If meetings destinations are judged by the food and drink they have to offer groups (and indeed they are, as the nation's collective palate gets increasingly finicky), Portland should land on the short list for every planner weighing where to host their next event.
"Portland's culinary scene can hold a candle to anywhere else in the world," says Marcus Hibdon, spokesman for Travel Portland. "It's really that good."
And it's always evolving.
New restaurants, breweries, food tours and trend-setting options including supper clubs, urban wineries and whiskey bars make Portland a delicious city that'll have groups coming back for seconds.
King of Beers
Portland boasts more than 50 breweries, making it the most exceptional place for beer lovers to explore in the Pacific Northwest, if not the whole country.
A new member of this growing lineup is Ecliptic Brewing, brought to the City of Roses by John Harris, an Oregon craft brewing icon responsible for creating popular recipes for Bend, Ore.-based Deschutes Brewery, including Mirror Pond, Black Butte Porter and Jubelale.
The brewery offers plenty of space for groups to visit and sample Procyon Pale Ale, Capella Porter and more tasty styles, and it is available for events.
Planners can also call on Brewvana, a tour company that facilitates fun programs complete with tastings and a chance to meet brewers.
"A city with so many breweries can be a bit intimidating to outsiders," Hibdon says. "Fortunately, Brewvana does all the work for you, drawing on its close connections to the city's top brewers to create a one-of-kind experience. Groups will cover a lot of ground in a few hours and try a lot of delicious beers."
Small groups with discerning tastes and an interest in talking shop with some of Portland's best chefs will enjoy a communal meal via the city's increasingly popular supper club scene.
Inspired by time spent in European eateries where kitchen staff play a role in serving diners, Chef Will Preisch created the HoldFast supper club series, which will debut at Kitchen Cru next month and will feature nine courses, wine pairings and interactive mingling with those preparing the meal.
While Chef Katy Millard works toward securing a brick-and-mortar home for her culinary vision, Coquine, she prepares and hosts pop-up supper clubs around town in various locales, including farms and wineries.
And Chef Courtney Sproule's Din Din, which started as a pop-up supper club like Millard's, recently opened a private space.
Din Din provides a fun and festive atmosphere around a multicourse dinner that has a new theme every month, and Sproule says working with groups is "right up our alley."
Customized menus are available, and the setting, which has the necessary audiovisual bells and whistles, is a blank slate for planners' imaginations.
Portland's urban wineries—there are currently 18 of them—are convenient for groups that would like to stay within city limits to go wine tasting and hold events in a more pub-like atmosphere than typical wineries.
"Our urban wineries are a little bit fine wine experience and a little bit of our brewing tradition wrapped into one without any of the pretense," Hibdon says. "These are innovative and experimental wine makers who are taking risks and breaking the wine-making mold."
Options include Enso, Fausse Piste and Southeast Wine Collective, a winery incubator that allows new urban wineries to get a foothold in the marketplace before opening their own venues.
Hibdon notes that groups might book the Portland Short Bus, a tour operator that offers a great urban winery outing filled with local color and character.
Serious wine lovers in the group may like to venture out a bit farther for more wine-tasting after their exploration of Portland's urban wineries.
Within a short drive of downtown are several wineries with new tasting rooms that are architecturally inspired and group-friendly.
Sokol Blosser, a prominent and longstanding Oregon winery, hired internationally recognized architect Brad Cloepfil to design a tasting room with angular forms and rough wood lines to sit atop the 100-acre hilltop estate in Dundee Hills, adjacent to the winery.
In spring 2013, Ponzi Vineyards opened a new tasting room with large windows that showcase panoramic views of the surrounding vineyards and Cascade Mountains. Here, groups can take a tour and relax outside where there is a terrace and two bocce ball courts.
And Stoller Family Estate, the first LEED Gold-certified winery in the U.S., recently unveiled a new tasting room that incorporated wood from trees destroyed in a wildfire, as well as a solar panel system. The venue boasts views of the winery's rolling hills.
Farm to Table
Get Dirty Farm Tours is a recent and unique addition to Portland's cuisine scene.
[Get Dirty] "creates custom tours for groups to see where the great food in our local restaurants is grown," Hibdon says.
From organic veggies to goat cheese, tour participants will become more familiar with the farming process and just how eco-conscious Oregon is. An itinerary might cover organic vegetables at Gathering Together Farm and sea salt and oysters at Netarts Bay.
After a Get Dirty tour, groups dine in one of Portland's popular group-friendly eateries.
One such restaurant, located in Northeast Portland's Concordia neighborhood, is Nonna.
"Nonna exemplifies the Portland approach to food in that we use quality, in-season, local ingredients and prepare them properly and with respect," says Leb Borgerson, Nonna's general manager.
For groups, Nonna offers an attractive dining room. The entire restaurant is available for rent and for smaller parties, the wine bar section of the restaurant is available.
"Our food is very friendly to family-style dining, allowing for a dining experience akin to eating at a little old Italian grandmother's house, except with a really nice modern bar attached," Borgerson says.
If the group would prefer to just grab something sweet after a long day of meetings, Maurice, a new downtown addition, is "a lovely little dessert spot," according to Hibdon, who says the pastry chef whips up stellar creations, including black pepper cheesecake, tarte au chocolat and fig tarte tatin.
Whiskey may never take top billing in a state drowning in praise for its beers and wines, but purveyors of the harder stuff are influencing the mix of Oregon's beverage output.
Though their Portland-made whiskey is still in barrels, Hibdon says Bull Run Distillery
currently imports bourbon and whiskey from other producers and blends a line called Temperance Trader. The Bullrun-made spirit is expected to be released sometime in 2015.
Bull Run tours are available for larger groups. Participants taste Temperance Trader, as well as housemade gin, vodka and rum.
Two other whiskey stops, both available for events, include Pope House Bourbon Lounge, which offers private Bourbon 101 classes, and Multnomah Whiskey Library, a new downtown venue with a worldwide assortment of more than 1,000 whiskies in a brick and leather setting.
Longtime contributor Carolyn Blackburn lives in Oregon, not far from that black pepper cheesecake and a nice glass of red.