January 7, 2013

Neglected Portland Breweries: The Mash Tun

Portland has some 50 breweries and counting. Many are world-class, even out-of-this-world, but not all.

Sometimes I beat myself up for not having been to every single brewery in town I used to beat myself up for not having visited every single brewery in town. As of tonight: no more! But before we begin, if we're being honest, the ones that took me the longest to hit are the ones that generally have no Beer Geek Brownie Points. Here's Pt. VII in an ongoing series that included TugboatPhiladelphia's Steaks & HoagiesMax's Fanno CreekBroadway Grill & Brewery, Widmer Bros (note the post date), and Columbia River Brewing Co.: Neglected Portland Breweries.

The reason for the visit wasn't actually so I could finally haul my butt into the solitary brewing company based in Portland--The Mash Tun--that I'd yet to visit, although naturally that did influence the decision. No, Half Pint and I went (along with our friends John and Anna who pronounces her name not like the latter half of banana but like the end of the Spanish word for tomorrow, and I confess we refer to them as Johnna in our house) because our son I.P.Yae turned 1 on Sunday and I pledged to escort him to 50 breweries by his first birthday. (Actually, I aimed for 52 and with wifey's help, we achieved our feat!)

So onto the experience. The Mash Tun, brewing since 2005 thus making it a veritable veteran of Beervana, gets zero lip service but it has something better than blog-love: patrons. The place with no sign above the entrance just around the corner on NE 22nd Ave from it's Alberta address (there's a beer garden that's certainly hopping in non near-freezing weather) was packed on a chilly Friday night. Our waitress was very sweet and attentive, but we could tell she wanted us to order when we kept saying we were waiting for a fourth (fifth; sorry IPYae). The interior is mostly wood (well, obviously the brew house visable through picture windows is stainless) including a pool table in the center and a dart board tucked behind the front door. Lots of hanging plants are a nice, lively touch.

Check in on Yelp and your first pint's FREE. Not that you'd walk out of here dropping a lot of coin; the prices are reasonable. Anna, John, and I all opted for the Keelhaul IPA, billed as "herbal and citrus" hop flavors with "sweet and nutty" maltiness, but I got lots of lemon notes and didn't mind the lack of ballyhooed malt backbone (though at 7.2% ABV it's there). Half Pint of course got the Penfold Porter, then got it again. Good malt-driven cocoa flavor.

Curiously, no one got a burger. I nearly went for the Dragon Burger, but even as a chiliphile I've had two jalapeno dishes this week and both set my mouth en fuego so I played it safe and got the cheesesteak that beckoned. It had Half Pint's and John's number, too. Decent. No mistaking it for actually hailing from the City of Brotherly Love, or even Cheesesteak Nirvana.

We all opted for another round. Johnna stuck with the IPA. Half Pint as I mentioned ordered another Porter, this time an actual half pint. I do something I rarely do: ordered a cream ale. Concordia Cream Ale entails flaked corn so I worried that while I wanted light, I'd also get sweet, but the beer is saved by sufficient local aroma hops to make it palatable to beer lovers and at 4.5%, perfect for lightweights like me.

All in all, the Mash Tun is like Cromagnon Man on the human evolutionary chart--a good snapshot of how far brewpubs had come since the early '80s to the mid-aughts and then gets frozen in time. Maybe it's the caveman in me, but I think this analog brewpub is a pretty good respite in this digital age. And the packed place proves we paleos travel in packs.