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Ein Lager, Bitte: Where to Get Your German Bier on in Oregon

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Gestalt Haus PDX

Gestalt Haus PDX

In the 19th century, German-speaking central Europe was a significant source of immigrants to the USA, and some of those immigrants brought their beer brewing expertise with them, founding breweries that made lager beers. In the early 20th century, the era during and after World War One was not a great time to celebrate German heritage and customs, and some exploited this period of anti-German opinion to crusade against drinking beer and other alcohol beverages, finally resulting in passage of the 18th Amendment. Only the strongest of brewing enterprises survived. The 21st Amendment, which repealed the 18th Amendment and Prohibition in 1933, resulted in the resurgence of these surviving brewers. Post-Prohibition brewing in the USA was then dominated by lagers, which over the years became increasingly mass produced, lighter, and less flavorful. When the first wave of craft brewers (remember “microbreweries?”) kicked off in the late 1970s and early 1980s, they were almost all ale producers: top-fermenting beers made at warmer temperatures. The mass producers still made lagers, bottom-fermenting beers at cool temperatures, but the little guys started with shoe-string budgets, and ales didn’t require the investment in time and cooling equipment that lagers did.

Today, quality lagers are resurgent. Recently, the New School reported the opening of Occidental Brewing’s Wursthaus and the new brewery at Zoiglhaus. Portland’s daily newspaper has featured articles focused on the German “Purity Law” and local German beer bars and the recent opening of the Occidental Wursthaus. Yes, you can still down your favorite tallboys of PBR, and cans of Rainier and Olympia are still in C-store and supermarket coolers. But lager has re-emerged in the craft brewing world, together with as good a selection of imported lagers as there has ever been. So, where in the Portland area does a beer drinker go to get a Reinheitsgebot-compliant German-style lager and slake that thirst?

 

Pubs and Bars

  • The Rheinländer and Gustav’s
    5035 NE Sandy Blvd, Portlandrheinlander-logogustavs-logo

    Gustav's/Rheinlander photo from KPTV.com

    Gustav’s/Rheinlander photo from KPTV.com

     

  • The original Rheinländer on NE Sandy goes back more than fifty years. It seems, perhaps, a bit dated now, but at one time, the Rheinländer was the flag-waver (that would a black, red, and gold flag, horizontally striped) for German food and beer in Portland, starting with its original location out on NE Sandy Boulevard. It was enough to have beers like Löwenbräu, Spaten, Paulaner, and Beck’s lagers back then. When the craft beer movement started in the 1980s, Widmer Brewing (no “Brothers” in the name back then) went for a market niche brewing German-style ales, specifically a Düsseldorf-style Altbier, and offering it to places like the Rheinländer seemed natural. The beer that really broke for Widmer, though, was an unfiltered wheat ale, fermented with a conventional top-fermenting yeast. The cloudy beer was dubbed “Widmer Hefeweizen,” and as documented thoroughly elsewhere, it took off. Since those days, the Rheinlander has often featured Widmer on tap alongside its imported German beers. Gustav’s was developed more recently; it started out as the beer hall and garden at the Rheinländer, but the name is now also shared by three affiliated restaurants in Clackamas (12605 SE 97th Ave, Clackamas), Tigard (10350 SW Greenburg Rd, Tigard), and across the river in Vancouver (1705 SE 164th Ave, Vancouver).

 

ProstPDX

copyright © 2010 Susan Seubert Photography All Rights Reserved

copyright © 2010 Susan Seubert Photography All Rights Reserved

The Prost chain started in Seattle, with the first Prost German beer bar opening in September 2002 on Greenwood Avenue North, in the Phinney Ridge neighborhood. Seattle now has four in the group, and in 2009, Prost’s Seattle founder, Chris Navarra, partnered with Dan Hart to open the first Portland Prost, on N. Mississippi Avenue at N. Skidmore Street. If the Rheinlander/Gustav’s is a big sit-down restaurant and beer hall (in German, a Gaststätte), Prost is a corner pub, or in German, a Kneipe. Food is simple, tavern food like sausages and kraut or a meat and cheese board, but the beer’s the thing here: all German, all the time, unless an Austrian beer like Stiegl is featured on tap. There’s also outdoor seating, beer garden style, in back, and in true Portland style, Prost Portland is situated right next to a cart pod. As is common with some German beer gardens, Prost allows food to be brought in from any of the carts, as long as drinks are ordered from the bar.

