cornelius pass roadhouse

What’s Brewing in Hillsboro

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Hillsboro, Oregon, is looking like the next logical expansion in the Portland brewery boom, with new breweries, expansions, and the upcoming launch of the Hillsboro Hops baseball team. While Portland now has over 50 breweries within city limits, the suburbs are due for quite a few more, and a recent trip to the suburbs with visits to the hometown Vertigo Brewing and popular homebrew shop Brew Brothers, which is opening its own taproom, confirmed these suspicions.

I am a little ashamed to admit I had never made it out to Hillsboro’s Vertigo Brewing in the 3 years since it opened. Starting off as a nano brewery, the operation now has a respectable 7bbl brewhouse and even a real spacious tasting room. I was surprised to find the tasting area empty on a recent Saturday afternoon, though perhaps it was the nice weather or that it is a bit difficult to find Vertigo at the back of a parking lot. Still, it’s not far off the highway, and the place is making some great beers. Though I have sampled the offerings numerous times, the ones that most are familiar, the Vanilla Porter and Razz Wheat, are the two styles I am most likely to dislike. Sadly, those are the only two beers you find distributed in Portland from Vertigo, but I was delighted to find all of the beers were well constructed.

I was especially pleased with the IPA. These days it’s a given that everyone loves every brewery’s IPA, but many are sub-par at best. The Vertigo IPA and Double IPA were standouts and some of the better examples of the style, especially among small brewers. There was also  a very solid Red on tap, as well as a Milk Stout in regular and bourbon barrel-aged versions. Co-owner Mike Haines was in the house and brought out samples of a new Amarillo hopped pale ale destined to be on tap at the Hillsboro Hops stadium. While still young and straight from the tank, the Amarillo hops shined through, one more reason why most brewers can’t get their hands on the popular hop. Luckily, Vertigo has a contract for what it needs. Even the Razz Wheat, which seems generic at first, is like an uptown version of nearby neighbors McMenamins’ Ruby Ale. Vertigo’s version uses pounds and pounds of whole frozen raspberries, with no flavorings or even puree.

Just a few blocks away from Vertigo is the Brew Brothers homebrew supply shop. This is a great shop full of helpful employees with a large stock of equipment and a great brewing library, plus a few taps behind the counter that feature the locals’ and employees’ homebrews. What I especially liked about this shop is that a lot of the equipment and pieces that are often behind the counter were all out on display in the aisles, making it easier to pick out what you need if you don’t quite know the proper term or use for the piece.

Excitingly for Hillsboro, the family-run Brew Brothers will soon open its own little brewery directly behind the homebrew shop in two 1, 000 sq ft. vacant spaces in the industrial park. The new brewery, dubbed Three Mugs, will serve as both a taphouse with 8 rotating guest taps as well as a bottleshop for service there or to go. Locals will be able to fill their growlers there, hopefully as soon as the end of April, though the actual house beers are still a few months out. Once the brewery is up and running, Three Mugs plans to add 8 of its own beers while keeping the guest taps running as well.

Ambacht Brewing is another nano-sized brewer that has been open in Hillsboro for a while. Though you can find its bottles in some specialty shops, Ambacht rarely kegs anything, and I am hard pressed to figure out who is drinking its stuff. I know earlier on the brewery had some beer infection issues that left me cold on its product, but it also recently announced an expansion and addition of a tasting room. Perhaps the growth signals an upgrade in product quality; after all many nano brewers make a false start but grow into themselves, as Brian Yaeger recently pointed out.

Last but not least, there is the Cornelius Pass Roadhouse. The local McMenamins outpost is a really pleasant location, with a small wooded campus featuring a guest house, pub, brewery, distillery, outdoor bar, and outdoor picnic seating. It makes a great location for events like the annual brewfest or even weddings. Cornelius Pass Roadhouse’s brewery has always been known as one of the best satellite breweries in the McMenamins empire, since Corey Blodgett, now at Widmer Brothers, was there and won the Glen Hay Falconer scholarship. The property is beautiful and lets you forget you’re in a suburb area right off the highway; you can imagine you’re at a wooded resort instead, and the beers and spirits are serviceable. If it was in Portland, I would certainly stop in fairly often.

Founder of The New School and most frequent contributor Ezra Johnson-Greenough has worked in the craft beer industry for almost 10 years, doing everything from illustrating beer labels to bartending at renowned beer bars and breweries like Belmont Station, Apex, Laurelwood and Upright Brewing. He has also had a hand in creating events like the Portland Fruit Beer Festival, Portland Beer Week, and the Brewing up Cocktails series. He is available for freelance consultation in marketing, events, graphic design and branding. Contact: [email protected]


  1. Brian Yaeger

    March 29, 2013 at 7:41 am

    I made this loop a couple weeks ago. Looking forward to seeing their scenes come Hillsboro Hops season.

  2. Anonymous

    March 29, 2013 at 4:09 pm

    How about some love for Mainbrew?

  3. Anonymous

    March 29, 2013 at 7:52 pm

    I buy ambacht all the time! There Belgium styles are amazing, and really well priced. I hope they start putting it in kegs soon!

  4. Anonymous

    March 29, 2013 at 11:26 pm

    In the old days, I used to frequent Mainstreet Homebrew (now Mainbrew) all the time. The guy that owns it introduced me to SAF instant yeast, which I still use all the time for baking bread. I’m glad to see they are still going more than 20 years after I first went there.

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