Open for only a year, Burnside is one of what I’m thinking of as the “new wave” of Portland brewpubs, those that have opened only in the past several years that are doing creative and innovative things with beer, food, or both. Burnside is going for both, which you start to get a sense of from their “about” text:
When Burnside Brewing Co. opened its doors in 2010, the vision was concise. Focus on easy to drink beers that accompany and enhance the culinary experience. Brew master Jason McAdam is a creative trendsetter in brewing, bold enough to take risks and smart enough to leave a creative impression on your taste buds. He balances our desires for tradition such as the Oatmeal Pale, then throws in food inspired beers such as the Sweet Heat, an apricot wheat beer dry hopped with scotch bonnet peppers that is reminiscent of a Caribbean chutney.
Burnside has what I think of as “industrial decor”—or perhaps “industrial brewpub”—a repurposed industrial-feeling space with open, raw wood beams supporting high ceilings, liberally cracked concrete floors, bolted plate metal, burnished sheet metal, and particle/posterboard booth flooring. It’s open and comfortable and conveys the impression of being a well-worn piece of local history, which it is—the building dates back to at least 1927. The bar and tables are all made from locally felled and kilned black walnut, and the kitchen space is (partially) open, reminding me a bit of the Bier Stein in Eugene.
The beer, of course, is primarily what put Burnside high on my “must visit” list. Brewer Jason McAdam has free reign to create some of the most unique brews I’ve encountered in a while—like their Gratzer (smoked wheat ale) and Sweet Heat (apricot wheat dry-hopped with Scotch Bonnet peppers)—along with solid, tasty “traditional” beers. Here’s what the menu looked like when we visited:
And here’s the corresponding sampler tray:
I don’t remember the specific order they appear on the tray, but here’s the order I drank them in (and took notes):
- Gratzer: 5.4% abv, 9 IBUs. I actually had this one at the Brewfest during the blogger preview; my notes from that were: “I love smoked beers, so I was looking forward to this one. Fruity and smokey nose, and it’s nicely smokey on the tongue, while being incredibly light and subtle. It makes me think, “Sausage!””
- Oatmeal Pale Ale: 5.5%, 44 IBUs. Smooth and clean with earthy, spicy hops, a nice classic (non-American) hop character accenting a solid American Pale Ale very well.
- IPA: 6.5%, 85 IBUs, their flagship beer. Fruity and pleasant, mellow and not even remotely harsh—creamy body, extremely well-balanced with being a hop bomb.
- Sweet Heat: 5%, 8 IBUs. Whoa—sweet apricot up front and hot pepper heat in the back, not burning but noticeable! Really, really good and totally unexpected (even though I’d been reading about it). Super light with a nice wheat base, super drinkable. Maybe the most unique beer I’ve had in a long time.
- Stock Ale: 5.8%, 51 IBUs. “Old Ale” with a nice malty base (leather, bread crust, caramelized sugars) and subtle hopping—earthy and English. Very nice.
- Stout: 5.4%, 40 IBUs. Smoky and roasty—roasted barley I think which is coffee-ish—but the smoke comes up again as I sip further. A little thin but I’m really liking the smoky character.
- Virgil Rye: 5.1%, 24 IBUs. Nice flavor here that reminds me of something I can’t quite place—but it’s something really good that makes me nostalgic from some old homebrew from way back when. Really good, sweet and mellow and soft.
- Alter Ego Imperial IPA: 7.9%, 99.5 IBUs. Sweet and big and malty and really smooth—hops are there but balanced and subtle. Well done and (like the IPA) not an overbearing hop bomb.
As for the food—I’ll be honest, the food was really good but I didn’t take any pictures or have notes. I had the Charcuterie Plate which hit the spot and paired really well with the beers (much of which they also cured and prepared themselves, in-house), and I think my wife had the Steak Frites which she really enjoyed. I suspect the kids had something along the lines of grilled cheese and/or hot dogs.
But, take a look at the current menu: with items such as rabbit, ostrich, frog legs, pickled pork, and a Caprese BLT (to name just a few items), I guarantee you won’t be bored with the foods being offered. Burnside has gone out of their way to make sure the food menu is just as creative as the beer menu, and they’ve done a great job.
I can’t recommend Burnside Brewing enough, and wish I could drink their beers a lot more often. There are a lot of great breweries to visit in Portland, but do yourself a favor if you haven’t yet and find your way to Burnside.
Burnside Brewing Company
701 E. Burnside
Portland, OR 97214