 

  • Stammtisch
    401 NE 28th Ave., PortlandStammtischimg_5856
    Sister to Prost! Portland, Stammtisch opened its doors in 2014 and has been a success ever since. It boasts the broadest selection of German beers on tap in Portland, and the kitchen turns out really good German-style food, from your basic pretzel with dips, to classic street food like currywurst (sausage with curry-flavored ketchup and fries), to big platters of schnitzel, roast chicken, and Schweinshaxe, a roasted ham hock as big as your head. The wide-ranging beer selection has your classic Bavarian lagers in pale (Helles), dark (Dunkles), and strong (Bock and Doppelbock), but also will feature the occasional Berliner Weisse or Gose, maybe a Rauchbier, always at least one Kölsch, and a Pilsner from the Rheinland. These days, German brewers are also experimenting with American-inspired craft-beer ales and reviving old and forgotten styles, so there might be a Progusta IPA from Braufactum or a Ritterguts Gose on. There are also occasional special brewers’ dinners every few months; these can be a little spendy, but they are always excellent. The place is cozy in cooler months, lively on busy nights, and in good weather, there’s outdoor seating at tables by the sidewalk.

 

  • Stein Haus
    2366 SE 82nd Ave, PortlandSteinhausLogo20140729_161231
    Somewhere between cool dive bar and German Kneipe, there’s Stein Haus, sister to Montavilla’s Roscoe’s. Co-owner Jeremy Lewis bought the place and rescued it from oblivion in 2014. Inside, it’s dark and just a bit dive-y, but there’s a pretty nice outdoor patio at the back. German and locally-brewed German-style lagers dominate the taps. Food is German-inspired, although the “German burritos” are purely local. One goes down well with a half liter of good German lager, though.

 

 

  • Gestalt Haus
    3588 SE Division St, PortlandGestaltHaus
    Gestalt Haus PDX  exteriorBeer, brats, and bikes are the bywords here. Gestalt Haus is the Portland branch of a San Francisco bar, modeled after a German Eckkneipe, or corner bar. There’s a mix of local and imported German-style beers on tap, plus a few local brews that aren’t so German. You wanna eat? They have sausages, as many as nine different kinds, including vegan. Hang out with your friends or make new ones at the communal tables, or sit outside at the benches, like they do in Germany. Would it be so wrong if more neighborhoods had an Eckkneipe like this?

 

Besides all of these, there are a couple more restaurants where you’ll find German beer and eats. Otto and Anita’s in Multnomah Village is a neighborhood place for a somewhat more mature crowd. Swiss Hibiscus in NE Portland does Swiss-German cuisine. Both places feature German beers on their menus. Local quality beer bars like Belmont Station, the Horse Brass, Loyal Legion, Bailey’s, Roscoe’s, and Apex just about always feature a craft lager or two on tap as well. The Edelweiss German deli, on SE 12th Ave just south of SE Powell Blvd, has a café where you can enjoy deli sandwiches with a bottled German or Austrian beer from the cooler. The Old Country Sausage Company, at 10634 NE Sandy Blvd, offers a café with German dishes and beers from the cooler. Out in Tigard, the Bavarian Sausage Delicatessen at 8705 SW Locust St also has a small café for Geman deli eats and beers. These three delis, in the German style, run Monday – Saturday daytime schedules, and are closed all day on Sundays.

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GlockenspielLogobargarten-logo-main
Then there’s Mount Angel. About an hour south of Portland, the Willamette Valley’s own “Bavarian Village” sports some places that transport guests to Good Old Germany but without the airfare or jet lag. These include the upscale Glockenspiel Restaurant, about as Old World as it gets here, and the renowned Mt. Angel Sausage Co., maker and purveyor of German-style sausages, and operator of its own on-premises German-style pub. Gustav’s Bargarten is an offshoot of Portland’s Gustav’s, a modern beer hall and beer garden with hearty German food and a good selection of German and other beers on tap.

Mount Angel is also home to an annual Oktoberfest celebration, as are some of Portland’s German pubs. More on that later.

