What makes Portland, Portland?

So what does make Portland uniquely Portland?  Oregon’s largest city is known for being different, weird if you will. It has a green fetish that’s hard to ignore, trendy restaurants, a great mass transit system, and an affinity for two types of beverages: coffee and beer.

This is my second time visiting Portland.  A couple of years ago I was there with my parents for a few hours but really wasn’t there long enough to pick up what kind of vibe this place was laying down.  We managed to hit only one brewery, Deschutes, and a couple of blocks away, Powell’s City of Books and that was pretty much it.  On my second and most recent visit, this time with my wife, we had four days in which to try to get to know this city a little bit better.

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So back to the question of what makes Portland unique.  First, Portland is a very green city, and in more ways than one.  So has anyone ever told you that it rains in Portland? It’s true, very true!  All that rain maks the city very green!  Most of the grass was still green, like Irish green (keeping in mind that we visited in December) and there were evergreen trees all over and around the city.  In most places, rain normally forces people back into their homes but if you let the rain stop you here, you would never see the light of day (notice I didn’t say “you would never see the sun”?). Portlanders seem to accept a rainy day as just part of life and they just get on with it. They dress for it and then get out there on their bikes or walk and get to work.

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Marquam Nature Park

The ‘other’ green is their environmental consciousness. The mass transit system here is very good and that helps to cut down on air pollution and traffic.  They even have a bridge across the Willamette River, Tilikum Crossing, that is closed to automobile traffic.  There were many cyclists, pedestrians, light rail trains and buses using the bridge but even with all of that, the bridge never seemed crowded. I can’t help but see just a touch of irony here though.  Portland was once nicknamed ‘Stumptown’ due to it having more tree stumps than actual living trees.  Also, if you take Highway 26 west out of the city towards Cannon Beach, you’ll share the road with countless large logging trucks, trucks that are bringing timber from the forests that lie between Portland and the Pacific Ocean. You’ll see evidence of numerous clear cut areas as you continue west and it is just a bit depressing, especially when you see just how slow the replanted areas are growing.  But I get it, it is a renewable resource, it’s just a shame to see how much we use and the devastating affect it has on the environment. And lastly on the green piece (pun intended), the soccer team that represents the city, the Timbers, have a logo that is primarily made up of an axe. That logo isn’t only symbolic of its past, but also of it’s present.  Not the greenest symbol around, especially for a city famously known for it’s progressive green thinking.

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Tilikum Crossing

For the foodie, the locavore movement here is strong with it’s ‘think globally, source locally’ mantra woven into the fabric of the Portland food scene.  Weekend markets are found all over the city and create an almost small-town feel. One trending restaurant theme is the ‘dining hall’ and Portland has a USA Today top five rated one in the Pine Street Market.  This dining hall is in the resurrected historic Baggage and Carriage building and has plenty of character. The market houses a variety of different restaurants including ones featuring ramen noodles, Israeli street food, and even an upscale hot dog vendor (my favorite).  Lastly, no trip to Portland would be complete without stopping by Voodoo Doughnuts for some of the most creative doughnuts anywhere.

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Voodoo

So living in the rainy cities like Portland and Seattle, people need coffee to get going, much more than let’s say sunnier climes like Miami.  This means coffee shops can be found everywhere. Starbucks got its start a couple of hours north and is now a household name around the world.  Stumptown Coffee from Portland is one of the more popular coffee shops and is also a household name, at least in Portland it is.  I love hearing how a small business like Stumptown Coffee is doing so well but was disappointed to hear that it was purchased by the much larger, Luxembourg owned, Peet’s Coffee.

And lastly, Portland is known as Beervana! It does deserve this title and it boasts breweries all over the city.  I think I heard that there are over 70 within the city limits. So we tried a couple of those within the city limits, and even a couple out on the coast.  Within the city, we checked out two in the Pearl District: Deschutes and Rogue.  Both had good beers, but extra props to Deschutes for their food and comfortable, bright atmosphere.  So here’s the thing, Portland has an outstanding microbrew beer scene but there are a lot of places that can claim that they have a great beer scene too.  Like say San Diego, Boulder, Asheville, and countless others.  What does Portland have that the others don’t?  When I think on microbrewed beer and where it came from, I think of Portland! It also just feels like the kind of place where beer ‘should’ come from, certainly not San Diego (no offense intended San Diego).

