The Craft Beer Lover’s Portland Growler Tour

By: Crai S Bower

June 27, 2014

We might think the City of Roses, née City of Hops, would pride itself on offering more than one brewery for every week of the year (57 at last count). But this is Portland, where a mass of microbreweries has given way to the “hyper-microbrewery,” i.e. the “nano-brewery,” sudsy purveyors that are so small, they rarely offer a tasting room. The lack of lager locale to sit and sip has spawned the next ale icon: the “Portland Growler.

Growlers first came about when workers would pause at the pub to fill their litre or two-litre reusable glass cask. A hinged porcelain cap secured the contents, should the conveyor get a little sloppy at the filling station. George Washington was also known to keep his growler close by his horse’s side during his tours in the battlefield. Growlers sustained their popularity in Australia, but disappeared from North America due to restrictive “Open Container” laws and “Six Pack” convenience.

Given the industrial, steampunk romanticism of collecting one’s ale directly from the neighbourhood brewer, it’s no surprise that Portland has launched yet another culturally anachronistic revolution. Look for the trend to follow shortly in Seattle, San Francisco, Brooklyn and other Portland mimics. (Where Portland leads, the cool bergs follow.)

World's a tap | Portland Growler Tour

World Cup of taps at Belmont Station © Belmont

The taps spilled here after Governor John Kitzhaber signed House Bill 2443, aka the “Growler Bill,” in April 2013, allowing for reusable, “open” containers in public. Growlers allow for locals to take home beer that might never be bottled, a utilitarian approach that naturally spawned nano-breweries, and now, Portland growler filling stations.

Portland’s growler stations typically sell dozens of craft brews at one time, inviting anyone with a glass, stainless steel or porcelain vessel to fill and go. We find growler filling stations inside grocery and convenience stores, as well as restaurants and actual tap houses.

Growlers Hawthorne set a new standard in filling stations when it opened this past January. The fill station was the first single purpose Portland growler filling station. The shop, comprised of 40 rotating taps, features frequent “Meet the Brewer” nights. Though determinedly “tap only,” some of the pours also contain cider, mead and other gluten-free libations.

Traditional brands to go | Portland Growler Tour

Traditional brands on tap © Saraveza

Growlers Hawthorne also employs the services of local DigitalPour, an ale education system that features three 55″ screens that display brewery names, beer name and style, and location of brewery, among several other home brewer and/or “beer nerd” details. The readout even includes beer colour and volume remaining within the keg, updating in real time, as well as social media information like who’s in the store. Tweet about an especially hoppy IPA and, pop, it appears on the screen. Of course, this being Portland, there are abundant bike racks, leash tie-ups and water bowls for cyclists with dogs.

You won’t find any fancy LED readouts at the 39th Mini Mart on SE 39th Avenue, but that doesn’t mean you can’t fill your growler here. The Sunnyside neighbourhood store features everything you’d expect in a convenience store but also boasts the best happy hour in town from ten taps of local craft brews. Liquor stores, including Hollywood Beverage on Sandy Boulevard, have also installed taps and plan to add more. There’s even a rumour that the local pharmacy might get into the growler game soon.

Commons Brewery | Portland Growler Tour

Keg to tap to growler at The Commons Brewery © Crai Bower

Like its peers in the Northwest, the city of Portland pioneered bottle shops, the place to go for a curated collection from hard to find nano-brewers to rare Belgian ales to specialty bottles like numbered Thomas Hardy Ale. These specialty stores, already home to the brewery salon set, were naturally the first to add taps when the Oregon “Growler Bill” passed into law.

The storied Imperial Bottle Shop and Taproom, located on trendy Southeast Division Street, maintains a “Current Tap List” on its website. Craving a “Flat Tail Brewing Cucumber Cuvee Sour,” (sours being the current rage among the beer elite), a “Stone Red Wine Barrel Aged Cali-Belgique” or “Crooked Fence Donkey Show Coffee Stout?” They’re all on tap at the Imperial.

Saraveza Bottle Shop and Pasty Tavern | Portland Growler Tour

Get beer that travels at the Saraveza Bottle Shop and Pasty Tavern © Saraveza

Division Street, home of Distillery Row, also hosts The Beer Mongers, a bottle shop that, like many of its ilk, began life as a home brewer store. Naturally, The Beer Mongers has eight taps to go with beer making kits and bottles.

You’ll find an even more eclectic blend from the draft list at Belmont Station, one of Portland’s oldest bottle shops, boasting more than 1,200 different beers to go with its two-dozen taps. It’s hard to decide between the “Monkey Paw I-5 Coast Dark Ale with Coconut” or the “Firestone Walker Wookey Jack Black Rye IPA.”

Not every Portland growler fill station hosts a couple dozen taps. Sellwood’s Portland Bottle Shop possesses just four taps, but the brews will be among the best you’ll taste anywhere.

The largest variety of taps remains, naturally, in the many craft beer bars that are scattered throughout the city. Baily’s Taproom is located conveniently near the majority of downtown hotels, a few of which have started offering growlers as guest amenities.

Bridgetown Beerhouse | Portland Growler tour

Bridgetown Beerhouse © Christopher Murphy/flickr

North Portland is well served by the Bridgetown Beerhouse. There may not be any food here, but there are few greater pleasures in Portland than grabbing your frothy growler and hitting a food cart just around the corner.

Portland has lately launched more national trends than it has bridges. So grab your Portland growler and become an early tap adapter.

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Have you experienced the Portland growler scene first hand? Where are your favourite fill stations in the city? Let us know in the comments section below.

Written by Crai Bower


Crai S Bower

Award winning travel writer, photographer and broadcaster Crai S Bower contributes scores of articles annually to more than 25 publications and online outlets including National Geographic Traveler, Journey, American Way magazines and T+L Digital.

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