Portland Oregon Breweries – Level and Ex Novo

Level Beer

Level Beer opened closer to the airport, which is great for people who get stuck at airport hotels and want to visit breweries, but also not so good for people who are trying to do a beer crawl around the city. The location gives them a large amount of space for a tasting room and there was plenty of seating in the brewery.

The Press Pause NW pale was a good classic pale. I had mis-read NW for NE or I might have ordered something else, like the standard IPA or saison. Nothing wrong with the beer but it isn’t my style. The best bitter was decent with notes of apricot but tasted more like an English pale than a best bitter. The beer lacked the malt base that makes the style enjoyable. The Hazy IPA titled Hazing is Socially Unacceptable was quite nice with a creamy body and tons of tropical fruit with notes of tangerine and passion fruit. This was the best beer of the bunch by a large margin.

Comparatively, the passion fruit hazy DIPA was completely unbalanced with passion fruit dominating the base beer completely with flavors so strong it was off-putting. The chocolate stout was a clean stout but not particularly chocolate forward. The barleywine was incredibly medicinal with overpowering dark fruit character and a strong bitterness.

Level Beer was quite the mixed bag of beers though their hazy IPA was done well. With some tweaking on the amount of passion fruit in the hazy double IPA I think they could end up with a solid beer there as well. I wasn’t able to taste the flavors of the base beer under all the passion fruit.

Top Beer:
Hazing is Socially Unacceptable Hazy IPA.

Ex Novo


Ex Novo also came highly recommended as far as new breweries in Portland. They were so crowded on Saturday when I stopped by that I had to go back the following day to actually get a seat. Thankfully Sunday was more chill. They had a solid lineup of beers but their hazy IPA really missed the mark.

I started with the session hazy, which had a light yellow haze and citrus and grapefruit hop notes. While it was the better of the two hazy beers, it was very subtle with hop aroma. It drinks easy though and is as flavorful as I have had for the style at the low alcohol percentage. After that, the NEIPA was barely hazy and lacked soft and creamy mouthfeel. It had some decent flavors of orange marmalade and some sticky dank finish more akin to a NW IPA.

The pomegranate grapefruit sour was well made with tons of grapefruit that comes on with a strong bitterness like biting into a fruit. I would have liked more pomegranate flavor but overall I found it a little too much grapefruit. The schwartz beer was great with roast and light smoke, a medium body, and light toasted marshmallow character. The barrel aged imperial stout was thick and fudgy with light salt on the finish.

While Ex Novo missed on the haze, the people near me seemed to enjoy their kolsch and other lighter lagers. The flavors of the schwartz suggest that they know how to brew a lager.

Top 2:
Hazy session IPA
Schwartz (black lager)

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney focusing on serving the San Diego LGBT community.

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Portland Oregon Breweries – Wayfinder and Upright

Wayfinder


One of the newest breweries I visited on my recent visit to Portland was Wayfinder. They opened close to most of the new school breweries in Portland with a full restaurant and expansive seating both outdoor and indoor. This was our first stop of the day and we had lunch along with our beers. As per usual, it takes longer to get your beer flight when you are sitting at a table and have to wait for a server to take your order. Prepare yourself mentally for that if you don’t end up sitting at the bar. I’m not docking them for this as it is the same at most restaurants and they were quite crowded.
I started with the pilsner, which was crisp and fruity and mildly bitter on the finish. This is a fairly standard pilsner. The hazy IPA blew me away with intense grapefruit flavor so powerful I had a hard time believing they didn’t add actual grapefruit. While the beer wasn’t creamy, the explosion of aroma hops was present and made this a very impressive beer. With low bitterness and a crisp dry finish, this was an excellent IPA even though not fully hazy.
The doomtown IPA had a great mix of flavors with resinous hops balanced with notes of grapefruit. The beer had a clean dry finish and mild to medium bitterness. An excellent IPA as well. The Dopplebock was soft and creamy with notes of caramel and plum, nailing the style and quite drinkable for my husband who normally only likes stouts and porters. This is one of the better examples of a dopplebock I have tried in the US.
I ended with the powerful triple IPA that blended nicely multiple varieties of hops giving it a complex hop bouquet sometimes leaning more sticky and piney, other times earthy or floral. The beer has a good caramel malt backbone that mutes the bite of the high bitterness.
Vegan mushroom sandwich.
Vegan hash.
Wayfinder had excellent food and a high quality of beers that stood out among other new breweries I visited this trip. I am excited to see how they develop over the next few years.
Top 2: 
Hazy IPA
Dopplebock

