The Hired Belly is picky about his pubs. Show me a laid-back room with serious pints, agreeable bites and a dollop of that all-too-elusive ingredient known as congeniality and I'm happy to be there, no matter where in the world.
There was a time when, to put it politely, Vancouver was distinctly "pub-challenged." No more. These days you can take your pick of hop-havens, from character-driven craft breweries to multi-tap emporia sporting flat screens that warn how few pints of your favourite brew remain.
Portland Craft (3835 Main St., 604-569-2494) is a pub with a difference. If the name isn't a giveaway, apart from the locally brewed Main Street Pilsner you won't find any B.C. beers on tap, as the whole point is to celebrate Oregon's vibrant and long established craft brewing scene.
Like city's namesake, Portland Craft is suitably laid-back with the natural wood clad room's showcasing a long line of 16 taps, dispensing stalwarts such as Deschutes, Pyramid, Elysian, Rogue and others.
When I reveal my penchant for IPA, the bartender leads me to Hopworks Organic and obliges with a fresh tasting pint that yields the right amount of tartness with a touch of citrus and a smooth, well-balanced finish.
Also on the blackboard, a solid cocktail list (courtesy of The Diamond's Ron Oliver) offering the likes of a Portland Sour, as well as a short list of moderately priced wines-the one area, with the exception of Firesteed's easy sipping Pinot Noir), that doesn't tip its hat to Oregon.
The other major departure-not a TV in the place. Maybe it's my imagination but it seems to enhance that elusive ambiance of engaged conversation, snippets of spirited discussion and laughter that waft around the room-along with some edgy tunes.
Somewhere upstairs is a tucked-away kitchen that puts out pub fare with an adventurous twist, including "Inner City Salad," sourced from local backyards. For a while it was a toss-up between the daily pizza ($9, meat or vegetarian), manila clams ($10) and the good-looking Portland Craft burger with pickled beets, aged cheddar, organic salad, or fries ($14).
In the end we were lured by Pig and Pots, a small dish of crunchy pork belly slices beside enthusiastically salt and peppered fingerling potatoes and grainy Dijon mustard ($8)-the perfect bite to my pint. We'll be back for the stout chocolate lava cake.
Meanwhile, this unique touch of Oregon is now very much on our local radar.
No better time to be a brew lover than now, as October is Craft Beer Month. Brewmasters, pubs and restaurants come together across the province with keg tappings, tastings and dinners-in short a wealth of events to celebrate all-natural beer. Testament to the growth of craft brewing is that 50 microbreweries are taking part, from Vancouver Island to the Okanagan and further afield. Best way to check out what's happening and order tix? Get the app from craftbeermonth.ca.
Hot off the press comes Had a Glass 2013, the latest compendium of good value wines (all under $20), as chosen by Province "WineGuy" James Nevison, who penned this one on his own since former cohort Kenji Hodgson left town to grow his own biodynamic grapes in France. This generous pocket-sized tome is packed with great recommendations, many of which have appeared here as Belly's Best picks-and all of which are available at B.C. Liquor StoresIf you're a wallet watching wine lover (and who isn't these days?), for under 20 bucks, it's a deal.
Belly's Budget Best
- Crios Torrontes 2012
Here's a great intro to Torrontes. A blend of northern and Mendoza fruit, it delivers layers of tropical, peach and floral notes with good mouthfeel and balanced acidty. Look for the "big hand" label. BCLS $15.99. 89 pts.