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Food Feature: Something's brewing

Beer and romance on tap in Portland

Portland is like Mecca for beer aficionados, and the birthplace of the craft brewing movement in America. The city is conveniently divided into four sectors, making navigation fairly easy. The focus of our visit was beer. If you're interested in more touristy things, do your own research. We were on a mission.

Day 1: We spent the afternoon at the East Bank Saloon, near the Willamette River, sipping beers on a sunny, cozy deck. I embarrassed myself by knocking over a pint of Full Sail Amber — alcohol abuse of the worst kind, since this was one of the finer beers I sampled all week. It was rich, dark and malty, with plenty of hops to counter the sweetness. Not really an amber at all, but very tasty.

Our first brewpub, the Portland Brewing Company, was a disappointment. My fish tacos (made with the ubiquitous salmon and grouper) were tasty, but I wasn't overly impressed with the beer. The Octoberfest seemed watered-down for the masses. We wouldn't be back.

Day 2: As would be the case all week, my honey and I slept until noon. We awoke and headed to BridgePort Brewing Company in the warehouse area of northeast Portland. Overall, it had the best beer of any of the brewpubs we visited. Hops vines on the patio only added to the experience. The IPA is a classic Northwest style with lots of hops, a citrusy aroma and a crisp, bitter finish. We also liked the Blue Heron Ale, a medium-bodied pale ale with a strong hop finish.

Day 3: This day didn't actually start with beer. Unbeknownst to the rest of the crew, I had an engagement ring in my pocket for my girlfriend, Lea. All I had to do was get her alone. We went to Washington Park to see the zoo, and I had hoped to lure her into the famous International Rose Test Garden there. But my plans went awry. Ultimately, I got her alone at a sidewalk table in the hip 23rd Street neighborhood. I proposed, and she foolishly agreed to marry me.

To celebrate, we went down the street to McMenamin's Tavern on 23rd Avenue, one in a chain of brewpubs found all over the city. Many of the pubs are housed in some sort of historic building, and each has its own character and atmosphere. This was a basic pub with a full slate of McMen brands and a few interesting guest beers.



Day 4: Waking up newly engaged and gushy, we spent the day feeding our heads at the famous Powell's Books, an enormous bookstore that occupies an entire city block. Later, at The Lucky Labrador, we had some good beer, including the highly recommended IPA, as nice an example as you'll find of the Northwest version of this style.

For dinner, we tried Bistro Montage, located on the east bank of the Willamette River, under one of the bridges. Tables are pushed close together in long rows, so you may end up seated next to strangers. The waiters rush about the noisy room hollering out orders whenever they're within earshot of the kitchen. The Bistro serves only two brews: Rainier and Mickey's in the wide-mouth bottle. Truly the antidote to Portland beer snobbery.

Day 5: The plan was to cultivate a well-crafted buzz all day, hitting a few more brewpubs with a stop at the Saturday Market in between. We started off in a fairly gentrified area of town at the Alameda Brew House. Alameda is known for some unusual styles like the juniper porter and a dopplebock made with rose petals. All the brews we sampled were excellent, as was the food.

After a visit to the Saturday Market downtown, we headed down the block to Kells Irish Pub, where hundreds of dollar bills are stuck to the high ceiling, which the bartender magically tosses up there (we're pretty sure there's a magnet involved).

That evening, we set out for the coup de grace of brewpubs, McMenamin's Edgefield in Troutdale. This former poor farm on the edge of town has been converted to a brewpub/hotel/special event facility. The main building looks like an old 19th-century resort hotel, complete with rocking chairs on its wide porch. Bars are scattered throughout the property. We wandered around and sampled beers at an outdoor table overlooking the old silos, in a converted stable with antique-industrial decor, and in a tiny shed-like building with candle-lit tables that seemed for all like an ancient Celtic tavern.

Our trip was a five-day orgy of indulgence, romance and camaraderie. Portland more than lived up to its reputation as a first-class destination for beer lovers in love.

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