For beer drinkers in the suburbs, savoring a tasty local brew has long meant making the drive to Portland. These days that is changing, and fast. Breweries are popping up all over as suburban dwellers demand better beer in their own communities. One of those is G-Man Brewery in Tualatin. Located off busy SW Boones Ferry Road, the 10-barrel brewery itself is tucked in behind a sports bar of the same name.
The story behind the brewery is a bit odd by industry standards. In a nutshell, Gary Haberman has owned and operated the G-Man Sports Bar for several years, serving up libations and a menu that has a little bit of everything to Tualatin’s drinking and sports-loving crowd. While his name does start with the letter G, G-Man is actually a reference to the slang term for government man, a name once bestowed on FBI agents, hence the prohibition era motif and fedora-capped silhouette with a gun logo. It’s kind of a gangster theme, even though it’s named after the good guys. Seeing the rise of craft beer and becoming a fan himself, Gary saw a business opportunity and recruited Tony Balzola to be his master brewer.
Tony is essentially the visionary behind G-Man’s beer roster and he brings plenty of experience to the job. Since 2000 he has brewed at a handful of McMenamins locations, including Edgefield and the Crystal Ballroom. He then took things in a totally different direction when he helped get Yalobusha Brewing in Water Valley, Mississippi, off the ground, staying there as the brewer for four and a half years. In the end, he missed the Northwest and returned to the Portland area. After hearing from a friend that Gary was looking for a brewer, the two met and clicked and he came on board.
Tony isn’t on a crusade to convert every customer to mega-hopped beers just yet. Instead, he’s taking smaller steps by encouraging them to taste G-Man Lager as an alternative to crap beer. Since dropping it at the sports bar, the beer has become a favorite as many customers are choosing it over staples like Budweiser and Miller.
Across the parking lot sits the G-Man Tap Room, which was formerly Birra Deli, a beloved beer-centric bar. The taproom draws a different crowd than the sports bar. Here you can get all of G-Man’s offerings on tap, get a growler or crowler filled, buy non G-Man beer to go, and grab a bite to eat from a small menu featuring sandwiches and other beer-friendly snacks. There’s even video poker!
Crisp, clean and crushable, the lager is the flagship of G-Man, and Tony admits that producing it takes of most of his time brewing, but there are other offerings aimed at more knowledgeable and adventurous beer drinkers. He likes to brew pretty much every style and is getting more into barrel aging. With their small space, this is limited, but on a recent visit they had a couple of imperial stouts, a milk stout, a pale in one, winter ale, and an experimental sour beer all sitting in barrels.
Their other flagship, Prisonyard IPA, is a solid West Coast style with the Mosaic and Citra hops shining brightly. The G-Man Pale is interesting as a sessionable pale ale brewed with a lager yeast strain with an old school bitterness and notes of strawberry and melon. If you’re sticking to IPAs, you will want to try out an Inmate if it’s on tap. This is an ongoing series of experimental IPAs, and on a recent visit version #2 stood at for the kind of fruity, not so bitter flavor that you might find in a hazy IPA with loads of El Dorado, Hallertau Blanc and Azacca hops.
Tony also brews small 12-gallon batches that are only available in the taproom, and on this writer’s visit he offered up a tasty nitro Irish stout that was little higher in ABV than we normally see with the style and less astringent since he used chocolatey and smokey Carafa malt. Other offers on this visit that were truly unique included a barrel aged Bavarian style hefeweizen with cherries that was better than you might think and drank sort of like a cider. There was also a strong IPA aged in Canadian whiskey barrels that was dry hopped with Sorachi Ace hops in the barrel, a boozy yet balanced offering. It may seem unassuming at first glance, but G-Man is producing some pretty damn interesting beers.
With so many breweries popping up in the area, it’s getting easier and easier to make a day of checking them out. If you’re making the trek to G-Man, you can also pay a visit to other westside spots like Ancestry, Smockville Brewhouse in Sherwood, Xylem Cider Works, Two Kilts, and Stickmen Beer Hall. Tony personally recommends FlyBoy Brewing and beer bars like the Hop and Cork and Three Mermaids Public House. Pretty much all of these places are within a five-mile radius of G-Man.
G-Man Tap Room, 18749 SW Martinazzi Ave, Tualatin, OR 97062