April 18, 2012

Neglected Portland Breweries: Columbia River Brewing

Portland has, what?, 40 breweries, and many are world-class, but, if we're being honest, they're not all worth blogging home about. So rather than take everyone's word on it, or rather, take nobody's word on it since these ones aren't being ballyhooed by the local beer mavens, I intend to visit them all. Here's Pt. VI in an ongoing series: Neglected Portland Breweries.

Columbia River Brewing Co, or just CRBC, isn't just on my radar, it's on my route to many of the places I walk. And with the new bambino, we find ourselves walking around a lot. From what I gather, beer geeks simply don't go to CRBC. Maybe they're miffed that the original brewpub in their location, Laurelwood, relocated 11 blocks farther up Sandy. In the New School Beer Blog's case, the reasoning is more dastardly, landing the brewpub on the McCarthyist blacklist: Enemies of the State.
So it's ironic, to put it euphemistically, that CRBC practically swept at the most recent Northwest Brewing News Reader's Choice Awards (Best Oregon brewpub, Best Oregon bartender in Lynn Burkhardt who I'd guess is owner/brewmaster Rick Burkhardt's wife, Best Golden Ale in cleverly named Sandy Blonde Ale, Best fruit beer in Rose City Wheat, & Best Belgian-style ale in Double Vision though why it wasn't Dubbel Vision I dunno). My Google kung-fu is weak today since I can't seem to find the blog post I thought I remembered wherein Ezra takes CRBC to task for ballot-stuffing in 2011, but he does squarely point the finger at Rick's daughter, Heather Burkhardt, here.

The kicker? At the biannual World Beer Cup--arguably the most auspicious beer competition since entries are judged blind and unlike GABF, it opens up the entries to breweries the globe over--five local breweries took home some hardware including some of the most celebrated and respected such as Breakside, Upright, newcomers The Commons, and aforementioned Laurelwood...and CRBC! Only one won two medals. Guess who! (Both were silvers for stouts, a coffee and an oatmeal.)

But all the above means nothing; I'm the judge and jury in this blog. Two things I like about it at the start. They kept the sunken brewhouse in the back corner from the Laurelwood days (as if they financially had a choice) and it's family-friendly. Not every brewpub in town is.

At the same time, you can come in with your mates for a few rounds of darts over pints and chips. Sorry, but Burkhardt lived in England so I busted out my British. But it serves as the perfect segue. Having visited on a Monday, and I'm a practitioner of Meatless Monday, I ordered the housemade veggie burger and got the fries on the side. Lest you think it's healthy, while the patty is made with broccoli, sundried tomatoes, brown rice, and garbanzo beans, it's also lightly fried. A crispier, more delicious veggie burger I'm not sure I've had. And the fries--being beer battered--are, no joke, easily among the Top 5 Fries/Frites in all of PDX! Nay, Top 3.

As for the beer, the most crucial element: yeah, it's OK. I meant to try the stout then, and now will certainly have to return in order to do so especially since Half Pint drinks almost exclusively stouts and porters since our I.P.Yae came along. And to keep the balance, more than ever I'm drinking more IPAs. I tried the Hop Heaven IPA at 7.5% ABV (it wasn't carbonated enough) and the War Elephant DIPA at 8.5%. They say it's their Northwest-style double IPA, which replaced Ground 'n' Pound, their British-style DIPA (8%). Oddly, I found it more perfumy than citrusy/piny, so it had the bitterness and aroma but for me, the thing I always care most about is the actual flavor. And I would've liked more than just a hint of grapefruit.

So, overall, given its proximity, its fries, the baby-changing trays in the bathrooms (you're welcome for not attaching that pic), and the fact that I know Half Pint will want to head in for the WBC-winning Stumbler's Stout (they offer half pints, US pints, and imperial pints, so she'll probably ask me to share an impy and I'll happily oblige), this won't be our new baby-centric HUB/Laurelwood, but it'll be on the rotation.


Brewmance said...

I think it's a tad sad what 'The New School' did early on to sort of 'dismiss' them. I was happy to enjoy some very good specialty at various local beerfests right as they opened, or just before, and was quite impressed with the beer. I brought my Sister, and Brother in-law in there a few months after it opened, and had a beer sample platter, and the three of us tried different menu choices. The stout was very good, and the IPA's were just 'good' as you scribed. The food needed help though, and also at the time, only mason jars with stickers on them were available. Sure they kicked it off without many fireworks, but they are still a pub in the works, and I only see them getting better over longer periods of time vs. most others that seem to fall off over time. On another note, I haven't been back there since. Maybe I should pop in there again to see how it has improved.

Brian Yaeger said...

CRBC is an enigma. I suppose they're surviving off the beer fans and families in the neighborhood, which is what every brewpub needs (few are good enough to frequently pull in non-neighbors), since their clientele certainly isn't Beervana pilgrims like the Deschutes pub.

I've never seen more than a few customers in there, and when I popped in at lunch time, there was exactly one other table in use as well as a barfly at the bar.

I'm giving up on their hoppy beers since clearly they're mastering the dark stuff. And fries go with those, too.