Upright

Upright was on my list for some time but I always ended up passing it over for another spot. The brewery is in a bit of a strange location, down in a basement of a building shared with many other businesses. I found the beers to be a fairly mixed bag and they are possibly one of the only cash only breweries in Portland. Still, if you like a good barrel aged saison they do a great job in that department and should not be skipped over.  They also get distributed down to California if you want to try something before making the trek.
The Ostinato Saison was intensely spice forward with mild citrus character and an effervescent carbonation. I didn’t care for the spice and found the flavors overall somewhat muted. Pathways was excellent with tons of barrel character and lots of funk. This is one of the more impressive yet reasonably priced saisons of this style I have had. I stopped by a bottle shop while I was in town to get a bottle to bring home.
The fourplay cherry sour was incredibly subtle in the fruit department and didn’t have a lot going on. I would have liked to try some of their other barrel aged sours with more intense fruit but they were to-go only. The Ives Batch 2 was lightly tart with notes of white grape and apricot and hints of fresh cut apples. I really enjoyed this one as well. The IPA was soft with a low bitterness and hints of chamomile tea. It didn’t have a ton of aroma but it was clean and easy drinking. The pilsner was crisp and grassy with a clean finish, just how it should be.
As far as the tasting room experience, Upright is cozy and doesn’t have room for a lot of people at a time. I recommend visiting to taste and if you like some of their core beers just buying them elsewhere if you are not used to paying with cash. Though not all of the barrel aged beers were great, the two that I was impressed by were quite good and show an indication of a mature barrel program.
Top 2: 
Pathway Oaked Saison
Ives Batch 2

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney focusing on serving the San Diego LGBT community.

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Karl Strauss Celebrates 29 Years With their Annual Changing of the Barrels

Karl Strauss has been putting on a big anniversary party for a number of years now. I talked to quite a few beer nerds at other events who always told me that this was one to go to. Some said they had been attending the Changing of the Barrels every year for four years or more. I quite enjoyed it this year though mainly because I really liked the new anniversary saison aged in wine barrels with pink peppercorns. It should be tasting great at next year’s event too assuming they save some for that. If you missed the event, the saison may be available at the breweries for a week or two after.

Karl Strauss has a large tasting-room location off the 5 freeway a few miles north of Balboa and Garnet. I would have enjoyed it more if they had not sold so many tickets because the area got incredibly crowded and the lines were somewhat long both for beer and food. If you grab a beer before getting in line for food, you likely finished your beer before you get to the front of the line. Same thing if you eat your food in the line for beer. They had two stations for beer as opposed to festivals I’m used to where the beer is spread out among 20+ tents. The lines did move fairly quickly thanks to everyone having their own glass already.

Waiting in line inside for beer.

For the beers they had three sour beers, three versions of the new saison (standard, cask with strawberry, and nitro), two barrel-aged imperial stouts (a third variety was consumed by the VIP group), a 14% imperial stout, and the rest of the list was mostly their standard year-round beers. There were a few new beers that they recently released and most people probably hadn’t tried yet, including two new IPAs. As someone who visits Karl Strauss fairly regularly, I come to an event like this for the barrel-aged stuff and I found the options a bit limited.

I was the biggest fan of the new saison, which was incredibly balanced with a mix of funk, red wine character, and just a hint of peppercorn. The fruit in the cask version was quite subtle though it was a nice variation. Fear of the Tart, a barrel-aged dark sour was also quite nice and a lot lower alcohol than I normally see for a dark sour. This would make a nice year round sour if they could produce it more regularly. Another favorite of mine was the wild ride, a sour that uses Red Trolley as a base and is aged on raspberries. I had previously rated this beer quite highly at a sour festival and it was equally impressive here with a restrained sour finish. Sadly it ran out half way through the evening so I couldn’t go back for seconds.

Outdoor beer line.

As for the stouts, the 30th anniversary stood out as nicely attenuated for 14%. It hid the alcohol well and wasn’t overly sweet or syrupy as is common with beers that high of alcohol. It reminds me of the imperial stouts at Red Horn in northern Austin, which is quite impressive. It should age quite nicely between now and next year and I can hardly imagine how crazy it could get if aged in bourbon barrels. The barrel aged rye imperial stout was quite tasty and similarly dry though surprisingly thin for 12% as well. The 27th anniversary ran out before general admission got inside so I didn’t get to see how it was holding up. They had two newer IPAs including their Boat Shoes, a slightly hazy un-filtered beer they recently canned and Isomerizer, a mosaic IPA that is being canned soon.

I wasn’t sure what to expect for the food but with so many people they decided to have each food truck offer three different courses, separated by 45 minutes. Each individual serving was quite small and each time a new item was ready, people lined up to grab it. I would have assumed a wider variety of available food when buying the ticket. All of the food was meat-focused. Both food trucks did a great job with the food. Beer people didn’t seem excited by the salad so I got to get quite a few of those. Mastiff won the day for me with the delicious pig fries (potato served with pulled pork, sausage, and pork belly) and the pork nugs (crispy pork belly squares). Biersal served a delicious tri-tip sandwich with a tasty jalapeno chimichurri sauce.

