With the the most microbreweries of any U.S. city (70 as of December 31, 2016 plus another 35 in the metropolitan area) Portland, Oregon, is America’s craft beer capital. So that you don’t get overwhelmed with beer choices, we’re compiling the Where Is Your Toothbrush? Guide to Portland Breweries. In this installment, we cover N Portland breweries, located in the so-called fifth quadrant of North Portland aka NoPo, wedged between N Williams Avenue and the Columbia and Willamette Rivers.

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North Portland breweries

These are microbreweries in N Portland with on-site brewing operations and attached brew pub, taproom, or tasting room (we do not include standalone brewpubs where beer is not made on premises or breweries that only make beer for distribution).

N Portland breweries: Ecliptic Brewing*

We make no bones about considering Ecliptic one of the all-around best breweries in Portland. We just wish half the city didn’t think so, too.

Ecliptic is the most “concept brewery” in town: The seasonal menu changes every 6 weeks on important Celtic/Gaelic and solar (holi)days, and each beer’s name originates in astronomy. Which is smart business, too, as the ever-rotating menu inspires repeat visits for seasonal selections, including ones available only at the pub.

North Portland breweries - Ecliptic

The brew pub occupies a portion of a warehouse complex at the edge of North Mississippi Avenue, one of the most popular destination strips in town. White walls, tall ceilings, a spectacular main light fixture, and light-colored wood create a minimal, spacious interior that gets you to focus on the beer in front of you rather than the decor around you. The patio extends into the parking lot with views of the Fremont Bridge and downtown building-tops.

While the grub is more than decent, it’s the beer that keeps us in Ecliptic’s orbit. John Harris, the brewery’s founder and head brewer created some of the classic Oregon beers, like the Deschutes Mirror Pond, which turned us onto hoppy ales, and Black Butte Porter. And he keeps going.

Spectra Hoppy Pilsner (5.5% ABV, 38 IBU) lives up to the adjective in its name. Though much bigger than your daddy’s pale ale, Quasar Pale Ale (6% ABV, 65 IBU) clean, tropical notes still refresh at the end of a hot day.

North Portland breweries - Ecliptic

In the the faceoff between two stellar IPAs, we preferred Starburst IPA (7.8% ABV, 75 IBU), a bright explosion of citrusy hop flavors on the backdrop of classic piney ones. Three out of four Nepalese immigrants we chatted with at the bar one night preferred Orbiter IPA (7.4% ABV, 75 IBU), which leans pinier and darker and more down-to-Earth, the way Pacific Northwest styles tend to be.

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N Portland breweries: Ex Novo*

Ex Novo started out as the world’s first nonprofit brewery, donating 100 percent of its net profits to good causes; just before its third anniversary, in June 2017, it converted into a benefit corporation. So far, it’s still the same awesome microbrewery and remains one of our favorites in Portland, North or otherwise.

North Portland breweries - Ex Novo

The pub shares space with the brewing facility in a warehouse on a quiet side street off I-5. The interior is industrial, low-key chic heavy on wood and concrete, yet warm and, dare we say, cozy. We prefer outside seating at small or picnic tables lining the sidewalk; big trees at the school yard across the street filter the afternoon sunlight, providing for that lovely lazy-afternoon feel.

Beer here is some of the best in town, which is saying a lot. Bonus points go for clever, pop culture referencing names.

[The Most Interesting] Mexican Lager (5% ABV, 17 IBU) puts Negra Modelo to shame (not that it’s that hard). Bohemian Like You (5.3%, 42 IBU) is a balanced Pilsner that’s hoppy just the right way, with a lovely dry finish.

Eliot IPA (6.6% ABV, 65 IBU) tops our list of IPA favorites with its tropical, dry-hopped notes. The complexity of the seasonal New Spin IPA (6.2% ABV, 60 IBU) spans grass, citrus fruits, and pine cones.

Damon Stoutamire Rip City Stout (6.5% ABV, 57 IBU) pays homage to a former member of the Portland Trailblazers, whose arena is a short walk away. Rich and roasty, with dark chocolate and caramel notes, it’s a slam dunk of a brew.

N Portland breweries - Ex Novo

We could go on, as the beer menu rotates often, with seasonal, collaboration, and special-occasion brews assuring you’ll never see the same selection twice. And if you have enough of beer, there’s an extensive whiskey menu to tide you over.

If you go:

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N Portland breweries: Labrewatory*

When a microbrewery’s slogan reads, “Brew Whatever the F*ck You Want,” you know you’re in for a treat. Never the same, the tap list brims with creative brews, interesting fusions, and downright WTF-ness (where most breweries feature a few year-round brews, the lineup here is literally never the same from week to week). Beer nerds rejoice, traditionalists like ourselves are challenged.

