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Brewing a Portland Staple

Picture this: You enter a bar and sit down to order a beer. The server presents a list of draft offerings, and on it are about four options – a couple of cheap lagers, one IPA and a standard ale. Odds are, you’re largely underwhelmed. Why? Because today we live in a world of craft beer and high expectations, where city’s cultures are defined by the flavors pouring out of them. And make no mistake, if a bar doesn’t have a mix of sours, stouts, saisons and, of course, several IPAs, then it missed the memo.

Arguably, there is no U.S. city that appreciates craft beer more than Portland, Oregon. That’s not to say there aren’t a dozen or more major craft-beer destinations throughout the country. Denver and San Diego are two prime examples – and Seattle is worthy of an honorable mention – but Portland is a standout among these bastions of brewers.

Speaking of beer, let’s talk about Kells Brewery, which has several kinds of its beer canned and available for purchase. Kells rooted in Irish traditions and culture. Ever been to Ireland? If not, no worries, because stepping into Kells transports you there. 

“My father moved from Ireland and opened Kells Irish Pub and Restaurant in Downtown Portland when I was two,” said Garrett McAleese, owner of Kells Brewery.

There is an important distinction to be made here: Kells Pub has been around since 1983 and is a Portland favorite. Kells Brewery is newer, and yes, operates its own restaurant, but this is where the beer is actually brewed.

“Over the years, we imported many different Irish-brewed beers [to the pub], but by the time they got to the West Coast of America, they were six months old at times,” McAleese said. “The quality and flavors were never quite like what you could get in Ireland. Something had to be done.”

And so began the journey that would eventually lead to Kells Brewery as it is now. The space is mostly wood cladding; it’s warm and inviting. In fact, while sitting down with McAleese recently, one of his customers came in as she was considering having her wedding rehearsal dinner there – an undeniable nod to the comfort found here.

What’s particularly stellar about Kells is how involved the McAleese family is in the community. Over the past 30 years, Kells has given back over half a million dollars to charities and has donated to more than 30 local schools.

Their locations serve as a meeting place for those of Irish heritage, socially and culturally, offering live music, Irish dance, Kells’ bagpipers, Gaelic football viewings, poetry readings, AOH (Ancient Order of Hibernians) meetings and, of course, a huge festival held over St. Patrick’s weekend.

“Also, Kells acts as a pseudo Irish Consulate,” McAleese explained. “If you lose your Irish passport while in Portland, we have the paperwork. The only other option is to fly to San Francisco.”

Get a new passport and great beer while you wait? Not a bad deal. While Kells brings a lot to the Portland craft-beer scene, there are still hurdles to overcome, especially as craft-beer has become a buzz word with more players in the game every day. The craft-beer industry contributed just over $2 billion to the Oregon economy in 2017, according to data from the Brewer’s Association published in Central Oregon newspaper, The Bulletin. The growth has slowed from previous years, but industry experts say this is because the arena is maturing.

So, if you’re ever in Portland and looking for a place to grab a cold one, consider one of these BBB accredited breweries. McAleese says shoot for whatever is newest on the menu because it’s bound to be the most interesting. 

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Written by Danielle Kane

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