Hands down, the most unusual brewpub in Portland is Tugboat Brewing Company, hidden away on a downtown alleyway which is actually a disconnected stretch of Ankeny between Broadway and Park. It's a small 4-barrel operation that's been there since 1992, but it's a well-kept secret. When I ask people if they've ever been there, the few who have usually add, "Is it still there?".
It's a quiet existence: they don't advertise or participate in beer festivals, the website appears to be at least 5 years out of date, and their ales are only available at the pub. Their opening hours are pretty limited, basically 4 PM to midnight every day. In a state where all the brewers seem to know each other -- and many have reputations spanning multiple breweries -- Tugboat isn't even on the Oregon beer family tree. That's not at all to imply that the owners are arrogant or unfriendly -- in fact if the brewer or his wife isn't behind the bar, they're probably having a beer at one of the tables.
The obscurity is part of the charm of the Tugboat, and it's definitely worth a visit. It's a comfortable, cozy place. The walls are lined with used books, and you'll usually see the people at one or more of the tables enjoying a quiet game of cards or board game. Smoking is allowed, but the ventilation seems pretty good. I always smell the smoke when I'm there, but it's not thick enough to stick to my clothes.
Ales at the Tugboat all have a pleasantly yeasty character, there's usually a selection on cask, and none of the beer is served too cold. The price is right: $3.50 a pint, or $3 during the 4-7 PM happy hour -- cash only. Here are the house beers they were pouring last night:
- Lighthouse Pale Ale: light, floral hops, nice
- Amber Ale: yeasty and nicely bitter
- Crimson Red Ale (cask): cloudy, fresh, and tasty; very flat
- Coffee Brown Ale: toasty and good, chocolaty flavor
- Blond Ale: oops, forgot to try this one
- Chernobyl Russian Imperial Stout: flat and strong
They also had eight guest taps last night, plus a cider. Three of the guest taps stood out as being pretty rarely sighted in these parts: Klamath Basin 8 Second Ale, Leavenworth Blind Pig Dunkel Weizen, and Off the Rail (no website?) Over the Mountain Stout. I like to award imaginary community service points to places that have obscure guest taps, like when I found Klamath Basin beers at SuperDog. Tugboat gets double points, for supporting Klamath Basin and Off the Rail, the brewery with the excellent Ozzy/Black Sabbath beer names. Guest pints are $4.50 ($4 happy hour).
Tugboat might get a little more exposure to beer fans now that Bailey's Taproom -- the westside's attempt at Green Dragon coolness -- has opened across the street. It chugged along before that for many years, and hopefully will for many more. If you're downtown of an evening, stop in for a pint or a nuclear stout.