Breweries in N Portland - Labrewatory

Extra Special Brexit ESB at Labrewatory, one of the best new breweries in North Portland

Take Follow Your Gose (3.9% ABV) and Gose in Your Mouth (3.4% ABV), made with fruit spent in making tepache; on one visit we watched the brewers transfer pineapple pulp into a fermenter and couldn’t help but think about meat. Or Yuzu Mimosa (3% ABV), a kettle-soured golden ale made with the yuzu fruit. Or Lil Q Pale Ale (4% ABV) using spent fruit from a peach sour.

At the higher end of alcohol volume, Hazezilla IPA (6% ABV) features hop hash that lends it the familiar New England-style haze and juicinesss. Doe! Si! Doh! Milk Stout (6% ABV) is brewed with peanut butter powder. And how about the big, dry Mole, Mole Mole Milk Stout (6.2% ABV) sweetened with Mexican chocolate and cinnamon and spiced with chili peppers?

North Portland breweries - Labrewatory

Where the magic happens at Labrewatory.

There seems to be no end to the brewers’ creativity at the very-aptly named Labrewatory. So much so that, relative to the rest of the offering, Extra Special Brexit ESB (4.4% ABV), an excellent specimen of the classic English style, with nutty notes and a big mouthfeel, feels downright pedestrian. They also eschew including International Bitterness Unit with their beer listings, one of a handful of breweries in Portland, Oregon to do that.

The chic, white-tiled and mirrored taproom reminds us of a late-night bar somewhere in L.A. You can bring in food from the next-door neighbor Tamale Boy, which we have yet to try.

Breweries in N Portland - Labrewatory

Labrewatory also gets high marks for engaging with the community as a business: they hold yoga and beer events; you can rent the space for a party; and they created the NoPo Industrial Ale Trail, a chain of 5 microbreweries within a 1-mile walking distance in North Portland (see featured image).

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N Portland breweries: Lompoc Brewing

We’ve been going to Lompoc as long as we’ve lived in Portland. The Tavern in the Northwest when we lived in that quadrant, in 2004–2005 and 2015–2017; the Hedge House in the SE in 2006–2007; and the Oaks Bottom Public House, also in the Southeast in 2007–2012. Rarely did we venture to the brewery’s North Portland locations on N Williams Avenue, home of the production facility where the beer actually originates.

We prefer Side Bar, darker and more brooding (though we could do without the TV screens); the Fifth Quadrant has a spacious, family-friendly feel, though their patio is one of the best ones in town.

North Portland breweries - Lompoc

Lompoc’s C-Note IPA (6.9% ABV, 100 IBU), Proletariat Red (6.2% ABV, 32 IBU), and Fool’s Golden Ale (5% ABV, 18 IBU) have established themselves as local classics in their respective styles.

Pamplemousse Citrus IPA (5.8% ABV, 70 IBU) helped stir the citrus India pale ale madness; it remains one of our most beloved specimens of the style, though on one visit to Fifth Quadrant it came out a bit flat.

In fact, it seems we chanced upon a bad day in the carbonation department that time. On the same visit, the Fechter Brau Pilsner (4.9% ABV) and Cornucopia Cream Ale (4.9% ABV) also came out flat enough to tarnish their otherwise good impressions. A friend who prefers dark beers declared the Lomporter (6.4% ABV) and L.S.D./Lompoc Special Draft (6.9% ABV, 58 IBU) as “okay” and “pretty good,” but flat as well.

On most other occasions, Lompoc beers stand up to the toughest competition, and the seasonal, experimental, and particularly barrel-aged brews, paired with excellent service, make every visit worthwhile.

If you go:

  • Locations:
  • Hours:
    • Fifth Quadrant (restaurant, bar, brewery): Monday–Thursday 11:00 a.m. to midnight, Friday–Saturday 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m., Sunday 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. (Happy Hour 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. to Close)
    • Side Bar (barrel tasting room, bar, bottle shop): Tuesday–Thursday 4:00 p.m. to midnight, Friday–Saturday 4:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m., Sunday noon to 8:00 p.m. (closed Monday; Happy Hour Wednesday–Saturday 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.)
  • Website: LompocBrewing.com

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N Portland breweries: Occidental Brewing Company

If we were to rate breweries by the picturesqueness of their location, Occidental Brewing would come up top. Located steps away from Cathedral Park on the Willamette River, their Wursthaus extension boasts views of St. John’s Bridge, Portland’s (and perhaps Oregon’s) most beautiful span, and of the brewery’s eco roof. Occidental is a pleasant place for a weekend bike-ride outing.