As a vegetarian, I had no choice but to eat the meat served or miss out on a significant part of why I bought the ticket and drink on an empty stomach. Thankfully I don’t have any health conditions that prevent me from eating meat but not all vegetarians have the same luxury. I don’t expect breweries to have vegetarian options at all events but it would be nice if they made a note on the site that food was likely to be all meat-focused. I would have been able to adjust my expectations accordingly. Of course they did advertise two meat-focused food trucks but Mastiff does make some amazing vegan sausages.

As for the overall experience, I found the lines much longer than ideal. However, without setting up jockey boxes around the seating area the only way to change that is to sell less tickets. Since both my general admission ticket and my mom’s designated driver tickets included a bottle of the barrel-aged saison, a beer that I quite enjoyed, I was still overall satisfied. It had a unique taste from other local barrel-aged saisons. We got to taste next year’s beer as a preview which I assume will be aged in some sort of barrel for next year. Even if they don’t barrel age it, the 30th anniversary imperial stout should age nicely by next January.

Considering the reasonable ticket price of $45 for general admission including food, beers, and a bottle the Changing of the Barrels event was a solid value. Though I was slightly irked by the lines they could have been a lot worse. And the lines for the food somewhat stopped me from over-eating.

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney focusing on serving the San Diego LGBT community.

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Discretion Brewing Company – Santa Cruz CA

I try to make regular trips to Sante Adarius Brewing in Santa Cruz but in the process I like to explore local breweries in the hops of finding a spot that gives me another reason to go back to the area.

Discretion Brewing is located in Capitola area only a short drive from Sante Adarius Rustic Ales. Discretion often comes up as a place to go if in the area and already had what you want at Sante Adarius. They do quite a few barrel aged beers though they only had one available when I visited and it was bottles only. So I only tried their standard lineup. The beers were all well-made even if some were not completely to style.

The schwartz was well made and had notes of bitter chocolate and light roast though it seemed more like a porter than a black lager. It was still very easy to drink. The ESB was tasty with notes of apricot hop and clean bitterness. It could have had a bit more malt flavor to be more traditional but it was easy drinking and not very bitter.

The Dubel had a mix of holiday spoice and raisins with a moderately dry finish without too much sweetness. The Hop Bebop IPA was an excellent version of the standard grapefruit and pine West Coast IPA with a light bitterness and dry finish. This could pass for Duet from Alpine any day.

The stout was tasty and smooth with notes of burnt toffee and tons of roast. It was a good balance with a nice dry finish. The Barley Wine was more on the sweet side, sticky sweet with notes of dark fruit and not a ton of hop character. It was OK but I didn’t love it either.

Discretion has a fairly large indoor seating area and a nice cozy outdoor seating area. We sat outside and enjoyed the fresh air. As far as the core beers go, they are a worthwhile stop for any local who wants a classic IPA. For those who prefer coffee in their stouts, you can always go to New Bohemia nearby instead.

Top 2
Hop Bebop IPA
Schwartz

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney focusing on serving the San Diego LGBT community.

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Indeed Brewing Company – Minneapolis Minnesota

The last time I was in Minneapolis I didn’t try anything at Indeed because they were packed due to a special event down the street from them. I could see the crowd of people outside and suspected the inside crowd was just as crazy. Thankfully this time they were much more reasonably crowded and I got to try a few beers. One thing to note though is they don’t serve tasters of anything so I was not able to try more than 4 beers before moving on to the next stop.

Outdoor seating area that no doubt is full to the brim during the summer but was abandoned on a cold day.

I started with their Zwickel, an un-filtered Pilsner. It was crisp and dry with cracker notes and light grape character. I would have preferred more intense lager yeast character but it was well-made and easy drinking. I tried splashes of 3 of their hoppy beers before ordering a cask of their Let it Roll with extra hops. It was super creamy with notes of pine and a mix of floral and herbal bite on the finish with low bitterness. I enjoyed this the most of the hoppy beers they had though I still would have preferred more fruit character.

The Mango Helio was their mango sour. It had intense juicy mango character at times tasting like candied mango with a light tart finish. The Rum King imperial stout had intense tropical rum character with a creamy base that hid the alcohol quite well. I found the beer to be fairly thin and the flavors to lack complexity. I didn’t taste much more than rum.

Mango sour.
IPA on Cask.

Indeed had a great lineup of beers and I would have loved to have tried more than I did but what I had was quite good. If you are in MSP for a weekend Indeed is a great stop and they are properly recommended as one of the better breweries in the area.

Top 2:
Let it Roll IPA
Mango Hellio

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney focusing on serving the San Diego LGBT community.

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Exploring San Diego's Craft Breweries