Monday, December 16, 2019

KEX Comes to Portland

Oli, Kiddie, Carsten & Brandon (High Road Distribution)
In Icelandic "kex" means biscuit. In Portland, "KEX" is the new hostel/bar/restaurant/brewery that has moved into the beautifully renovated building on the northeast corner of NE MLK and Couch.

Co-owners Kristinn "Kiddie" Vilbergsson and Olafur "Oli" Augustsson brought their concept from Reykjavik to Portland, saying at a recent media event that Portland is similar to Reykjavik in that it is home to good food and beer and close to nature. Embracing Portland as a home for their second KEX (the first having opened in 2011 in a former biscuit factory) they hope to appeal to a mixture of locals and travelers. 

KEX beers are being brewed by Carsten Haney at his closed-to-the-public Ross Island Brewing space. We tasted five beers - Kolski Kolsch, Forbidden Fruit Kettle Sour, Steroids to Heaven IPA, Coffee + Cream Porter and Gretta sour mash pale ale. We found the Hull Melon-hopped Kolsch (not a style that we usually seek out) to be quite to our liking as well as the Coffee + Cream and Gretta, both more typical of beers that appeal to our palate. The Coffee + Cream porter combines Stumptown cold brew concentrate, lactose and roasty malts to produce one of the more memorable coffee porters we've tasted. Enjoyed on CO2, we were told that it is even better on nitro.

Gretta is a collaboration with Mikkeller, who opened just a hop, skip and jump away in the building that formerly housed Burnside Brewing. Originally intended to utilize fresh hops, a delay in brewing caused Carsten to rework his plans and instead the sour mash pale ale was heavily dry hopped. The name Gretta may translate in Icelandic to the pucker face one makes when drinking a sour, you'll find only smiles if you see us drinking this beer. Available on a limited basis in bottles, this is one we hope will be brewed again.

The beer is just one component of KEX, which also has an open and spacious bar/restaurant on street level, above which private and shared accommodations are available. The accommodations range from hostel-style bunks in multi-bunk shared rooms to private rooms that have shared bathroom facilities to standard hotel-style private rooms with en suite bathrooms. All rooms include access to the on-site sauna and use of a guest kitchen facility, both in the lower level of the building. 

We haven't yet had the opportunity to fully experience Dรณttir bar and restaurant but were treated to a sampling of menu items alongside the beer, of which we adored the pate (a combination of duck, pork and foie gras) and the brightly colored Skyr (yogurt) ailoi and parsley oil dipping sauce that accompanied the thick cut salt and vinegar fries. The restaurant opens at 7am for breakfast and cycles through lunch, happy hour, dinner and late night happy hour.

In an area dominated by newly sprouted, behemoth apartment buildings it is refreshing to see an existing building remodeled and re-imagined. Hopefully a bit more exterior signage will appear to draw attention to this new venture.

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