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We arrived on a Saturday afternoon to find the tables filled with families. This is not just a bar for beer nerds; it's a pretty large restaurant serving lunch and dinner seven days a week. We were happy to settle in with a cask pint of the special Quail Springs IPA while we waited for a table. It was creamy and malty, with floral aromatics and a hint of pine nuts. It wasn't quite as citrusy as we expected, but there were better IPAs to come.
A fair amount of brewing occurs at the Portland pub; our waiter estimated that 80-90 percent of the beer served in the pub is brewed in Portland, with the rest arriving weekly from Bend. The bar has 18 taps, and the offerings change almost daily. Large glass windows allow visitors to admire the copper mash tuns (acquired from a defunct brewery in Germany) and watch the brewers at work.
Of course, the best way to get a sense of the brewery is to do some tasting, and taster trays are a pretty great deal: for $6.50, you get six four-ounce tasting glasses. You can choose Deschutes' flagship brews or almost any of the cask pours and special seasonal beers that are available.
Many Portlanders are familiar with Deschutes' regular offerings—they're available on tap at many local restaurants and in six packs at grocery stores. Our favorite was the Bachelor Bitter, a copper-colored ale with a nice malt backbone and restrained hopping. This beer has nice body and a mellow nutty flavor. We also liked the Mirror Pond Pale Ale, which has a lemon peel bitterness and refreshing hop flavor. The nitrogen-enhanced taster of the Jubelale was creamy and smooth, with notes of caramel popcorn and pecans.
Limited Edition Beers
The best part of a visit to Deschutes, though, is the chance to taste their limited-edition beers. Our taster tray included the Arctic Blastonator Weizen Bock, a wheat ale with a big dose of banana and bubblegum flavor (not my personal favorite), the drinkable D. Straat Dubbel brewed with abbey ale yeast, and a sample of Streaking the Quad, a strong Belgian-style ale with butterscotch and pecan pie flavors. While all of these were interesting, Deschutes' strengths lie elsewhere.
Two of the limited edition IPAs were everything we'd hoped for, so delicious that we were sad to finish each glass. The Fresh Squeezed IPA is made in the Portland pub and is not available in bottles (though you can get a growler to take home, and you should.) The menu warns that this bright, flavorful beer is an experimental "citrus bomb" but it's not very bitter, just tremendously flavorful, with nice malt flavor to balance the lemon notes. This is a beer worth traveling for, a beautiful example of a Northwest IPA.
We enjoyed the fruity wallop of the Hop Henge IPA even more—a hint of sweetness warmed up the grapefruit and orange peel flavors, and the malt notes reminded us of freshly baked shortbread. This potent imperial IPA is a part of the limited edition Bond Street Series, and is available in 22 oz bottles.
Though The Abyss is not available as part of the taster tray, you can order it in a snifter. If you imagine stirring good bourbon into a mug of melted dark chocolate, you're somewhere close to the taste of this velvety imperial stout. The Abyss isn't sweet, though—its rich chocolate flavors mingle with notes of dark-roast coffee and blackstrap molasses, figs, vanilla, strong booze, and fresh cream. Though the pub serves desserts including a double chocolate pot de creme, this lovely beer was indulgence enough for me.