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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.