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Cruising for a Brew-sing: Sailing from America's Beer Capital

Portland, Oregon is a city known for rain, fleece clothing, strong coffee, sustainability initiatives, a remarkably advanced restaurant scene, and, most of all, beer.

And now for a bit of hometown pride -- sort of. New York is really my hometown, but for the past two and a half years I've been a resident of Portland, Oregon, a city known for rain, fleece clothing, strong coffee, sustainability initiatives, a remarkably advanced restaurant scene, and, most of all, beer.

That latter is the point, because this week -- American Craft Beer Week, in case you didn't know ( -- Portland was co-winner of an admittedly "unscientific online poll" conducted by Charlie Papazian on Founder of the American Homebrewers Association, Papazian crunched the results of 16,000 votes and named Portland "Beer City USA" of the West Coast, with Asheville, North Carolina, dubbed "Beer City USA" east.

Now some geography: Portland is about 52 miles from the ocean and some 96 miles from the nearest deepwater seaport. So why am I talking about it in a newsletter about cruises? That'd be because Portland sits at the confluence of the Columbia and Willamette Rivers, and thus is the major port of embarkation for small ships sailing the Lewis and Clark route along the Columbia and Snake Rivers. And there's also this: As a result of the ongoing swine flu problem that began in Mexico, Carnival has diverted Carnival Splendor away from the Mexican Riviera and set her instead to sailing the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia. No Portland on those itineraries, but Splendor will be making calls at the deepwater seaport I just mentioned -- namely, Astoria, Oregon, a city with its own brew culture. Astoria is also an occasional port of call on Pacific coast repositioning cruises in late spring and early fall, as ships transit to and from Alaska.

First the Beer ...

Portland is colloquially known as "Beervana," and (the "Beer City" tie notwithstanding) as the spiritual and physical home of craft brewing in the United States. It all started in 1981, when winemaker Charles Coury opened the Cartwright Brewing Company, the first craft brewery in Portland since Prohibition. Thank Jimmy Carter for that: In 1979, he signed into law the Cranston Bill, which legalized home brewing in the United States. In 1985, the Oregon Legislature passed a law that allowed those home brewers to sell their product directly to the public, and Oregon's brewpub industry was off and running. Today, Portland is home to nearly 50 brewpubs plus countless ale houses with quality beers and ales on tap. Here are some of the best:

BridgePort Brewing, 1313 NW Marshall St., Portland ( is now Oregon's oldest craft brewery, having been founded as the Columbia River Brewery in 1984. Its large, brick-walled brewpub, in Portland's trendy Pearl District, is a popular dinner spot. At least seven beers and ales are always on tap, including seasonal specials. BridgePort IPA is a classic, and the ESB is a personal favorite. They're also currently selling Hop Czar Imperial Pale Ale, which is a massive, hoppy killer, and one of my favorites this year. One will do.

Deschutes Brewery (, which opened in the Central Oregon city of Bend in 1988, recently opened a Portland brewpub at 210 NW 11th Ave., also in the Pearl. Comfortable, nearly always busy, and with a fine menu, they have 16 beers and ales on tap, including a selection of seasonal and "experimental" beers developed and brewed on site. Mirror Pond Pale Ale and Black Butte Porter are their two best-known brews, but I like the Hop Henge Experimental IPA this year.

Laurelwood Public House & Brewery ( has three Portland locations, but my favorite is at 2327 NW Kearney St., just off the tony shopping stretch of 23rd St. Cozy where BridgePort and Deschutes are cavernous, the pub occupies an old wooden house built in 1902. They produce about a dozen brews, including seven standards and several seasonals. The current champ for Portland beer-lovers is their Workhorse IPA. There's also an Organic Green Mammoth Imperial IPA that's well worth writing home about, and the Free Range Red Ale is also a longtime favorite.

Nearby, at 1616 NW 23rd Ave., is the New Old Lompoc House (, named for the bar in W.C. Fields' film The Bank Dick. Sort of downscale in appearance, it just happens to produce what may be Portland's best ale, the amazing C-Note Imperial IPA. The brewery recently opened a more upscale location at 3901 N. Williams Ave.

Across the Willamette River, Amnesia Brewing (tel. 503/281-7708) is located at 832 N. Beech St., on the corner of massively hip (and rapidly gentrifying) Mississippi Ave. A very laid-back spot in a converted industrial building, it offers picnic-table seating outside and clunky wooden tables inside. Service is slow, but the Desolation IPA is very great. A small menu includes lots of sausages.

At the western end of hip, funky Hawthorne Blvd., the Lucky Labrador Brewpub, 915 SE Hawthorne Blvd. ( is a favorite for its casual atmosphere and for the fact that you can bring your dog -- at least on the heated outdoor patio. On good days, dozens of dogs will be making the rounds as their owners imbibe. Service is clunky and slow (you have to order inside, after waiting on an often long line), but the beer is good, with some eight varieties usually on tap. Look for the Superdog Pale Ale and Quality Rye summer seasonal. They have two other locations as well, including a cavernous old industrial shop in the city's northwest at 1945 NW Quimby. On Sunday mornings, the very Portland "Evergreen Community Church" holds services there.

