Portland’s craft brews are great on their own, to be sure, but they’re even better with some of the food that our city’s breweries serve alongside them. Not all brewpub food is created equal, so here’s a quick cross-section of some great local spots to get terrific pairings that will elevate your meal, your pint glass, and your mood.
Wine and cheese pairings might get all the cocktail-party glory, but when you think about it, grapes and dairy are kind of a weird combo. Turns out beer is a much better fit for cheese, for simple reasons: Beer comes from grains, which are closely related to the grasses that cows and other animals eat in order to produce milk. As such, their flavors and complexities pin quite closely together. Even a strong cheese will work wonderfully with a mild beer, and vice versa, as the flavors twist into focus and bring out nuances in one another.
The Commons Brewery’s spacious tasting room (630 SE Belmont) is a fine place to bring beer and cheese together, as the brains behind SE Belmont’s excellent Cheese Bar operate their kitchen. There’s a weekly offering that pairs a Commons beer selection with a pick from the Cheese Annex, run by the state’s best cheesemonger, Steve Jones. Or you can plunge headlong into a cheese platter and sample a plethora of different types. When various cheeses are paired with a flight of Commons beer tasters, the combinations are seemingly endless and always worth exploring.
Commons’ famed Urban Farmhouse Ale has enough strength to pair with both the blue board and the aptly named stinky board. But a recent visit found their seasonal Oktober Festbier—a mellow, nutty, effortlessly smooth lager with hints of autumnal maple—went marvelously with the cheese selections on their American board, which included the fruity, tangy Hannah (a cow and sheep cheese from Portland’s Ancient Heritage), the earthy, chalky Tome (a goat cheese from California’s Laura Chenel), and, best of the bunch, the ripe, fresh raw-cows’-milk Mountina from Montana.
Portland’s brand-spankin’-new Wayfinder Beer (304 SE 2nd) is the new gold standard for local brewpub design, from the beer list—currently made up of collaboration beers and guest taps as their in-house brewing system gets underway—to the cocktail program. But the really impressive thing about the new establishment (alongside with Wayfinder’s immense, gorgeous outside deck) is the kitchen’s grill, a wood-fired oven that lends a custom smokiness to everything put inside it.
That smokiness pours off the food as it arrives at your table—after a four-course meal, you might smell a little like a campfire—and there are virtually no missteps on the menu as far as meat is concerned. For the chicken al carbon, a juicy half bird whose sweetness and herb flavors are offset by the smoke, order the Definitely Not IPA (a collab with Breakside Brewing), a hoppy, wheaty beer that doesn’t lapse into overpowering bitterness. And for the excellent ribeye, a soft, pink slab of meat crusted with a layer of smokiness, go big with the Double Trouble double red ale (brewed at 54°40’ Brewing Company).
But Wayfinder has made intimations that they’re hoping to excel in the subtler arts of German-style brewing, and several of their current beers make their rotating sausage selection pop, flavorwise. The mild Bike Crush Kolsch—a collaboration with Baerlic—is clean enough to go with the lighter sausages on the menu, while the Tiny Bubbles pilsner (co-brewed with Hopworks) is sturdy enough to stand up to the darker lamb sausage. Braised and then finished on the wood-fired grill, it’s robust, smoky, and perfectly chewy, with a satisfying snap.
Beer for Dessert?
The recently opened taproom for Scout Beer (1516 SE 10th) has adventure on its mind, as evidenced by the camping supplies attached to the cozy, welcoming brewpub’s wall. That exploratory quality carries over to the brewery’s beers, all of which offer an unexpected twist on conventional styles. So be prepared to experience some flavors you’ve likely never tried before, including a peanut butter porter, a rum-and-coconut brown ale, a lemongrass saison, and a red ale with marionberries. These unusual concoctions are interesting and flavorful enough to stand on their own, although they’re each more restrained than you might imagine, and, as such, work well as an accompaniment to Scout’s modest food menu.
Keep Scout in mind for your post-meal sweets, as two of their beers are being used as ingredients for their delicious ice cream floats. Their coffee float marries their housemade Kentucky Coffee Stout with a helping of coffee ice cream, and their porridge float plunks a scoop of vanilla into their oatmeal cinnamon raisin pale ale. The latter, in particular, is a collage of sensations, with whiffs of breakfast standing alongside the beer’s not-inconsiderable hop bite.
With a friendly bartender and a homespun charm that includes popping popcorn right at the bar, Scout is a fine place to wrap up any night, and their floats are the best way to get some more great Portland beer into your dessert quota.