Since I started my Beerchasing exploits in 2011, I’ve reviewed slightly over 400 bars and breweries of which 119 were in Portland, Oregon. This blog is not a technical journal on beer or the science of brewing itself, but primarily about the history and character of the watering holes themselves.
Other than a few such as Bridgeport (closed in 2018), Blitz Weinhard (closed in 1999), Widmer Brothers and McMenamins, most Portland breweries don’t have the history or character of a bar – the focus, understandably, is more on the beer itself. (# External photo attribution at the end of the post. (#1)
They are typically more expansive than the stereotyped hole-in-the-wall dive bar such as the Mock Crest Tavern in the St. John’s area or the Yamhill Pub – a landmark right in Portland’s Central Business District.
The Yamhill, as I explained in my 2015 review, is actually one step below a dive – I classified it as a “grunge bar.” As described in a Portland Mercury review, “The Yamhill Pub is a glorious sh*t crater. It’s a hole, a mess, a f*ing dive.”
The breweries are often in former industrial or warehouse-type buildings with large garage doors that can open during summer months and accommodate crowds on adjourning patios – crowds that are often much younger than the typical demographic of a dive or a neighborhood watering hole.
That said, I’ve rarely “met” a brewery or brew pub that I didn’t enjoy. One such example is Wayfinder Brewery – one block off the Willamette River on SE Second near the Morrison Bridge.
Our experience in mid-November was the second time I had good beer and great food there while enjoying the ambiance, the friendly staff and impressive layout.
My first visit was about five years ago – shortly after it opened – with friends Charlie Rose and David Dickson. I was pleased that nothing much had changed. After our dinner, we caught an impressive jazz show at the Doug Fir Lounge (see below).
In November, 2022, on a Monday afternoon, I hit the brewery with four other retired friends (David and Kate Dickson, Roy Lambert and Mary Maxwell and my wife, Janet). We had a brisk walk along the River and then lunch. That’s right – David Dickson was on both visits – he’s a Beerchasing regular….)
Three of our group of seven participants in our walking group were gone, but our routine is to do about a 45-minute to an hour walk and finish with a beer and lunch/dinner at a brewery or bar. (There’s less guilt after some exercise.)
Most in the group have been participated since 2014 and we have hoisted mugs at great watering holes including Saraveza, Crackerjacks Pub, Hair of the Dog Brewery, Produce Row and many others. (Click on the links above to see the reviews.)
A very positive element in the Wayfinder story is the complementary skills and experience of the three partners – brewing, food and business. This was probably a primary factor in the Brewery’s success even during a global pandemic:
“Way finder found its roots in Charlie Devereux’s search for his next beer project after departing Double Mountain Brewing in Hood River. He quickly teamed up with Sizzle Pie’s Matt Jacobson, who he describes as a ‘serial entrepreneur.’ The third partner is Podnah’s Pit’s Rodney Muirhead. Yes, the menu calls for amazingly prepared meats, including house-ground sausage” (#2-3)
Besides the wonderful expansive heated wood-slat patio (with firepit) which can seat about 120, the 10-barrel brewery and pub occupy about 9,000 square feet. The brick walls are very attractive and skylights provide plenty of light.
Walking in, you face a very long and attractive bar with some booths on the opposing wall. A separate room houses numerous tables of different sizes and large glass panels show the brewing hardware – a nice touch.
While having no expertise (and according to others, no taste in art), I loved the posters and paintings displayed throughout and their classy merchandise is displayed in an attractive case.
Wayfinder was also named on the 2021 Oregon Beer Awards as having the best beer labels.) You can see Charlie and David arguing about various Euclidian principles in the photo below. (#4)
And the manner in which they differentiated the restrooms was also creative and funny and could generate more debate on usage……
Often breweries will focus on brewing quality – food is an ancillary concern – patrons will choose from a limited pub menu or use nearby food carts.
Not only has Wayfinder been recognized with numerous awards for its beers (see below), but it distinguishes itself with the variety of its culinary offerings – many cooked on its wood-fired grill. The quality, as the following reviews attest, is quite good.
These excerpts are from one of my most reliable sources for objective assessments during the last eleven years – Willamette Week in its ongoing reviews and annual guides to Portland’s best bars, beers and food. Since the pandemic, these have either been pretty much discontinued, but see the consistency of comments from 2017-2020.
2017 Review by Martin Czimar – In this review shortly after Wayfinder opened, Cizmar advised patrons to avoid the fish, mashed potatoes and beer nuts (this was the only negative media review I could find on the food.) But he praised the nachos, sausage and burgers – “The dinner burger with blue cheese, might be the best brewpub burger in town..”
Since I had the mashed potatoes in my dinner in the 2018 visit and thought they were delicious, perhaps he just needed some menu items to criticize.
2018 Beer Guide – “The wonderful menu ranges from a delicious prime rib sandwich to a mountainous niçoise salad but the thing I find myself ordering most often is the brewery’s nachos….”
2019 – 20 Guide to Food and Drink – “Whenever asked which brewery in town also has good food – not just passable-for-a-pub food, but an honest-to-goodness recommendable menu, I almost always steer that person to Wayfinder.”
