Saturday, November 6, 2010

Why aren't Portland brewpubs more vegan friendly?

I haven’t written anything that’s beer-centric on this blog (as opposed to the old blog where beer had a more prominent role) but it’s still a big passion. But last night my passions for vegan food and beer were in stark contrast to each other. Portland is generally viewed as a vegan friendly city. Of the 500+ blogs in Vegan MoFo this year, 34 are from Portland. We’re a city that values organics and sustainability. We’re also the craft beer capital of the country. We have more breweries in and around the city than any other city in the world. 12% of the beer drunk in Oregon is brewed in Oregon; 50% of the draft beer drunk in Portland is brewed in Oregon. I could go on with statistics, but let’s just say that craft beer has a ubiquity in Portland that exceeds any place else in the country. If you live here, you know this. Any hole in the wall Mexican place in Gresham has craft beer just like any mediocre Thai place in Beaverton. There are even food carts serving beer now. There’s craft beer everywhere. In Portland we love our beer as much as we love organic and sustainable.

So why are most of the brewpubs and beer meccas in town so vegan unfriendly? We met friends at the Raccoon Lodge last night, which is the original location for Cascade Brewing (and where all of their beers are still brewed). They’re a brewery getting national attention for their inventive and original sour beers. The beers are fantastic. But the only vegan thing on the entire menu is French fries. Now granted, they’re fries are in fact killer, but everything else, from salads, to sandwiches, to entrees has meat or dairy. There were two things that could be adapted to be vegan friendly: the Greek Mediterranean appetizer (hummus, veggies, tapenade, etc.) if you either left off the tzatziki and the garden burger if you left off the cheese and Thousand Island dressing. Slim pickings in a place that actually has good pub food.

I don’t mean to single Raccoon Lodge out. I love their beers (the 09 Kriek was wonderful) and I ate there a lot over the years as a non-vegan and the food was always quite good, as well as reasonably priced. But it was a stark reminder of how vegan unfriendly most brewpubs are. I checked the online menus of a bunch of other beer meccas and most don’t have any vegan dishes at all, although there are generally things that you can adapt to be vegan by removing cheese. Even then, you’d have to ask if you’re strict and want to be 100% sure. The reality is that you better get used to eating gardenburgers without cheese if you want to tour Portland’s best beer spots.

One happy surprise was Hopworks. They actually have several vegan appetizers and salads, as well as a marinated tofu wrap, and a vegan cheese alternative for any of their pizzas. But they seem to be in the minority (if you know of others, please leave me a comment).

Most craft beer is vegan. In fact it’s generally only the use of isinglass that makes beer non-vegan. Isinglass, which is derived from fish, is used in some breweries (mostly in the UK) to fine or clarify beer. Most US micro’s seem to use other things for fining so it isn’t an issue, but again, if you’re strict, you should ask. So in what’s generally viewed as one of the most vegan friendly cities in the world and the top craft beer city in the country, why the disconnect between the craft beer world and the vegan world? It seems odd……

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