May 13, 2011
I've lived in Portland for a mere 5 months and it's taken me this long to visit a mere half of the breweries in town. The 18th was Tugboat Brewery, perhaps the most misunderstood, maligned, and mysterious brewery in Beervana.
Pouring house beers since 1993, Tugboat remains in its original downtown location under the same owner/operator. If you look aside as you're entering Bailey's Taproom on Broadway at Ankeny, you just might spot it on the poorly lit side street-slash-alleyway. Inside, you're sure to find a sparse population that, I surmise, consists mostly of people drinking alone, but the errant couple, couple of buddies, or small group. You'll find not very many house beers and mostly guest taps because while the brewer may be a "professional," he's hardly working full-time. You'll also find a small menu of appetizing sounding nosh and a jar of serve-yourself salty snack-mix.
What you won't find are any beer geeks.
When I tweeeted from Tugboat that I had found my new downtown nighttime staple, Kris from Beer Musings from Portland tweeted back: I haven't been there for years & I was so underwhelmed I've avoided going back.
Perry from Brewmance NW twitplied: I haven't even made it there yet... damn I feel lazy right now.
And SNOB Ritch from Behind the Pint twote: there must be some mistake, did someone at Tugboat get a hold of your phone?
To be fair, Brady from The Daily Pull, Sean the Homebrew Chef, and some guy in Tokyo named Christopher either supported or didn't mock me for going. (UPDATE: Brady's all about the "MAGIC" sprinkled on the popcorn.)
While they had a whopping three house beers when I stopped in, the Chernobyl Russian Imperial Stout (14% ABV) was actually pretty good, if you like 'em leathery and cigary like I do. I generally don't dig beers named for their color (except Browns) but the Hop Gold was decent (because it was hoppy and tasted like the glass was garnished with grapefruit pith) and I couldn't bring myself to try the Red.
More importantly, I had a great time. The bartender was super friendly and chatty. The drunk on the barstool next to me appeared to be antisemetic at first until I deduced he really just missed his ex-wife who's Jewish. He also got up and stumbled over to the upright piano and started playing great backround melodies. And the other few scattered souls compared Beervana's brewpub scene to their inferior ones back home, which was various cities, respectively.
I asked the bartender (sorry, forgot his name) if Bailey's opening up directly across the street helped or hurt business. He admitted that it has grown to funnel more and more of their remaining customers. And I get that. If I'm downtown and I want a selection of great, interesting beers in a setting where I can actually see the people I'm talking to, I'll go to Bailey's. But Tugboat ain't nearly as bad as my cohorts say it is, and that's WHEN they even acknowledge it backhandedly as Beervana, The New School have done. Then again, Angelo at Brewpublic seems to know what's up. Though whether or not he's returned in the last 2 1/2 years I dunno. (UPDATE: Bill at It's Pub Night also appreciate's its charms.)
As a final note, of the fewer than 100 licensed brewing facilities in Oregon, Tugboat ranked 81st in production (138 barrels) for 2010 and that's with most of the nanobreweries behind them beginning their brewing operations midway through the year! My belated new year's resolution is two-fold. Get to the rest of Portland's breweries, and help Tugboat get up to 139 bbls.