Thebeerchaser teetered on the brink of Beer Tour malpractice when initially confusing The Belmont Inn (see Beerchaser review on March 18, 2013) with the Belmont Station. Since the latter was recently named by Draft Magazine as one of the top one hundred beer bars in the US for 2012, I reasoned that any Tour of Portland Bars and Taverns mandated a visit. It joined five other Portland pubs in sharing that ranking.
Of course, any rational person could have made the same mistake since Belmont Station has been on Stark Street since about 2007. Lease issues which arose in its original home (1997), forced the move from Belmont Street, and they retained the original name.
My companion that night when we hit both the Horse Brass Pub (review to be forthcoming and also one of Drafts 100 best) and Belmont Station was Dave Hicks, a San Francisco consultant, with whom Thebeerchaser worked while a law firm COO before retiring to tour bars and taverns in 2011.
Hicks remains a good friend and is both a cum laude 1986 Princeton University undergraduate and a lawyer who graduated from University of San Diego Law School including a semester studying law in Paris.
There are Ivy League grads with whom you wouldn’t even want to have a water-cooler conversation; however, Hicks is a guy that even President Nixon, with his aversion to Ivy League elitists, would have enjoyed having a beer, wiretapping his conversation or having as a traveling companion on his historic trip to China.
Besides being a good drinking companion, Dave (and his twin brother) are both accomplished singers and were members of the Princeton’s oldest and foremost a cappella singing group – the Princeton Nassoons where he sang bass.
He still sings at some alumni functions and birthday parties, etc., with a spin-off group, the NassauHallics, named for one of the main buildings on campus. He has the good judgment not to participate in karaoke based on the premise that it was Japan’s retaliation for Hiroshima and Nagasaki….
Belmont Station is accurately described in the Willamette Week 2009 Drink Guide as follows: “This misleadingly named establishment which moved four blocks north from its original home on SE Belmont Street two years ago, is deservedly famous for its stock of 1,000-odd beers, plus sundry wines, ciders and meads. But the Station, which is owned, in part, by legendary Horse Brass publican, Don Younger, doesn’t get nearly enough credit for its attached bar. It’s a cheerful, narrow space dominated by the long wooden bar and dozen rotating, mostly local taps.”
While the Belmont Station Biercafe’ is a very nice neighborhood bar and the attached bottle shop is very impressive based on the breadth of its inventory, it does raise the question: “What makes it one of the top 100 bars in the United States?
Having reviewed several other bar/bottle shops on this blog including “Bottles” (July 2012) and “1856,” (December 2012), I would rate Belmont Station as comparable although probably having a slightly more varieties of alcoholic brew. It also advertises itself as the first beer bottle store in the Northwest.”
It can be assumed that other bottle shops have similar practices, but Belmont Station also differentiates itself because its bottles have “been thoughtfully selected, meticulously rotated, and
properly stored under UV-filtered light.” Of course a selection of 1,200 different brews raises the question as to how many different brands of beer is adequate – 50 or 175 or 650, or …..?
In college, for example, when it was not available in Oregon because of pasteurization issues, we considered the student who brought back one case of Coors to be a hero. Personally, I would be satisfied with at least 25 options as long as PBR is a choice…….but then I am an aficionado of bars, taverns and pubs and not of beer itself.
Perhaps the following January 2011 review from Yelp provides some insight:
“If you opened up a beer store in L.A., it probably wouldn’t last a month, but folks in Portland love their beer. In the PNW, drinking beer is more than just pouring a 12 pack of fizzy yellow swill down your throat until you puke.
People appreciate a fine crafted brew and will spend good money for a unique beer drinking experience….(Belmont Station) is one of the best bottle shops I’ve visited.”
The Biercafe, adjacent to the bottle shop, has sixteen very good and mostly local beers on tap. I chose the $7 “Flight of the Day,” featuring samples of four different beers, which that night included:
Agrarian Ale’s “Chronic D’ Aphotic“, Natian’s “Elephante India Red Ale“, Bear Republic Brewery’s “Cafe’ Racer 15“, all of which were very good, and Lagunitas Brewery’s “Gnarlywine,” which had a “potent toffee and caramel flavor” and was a little rich for my taste. The Agrarian was my favorite and I enjoyed the combination of “five of the farm’s most resinous hop varieties with organic oats and roasted malt – a full bodied hoppy delight.”
Dave Hicks chose the creatively titled Pliny the Elder Pale Ale by the Russian River Brewery, named after Pliny the Elder, the Roman author, naturalist and philosopher in addition to being a naval and army commander. His death near Pompei, was a result of the eruption of Vesuvius. This excellent Double India Pale Ale also inspired Dave to hum a very melodic “Secular Ode of Horace“ while he was drinking it.
Belmont Station has a nice menu of pub-type food available from 3:00 until 10:00 PM, including snacks such as chips and salsa, hummus and cheese plates in addition to large deli-sandwiches, soups and pizzas. Since we had already eaten, I didn’t get to try a curried potato “pie” that looked very interesting.
Thebeerchaser will visit the other five bars in Portland that made Draft Magazine’s top 100; however, having reviewed over fifty establishments on the Beer Tour since 2011, a bar or pub may be analogous to a steak dinner – “Even when it’s bad, it’s pretty good” – especially when you have a good drinking buddy along for the ride.