So what makes Portland, Portland?  I still don’t know!  I think I came here looking for the Portland that you see on ‘Portlandia’ and really didn’t find that (maybe that’s a good thing). Places like Voodoo Doughnuts, a Portland original, don’t even scream “That’s so Portland” to me. I think Boulder Colorado has enough breweries to make Portland not seem as unique as maybe it once was.  There is a slogan in Portland that reads “Keep Portland Weird” and that saying, minus the Portland part, was actually started in Austin Texas as “Keep Austin Weird”.  It’s most famous coffee shop is now owned by a foreign entity.  It has a homeless problem.  It has beautiful parks.  The people are friendly. The people are active.  There actually is a lot of flannel being worn.  There are also beards, lots of them.

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It is a city of contrasts, green but with a dark green past. It is a city, much like any other city.  It has some uniqueness, weirdness if you will, but not as much as I was expecting, hoping for.

I didn’t love Portland, I liked it!

And did I mention that it rains there?

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Beer Trekker – Kona Brewing Company

Let’s get this out of the way right away: Kona Brewing Company (KBC) has a huge advantage just by being located in one of the best places anyone could ever think to have a brewery, the Big Island of Hawaii. But this brewery is more than just a place that brews beer in an idyllic setting: it brews very good beer, has excellent cuisine, and the atmosphere is unrivaled.

It is hard to separate Kona Brewing from Hawaii itself.  Both have so much in common. The ambiance of the brewery mirrors that of its surroundings very well with palm trees, tiki torches, and the relaxed Hawaii island vibe that comes with it.  Breweries generally have a relaxed feel to them anyway but add a tropical twist to it and relaxed gets taken to a whole new level.  If you’re wearing socks, you’re overdressed. If you’re staying south of the airport, this is a great place to get acclimated to island life after the long flight from the mainland.

On to the food, which was excellent.  The menu has a number of different starters that you might consider to be standard pub fare but some items had a uniquely Hawaiian twist such as sliders on Taro rolls or nachos with Kalua pork. We chose wisely with the pretzel bites, which are made with spent grain dough and Wailua Wheat Ale as well as cheese sauce made with Fire Rock Pale Ale. It was excellent.  For entrees, most of the menu was pizza and sandwiches but again, there were uniquely Hawaiian takes on most of the offerings. At our table, pizza and flatbreads were the most popular choices while I opted for an Imu pork sandwich which has Kalua pork, cabbage, cheese, and a house made Black Sand Porter BBQ sauce.  All of the food items were outstanding!

And last but certainly not least, the beer.  I tried a few different ones but really settled on two favorites: the Wailua Wheat which is a light wheat ale with a slight fruit flavor and hints of passion fruit (known locally as lilliko’i) and the Hula Hef which is a traditional hefeweizen with banana undertones (and I don’t even like bananas!). Both beers were extremely good!  Other popular choices include Pipeline Porter which is made with local Kona coffee  (my wife’s top pick), Longboard Island Lager which is a very ‘island’ kind of beer (my daughters favorite), and Lemongrass Lu’au which is a light blond ale with notes of lemongrass and ginger. All in all, a wide variety of beers with local influences in most, if not all of them.

KBC is also very involved in helping to protect the environment by partnering with organizations such as the Surfrider Foundation, Malama Maunalua, and the Blue Planet Foundation. They are also pioneering energy conservationists, they go to great lengths to minimize waste, they use solar energy to help power their brewery, source locally whenever possible and are very involved with the local community.

All in all, if you’re looking for some great beer, great food, and a super chill vibe, this is the place to go when your visiting the Big Island or you can buy their beers in many places on the mainland and at least get a taste of island life.  Either way…you won’t be disappointed.

Aloha

 

Beer Trekker – Santa Fe Brewing Company – Santa Fe, New Mexico

* Note – I have been intending on starting the Beer Trekker portion of the blog for some time now and this is the first in what I hope is a long series about the craft breweries that I am lucky enough to check out. Check back on Tuesdays for more beer related articles.  Cheers!!!

The brewery closed at 9:00 and I arrived there at 8:30 to try one beer, get a feel for the place, and then get back to town.  The brewery is not in the touristy area of the Plaza or the hip Railyard district (not that there is anything wrong with these areas). Santa Fe Brewing Company (SFBC)  is located just a stones throw away from the interstate in a light industrial part of town. I heard a rumor that they even have a couple of foosball tables so I was hoping I could get a game or two in before heading home.

As I walked from the parking lot, there were several people outside having a good time, locals I could only assume.  I walked past them and into the tasting room where I presumed there were locals firmly seated at the bar.  Some places I’ve been, locals don’t always commingle with tourists, and I wasn’t sure if I gave off the tourist vibe or not. As I’ve mentioned before, I typically try not to behave like a tourist but more like that of a seasoned traveler and was dressed in simple khaki shorts and a tee shirt.

