Brewmaster John Harris reaches for the stars in his first independent venture; a brewery that offers his own creations, and a restaurant that serves seasonally fresh, upscale food that pairs well with Ecliptic’s beers. It’s a combination that adds to both the restaurant and craft brewing scene in the up-and-coming North Portland area of Portland, Oregon.
There’s no shortage of talent in craft beers these days, but Brewmaster John Harris is one of those experienced veterans who consistently gets it right. His 28-year brewing career began at McMenamins’ breweries, the wonderfully successful chain of breweries/restaurants/hotels owned by brothers Mike and Brian McMenamin.
Later at Deschutes Brewery, Harris created some of my favorite beers (and Deschutes’ bestselling beers), including Black Butte Port, Obsidian Stout, Mirror Pond and Jubelale. For the last 20 years, he’s been at Full Sail, with responsibility over their Brewmaster Reserve line of beers. John Harris is not a newbie.
Shooting for the Stars
This is Harris’ first time on his own, and it’s a celestial hit. You can only imagine how many brewpubs and breweries this man has visited, and he’s worked hard to capture his own vision. He admits, “I’ve been pretty busy here and haven’t had much time for my interest in astronomy and other things, but this theme has been a lot of fun to work with.”
The beers at Ecliptic Brewery are named for astronomers, astral bodies, constellations and astrological terms, and the menu and décor also circumnavigates an astrological theme.
Only a career or amateur astronomist would know that the seasons change every six weeks according to the Old World calendar, which results in 8.66666667 seasons per our current 52 week calendar year. This is great news for fans of Ecliptic Brewing because seasonal beer offerings and about 50% of the food menu change eight times a year rather than a mere four—that’s every six weeks.
Both the bar area and the family-friendly restaurant area have tall ceilings and lots of natural light. Concrete room dividers have circular peek-a-boo openings that illustrate various constellations. The huge light fixture in the middle of the room is in the shape of the Analemma. (That’s the abstract concept that shows the figure-8 curve the sun makes in the sky. It’s an attempt to show that the Earth doesn’t orbit the sun in a circle, but rather in an ellipse.)
Of this season’s offerings, I light up with the Phobos Extra Red Ale (lots of great caramel flavor, very creamy) and the Canopus Wheat Ale (great up front crisp bitter fruity hops taste that ends dry.) We end our meal with the Kuiper Porter, my favorite beer. There’s dark roasted barley, great hoppy aromas and a smooth, rich taste that holds up against big meaty foods and is equally satisfying just for sipping. There are some great cocktails, wines and ciders as well. (Try the Pine Flip, made with Douglas Fir Brandy, egg white, agave, and some of the Pollux Imperial IPA. Beers and great cocktails; how can you go wrong?
Harris knows brewpubs should serve really great food and a menu that offers more than hamburgers. Chef Michael Molitor is a chef who understands this, and, while you’ll find some great burgers on the menu, Ecliptic offers original and varied dishes that work well with Harris’ beers.
We share the steamed mussels; big, fat and succulent morsels of goodness, served in a broth of ripe cooked tomatoes, Ecleptic Hefepils beer, garlic and bonito. When my friend tells our server the broth is even better than the mussels, our server doesn’t miss a beat, “That’s because we make the broth, but not the mussels.” (Make that man Employee of the Month.)
The salt cod and potato fritters are crisp and light on the outside, flaky and moist inside. The malt vinegar aioli is the perfect condiment. The fried green tomatoes are dipped in buttermilk, then corn flour rather than corn meal, which brings out the tomato flavors rather than the grittiness of the corn.
For a bit of Asian flair, the chicken drumstick confit is made with a sweet chili sauce and a shredded celery salad that includes green onions and cilantro that brighten the flavors of the dark meat. A salad of endive and Asian pear with maple-mustard vinaigrette adds to the meal. The salad gets a bit of a savory-salty taste from accompanying camembert toasts. We also can’t pass up the red wine-braised beef brisket, which goes wonderfully with the Kuiper Porter. The brown gravy is scrumptious and the meat just melts in his dish. The cabbage and pickled rutabaga salad makes this a fall seasonal winner.
Dessert fans, don’t miss the chance for Ecliptic’s homemade ice cream. The vanilla-fig and pistachio ice cream is fabulous. You can also order it as a float—ice cream topped with Kuiper Porter. All in all, a stellar meal.
Look for Ecliptic beer in stores and on restaurant menus, or take home a growler from the brewery. The restaurant also hosts special event dinners and tastings throughout the year, including gatherings in the outside seating area and parking lot for sky-viewing parties. Journey toward great beers, great food and great atmosphere at Ecliptic Brewing! —Story and photos by Nancy Zaffaro, RFT Northwest Wines, Brews, & Spirits Editor
If You Go:
Ecliptic Brewing, www.eclipticbrewing.com
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