With our headquarters in Washington DC and the bulk of our correspondents found near America’s top producing craft beer regions on the coasts, it only makes sense for us to start a new series giving all the states their due, featuring breweries large and small, plus the histories behind them.
In case you missed the last 36 states, we’re doing this thing alphabetically. And we’re shocked to have made it all the way to the 37th state on our list, The Beaver State, Oregon. The state’s nickname is rooted in the extensive presence of beavers in the 19th century when their prized pelts were desirable for fashionable fur hats. It officially became the state animal in 1969, is also the mascot for Oregon State University and appears on one side of Oregon’s two sided state flag.
Oregon ranks 27th in total population (roughly 4.1 million), is ranked 39th in population density and houses 228 craft breweries as of 2015 (an increase of 124 since 2011) who are represented by the Oregon Brewers Guild. The state ranks 4th in total breweries (including D.C.) and 2nd in breweries per capita as of 2015, according to the Brewers Association.
To be fair, we’ve broken Oregon up into two articles, just as was done with Colorado and California (3). For context, the City of Portland proper houses 70 breweries alone as of 12/31/2016, more than 32 entire states on their own and 105 total in the tri-county metro region. This arguably makes Portland the Beer Capital of the World, housing more breweries than any town, any where.
Portland and Oregon’s brewing history starts with it’s first brewery, Liberty Brewing, opened by German immigrant Henry Saxer in 1852, just one year after the city’s incorporation. Three Years later, another young German arrived on the scene, Henry Weinhard, an apprenticed brewer from Stuttgart. The city was seen by these two as a perfect confluence of fresh ingredients (hops, grains and mountain fresh water) and thirsty mouths provided by the hearty dock workers, seamen, lumberjacks, etc. that populated the area.
Merely 7 years later, the success of Weinhard’s brewery overtook that of Saxer, which he ultimately bought and re-branded as City Brewing. By 1875, City was exporting to Asia and producing 40,000 barrels annually, up from 2,000 in 1862. Possibly the most famous piece of old Portland lore is the dedication of Skidmore Fountain which brewer Henry Weinhard famously threatened to pump beer through upon it’s christening. Being that it was 1888, the women’s temperance movement, started 5 years earlier and known for installing water fountains all over town to provide an alternative to beer, didn’t take kindly to his taunt.
Though Weinhard passed away in 1904, his brewery (now called the Henry Weinhard Brewery) expanded at a phenomenal rate during Oregon’s Progressive era of the 1910’s. Unfortunately, Oregon banned the sale of alcohol 4 years prior to national Prohibition. To survive, Weinhard’s began bottling sodas, near-beer, soda fountain supplies, juices, ciders and confectionery sweets. They later merged with Arnold Blitz’s Portland Brewing Company becoming Blitz-Weinhard Company in 1928. Combined they dominated the local market until it’s purchase in 1979 by Pabst, then Stroh Brewing in 1996 and lastly Miller Brewing in 1999.
While the 60’s and 70’s saw conglomeration by the largest brewers, resulting in the smallest number of breweries in our history, there was hope on the horizon. In 1975, brothers Mike and Brian McMenamin, started Portland’s return to the multi-tap public house when they opened the Produce Row Cafe. Their mission was to make pub culture more cheery and joyful, more like the drinking establishments found in Europe.
Craft brewing in the state started commercially with the first microbrewery, Charles and Shirley Coury’s Cartwright Brewing, which existed only briefly between the spring of 1980 and 1981. While beer quality and bottling issues did-in the small operation, the first of it’s kind in the entire Northwest, the concept was a hit.
Then, in the banner year of 1984, successful local wine makers Richard and Nancy Ponzi started BridgePort Brewing (originally named Columbia River Brewing), now known as “Oregon’s Oldest Craft Brewery.” Later that year came the founding of Widmer Brother’s Brewing, known for their American spin on the classic German Hefeweizen wheat beer (aka Hefe), one of Oregon’s largest exports.
The following year, Oregon’s State Legislature finally passed a law allowing beer sales on the same property where it’s brewed. The 1985 Brewpub Bill (SB 813) was introduced by Art Larrance (who co-founded Portland Brewing in 1986) through his congressman Tom Mason. Alongside him were Kurt and Rob Widmer, the Ponzis’, the McMenamin brothers, and Larrance’s soon-to-be co-founders at Portland Brewing, Fred Bowman and Jim Goodman. The bill was tabled as a result of vested wholesale suppliers in Salem, but ultimately passed after brewpub language was added to two existing bills – one legalizing the sale of unpasteurized beer and another allowing for the sale of liquor at Bed and Breakfasts.
McMenamins opened the first brewpub in Portland (Hillsdale Brewery and Pub) in 1985 and today operates over 54 brewpubs, breweries, music venues, hotels and theater pubs – 46 of which are in Oregon. That same year they became the first brewer in America to legally brew ales with fruit – raspberries, for their famous Ruby Ale.
To this day, with so many breweries in the metro area, Portland is a brewing mecca and often referred to as Beervana or Brewvana. Even before the most recent explosive growth, famed English beer writer Peter Jackson dubbed the town “Munich on the Willamette” and the “Beer Capital of the World.”