I ordered a hefeweizen from the bartender and sipped on it for a while and was very pleased with my choice.  SFBC’s version of a hefeweizen was crisp with hints of banana and cloves, having only a slight bitterness to it.  While I was still milking the first beer (only one since I had to drive), a couple of locals next to me started chatting me up, and I immediately felt like this was going to be a comfortable place to spend an hour or so.  Then another friend of theirs joined in on the conversation and it went on for some time. One of the ‘boys’ bought me my second  hefeweizen and a round of Java Stout shots for everyone at the bar.  I couldn’t have walked into a better crowd of locals that were so welcoming to me being the ‘outsider’ on unknown turf!

I then managed to dovetail myself into a tour that was being organized for a group of distributors from out of state. I stayed at the back and chatted it up with the owner about distribution in Colorado and Texas, the current challenges of expansion, and even craft brewing documentaries currently on Netflix. We even tasted beer right off of the canning line.

All in all, I had a great time at The Santa Fe Brewing Company. The staff was friendly, the patrons were so generous and fun to talk to, the atmosphere was upbeat and down to earth, and for me…the Hefeweizen was outstanding. And I didn’t even get to play foosball 😡⚽️!

On a side note, there are craft breweries popping up all across the U.S., and in some very unlikely areas, mainly wharehouse districts and industrial areas. Some of these areas might scare the beer snob away, but these are some of the best new breweries that are up and coming. For example We met up with a family member in Los Angeles, CA at Golden Road Brewing. It felt like we made a wrong turn it was so industrial, but once we found it we thoroughly enjoyed it. Upslope Brewing Company is a smaller craft brewery in the industrial part of east Boulder, CO. One of our favorites, hands down was the Kona Brewing Company. Even though this larger scale brewery with restaurant makes it feel like your sitting outside any normal restaurant with many different beer choices, it as well is a bit off the beaten path to get to in a wharehouse area, but once you’re there you don’t think about it, and you’re in Hawaii of all places. Welcome to the new art of craft breweries, it’s an exciting time to be a beer fan. Don’t blink or you’ll most surely miss one!

What this blog site is about!

 

I decided to start a blog primarily to give myself an outlet for the things in life that I am passionate about. Travel is one of the things that get a hold of you and pulls you along on an adventure where you see new places, people, foods, and cultures. It started when I was kid, pulling the maps out of National Geographic magazines and just staring at them trying to figure out where I wanted to go in my lifetime. I still haven’t been everywhere that I saw on those maps yet but I’ve seen some amazing places so far.  While living in New Jersey as a kid, my parents took us camping all up and down the east coast and that helped develop my love of the outdoors (seriously, even living in New Jersey).  As a teenager in Colorado, we continued to travel around and got to know the state quickly.  I think the Great Sand Dunes ended up being my favorite destination in the state and it still is.

After I got married and had kids, the way we traveled (and how often we did) changed but we still managed some camping trips and the occasional escape without the kids. As the kids started getting older, we had more and more opportunities to get out and now that they are all in college and beyond, we are able to travel quite a bit more.

So what type of a traveler am I? I usually like a trip that has a blend of the outdoors and a little bit of the city. For example, on a recent trip to New Orleans, we stayed near the French Quarter during Mardi Gras which was fun but there gets to be a point where you just need to get away from the hectic life of any big city, but especially New Orleans during Mardi Gras. The perfect antidote to that was a day trip to do a little kayaking in the Bayou and visiting a former sugar plantation along the banks of the Mississippi. On the drive back to New Orleans that night, we had to dodge Mardi Gras parades while trying to get back to our hotel (unsuccessfully I might add). After about an hour and a half of trying to get around the parade, we ultimately ended up at NOLA brewery while waiting for the parade to end.  All’s well that ends well!

Speaking of breweries, they are another passion of mine. For one, I like to support local businesses whenever possible and the small micro breweries are almost always locally owned and operated. It can be fun trying local takes on brews, which sometimes use local ingredients to create unique tastes. Additionally and most of the time, I have found the food they serve to be better than many established restaurants would serve. Lastly, the atmosphere at many breweries can be the best part. Recently, I was able to visit Kona Brewing Company on the Big Island of Hawaii and I would say that the beer, food, and tiki torch-palm fringed laid back atmosphere made it the best brewery I have ever visited.

I will say that I am not a natural writer but I hope to make up for it by writing about interesting places with interesting things to do.  The blog topics will be diverse but will stay within a few primary genres: travel, outdoors, beer, and occasionally food. We’ll see what else comes to mind but that’s what I intend to focus on for now. I hope you like it!

Cheers,

Brian