Each week, Yahoo Travel pits rival destinations against each other to determine once and for all which place is the best. This week it’s Portland, Ore., vs. San Diego for the title of best beer city.
The case for Portland, by Heather Hansman
This is hardly a contest. Sure, San Diego has stalwarts like Stone Brewing Company and sunny patios prime for afternoon drinking, but it can’t match Portland’s creativity, commitment, and embedded beer culture. Everything that makes Portland Portland — like its commitment to small-batch, local, and handcrafted creations and its unconventional tendencies — also makes for good beer. And in classic hipster fashion, Portland has been brewing craft beers since before it was cool. The microbrew scene has been around since the early ’80s with the BridgePort and Widmer Brothers breweries, and it’s still thriving and growing.
Portland has a lot of craft brews. (Photo: Getty Images)
Number of breweries: 56 in the city of Portland, and 76 in the Portland metro area. Oregon boasts the most breweries per capita, and PDX has the most breweries of any city in the country, according to the Brewers Association. Not bad for a city of just over 600,000.
Portland has an annual Fruit Beer Festival. (Photo: Will Vanlue/Flickr)
Festivals: There’s a beer festival almost every weekend, and they range from the highly specific — like the Portland Fruit Beer Festival in June — to the huge. The Oregon Brewers Festival is one of the biggest in the country. Mark your calendar for December’s Holiday Ale Festival, where local breweries make seasonal beers specifically for the celebration. Sometimes they even let California stragglers, like Bear Republic, show up.
Awards: There are too many award-winning Portland beers to name, but a good entry point is Breakside Brewery’s IPA, which won a gold medal for American Style IPA at this year’s North American Beer Awards.
Kennedy Elementary School has been turned into a beer lover’s hotel dreams. (Photo: McMenamins/Facebook)
Beer-themed hotel: The McMenamin brothers started one of the first breweries in Portland in the early ’80s and then went on to open hotels and music venues across the state. Stay at the McMenamin’s Kennedy School in Northeast, an elementary school that’s been renovated and turned into a hotel. Drink in the classrooms, then work off your hangover in the soaking pool in the former teacher’s lounge.
Making falafel at Wolf and Bear’s (Photo: Wolf and Bear’s/Facebook)
Best beer/food pairing: Portland also has a justifiable reputation as one of the best food towns in the country, so the options are varied and very good. At the food cart pod on Southeast 28th and Ankeny, you can get falafel at Wolf and Bear’s or pasta at Burrasca to eat with your brews from the Captured by Porches Beer Bus.
Beer from a mini mart? Only in Portland. (Photo: John Biehler/Flickr)
Most obscure/scenic/interesting place to get a beer: In Portland, and in Oregon in general, even lowly gas stations and bodegas are ripe with local microbrews. You can top off a growler at hole-in-the-wall corner stores, like the 39th Street Mini Mart, which is usually the cheapest place in town to fill up on high quality beers.
Related: Thursday Night: Portland, Oregon
Fred Eckhardt (Photo: Jeff Alworth/Flickr)
Notable beer personalities: Legendary beer writer Fred Eckhardt has been writing about beer in the Portland area and beyond since the ’80s. When he turned 80, the Portland beer community put on Fred Fest for his birthday in May. This year will mark the ninth anniversary of this celebration.
Make sure your bike has a basket so you can get your beer home. (Photo: Will Vanlue/Flickr)
Best way to do a brewery tour: Bikes are just as popular as beers in Portland, so a two-wheeled brewery tour is the local way to go. It’s so standard that there’s even a book about the best way to do it. “Hop in the Saddle” is a guidebook about biking the Portland craft beer scene. It includes maps of five different bike routes.
Grab a tasty brew from Hair of the Dog. (Photo: francisco delatorre/Flickr)
Best beer neighborhood: No quadrant of Portland will leave you thirsty, but the Southeast has a particularly high concentration of small-scale breweries. Go to Hair of the Dog, Portland’s original cult-status microbrewery.
The S’more beer from Base Camp Brewery (Photo: Patrick M/Flickr)
Most interesting beer: Base Camp Brewing Company’s S’more Stout sounds and looks like a novelty beer, but it’s surprisingly complicated and delicious. And, despite the fact that it comes with a roasted marshmallow on the rim, it’s not too sweet.
The case for San Diego, by Spencer Spellman
To pit San Diego’s beer prowess against Portland’s is like comparing red velvet cake to fruitcake. San Diego’s history of brewing beer dates back more than 100 years, which sets it apart from many cities today that claim they have the best beer. Portland may have the most breweries of any city, but quantity doesn’t always trump quality, with San Diego often being referred to as the “Craft Beer Capital of America.” San Diego got its craft beer kick-start in the 1980s, long before many other “beer cities,” when award-winning brewery Karl Strauss Brewing Company opened its doors, with many others following suit.