All told, brewers in the city of Portland have garnered 111 GABF medals since 1987, including 10 in 2016.
9 Portland Breweries We Like and You Should Check Out
Breakside Brewing (Dekum, Milwaukie, Slabtown) – Recently famous for their 2014 GABF Gold win for their flagship IPA, Breakside has quickly become a Portland institution since opening their Dekum location in 2010. In 2013 they brewed over 100 styles and continue to brew at least as many each year and they regularly win local and international awards. Almost three weeks ago they opened their newest location, a “hop lab” in Slabtown. You can’t go wrong with any of their IPAs, barrel-aged seasonals or experimental wild & sour ales.
Cascade Brewing (Barrel House and Raccoon Lodge) – Pioneer of the “NW style sour movement,” Cascade was founded by Art Larrance in 1998, who previously co-founded Portland Brewing and the Oregon Brewers Festival in 1986 and 1987, respectively. By 2008, he and head brewer Ron Gansberg began selling their Kriek and Apricot sours, beginning a focus on their now famous barrel-aged line of fruited sours. Their “House of Sour” Barrel House has been open since 2010, has created over 300 styles and features a rare 100 rating on Beer Advocate.
The Commons Brewery (South East) – Known for their Farmhouse Ales and various Belgian styles, Commons has been setting a unique path since graduating from nanobrewery Beetje Brewing in 2011. In that short time founder Mike Wright and Sean Burke have created over 120 unique styles and collected 7 GABF medals. If you can get your hands on their wonderful ales, check out their Urban Farmhouse, Flemish Kiss, Myrtle or any of their small batch Beetje Series or try them all in their 2 year old 15 bbl brewhouse and taproom.
Culmination Brewing (North East) – Open now for just over 2 years, Tomas Sluiter’s gravity fed brewhouse has been cranking out collaborations and experimental brews to strong reviews. Contrary to most Portland brewers, Culmination began distribution quickly, possibly because their brewpub is tucked away in a quiet neighborhood, off the beaten path. Finding their hideaway is worth the effort, as they offer an excellent selection of 20 taps and a locally sourced pub menu.
Ex Novo Brewing (Eliot) – It only seems appropriate that the first non-profit brewery’s name actually means “from nothing.” This 10 barrel, 50 seat brewpub puts you amidst the tanks and offers a delectable menu of eats, not to mention the cleverly named, delicious brews. Started less than 3 years ago, Ex Novo also began local distribution very quickly and contributes all their profit toward four different causes. We recommend their Do You Even Sour, Bro? and Strawberry Garcia milk stout with strawberries.
Great Notion Brewing (Alberta) – Seems like every year there’s one brewery in town that opens to great fanfare and this past year it was Great Notion. But it’s been beyond anyone’s expectations. Taking over a tiny 7 barrel system the previous Winter, they’ve since become one of the most in demand brewers in Oregon. Known for their constantly rotating tap list of NE Style Hazy IPAs like Juice, Jr., their specialty sours like Blueberry Muffin, and a growing list of Imperial Stouts such as the Double Stack maple coffee stout, they’re set to move into a much larger 30bbl facility this summer. This is a brewery to watch.
Hair of the Dog (South East) – Founded by Alan Sprints, a brewer inspired by the styles of Belgium but also by local homebrewer and beer writer luminary Fred Eckhardt, Hair of the Dog offers some of Portland’s most unique styles. Where else can you get a beer that’s been aged in a whiskey barrel from 1979 or fermented in a concrete (stone) egg or buy any number of fruited Adambiers with vintages from multiple years? Open since 1993, HotD is one of the oldest brewpubs in the city and well worth a visit.
Hopworks Urban Brewery (Powell, NE Bikebar, Vancouver) – Focused on organic ales and locally sourced ingredients, owner and brewmaster Christian Ettinger, since 2008, has been building a miniature empire of sustainable innovation. In the past two years alone, the brewery has launched it’s own line of ciders, brewed a series of single-hop ipas with Salmon Safe hops, brewed Long Root Ale for Patagonia featuring the perennial grain Kernza and released their Brewers Whiskey – their HUB Lager distilled, then aged in oak barrels. Great food, family friendly and a beer for every taste, you can’t go wrong with HUB.
Upright Brewing (Rose Quarter) – Since 2009, Upright brewing has been the Mouse that Roared. A small system packed into the basement of the old Left Bank Building, Upright is commonly known for their Farmhouse Saisons, what you’ll find in bottle shops around town. Though the best things they make come out once a year like their peach sour Fantasia (owner Alex Ganum pronounces it fan-tuh-zee-uh) or their Sole Composition Series of blended cask aged beers with brettanomyces. So definitely stop by their tap room and they might even pull some nails to share the beauty inside those barrels (but bring cash).
For a current map of all Portland breweries check out PortlandBeer.org
And if you haven’t gotten your fill of Portland Oregon, here’s plenty more…
Editorial Note: The original text of this story has been revised to properly reflect the persons and events that transpired surrounding the 1985 Brewpub Bill. The author regrets the error.