 

Breweries, Brewery Taps, and Brewpubs

  • Heater Allen Brewing
    907 NE 10th Ave, McMinnville
    20130606_180944Heater Allen started up in McMinnville in April 2007, with the purpose of brewing fresh quality lagers in German and Czech styles. The brewery operates its own taproom, open 3pm – 6pm Fridays and noon – 5pm Saturdays, plus occasional openings by appointment. The beer range can include Pils, “Das Bier” Kölsch, “Lenzbock” Heller Bock, “Coastal” NW style amber lager, “Collabrotive Damage” wild dark lager (a collaboration with Newberg’s Wolves and People), “Eichenbock” oak-barrel-aged Doppelbock (collaboration with Tillamook’s De Garde, “Sterk en Donker” (“Strong and Dark” in Dutch) Belgian style ale, and more. Heater Allen’s beers can also be found on tap at better beer bars around Portland, and some beers are also in bottles, sold at bottle shops like Belmont Station and Beer Monger’s.

 

  • Occidental Brewing
    6635 N Baltimore Ave, Portland
  • A view of the St. Johns Bridge from the Occidental Wursthaus patio

    A view of the St. Johns Bridge from the Occidental Wursthaus patio

    Occidental started up in 2010 in St. Johns, the far north of Portland, once a very blue-collar neighborhood, now gentrifying steadily. The location is a bit hidden, down by a boat launch and park on the Willamette River. From the start, Occidental’s purpose was to brew authentic German-style beers, with flagships being Kölsch, Altbier, Hefeweizen, and Pilsner, which are all packaged in 16-ounce cans for retail sale. More styles are featured on tap at the brewery’s on-premises taproom, including the profoundly malty Lucubrator doppelbock. In August 2016, Occidental joined forces with Urban German food cart operator David Gluth to open the Occidental Wursthaus on the other side of the parking lot, feauturing classic German dishes – roast pork, sausage, schnitzel – with a full range of Occidental beers on tap.

  • Rosenstadt Brewery
    RosenstadtLogo
    rosenstadt-kolschRosenstadt (German for “Rose City”) is a little different from the other breweries mentioned here. It currently operates as a “gypsy” or “tenant” brewery, brewing its beers on the system at Max’s in Tigard. Rosenstadt’s beers include Kölsch, Alt, German Pale Ale, Helles, Weissbier (wheat beer), and Frühlingsweisse (springtime wheat beer); they can be found on tap at good bars and restaurants around town. Rosenstadt has also done brewers’ nights and tap takeovers at venues like the Green Dragon and the Tannery. The brewery’s owners intend to eventually build out their own brewery.

 

  • Widmer Brothers Brewing
    909 N. Russell Street
    widmer_54_990x660_201406020124Should Widmer still be included on a list of German-style brewers? Intentions were different back in 1984, when brothers Kurt and Rob Widmer decided to make their own way into the new world of “microbreweries” by opening Widmer Brewing Co. Their first idea was to look to Düsseldorf for inspiration, in the form of that German city’s own Altbier, a style that is top-fermented like an ale but cold-conditioned like a lager. They soon added Weizenbier, or wheat beer, to the lineup; this was not a Bavarian-style wheat beer with banana-fruity esters and clove phenols, but more of a wheaten ale. The big breakthrough came in 1986, when the Widmers packaged an unfiltered version of Widmer Weizen, putting it on tap at the West Side’s Dublin Pub. Widmer Hefeweizen took off in popularity. Widmer also introduced a Fest Bier, in the style of an Oktoberfest beer, in 1986. Widmer’s contemporaries back then – Portland Brewing, Bridgeport, McMenamins – all stuck to warm-fermented ales, local interpretations of British and Irish styles. Widmer was also at the first Oregon Brewers Festival in 1988. Growth continued into the 1990s; the brewery was renamed Widmer Brothers, and the style range broadened considerably. Today, the original Hefeweizen has been rebranded simply as “Hefe” and is sold in cans at shops and restaurants. The draft-only Altbier can still be found at the brewery’s own pub, alongside a wide range of beers in other styles; nowadays, there’s even a good chance you’ll find a house-brewed Bavarian-style (fruity, clovey) Hefeweizen on tap.

