Portland, Oregon is the model city for craft beer. Walk up and down the streets of downtown or nearby areas and you will find breweries galore- more than in any other metropolitan area in the United States. I had the great fortune to visit the City of Roses in April, 2015 to attend the Craft Brewers Conference and, like most attendees, I made it a point to seek out a brewery/brewpub or two and sample some local suds. My first stop?- Tugboat Brewing, downtown Portland’s oldest brewery.
In Search of Beer
For my Portland craft beer adventure, I decided I would just walk around the downtown area and look for a place to visit. Sure, I could have checked online sources and visited the brewing establishment with the highest ratings, most recommendations, etc. But I decided instead to have some fun, wander the streets, and visit the first place that caught my attention. Tugboat Brewing happened to be that place. It’s located on Ankeny Street, a narrow, one- way street that wouldn’t seem like a place one would find a brewery, at least in most other American cities. However, this is Portland, America’s craft brewing capital. Breweries are in great abundance and can pop up anytime, anyplace, and for any reason.
Small, Cozy, Inviting
Tugboat Brewing is a small operation serving its own beer, competitor’s beers, and food. The inside is not quite the atmosphere I expected. Considering the name, I expected a place with a nautical look and feel. Instead, the inside is dark and the walls are adorned with…..library books! This was a surprise, but I admit, a unique one. They have board games to play, too, for some simple entertainment among friends.
I was by myself for this visit so I decided to head straight for an open seat at the bar. I was impressed at the quickness of service. Before I could catch my breath, one of the wait staff was already asking what I wanted to drink and seconds later, I had small servings of beer in front of me, waiting to sample.
Now, for the Beer
Okay, so the place is small, the atmosphere is different, and the service is quick, but what about the beer? Tugboat Brewing had four of its own beers on tap when I visited: Amber Lamps, Monster IPA, Chernobyl Stout, and Chernobyl Porter. I found the stout the best of the bunch. It’s a big, hearty stout with flavors of dark chocolate, molasses, dark fruit, and alcohol. The Porter was okay, but it pales in comparison to the stout. If you want to try both, get the porter first. If you start with the stout, the porter will seem like a letdown.
As for the amber and the IPA, they both seemed a little bit off in taste. I may have been given the tail end of the keg or something, but whatever the reason, these two beers tasted a little stale to me- like beer that had surpassed its expiration date. I like, however, that Tugboat Brewing sells several competitors beers. This is cool because it allows people to drink something they are more familiar with, if that is what they want, and it shows that the people who run the show are not so pretentious that they won’t allow the competition anywhere near their establishment. Trust me- I have visited places like this. Yeah, they might offer Budweiser, Miller, and Coors as side options, but they will not allow any craft or semi- craft beer to be sold alongside their own.
A Bite to Eat and Off I Go
I was a little bit hungry when I stopped at Tugboat Brewing and I decided on something simple to eat: An order of nachos. I asked for only a half order, but it was still so large I couldn’t finish it all. I liked the way the nachos were prepared and they were good enough to pass my taste tests of quality but be forewarned that the order is BIG! A full size order could easily feed three or four people.
After a quick good bye, I left Tugboat Brewing with mixed feelings but a positive experience overall. As I said, the beer wasn’t the greatest but I was impressed at the speed of service, friendliness of the staff, and the personal attention I received. So, all things considered, Tugboat Brewing has enough going for it to earn a small recommendation. It’s the oldest brewery in downtown and its quaintness makes it a place worthy of a visit.