Our group on both visits concurred with the positive reviews. Most of us in 2022 had the burger special which runs all day Monday and on Tues – Thurs. from 8:00 PM to closing.
Where else can you can a burger with chips and a pint of beer for $14 ($1 extra to substitute fries)? The Chicken Schnitzel and the entre’ salads were delicious and nicely presented.
As was the case five years ago, our server, Jessica, was friendly, helpful and competent. She also gave a comprehensive and knowledgeable rundown of their draft beers which helped us make our selection.
Award Winning Beer
The number of medals received are too numerous to cite, but take a look at the listing of some of the accolades as listed on their website:
- “Best New Brewers in the World” – Rate Beer, 2018
- “Best Brewery”, “Best Brewer”, “Best Oregon Brewpub” – New School Awards, 2018
- “Top 11 Best Beers in America” (Terrifico) – Bloomberg News, 2018
- “Oregon Beer of the Year” (Hell Lagerbier) – New School Awards 2019
- “Best Brewpub Experience” – Oregon Beer Awards, 2018-2019
You won’t find a lot of IPA’s at Wayfinder – a mainstay of a lot of contemporary craft breweries. Wayfinder’s specialty is lagers:
“(We are) a lager-centric brewery that combines old and new school lager techniques to push the envelope of what lager can be. The founders of Wayfinder, lager fanatics themselves and proselytizers of cool fermentation, installed a dedicated decoction vessel to achieve malt complexities otherwise unattainable.
The beers are a mix of tradition and science, a blending of ancient brewing tactics, newer Narziß-style German precision, and the swagger of American Craft. Although we are rewriting the definition of lager for the next generation of craft beer enthusiasts, we are bringing with it the traditions of Europe and America’s favorite beer.”
And let’s just take a quick look at one excerpt from the Willamette Week Guide to Portland Bars and Happy Hours:
“…….Wayfinder Helles is one of the few in America to ever match that deep bready malt and balancing light sulfur aroma that characterizes a freshly cracked bottle of Augustiner in Munich. It’s a portal to Bavaria where they drink beer-flavored beer.”
And the excellence in brewing has continued. In the 2021 Oregon Beer Awards, Wafinder garnered one gold, two silvers and two bronze medals for their brews in addition to being named as the Oregon brewery with the best beer labels. You can see why below: (#5-10)
We were fortunate to see one of the Portland shows of acclaimed jazz saxophonist, Hailey Niswanger.
Hailey attended West Linn High School with our three daughters, but then went on to the prestigious Berklee College of Music on a full scholarship. The Berklee publication on distinguished alums states, in part:
“Hailey Niswanger’s trajectory as a jazz saxophonist resembles that of a shooting star. The young musician graduated in 2011 after studying jazz performance on a full scholarship. But by that time, she had already released the album, Confeddie, that prompted jazz critic Nat Hentoff to proclaim the 19 year old as part of the future of jazz.
She has appeared with Demi Lovato on Saturday Night Live and on other late-night TV shows. Niswanger was also the alto saxophonist in the Either/Orchestra, touring with Ethiopian stars and playing African, Latin, and jazz music in Europe and the United States. DownBeat magazine’s Critics Poll cited her as a rising alto and soprano saxophonist for 2013–2016.
A versatile artist, she also played flute on Terri Lyne Carrington’s The Mosiac Project, which won a Grammy.”
Now living in Brooklyn, New York, Niswanger is active teaching at seminars as well as continuing to tour with musicians such as pianist Mike Wolff and drummer Mike Clark in the Woolf and Clark Expedition. She also started a new band of her own, MAE.SUN, a contemporary, mixed-genre project.” (#11-16)
It was a marvelous performance and her range was incredible – she also vocalized. Before the show we had a chance to say “hello” to this musical prodigy, we’re proud to say, had her roots in our community. She is personable and humble.
Surprisingly, there are numerous Portland breweries that have sprung up during the pandemic that Thebeerchaser has not visited at this point. That said, since both times I’ve been to Wayfinder, I ate inside and given the overall experience, I will be going back this Spring.
I’ll sit on the fabulous deck, drink a Hell – Lagerbier Helles (“Crisp, light, refreshing, brilliantly effervescent with a floral, noble hop aroma – ABV 4.7%”) or one of the other ten beers on tap. Did I also mention that they are known for their creative cocktails, for example the Midnight Trilogy?
“Blended Scotch, Laird’s apple brandy, Averna, Allspice Dram, Orange Bitters, Demerara.”
I have a feeling that it would pair very well with one of the large Bavarian pretzels with mustard which are only $6. (#17)
External Photo Attribution
#2 -10. Wayfinder Beer Facebook Pages (Facebook) https://www.facebook.com/wayfinderbeer/photos/pb.100063601343176.-2207520000./2816).
#11 – 16 Hailey Niswanger Facebook Pages ( Hailey Niswanger | Facebook).
#17. Wayfinder Beer Facebook Page (Wayfinder Beer | Portland OR | Facebook)