San Diego’s beer history goes further back than that of its rivals. (Photo: slworking2/Flickr)
Number of breweries: There are more than 100 licensed brewhouses (and another 50 planned) in San Diego, including both brewpubs and breweries, many of which, like Ballast Point, Karl Strauss, and Pizza Port, have several brewpubs. That number, however, applies to San Diego County as a whole, rather than San Diego proper.
A taste of San Diego Beer Week (Photo: crosby_cj/Flickr)
Festivals: There are simply too many San Diego beer festivals to name them all. San Diego Beer Week alone is home to hundreds of events that will take place throughout San Diego County in early November, starting with the San Diego Brewers Guild Festival. Most notably, however, is the San Diego International Beer Festival, which is the largest West Coast beer festival. Other notable gatherings include the San Diego Festival of Beer, San Diego Winter Brew Fest, and San Diego Beer Festival.
Award-winning Ballast Point Brewery is a must-visit. (Photo: beccacantpark/Flickr)
Awards: Where do I even start? Karl Strauss Brewing Company alone has won 64 medals over the last four years. Great American Beer Festival winners in 2013 for San Diego include gold for Monkey Paw’s Bonobos and bronze for Pizza Port’s Kung Fu Elvis in the American-Style Strong Pale Ale category. Ballast Point has won several medals at the Great American Beer Festival and three gold medals and “Small Brewery Champion” at the World Beer Cup.
Golf and an Even Keel IPA at Rancho Bernardo Inn is a nice way to spend the afternoon. (Photo: Rancho Bernardo Inn/Facebook)
Beer-themed hotel: San Diego hotels are starting to cater to beer enthusiasts. Rancho Bernardo Inn, for example, features a beer-tasting package that includes tickets to several local breweries, including Ballast Point. Stone Brewing, however, is the first San Diego brewery to announce plans to develop a hotel.
Related: Smackdown: Chicago vs. New York City
Local Habit’s food and beer pairings always deliver on flavor. (Photo: Local Habit/Facebook)
Best beer/food pairing: Beer and greasy food just seem to go hand-in-hand. But beer and fresh organic food from local farms? Naturally, if anywhere is going to do it well, it’s going to be California. And that’s what you’ll find at Local Habit, where craft beers are paired with organic food from local farms. A recent pairing matched Creole potato salad with bacon and shrimp with Sudwerk’s Coffee Vanilla Porter.
A good PSA from Barberside (Photo: Barberside.com)
Most obscure/scenic/interesting place to get a beer: When was the last time you were greeted at a barbershop with a beer? Exactly! Well you can do just that at Barberside, an old-school barbershop, where patrons are asked if they’d like a beer when they walk in to get a haircut.
Dr. Bill (Photo: Twitter)
Notable beer personalities: While there are a lot of beer personalities and writers in San Diego, it’s hard to deny the expertise of Bill Sysak, or as he’s largely known in the beer community, Dr. Bill. He is the Craft Beer Ambassador for Stone Brewing and a Master Cicerone, the final level of certification. In other words, the guy knows his beer, and equally as important, he knows how to pair it with food.
A military approach to beer (Photo: Scavengers Beer and Adventure Tours)
Best way to do a brewery tour: Portland can keep its bicycling brewery tours because San Diego has its own open-air brewery tour — from within a 12-seat Swiss military vehicle called a Pinzgauer (pronounced pinz-gow-er) — with Scavengers Beer and Adventure Tours. Winner, winner, brewery dinner. The tour includes a visit to three craft breweries, a production tour of one brewery, four to six tasters at each stop, a meal from Famous Phil’s BBQ, and a souvenir 6-ounce tasting glass.
Best beer neighborhood: With more than 100 breweries and brewpubs spread throughout the county, you won’t have a problem finding a plethora of watering holes. However, the highest concentration of brewhouses can be found in North County, often referred to as Hops Highway because the stretch of Highway 78 is lined with breweries and brewpubs.
Try the Coffee Milk Stout at Monkey Paw. (Photo: Monkey Paw Brewery)
Most interesting beer: If you like experimenting with beer, look no further than Monkey Paw Brewery, which offers its guests interesting brews such as Brainfood and Great Ape Nectar. Their most interesting beer, however, has to be one of their sweet stouts, the Coffee Milk Stout, a sweet beer with a chocolate and caramel finish, thanks to the 55 pounds of dulce de leche and 5 pounds of coffee beans.