North Portland microbrewery - Occidental

Occidental pilsners with the St. John’s Bridge as backdrop.

The original tap room is still a warehouse-y but welcoming space, with displays of beer cans on the walls and a tiny patio that bicyclists enjoy. The newish Wursthaus restaurant across the parking lot of the warehouse complex serves tasty brats that pair perfectly with the German-style brews Occidental specializes in.

And they have got those down. Poured with a good head as lagers should be, Occidental’s beers are beautiful examples of their styles, mother lodes of liquid gold in North Portland.

When we first visited a couple of years ago, we found the Bohemian-Style Pilsner (4.8% ABV; Prague) to be one of the best pilsners in Oregon. The ranking still stands even though on a recent visit we couldn’t care less about competing, transported as we were straight to the heart of Europe.

The Kolsch (4.5% ABV; Cologne) is crisp and clean, with a hint of a grainy aftertaste.

Breweries in North Portland - Occidental

Vintage beer cans on display at the Occidental taproom.

On the darker side of German beers, the Altbier (5.2% ABV; Dusseldorf) is a malt-forward but nicely hopped, amber-colored beer that introduces complexity to your lager expectations. The Dunkel (5.3% ABV; Munich) is a toasty, chewy, yet clean beer that puts other dark lagers we’ve tasted around town to shame.

N Portland microbreweries - Occidental

On the Occidental Wursthaus patio.

If you go:

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N Portland breweries: StormBreaker Brewing*

Before StormBreaker Brewing moved in to the warehouse on North Mississippi Avenue in 2014, we could never recall the name of the brewery that was located there (it was, aptly, Amnesia Brewing). What we could always recall was one of the best patios in town. Whereas most brewery patios look out onto a road or a parking lot, this one, being on a corner, affords views of two streets, including a historic strip full of restaurants and bars with rivers of foot traffic flowing by at all times.

Inside, StormBreaker is a much more welcoming place than Amnesia ever was. What we call a friendly neighborhood warehouse is dark, cozy, with art on the walls, including a silhouette of Mt. Hood fashioned in wood panels (StormBreaker, you learn from a book page displayed in the restroom, is an old Indian nickname for The Mountain). Regulars mingling with off-duty staff and craft-beer tourists, sports on TV—the NBA and Stanley Cup playoffs were under way when we visited—and attentive service lend the place a living room feel. Whiskey and beer pairings add some bonus nostalgia for the times when that was a thing.

N Portland breweries - Stormbreaker

Opacus Oatmeal Stout at Stormbreaker.

The beer list is extensive for a small brewery. The Total Rekolsch (5.2% ABV, 23 IBU) made us wish all Kolsches were like this so we could like the style more. Clean, crisp with a gentle bitterness in the finish…a perfect summer thirst quencher.

The Cloud Ripper (6.4%, 78 IBU) is a great IPA we recommend drinking slowly and with focus.

With notes of coffee, toffee, and chocolate, the full-bodied Opacus Oatmeal Stout (5% ABV, 24 IBU) is a perfect cure for rainy day blues. Of the seasonals, we tried the Wise Uncle Dunkel (4.2% ABV, 13 IBU), which was decent albeit with an aftertaste that reminded us of our homebrews.

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N Portland breweries: Upright Brewing

Our first exposure to Upright Brewing occurred in 2011, when we tasted their seasonal Gunslinging Helles (4.9% ABV), a smoked version of the classic German lager style. Since then, we’d spot an Upright brew on tap here and there, but never make it to the actual brewery. With some reason: the small brewery and its tiny taproom hide in the basement of the LeftBank office building in an awkward triangle near the Rose Garden/Moda Center arena.

A hidden gem in the true sense of the word, Upright’s brewers obviously enjoy beer-making experimentation, focusing on “farmhouse inspired beers rooted in France and Belgium but made with a Pacific Northwest twist.” Many of the beers are made using open fermentation, an old-school brewing method that keeps wort exposed to the environment rather than hermetically sealed.

N Portland breweries - Upright

Open fermentation underway at Upright Brewing.

While nectarines, tart cherries, spring yarrow, calendula flowers, raw wildflower honey, grapefruit peel, and other unusual ingredients would give proponents of the Reinheitsgebot, a 500-year old German beer purity law, conniptions, they delight beer nerds in brews that stand out above the usual lagers and ales.

The hoppiest pilsner we’ve ever had, Engelberg Pilsner (4.75% ABV) is perhaps the least interesting brew in the ever-changing lineup. Oyster Stout (6.2% ABV), made with oysters and oyster juice, complements winter perfectly, while Saison Vert (4.75%), made with sun-dried black limes, defines (and defies) summer.

