As a brewer, I’m always interested in learning more of the science behind brewing and fermentation. As a beer enthusiast, however, I always love a good history lesson about beer and brewing. American Palate has published a series of historical books on beer and as I have traveled I have come across a few of the titles to supplement my, often dry, beer science knowledge with the more colorful story of beer around the world.
Having recently visited Portland, aka “Beervana”, and other parts of Oregon on a summer family road trip, I came across Portland Beer: Crafting the Road to Beervana at the locally famous Powell’s Bookstore. Needless to say I was happy to avoid another technical brewing text to go for a more enjoyable read to give me more of a background on this city that has come to be recognized as one of the hubs for craft beer in America.
In this post I wanted to filter out a handful of historical facts that I found interesting. Not everything is strictly about beer, as I also wanted to include some general history on the great city of Portland.
7 Useless Facts I Learned from “Portland Beer: Crafting the Road to Beervana”
“Portland” named after a coin flip?!
Asa Lovejoy and Francis Pettigrove each held claims to the land that would become Portland. In deciding on the name they flipped a coin with the winner taking naming rights. Pettigrove won and, being a native of Maine, named it after the largest port city in the state - Portland. Nice to see that both cities are thriving beer communities today. By the way, had Lovejoy won he had planned to name it “Boston” after his hometown. Interesting here that neither wanted to take a risk on something different - just saying.
While Portland may be known as “Beervana” today, it’s original status as a shipping center for timber meant that there was no shortage of felled trees around. Apparently even the city center had been cleared of dozens of fir trees, leaving pesky stumps behind that had to be painted in order to be seen at night. It was nicknamed “Stumptown” in the 1850s, which has been kept alive by the popular local coffee roaster.
Commercial brewing since 1852
Henry Saxer, a german immigrant, opened the Liberty Brewery as the first commercial brewery in Portland. It would later be sold to Henry Weinhard (also German) in 1862 and renamed the “City Brewery”, and then the Henry Weinhard Brewery before ultimately merging to become “Blitz-Weinhard” in 1928 - a brand that would last for most of the 20th century.
The Beer Fountain that Almost Was
At the wishes of a prominent Portland resident, upon his death the Skidmore Fountain was constructed to provide water for dogs, horses and people at three tiers. In the 1880s this work was carried out and when planning for the unveiling of the fountain Henry Weinhard offered to connect the plumbing to his brewery using long hoses. He literally wanted to have beer flowing out for all to enjoy on this monumental (literally) occasion. Unfortunately, after some consideration at least, his idea was shot down by those in charge, thus missing out on a party of the century.
Columbia River Brewing - 1984
The first (successful) craft brewery to launch with the new wave of craft beer in the ‘80s was Columbia River Brewing in 1984 (how Orwellian?). It would later be renamed Bridgeport Brewing which was a staple for Portlanders until 2019 when the shocking news broke of its closure. Right on their heels was Widmer Brothers Brewing which launched with their weizen and altbier in 1985.
I’m Just a Brewpub Bill, Sitting Here on Capitol Hill
Once a few folks dipped their toes in the proverbial craft beer water and found out that the temperature was ok, the main catalyst for industry growth was the passage of a bill allowing on-site sales at brewpubs (aka the “Brewpub Bill”). The book dedicates an entire chapter to the behind-the-scenes events leading up to its passage, but once it came into law in 1985 it paved the way for the first wave of craft brewers to open up shop with the support of a restaurant, rather than diving into a fully-distributed model. The first to open was the now famous chain of McMenamin’s pubs with the Hillsdale Public House in the Fall of 1985. Bridgeport would open up in March 1986, followed by Portland Brewing later that month.
Oregon Brewer’s Festival - 1988
Claiming to be the largest outdoor beer festival in America, the Oregon Brewer’s Festival is held the last full weekend of July every year down at the Waterfront Park. It kicked off in 1988 when Portland Brewing bought the permit to hold a festival in that location from the Blues Association who decided to move their Blues Festival to an earlier date. Widmer and Bridgeport jumped in to help with the first event that attracted over 15,000 people. The popularity would grow to make it the festival that it is today, bringing in over 80,000 visitors annually.
If you enjoy non-fiction historical books then I’d recommend this one about one of the leading craft beer cities in America. I was encouraged to consider Portland in the “Oregon Trail” days as loads of immigrants came for adventure and opportunity to ultimately shape the city into what it is today. As in any other book on beer history in the USA, this one dedicates a chapter on Prohibition and the impact on the industry. While that story is basically the same everywhere, I liked how they also precluded this with more information on the precursory Temperance Movement and the role of women in one of the more liberal states in the country. It concludes with more details on the emerging craft breweries in the 2000s and begs the question, “Why Portland?”.
I’ll leave that for you to ponder.