It was a terrible time for a malfunctioning alarm clock. Don't worry, John Lovegrove wasn't late for work or a flight—he was behind schedule on a trip to the bar, missing his 7 am deadline for the morning's first beer.
Extreme, sure, but if you want to visit 50 breweries in a single day you have to get up before the sun and drink until midnight. Lovegrove knew this. He'd plotted this day over months of research. He's a skilled planner, a travel agent by trade, well acquainted with the logistics involved in such an undertaking. He packed his things and set his alarm clock for 5 am with plans to arrive at the McMenamins Hotel Oregon in McMinnville for first call.
Instead, he was awoken by a knock from his first driver an hour late, dashing out of the house unshaven, unshowered and with an empty stomach. With a quick stop for a loaf of white bread and a can of Red Bull, he arrived at his first destination nearly 15 minutes late. One pint of Boysenberry Brown Ale later, he was on the road again.
If the rest of the day went like this, it'd be a waste. Lovegrove was on a mission to prove how special Portland's beer scene is, using a spreadsheet and a map. This is a man who frets Portland losing the title of best beer city decided by a ridiculous online poll—he's a jealous defender of our reputation as Beervana.
Lovegrove is the sort of guy who's always looking to add his stone to life's little cairns. A soft-spoken and portly New Zealander with a gray goatee and professorly glasses, he's undertaken his share of minor adventures. In 1998, he and a friend went to all 28 properties on the London Monopoly board in a day. ("There's a challenge to do a pint at every one, but we didn't do that," he says.) Last year, he and his wife went to the town where Groundhog Day was filmed and re-enacted Bill Murray's scenes.
He's also done several impressive brewery tours. Five years ago, Lovegrove and a friend hit 22 Oregon breweries in one day, all by public transportation. "No car, just TriMet. We didn't record it, we didn't write anything down, it was just something to do that day," he says. "We didn't plan it, either; I just had a map."
His beak wet, Lovegrove decided to push it out to 34 in 2009. More breweries have opened in the last three years. He thought he could squeeze in 50—so he decided to try.
"Portland is the only city in the world where you could do 50, or even 40, breweries in one day. It's just so compact," he said. "San Diego is catching up, and there are places in Europe where every little town of 300 people has a brewery, but they're far more spread out."
Starting in the hinterlands with various McMenamins, which open early if there's a hotel, Lovegrove and a camera crew documenting the trip for a YouTube video rode with a succession of five drivers. He only hit spots that brew on site, leaving a lot of low-hanging fruit. For example, Cascade is right across the street from the Green Dragon brewery, but they don't brew on site, so he skipped it.
"I'm really not a beer nerd," he says. "The actual tasting of beer, and tasting different things, doesn't mean anything to me—I either like it or I don't—but I do like breweries."
The sun low in the sky, Lovegrove hopped out of a station wagon outside the glass-and-concrete edifice of Hopworks on Southeast Powell Boulevard a full 12 hours into his quest, "sober as a judge." One tiny taster glass—and a nag from the day's only bartender to ban his cameraman, citing "company policy"—later he was headed to the comparatively genteel Commons tasting room on Southeast 10th Avenue. He pushed through the crowd huddled around the short wooden bar and took a nip from a tulip glass as he admired the aging barrels. Then he was off again, to the gritty Green Dragon Quonset hut.
From there, things start to get hazy. Lovegrove was legally sober most of the day, but nearing the finish line, he started drinking full beers instead of little taster cups. "I remember easily the first 44 or 45. I don't remember going to Tugboat but I know we did, and I don't remember going to Bridgeport but I know we did," he said. "I was drinking too much at that point."
Lovegrove only faintly remembers crossing the finish line, strolling into New Old Lompoc on Northwest 23rd Avenue, the last bar on his list, just before midnight. It was the last night the bar was open before a wrecking ball cleared it out to make room for condos. He folded up his spreadsheet and took off his microphone. Finally, the two-man film crew that had followed him throughout the day put down their cameras and got a drink, too.
Mission accomplished—for now.
"I would like to try every Oregon brewery in a week, and maybe culminate that in 60 in a day in Portland," he says. "I think I could do 60, but I haven't crunched the numbers."
John Lovegrove has had a pint at nearly every notable beer bar and brewery in the Portland area. We asked him to pick his five favorites.
820 NE Dekum St., 719-6475, breaksidebrews.com.
"I've liked this place from day one, and they just get better. A standard order is the Rogue Smokey Blue waffle fries followed by a pint of their latest seasonal."
Highland Still House
201 S 2nd St., Oregon City, 723-6789, highlandstillhouse.com.
"One of the first places to offer Kilkenny, one of my favorite beers in the world, and the closest decent bar to my house. I can't figure out how their mac and cheese stays hot until I'm done!"
3901 N Williams Ave., 288-3996, newoldlompoc.com.
"My standard hangout for pub trivia with my buddy John Doyle [of No Fish! Go Fish! fame], not to mention Lompoc beers. Plus, Sidebar and BikeBar are just around the corner."
832 N Beech St., 281-7708.
"There's nothing better than sitting on their patio on a hot summer's day with a bratwurst and a pint."
928 SE 9th Ave., 517-0660, pdxgreendragon.com.
"Simply the best draft beer list in town. Those Belgian frites are pretty good, too.".