planted on his face, called a “Cascadian Dark Pilsner.”
While we were enjoying our first brews of the day, Martin and Culp explained that the plan for the Pubs of Portland tours is to do some educating along with the imbibing, mixing some Portland history (the building that houses Rock Bottom, for instance, has quite the past) and tidbits with brewing and beer background.
We rode the rails, literally, to the next stop, the Deschutes Public House, right in the tony Pearl District, where brewer Cam O’ Connor came by to say hi. We were regaled with a huge sampling of beers, including the Experimental #8, which had just won the Concordia Cup as best Imperial or Double IPA in Oregon at the Concordia Ale House.
A final stop meant getting back on mass transit for a visit at Lucky Lab Beer Hall in Northwest Portland for a chat with brewer Ben Flerchinger. Lucky Lab is known for its great outdoor spaces, which are perfect for enjoying their great hand-craft beer. Speaking of hand-crafted, check out these creative uses for old brewing equipment in the garden: a row of worn out brewers boots and a full barrel make for whimsical planters.
The mini-tour was over, so we all went our separate ways — on Tri-Met, of course. And that’s when it really drove home (pun intended) that this beer-by-bus concept could really take off. For tourists, it’s a great way to get a feel of the city, learn the mass-transit system, and enjoy some great beer without worrying about navigating around a new city with a buzz (never a good idea, trust me). For Beervana denizens, it’s a fun, “green” excursion and a unique way to see our fair city with fresh eyes.
The Pubs of Portland Tours will typically be “boutique style,” according to Martin, with most groups ranging between two and 12 people; small enough to be able to answer tourists’ questions, accommodate the groups without a lot of effort from the brewpubs, and wrangle attendees on and off public transit.
Although there is already talk of expanding to the happenin’ eastside once the street car heads across the Willamette River, when Martin and Culp first start officially in September, tours will be contained to mostly the downtown and north Portland area and could include rides on buses, MAX and the streetcar or trolley — truly putting the “pub” in public transportation.
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