 

  • Zoiglhaus Brewing
    5716 SE 92nd Ave, Portlandz-word-3zoiglhaus-flight
    Alan Taylor, brewer at Northwest Portland’s Pint Brewing, is a driving force behind Zoiglhaus, a roomy (200 seats) brewery and pub-restaurant located out in Lents, an outer Southeast Portland neighborhood that is experiencing something of a revival. Zoiglhaus is the first brewpub in the neighborhood, and the very name suggests a type of community-minded spirit. Zoigl is a tradition still found in just a few small towns and villages in eastern Bavaria’s Oberpfalz (Upper Palatinate) region, where small non-commercial brewhouses are owned and operated by local community citizens, where they brew rustic, old-fashioned lagers, served in pubs that are usually part of the locals’ homes. Portland’s Zoiglhaus borrows from and builds on that tradition, but there are still local laws and rules to be obeyed. The brewery here is a commercial enterprise, and finished beers are served on-premises. There’s a mix of German-style and American pub food on the menu; the Flammkuchen are worth a try, especially the “Original,” which is pretty true to its Alsatian inspiration.

 

Other local brewers not typically known for lagers make some very good ones; Upright Brewing’s Engelberg Pilsner has received its share of critical acclaim, and The Commons has a Pilsner, and sometimes, a Kölsch featured in the rotation alongside its Belgian-inspired farmhouse ales. Breakside features a Pilsner in its regular line-up. 54-40 Brewing, in Washougal, Wash., has a Kölsch in its lineup, and has brewed a seasonal Oktoberfest lager as well. Other Oregon breweries that include German styles in their lineups include Fat Head’s, 10 Barrel (Portland’s branch features Whitburger Pils!), Crux, Buoy, Ninkasi, and others.

There are good German-style beers from out of state, too. Washington state’s Chuckanut Brewery and Kitchen, founded by craft-brewing pioneer Will Kemper, makes a range of quality German styles, including a Kölsch that was written up by a Cologne daily newspaper for being good (even if it’s considered audacious to call itself Kölsch). Sierra Nevada first brewed lagers a couple of decades ago, and has done seasonal Oktoberfest lagers in collaboration with German brewers; the 2016 version, in collaboration with Mahr’s of Bamberg, is excellent. Pennsylvania’s Victory Brewing has a nationwide reputation, built up over a couple of decades, for brewing quality lagers in the German tradition; its Prima Pils is a modern craft-brewing classic.

German imports are still here, and often in good shape, but things have changed a lot in the last few years. Those Spaten and Löwenbräu taps pour beer brewed by the same company, and they’re all part of the Anheuser Busch-InBev (ABI) global brewing empire. So is Beck’s, but the Beck’s you get in the USA isn’t even brewed in Germany; it comes from St. Louis. Paulaner and Hacker-Pschorr? Same company, and part-owned by Heineken. There are still plenty of German independents though, and even better, there are revivalist brewers bringing back old styles that were either nearly gone or just plain extinct. Looking to taste a German-brewed Gose? Look for taps from Freigeist or Ritterguts, often found at Stammtisch. You might find Mahr’s Kellerbier or Schlenkerla Rauchbier from Bamberg on tap. And of course, traditional Bavarian lagers from independent brewers like Ayinger and Andechs can be found on tap too.

 

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Finally, there’s Oktoberfest, which is just one of many beer-oriented festivals held in Germany throughout the year. Local pubs like Prost and Stammtisch put up the blue-and-white decorations and serve up frothy liters of Bavarian Helles and other beers. Occidental Brewing gets into the spirit and also brews a seasonal Oktoberfest lager, an amber Märzen lager that is really good in that malty Bavarian way. Other local venues celebrate as appropriate. There’s an Oktoberfest in early September at Mt Hood Meadows. And then there’s the big one: the Mount Angel Oktoberfest, held annually in mid-September. That’s not a mistake; Munich’s Oktoberfest also starts in mid-September and ends on the first Sunday or Monday in October. Stammtisch’s Oktoberfest is also in mid-September, when the street is closed off and turned into a beer garden. It may not be quite as huge as the real deal in Munich, but it’s still a taste of good old Germany, without the costly airfare and hotel rooms.

 

doninbischberg

Don Scheidt has been into good beer since before the dawn of craft brewing in the Pacific Northwest. He created the Northwest Brewpage, a regional guide to good beer in Oregon and Washington, back in the mid-1990s, but has since retired it. Don started writing the Washington state “Puget Soundings” column for Celebrator Beer News in 1998, and continues to do that today. Don also wrote about beer for the Seattle Weekly in 2005-2006.

1 Comment

  1. Don Scheidt

    September 16, 2016 at 6:59 pm

    An uodate: there will be an Oktoberfest-y anniversary celebration with Rosenstadt Brewing at People’s Pig on Saturday, October 1st.

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