Sitting on Revolution Hall’s roof deck while sipping a glass of the Commons’ Urban Farmhouse—a brewery not more than a disc golf par-five from the former high school—Charlie Hyde talks about his forthcoming Bodega Beer Co. set to open by year’s end catty-corner from here. That also makes it directly across the street from Beer, the beer bar half of truth-in-advertising Meat Cheese Bread.
It’s not just this intersection of Southeast Stark and 14th that’s soaked in beer—it’s the entire twin neighborhoods of Hosford-Abernethy and Buckman. Tackle a brewery crawl that zigzags you to all 14 breweries (from Carston Haney’s new Ross Island Brewing to the south and Burnside Brewing to the north), and you’ll have only hoofed it 3.4 miles. (And it’s only 1.8 miles as the crow flies.)
“We looked at a ton of locations,” said Hyde, referring to his partner, brewer Steve Balzer, formerly of Laurelwood. “This space is so crowded and there’s so much beer that I don’t think just starting out you can just be a production brewery. You can’t start out as a tasting room. Bodega will start out as a tasting room with quick food. Once we get bigger, we’ll move our production facility to Beaverton or Milwaukie. If people like our beer, we want to be accessible.”
The beer landscape in inner Southeast Portland has changed from the days when Gary Geist and brewer Alex Stiles co-founded Lucky Labrador on Hawthorne. While Bodega’s owners are well aware of the residential development, it wasn’t an issue for the Lucky Lab in 1994. When the Lucky Lab kicked off Portland’s second wave of breweries, they had inner Southeast all to themselves at the time.
Now the neighborhood is spoiled for choice: Grixsen just off Southeast Division is looking for its footing, stylistically, but has an incredible Jameson-Aged Coffee Milk Stout that’s only 5.4 percent alcohol by volume. Baerlic’s tasting room gets cozier by the week (and kids love playing with their giant Jenga blocks made out of 2x4s), and no one fills a niche like gluten-free Ground Breaker. Meanwhile, Scout Beer has upgraded from a beer-slinging cart to PB&J-beer shilling brick-and-mortar.
Lucky Lab’s dog-friendly pub keeps English-style ales flowing (it’s one of the few places that keeps an ESB on tap). Although they don’t do Top 40, they do have a newfangled New England-style IPA called Wag IPA, but in keeping with the canine theme, they’re also calling it Newfoundland IPA.
“We’re a bit contrarian,” says Geist. “Back in the [Saxer] Lemon Lager days we just thought that was ridiculous. We resisted the fruit beer craze and thankfully made it through.” This being Portland, you’ll always find four different IPAs on tap, because those are the classics, although Geist confesses to having once brewed a beer with salmonberries foraged from Forest Park in the early 2000s. “We try not to get caught up in the trends and focus on more classic styles.”
Like Lucky Lab, Bodega won’t have table service. “We’ve just tried to be the friendly, casual pub with very affordable, decent food to go along with our beer,” explains Geist. The most expensive item on Lucky Lab’s menu is $8.95. And the $4.95 beers are 20-ounce imperial pints. For Bodega’s part, Hyde said they’re going to “keep it relaxed” and have customers order from up front or even rifle through grab-and-go pre-packed sandwiches. Hyde references Base Camp Brewing on Southeast Oak—no food served at the bar, although their S’mores Stout comes with roasted marshmallow—because of that brewery’s pair of killer food carts outside.
Not that the neighborhood doesn’t have some food-centric breweries. (This doesn’t include the rebranded Rogue Eastside Pub & Pilot Brewery, even though fried cheese curds can be either munchies or a meal.) People flock to Cascade Brewing Barrel House for their incredible sour beers and “live barrel” tappings each Tuesday, but the kitchen there quietly cranks out gourmet morsels. A three-minute walk west to the Commons yields destination-worthy farmhouse ales but also features cheesemonger extraordinaire Steve Jones’ Cheese Bar Annex. Hair of the Dog excels at strong beers, but since founder Alan Sprints was a chef before he was a brewer, the duck confit or house-cured pastrami almost steal the show. And Wayfinder’s vast food menu, thanks to co-founder Rodney Muirhead of Podnah’s Pit, sometimes makes the place seem more like a restaurant with house beer instead of a brewery with a kitchen. And Burnside Brewing was perhaps the first Portland brewery to open with an ambitious food program, where culinary beers serve to complement. Bucking this trend, Mt. Tabor Brewing is the rare brewery that only features a tasting room, with limited hours of operation when you can throw back pints of throwback styles such as an Ash Street Amber.
Hyde does note, however, that there’s one thing Bodega plans to offer that somehow no one else in this brewery-dense district does: shuffleboard. But with residents and visitors already touring inner Southeast to taste all the different pints the neighborhood has to offer, chances are the beer will be enough of a selling point.