Best Craft Beer in the Pacific Northwest: Seattle vs Portland

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When it comes to craft beer in the Pacific Northwest, two cities often come to mind—Portland and Seattle. Though they share a lot in terms of rainy weather and lush green landscapes, you’ll find that the craft beer experience in each is unique in its own right.

I’ve had the pleasure of drinking plenty of craft beer in each city and while I couldn’t possibly choose a favorite, I know that they both have amazing options for tourists looking to discover the craft beer scene in the Pacific Northwest.

beer tasting tray

Both cities have great things to offer, from breweries to beer festivals. It’s not difficult to find some way to explore their beer offerings.

Portland has their own Craft Beer Festival which I’ve been to a number of times myself, and Portland Beer Week, which they’ve deemed a “celebration of the world’s greatest beer city”.

Seattle has Seattle Beer Week in May every year, as well as the Great Pumpkin Beer Festival in October and the Winter BeerFest in December.

Now let’s dive deeper into each so you can see where to go and what to do!

Seattle Craft Beer

Stoup Brewing in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood
Stoup Brewing in Seattle‘s Ballard neighborhood (photo by Savored Journeys)

Seattle is well known for its abundance of craft breweries and its innovations in brewing. There are currently 63 breweries in Seattle (plus more in the surrounding areas) that are making craft beer.

The good news is that many of these breweries are open to the public for tastings. On a weekend, a favored activities for Seattleites is to do a beer crawl, particularly in the Fremont or Ballard neighborhoods.

We often spent weekends slowly making our way on foot through the Ballard neighborhood, just north of downtown Seattle, visiting various breweries, like Stoup Brewing, Lucky Envelope, Populux Brewing and (oldie but goodie) Pike Brewing Company.

At all of these breweries, you can get either a pint of your favorite, or a taster tray, so you can try many different styles.

» Read about our 15 favorite breweries in Ballard.

Reuben's Brews just relocated to a larger tasting room with outdoor seating!
Reuben’s Brews in Seattle

Beers You Can Expect to Find in Seattle

Seattle, on the other hand, saw its first craft brewery, Redhook Ale Brewery, established in 1981. While not quite as prolific historically, Seattle’s craft beer industry gained a lot of traction in the early 2000s. Nowadays, with events like Seattle Beer Week and the Washington Brewers Festival, the city firmly cements its reputation in the craft beer world.

One of the most popular types of beer in Seattle is IPA, which is made with hops that are grown in the Pacific Northwest. The locals prefer beer that is bitter and hoppy, so the higher the IBUs (international bitterness units) the better. You can find incredibly hoppy IPAs, like Stoup’s Citra IPA and Pike’s Space Needle West Coast IPA.

But there are also many beer lovers who don’t want their taste buds assaulted with all that hoppiness. This is where Seattle excels. There are dozens of other, less hoppy beers, like Reuben’s Robust Porter and Stoup’s Lagers and Pilsners.

Ghostfish Brewing
Ghostfish Brewing

Breweries to Seek Out in Seattle

  1. Fremont Brewing: You can’t talk Seattle craft beer without mentioning Fremont. Their barrel-aged dark ales are particularly sought after.
  2. Cloudburst Brewing: Known for their ever-changing lineup, Cloudburst offers something new almost every time you visit. The emphasis is on hoppy and creative ales.
  3. Reuben’s Brews: With a wide selection ranging from IPAs to stouts, this brewery embodies the spirit of Seattle’s craft beer scene. You can get a taster tray of any that you want to try. I personally love the robust porter and the American brown.
  4. Populuxe is a favorite place to hang out because of it’s large beer garden. There are often food trucks nearby, but you can also bring your own food.
  5. GhostFish Brewing brews gluten-free beer with unusual grains like millet, buckwheat, and brown rice for those who are gluten free.

Portland Craft Beer

Deschutes Brewing tasting tray
Deschutes Brewing tasting tray (photo via Flickr by Demis Gallisto)

Take a City Brew Tour in Portland

One of the best ways to sample the beer while having a great time is to take a City Brew Tour in Portland. Hop on the bus for an all-inclusive tasting experience providing insider access to discover the best breweries, cideries, distilleries, donut shops, and coffee roasters in Portland, Oregon. Leave buzzing in the elated state of BREWVANA with a new appreciation for craft, Portland and life.

