Wait a minute, I guess “Toy Boat” is the phrasing that’s supposed to mess up your diction when rapidly repeated. However, Portland’s Tug Boat Brewery, is a treasure waiting for you on SW Ankeny Street in downtown Portland. Notwithstanding the fact that I worked downtown every year since its founding in 1993, I had never even seen it. Ankeny Street reminded me of my long-ago trips to Dan and Louis’ Oyster Bar (near what is now Voodoo Donuts) where I used to take dates in high school.
I spent a productive and enjoyable two-hours at the Tugboat with former Portland Mayor and now, the new City Club Executive Director, Sam Adams, talking about issues and his vision for the City Club of Portland, which Thebeerchaser joined in 1971 after graduating from Oregon State. Established in 1916, the City Club is Oregon’s premier public affairs forum and promotes civic engagement through its volunteer research and other activities. Sam was selected from a pool of 80 very qualified applicants.
He was in a good mood (I suggested that it resulted from not having to listen to Randy Leonard on a daily basis anymore) and has dynamic ideas for City Club. He did not fall for the joke I tried to pull, however. (Have him order a Samuel Adams Lager and the bartender bring a picture of the former Mayor to the table.)
Sam suggested we visit the Tugboat, described by the following excerpt from Willamette Week’s 2011 Drink Guide:
“You’d be forgiven for mistaking Tugboat for a classy Prohibition-era speakeasy. The dimly lit microbrewery, Portland’s smallest and downtown’s oldest, brews tiny batches of browns, ambers and stouts………the laid back pub is surrounded by books; regulars strike up conversation behind a battered copy of Ulysses. “
Note: Not to digress, but the only problem I have with the above quote is that assuming the WW reporter was old enough to visit a speakeasy, he or she would have to be about 110 years old to make this assertion!
“The place even has an Emmy on display (Thebeerchaser verified that this is correct and the father of one of the bartenders was the Director of “Rich Man, Poor Man”)…..It has nabbed some much-deserved medals for its unfiltered beers, making it a perfect environment for casual drinkers looking for peace and conversation. “
Matt, one of the bartenders, was extremely helpful and based on his prior employment as a pedi-cab tour operator giving Portland brewery tours, also knowledgeable.
He stated that the Tugboat location was originally a coffee shop. The interesting furnishings as described above and below are all remnants from the prior tenant.
The Beer: Unlike most breweries, Tugboat does not distribute their beer – they produce just enough – only eight kegs per batch – to serve in the brew-pub – it’s truly a craft beer.
Because they do not mass produce it, the beer is not filtered. “…our ales retain their freshness because the yeast is allowed to live…The pasteurization process that strips body and color from beer is a necessary evil in ‘big batch’ commercial brewing. But, thankfully, that ain’t us. We filter our coffee. Not our beer.”
Although the number of Tugboat brews available that night was limited to about four, Sam and I thought their beer was very good (we had a Red Cloud and Snow Plow IPA). They also have other draft beer available. Since I was driving and Sam rode his bike, we did not have the courage to try their Chernobyl Stout (13.5%!) I also tried a Pear Cider which was excellent.
Almost all of the Internet reviews were positive although some, such as this somewhat pretentious critique by PortlandBarFly asserted that the beer is too hoppy: “….Leftist bike messengers, fauxhemians, silly old men that wish to be taken for professors, the sort of couples that enjoy playing board games before strangers – there’s a suffering self-satisfaction about the crowds keeping Portland’s smallest brewery afloat that makes one wish to jump atop the bar and force regulars to admit their beer just isn’t very good. The emperor has no clothes and far too many hops.”
In contrast, some out-of-town visitors were impressed, “I LOVE THIS PLACE!….an eclectic mix of people and everyone’s so approachable and nice! I wish I could live here. (They did not clarify whether they meant Portland or in the Brewery itself…) “I’m ready to crown it one of the friendliest establishments in Portland.” (Bing – 4/29/12)
The Interior and Furnishings: “This place is awfully unassuming from the outside – just a door down a side street and some heavily tinted windows. But that adds to the effect of being inside and feeling like you stepped into someone’s basement rumpus room.” (Bing - 8/21/12)
On one wall, there are thirty-five 33 RPM album covers from the past – and speaking of eclectic, one row consisted of The Village People, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, Grand Funk Railroad, The Royal Marines and Peter Nero’s “Summer of ’42.”
One person suggested that there was even a secret door to Portland’s infamous Mary’s Club in the back, but the bartender stated that this was true of the Mexican restaurant next door.
The food is pretty limited, but reasonably priced and good: “When the pita plate came out, everyone raved about the
hummus, but when the nachos came out, jaws dropped. I would have to guess there
was an entire bag of chips on the plate, loaded up with cheese, peppers,
olives, etc. for just $7.” (Bing – 8/21/12)
Tugboat has only one wide-screen TV which purportedly cannot be tuned to any sports channel…..
Terry Nelson (husband), Megan McEnroe-Nelson (wife), and John McEnroe (father-in-law/father) are proud of their own owner-operated brewery and have an establishment with good beer and an environment with great character and ambiance.
45 degrees latitude 132 degrees longitude