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Citys brew scene keeps hoppin

Bread and Brew
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT Bartender Brian White chats with customers at the Captured by Porches’ Mobile Public Haus, parked at Southeast Division and 32nd. It’s the only beer cart in Portland and features some powerful IPAs, a refreshing blonde and a Hefe Weisse Dunkel.

On an unseasonably warm January afternoon, we sat at a picnic table inside a big plastic tent. I was drinking a German style blond beer, and my friend was drinking a sour peach, two complex and unique beers made by a brewery called Captured by Porches and poured from taps affixed to the outside of a green van.

The microbrew scene in Portland couldn't really get any better, but it does continue to get more interesting. New and established brewers are trying new things, diversifying and keeping us drinkers on our toes.

Portland has hundreds of food carts, but just one beer cart. Captured by Porches' Mobile Public Haus is parked at the D Street Noshery at Southeast Division and 32nd. The brewer, Dylan Goldsmith, first set up shop in the basement of the Clinton Street Theater and later moved to a production facility in St. Helens. Captured by Porches has always been small and quirky, and the beer continues to be well-crafted.

My Vagablonde was refreshing and subtly sweet. The sour peach beer had a distinct note of fragrant peach while being tart, bitter and sour all at once. The cart has six taps, pouring some powerful IPAs and a Hefe Weisse Dunkel.

The area is decorated with Christmas lights. There are dogs running around. A fellow walks away with two full growlers - yes, they have beer to go. The hours are limited, but the setting is fun and perfect for showing off to out-of-town guests.

If the guests are serious beer geeks, they're probably already making a beeline for the new taproom of Hair of the Dog Brewing Co. The brewery has been around for years and has a cult following for its strong and rarefied beers, but never had a regular outlet of its own.

Get the sampler called Walk the Dog to get a sense of what brewer Alan Sprints is doing: intense beers with the complexity of good port and a galvanizing, boozy backbone. The Blue Dot IPA presents a full range of hoppy flavors, from funky and resin-y to floral, with an edge of aspirin. Most of the beers have human names: 'Fred' is like a cordial, and 'Adam' tastes like toast and toffee and coffee. Sprints treats his beer like wine, dating it, aging it, setting aside certain vintages. Some of these rare bottles are available in the tasting room for prices more common in a fine Scotch.

On Southeast Belmont, Cascade Barrel House is taking the idea of treating beer like wine even further. They are blending different beers together, sometimes adding fruit and spices, and aging it all in barrels. The results offer a huge variety of flavors that go well beyond the range of what you normally expect from beer.

The Sang Noir is a good example. This is a mix of red beers that have been aged for more than a year in pinot noir and whiskey barrels, then blended with Bing cherries. It's fruity, almost syrupy and yet puckeringly tart.

An unholy concatenation called Vlad the Imp Aler blends strong blonde ales aged in oak and whiskey barrels with spiced blonde ale, then ages it all for an additional five months. At 10 percent alcohol, this is a heady sort of après-ski beer, producing an effect similar to that of gazing into a roaring fire for a long time.

It's too bad that the founders of the barrel house didn't apply any of their good taste and sense of innovation to the room itself. It's a bright replica of a million other brewpubs and doesn't match the lush sophistication of the beers.

Speaking of design issues, the new Burnside Brewing might want to reconsider its logo. It's creepy.

Other than that, this is a welcoming place, a big friendly beer hall, conveniently located. The first beer from this new spot was a crowd-pleasing IPA, bright and lemony. That was followed up by two more interesting brews. The gratzer is an obscure style made with smoked wheat malt for a light brown beer with a distinct taste of campfire. The oatmeal pale ale, made with local oats, is slightly sour and a good match for, say, a hamburger.

Which is not a coincidence. Burnside Brewing has moved well beyond the Tater Tots and nachos style of pub food. There are lots of meaty choices - brats, pastrami, a Rueben - ruled over by the Brewery Burger, a half pound of Kobe beef seared in duck fat. Unsurprisingly, it is really good. Perhaps more surprising was a special of wild steelhead, perfectly cooked and matched up with savory fried brown rice and sweet acorn squash. This is food good enough to lure non-beer-drinkers, if any still exist in this beer-drenched city.

Captured by Porches' Mobile Public Haus, 3 to 8 p.m. Thursday, 2 to 10 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 3221 S.E. Division St., capturedbyporches.com

Hair of the Dog Brewing Co., 2 to 8 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday, 61 S.E. Yamhill St., 503-232-6585, hairofthedog.com

Cascade Barrel House, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday-Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight Friday-Saturday, 939 S.E. Belmont St., 503-265-8603, cascade brewingbarrelhouse.com

Burnside Brewing Co., 701 E. Burnside St., 503-946-8151, burnsidebrewco.com