Any time we want to escape from the city above ground and journey into the beer unknown, we go to Upright Brewing.

N Portland breweries - Upright

A beer, a turntable with soul or reggae on, a few barrels… A perfect hideaway.

If you go:

  • Location: 240 N Broadway #2, Portland, Oregon
  • Hours: Thursday 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., Friday 4:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., Saturday 1:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., Sunday 1:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.; also open from 6:00 p.m. until tipoff for home Portland (Trail)Blazers games
  • Website: www.UprightBrewing.com

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N Portland breweries: Widmer Brothers*

Widmer Brothers is one of the oldest breweries in Oregon and a pioneer of the craft beer culture in the state. Partly owned by AB InBev, it makes nearly half-a-billion barrels of beer per year.

The brewery’s fame rests squarely on its Hefe (4.9% ABV, 26 IBU), the American hefeweizen “that started it all.” Using the citrusy Pacific Northwest classic Cascade hops and an altbier yeast to put a twist on a German blond wheat beer (Weizenbier), the Hefe introduced and popularized the style in the U.S. It continues to hold the status of Widmer’s flagship brew and rack up awards. It’s so important to the local craft beer culture one magazine has called it “one of Oregon’s food groups.”

North Portland breweries - Widmer

Hefe X Ekuanot; note the photo of the two Widmer brothers behind the bar.

Given the number of great breweries in town, with new ones to try on a bimonthly basis, we don’t make it out to Widmer’s brick-walled Gasthaus Pub in North Portland much. It feels a bit too corporate, too mass-production-y, too calculated (the summer beer garden is much better). But man, is the Hefe good. If you’re going to have just one beer, make it that. It tastes so much better than from the bottle, like cloudy sunshine finished with a lemon.

Once you get there, be prepared for a pleasant surprise. The tap list features a number of small-batch, experimental brews made at the brewery’s new Innovation Brewhouse. We’ve spotted cedar tips, kumquat, De la Rosa peanut candy, sake yeast, spelt, and molasses among the unusual ingredients in use.

We tried the Hefe X Ekuanot (4.9% ABV, 50 IBU), a cousin of the classic using the same yeast but a new hop breed; it was so hoppy it didn’t taste like a hef anymore, which we didn’t mind because it’s a good beer and because we appreciated its being a spin on a brew that itself is a spin on a brew.

White Rooster Oatmeal Pale Ale (4.4% ABV, 34 IBU), another small-batch offering, was stepped in white peony tea, giving it a unique, gentle white-tea flavor with a chewy mouthfeel from the oats. Afterwards, there wasn’t that much more in the light, almost lager-like brew.

When we don’t feel like experimenting, we have some food and go for Widmer’s core beers: PDX Pils (4.8% ABV, 34 IBU), a crispy Northern German pilsner dry-hopped with North American Columbia hops; Drop Top Amber Ale (5.5% ABV, 20 IBU), our favorite amber in town; or Upheaval IPA (7.0% ABV, 85 IBU), a big Pacific Northwest brew.

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Have you been to any of these North Portland breweries? What did you think?

* marks breweries that are part of the new NoPo Industrial Ale Trail, a chain of five breweries in N Portland within a mile’s walk.

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10 Responses

  1. Pech

    Great round up of the breweries: I really like Ecliptic and Ex Novo not just for the beer but they have great food that can be enjoyed with the beer too!

    Reply
  2. Karla

    I am not a big fan of beers, but Portland has a lot of different kinds, I defnitely found one that suited me well.

    Reply
  3. jitaditya

    That’s a very extensive post. I can imagine that it will be a dream trip for some of my friends. I didn’t even know that there can be so many variations of the simple beer.

    Reply
  4. Paige W

    What a great guide! I’m dying to get back to Portland, but it’s going to have to wait. I’m a craft beer LOVER so this is the perfect destination for me. I’m not sure which part of Portland Breakside is in (clearly not north) but I’m dying to try their Wanderlust IPA – IPAs are my favorite AND how could I not love that name?

    Reply
    • Peter Korchnak

      Breakside’s production facility with a taproom is outside of Portland, in Milwaukie. In Portland proper, the NE Dekum location is “just” a brewpub whereas the NW location, dubbed Slabtown, makes unique specialty beers. You can find Wanderlust at all of these pretty much all the time.

      Reply
    • Peter Korchnak

      They have, indeed. McMenamins hasn’t been a go-to place for beer in a log long time. Nowadays it’s more of a tourist attraction (some of their locations, like the Kennedy School and Edgefield, anyway).

      Reply

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