Taproom/Milwaukie Hours Mon-Fri: 3-7:30ish Sat: 12-6:30ish
On Saturday, January 25th, five members of the Portlandbeer.org team gathered at Base Camp Brewing in SE Portland for a quarterly-ish meeting of the beer minds. The discussion turned toward the upcoming grand opening of the Breakside Taproom in Milwaukie, OR. I was alone in groaning that I’d never had a good beer from Breakside. (Yes, there were audible gasps from my four compatriots.) So, of course, as with my previous assignment, I hesitantly took on the task of covering an opening where I was certain of disappointment. I have rarely in my life been proven more wrong (but I won’t go into detail on the others as my pride prohibits such disclosure).
Shortly after 5pm on Wednesday, January 30—after getting lost in a sea of business park hell, making a few legally questionable maneuvers to get into the correct driveway—the car was parked near the entrance to the Breakside Taproom. Upon entry, I swiftly made my way to the ladies room (surprisingly clean given that (a) this is a taproom and not a brewpub, and (b) there were a LOT of people there consuming a lot of collective beer). Afterwards, I made my way to the bar and waited patiently—only because I was so incorrectly certain that there wasn’t anything worth getting excited about—to place my taster order.
When I finally had the attention of the guy behind the counter, I was immediately informed that their taster trays were not delivered in time for the grand opening and asked if I wanted a pint. I looked deeply into his eyes and unabashedly pleaded that I wanted to write about Breakside beers, not a Breakside beer, and asked if there any way I could convince him to give me a sampler tray on a paper plate. He laughed and started writing the beers I called out on a plate alike an old pro. Major points for service and flexibility!
Only after I had all six tasters and my trusty companion had his pint did I realize (a) there was nowhere to sit (all dozen or so barstools at the main counter and a sprinkling of barstools around barrels were taken and there was not a shortage of people waiting to pounce as people got up) and (b) it is REALLY challenging to carry six sweating, cold, full sampler glasses on a dampening paper plate. Fortunately I had help and was able to claim some floor space against the far wall so that I could drink and write with abandon.
I sat down, got out my pen and paper, got ready to mark snarky comments that I would later tone down for mass consumption, and took a deep swig of my first taster. Only after the burn set in, did I realize the Szechwan Blonde
was probably NOT the one to start with, but holy Hell was she tasty! Typically I don’t like chili beer—Burnside Brew Company’s Sweet Heat being the notable exception—but this one is a bitch. In a good way. This is the kind of beer that grabs your attention and holds it. Nice viscous quality to on the tongue and the chili burns with the flavor of Thai chilies, rather than just killing your palate with scorching heat. As much as I enjoyed it, I needed to cleanse my palate so that I could move forward with the other five. So, I did what anyone would do in my situation: I took a big swig from the pint of Nordic Porter
my companion had ordered—I did almost wait the appropriate amount of time between asking and grabbing the glass and swilling, I promise. It did the trick. By the second gulp I realized that I should have ordered the porter on my tray as well. Nicely balanced, creamy, thick, chocolaty (what the actual fuck… I don’t like chocolate in my beer and here is yet another exception). It was smooth and hearty enough to clear my palate of the Szechwan burn. So far, this dreaded task was turning into an unexpected win. And then, magic happened. We were offered a barrel by a couple that was leaving and had noticed our plight of paper plate sampler and trying to write notes from a perch on a concrete floor. While unnecessary for enjoyment of the experience, it was sure nice to sit on a barstool, put the beer up on a proper perch and appreciate the kindness of strangers. Next up: the Breakside Black
. Long a fan of the black ale, I was wholly impressed. Very true to form, perfect balance of sweet, funky and serious, crafted well enough to safely land on my short list of favorite blacks. Onto the Cedarbaumbier
. Upon first contact with my tongue, it felt like I was sucking on a cedar chip, but without the slivers. The aftertaste had hints of saline, like ocean water, but without the pollution. This was not my favorite, but it was certainly unique and I did enjoy it, flashing back to post swim lesson sessions in the sauna as a child. This one is not for the meek and packs some serious smoke. The Oatmeal Stout
is strong and dark, alternately smooth and bitter on the tongue, but too light in texture for a stout. It felt wrong to have a beer this dark and strong slosh around like water in the mouth. A stout should stick to your teeth, damn it. The “Ale to the Chief”
Honey Beer is a super mild blonde that left weird film in my mouth not unlike gargling with honey for a sore throat. That said, my tastebuds didn’t catch they honey at all and when my partner in crime declared that it smells like a truckstop men’s bathroom, I couldn't entirely disagree. Thankfully, it doesn't taste as bad as it smells, but that bit of olfactory recognition may have ruined this one for me. I finally allowed myself the one that I was most excited (and most skeptical) about. The Munich Dunkel
is described by Breakside as a “traditional Bavarian-style dark lager” with “light notes of chocolate and toasted grain”. I lose myself in real Bavarian Dunkels. I took a deep breathe, let it out slowly, and raised the taster glass to my nose. Mmmmmmmmmmmm… yep… perfect yeasty smelly funk. Upon taking a large sip, I was in heaven. I didn’t detect the chocolate note, but that is not at all a bad thing. What I did detect was the lack of hops. As much as I love a good IPA and adore hops, this is not the style for bitter afterburn. Many Portland craft breweries like to over-hop traditionally unhoppy styles and I was so very pleased Breakside went traditional. This unbitter, unhoppy, funky perfection won the night. And it had some serious contenders. In conclusion, I learned my lesson: never write off a brewery brave enough to experiment. Eventually they may nail a few and create some magic. I will be back to the Breakside Taproom where the smell of yeast, malt and hops fills the air and the beer list is long enough that there will be something for everyone. Thank you, Breakside. I stand corrected.