The Multiple Tap Beginnings
By 1977, in a giant leap forward, the nation’s first really small brewery had opened in Sonoma, CA, soon followed by Sierra Nevada in Chico in 1980. Others came along, including Boulder Brewing out of Hygiene, CO, soon-to-fail Cartwright in Portland, Bert Grant’s Yakima, WA Brewing, and Red Hook in Seattle.
In 1974, here in Portland, Mike McMenamin put together what may have been one of the nation’s first true multiple tap bars. The Produce Row Cafe, which along with two others (1975 and 1976), constituted a beginning of true multiple tap pubs, offering local, import, and national beer from several breweries.
It was an idea whose time had come, but not until after Mike had to sell his three pubs to raise money to begin distributing these new beers in the Portland area (1980). His distributorship soon failed, because the tiny new “micro-brewery” situation would not support such a grandiose scheme. Distributing beer is a sometimes grim business.
No matter, because Mike and his brother Brian soon opened their first joint venture, the Barley Mill Pub in east Portland (1983). Their first brewery pub, the Hillsdale soon followed, but by then the bothers were some $300,000 in the hole. It was a comfortable hole, because their father had lobbied the Oregon legislature to pass the nation’s first (and still the best) brewpub law. That law stipulated that a small brewery (i.e., a micro or craft brewery) could either a) self-distribute its beer, or b) open a public house to offer beer over the counter—at up to two locations.
It was this self-distribution, side stepping traditional distributors, that allowed some of Oregon’s earliest brewers to become nationally successful (for example Widmer, now 18th in the nation, Deschutes, 20th, Full Sail, 25th, Bridgeport 41, and Rogue 44), all of which now enrich an old-line distributor in time-honored fashion.
For the McMenamins it was the beginning of an empire with 52 breweries, pubs, restaurants, hotels, movie theaters, a winery, a distillery, and even a golf course. The brothers seem to have the Midas touch for success in renovating important and beloved old Northwest buildings. It was the McMenamins who brought the multiple tap pub to fruition, blazing the way for entrepreneurs across the country.
These days multiple tap pubs seem to be the norm, at least around here. In Portland, Oregon, one can always find a craft beer, even in the most stodgy neighborhood pubs.