  • Behind-the-scenes tours of our favorite Portland Oregon’s breweries
  • Sample up to 16 beer styles across 4 stops
  • Guided beer pairing meal
  • Comfortable round-trip transportation

Book a tour here

Portland was one of the first contenders on the craft beer scene, long before Seattle got on board. They have been pioneering the way for craft breweries around the world for decades.

If you travel anywhere outside the United States for craft beer, many of the people you will meet in those breweries know all about Portland and its contribution to the beer world. Those same people may not even know that Seattle is equally as committed to craft beer.

In Portland, the craft beer scene has changed dramatically since the pandemic, when a lot of breweries (even long established ones) closed. At last count, the city boasts over 175 craft breweries. And there are always new ones coming while old ones are going.

Beers You Can Expect to Find in Portland

Portland loves its IPA, too. In fact, Portland was sort of where it all started for uber-hoppy IPAs and fresh-hops brewing. Once overwhelmed by the trend to see who could make the most insanely hopped beer, Portland has since cooled it on that front and have moved on to other pursuits.

I like to see the variety of beer styles increase, and the overly hoppy beers decrease. You can easily find a vast array of styles at Portland breweries, including English-style ales, Belgiums, and even German-style wheat beers. A good example to try is Upright Brewing, known for their French, Belgian, and English ales.

Another good example of fresh styles can be found at Great Notion Brewing, from hazy IPAs to sours and fruity beers, stouts, porters. 

Commons Brewing in Portland
Commons Brewing in Portland (photo via Flickr by LoadedAaron)

Where to Go for Beer Tasting in Portland

Portland completely embraces its breweries. It’s a way of life for locals, who often have their favorite breweries and stick with them. You can visit many areas of Portland and find tons of breweries to try.

In Southeast Portland, you’ll find a dozen breweries and brewpubs within a few square blocks. Downtown Portland, for me, is always the best place to stay in Portland to be near everything. You can pretty easily walk to a number of the breweries from downtown, or take the MAX or a bus to Southeast Portland.

  1. Deschutes Brewery: Though originally from Bend, Oregon, Deschutes has a significant presence in Portland. Known for its Black Butte Porter and Mirror Pond Pale Ale, you’ll find a range of classic styles and experimental brews.
  2. Breakside Brewery: With several awards under its belt, Breakside specializes in innovative, diverse beers. Its IPAs are a must-try.
  3. Cascade Brewing: If you’re into sour beers, Cascade is your heaven. Their barrel-aged sours have a unique complexity that has gained them an international reputation.
  4. Great Notion Brewing: Known for their hazy, juicy IPAs and fruit-infused sour ales, Great Notion has quickly become a Portland staple. They also dabble in culinary-inspired brews that mimic the flavors of dishes like blueberry muffins or key lime pie. It’s a spot where creativity shines.
  5. Upright Brewing: Specializing in French and Belgian-style farmhouse ales, Upright Brewing takes a more traditional approach to its craft. With a focus on yeast-driven flavors and a solid lineup of saisons, it’s the go-to spot for those who appreciate Old World brewing traditions.
  6. Migration Brewing – Expanding pretty rapidly since it opened in 2010, you can now find 4 locations throughout the city. Expect to find West Coast and Hazy IPAs.


Well, what do you think?  Who wins for best craft beer in the Pacific Northwest? Does Seattle or Portland win the craft beer battle? I think you really have to travel to both and see for yourself before you can decide.

I will always think that Seattle has a slight lead, if not just due to the incredible views and scenery you will see while beer crawling around the city. But Portland is the undisputed pioneer.

Do you have a preference for one city over the other? Let’s discuss in the comments.

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Best Craft beer in the Pacific Northwest: Seattle vs Portland
Best Craft beer in the Pacific Northwest: Seattle vs Portland
Best Craft Beer in the Pacific Northwest: Seattle vs Portland

2 thoughts on “Best Craft Beer in the Pacific Northwest: Seattle vs Portland

  1. Byron says:

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