One of Portland's newest and most notable brewpubs is Hopworks Urban Brewery, 2944 SE Powell Blvd. (, which bills itself as Portland's first "eco-pub." All the beer, ale, and food is organic and made from local ingredients; the building and operations are powered by 100% sustainable energy; and their website includes bike-friendly "driving" directions. It's a family-friendly place with a play area and outdoor beer-garden, and there are ten different organic beers and two cask ales on tap at all times. Particular winners include the Organic IPA and Survival Seven Grain Stout.

Other Portland brewpubs include Widmer Bros. 929 N Russell St. (, known for its Hefeweizen; Roots Brewing Co., 1520 SE 7th Ave. (, which was Portland's first all-organic brewery; and McMenamin's (, which has no fewer than 57 brewpubs in Portland and elsewhere in Oregon. Probably most notable locally is the McMenamin's Kennedy School (5736 N.E. 33rd Ave.), a 1915 elementary school that's been converted into a restaurant, several bars, a hotel, hot tubs, a pool, a movie theater, and (I'm sure) other things I'm not aware of because I just haven't explored that particular corridor yet. It's a local institution, and the beer isn't bad either, though not up to the level of the other brewers described here. Try the IPA or Nebraska Bitter.

If your ship stops in Astoria, seek out the Fort George Brewery, 1483 Duane St. (, and the Astoria Brewing Co./Wet Dog Cafe, 144 11th St. (tel. 503/325-6975).

... Then the Cruises

The Columbia River flows 1,200 miles from the Canadian Rockies in southeast British Columbia into Washington, and then forms the border with Oregon on its way to the Pacific. The 1,000-mile Snake River starts in Yellowstone National Park and flows through Idaho into eastern Washington, where it meets the Columbia. The two rivers have historically served as the primary artery for east-west travel in the Pacific Northwest, used first by the Nez Perce Indians and later by western explorers, fur traders, settlers, military expeditions, and missionaries. Today, the Columbia-Snake corridor provides a fascinating trip into more varied landscapes than one will find along any North American river.

Beginning at the Pacific Ocean, the river mouth near Astoria begins as a broad bay, narrows upriver to a more natural stream, and then squeezes dramatically through the deep Columbia Gorge ( Thickly forested slopes rise to flanking high cliffs while melting snow cascades into pencil-thin waterfalls. The river's surface is turbulent and the winds strong, but a series of dams built beginning in the Great Depression tames the flow into a series of separate pools, with navigation locks to lift boats and barges between them. Beyond the gorge, the land becomes drier, providing the right soil and climate for Washington and Oregon wine producers. Wildlife is also abundant here, as hundreds of thousands of birds come to roost and nest. By the time your ship reaches the Snake River, the land on either side shows few signs of habitation, instead rising from the waterline in layers of basalt laid down millions of years ago, forming multicolored buttes and mesas.

This spring and fall, four small ships are navigating the Columbia and Snake Rivers from their Portland homeport. Cruise West ( offers the most, with 29 sailings departing Portland between May 15 and October 18. Three different itineraries are available. Through the whole May-Oct season, the wonderful 96-passenger Spirit of '98 (a re-creation of a late 19th-century coastal ship) sails 7-night Northwest Passage cruises, cruising the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area and Hells Canyon, and calling at Pendleton (OR), Walla Walla (WA), and Long View and Mount St. Helens. Rates start at $2,999. In September and October, Spirit of '98 also offers 7-night Voyage of Discovery cruises, which trace nearly 1,000 miles of the Lewis & Clark Expedition route, sailing in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, Hells Canyon, and the Snake River and calling at Walla Walla, The Dalles (OR, for access to the Maryhill Museum), Astoria, and Ft. Clatsop, a re-creation of Lewis & Clark's original winter 1805Â?06 quarters. Prices start at $2,999. Also in fall, the 94-passenger Spirit of Discovery (a serviceable if not terribly interesting small ship) offers 7-night Taste of the Pacific Northwest cruises, sailing the Gorge and calling at Hanford Reach National Monument , the Red Mountain and Horse Heaven Hills viticultural areas, Walla Walla, Astoria, and Hood River. Prices start at $3,399.

On the more educational, environmental, and expensive end, Lindblad Expeditions ( has its twins National Geographic Sea Bird and National Geographic Sea Lion in town during fall only, sailing eleven 5- and 7-night cruises upriver between September 18 and October 30. Seven-night cruises offer stops in Clarkston, Hood River, Astoria, and along the Columbia River Gorge. Five-night cruises stop in Astoria, Fort Clatsop, Mount St. Helens, and along the Columbia River Gorge. There are opportunities for hiking, kayaking, and biking along the way. Prices for weeklong cruises start around $3,650 per person, though discounts may be available.

The Carnival Splendor ( is visiting Astoria, Oregon, as part of its Pacific Northwest cruises departing Los Angeles on May 17, 24, and 31, and June 7 and 14. Other lines calling at Astoria this year include Celebrity, Holland America, NCL, Princess, Regent, and Royal Caribbean.

Talk with fellow Frommer's cruisers on our Cruise Forum.