While visiting a TV station in Albuquerque on business—like many of my beer-writing brethren, I have a “real job” in addition to my “beer job”—one of the news anchors and I got to chatting about my growing enchantment with Land of Enchantment’s famous cuisine.
I’ve seen tourists literally drop to their knees just at the selection of craft beer offered at the corner convenience store, neighborhood movie theater or local bowling alley.
The anchorman puffed with pride as I enthusiastically affirmed my affinity for the local fare. But I bristled at his next words.
“Too bad you don’t have anything like that to be proud of in Portland,” he smirked.
The comments from Mr. Anchor steamed me. But he picked the wrong tourist to tussle with.
I paused, stared at him coolly in the eyes (or, at least, so I hoped) and said with a sly smile, “Oh, but we do. We have beer.”
Portland’s nickname is Beervana, I said, because there are 30 (soon to be 32) breweries within the city’s limits and 37 within the metro area—more than any other city on the planet.
By the time I was finished with my sudsy soliloquy, Mr. Anchor was ready to jump ship and make a break for Portland. But my impassioned monologue also got me thinking: There’s more to living in Beervana than the beer. Portland has evolved into what British beer writer Pete Brown in his book Three Sheets to the Wind calls a model beer society. Or, in the oddly Zen-like way Portland’s perennial publican Don Younger always puts it, “It’s not about the beer. It’s about the beer.”
Hmm. Like the elusive fireflies I used to try to catch in the Oklahoma back yard of my youth, I sometimes “get” that expression, while other times it escapes me. When I do catch its meaning, if I gaze at it too long, the light turns off, and it disappears.
But one thing I do take away from that inscrutable phrase is that there is more to craft beer than just the beer itself. Beervana is like that, too.
The other evening, after a particularly long and dreary stretch of crummy weather here, nothing warmed my heart more than to show up at one of my more local locals to find the place packed with familiar, smiling faces. After countless hugs and hellos, it was apparent that everybody else had the same idea: time to warm up with a good beer and good cheer.
The wintry snit I had been carrying around for a couple of days seemed to melt away with each sip. Was it the winter warmer at 13.5 percent ABV? Sure. But what really kicked the Grinch out of me was the camaraderie I shared with my like-minded companions—a gregarious group that included the establishment’s owner-brewers, a beer rep for another brewery, a couple of beer distributors, a handful of home brewers and a large number of beer aficionados. And the funny thing is, I bet I could’ve entered any number of brewpubs in Beervana that night and encountered a similar warm, welcoming experience. That night, it wasn’t about the beer. It was about the beer.
I think we Beervanians tend to take for granted the amazing beer bounty we have here. I’ve seen tourists literally drop to their knees just at the selection of craft beer offered at the corner convenience store, neighborhood movie theater or local bowling alley. But for the citizens of Beervana, craft beer is no longer sexy.
That used to really upset me, until I looked at it from an outsider’s eyes and realized how unique our bond with beer has become. Like a couple that’s been married for umpteen years, our relationship has evolved into something as comfortable as a favorite pair of jeans.
We Beervanians still adore our beer—even more so than when we first met. We certainly wouldn’t want to live without it. We still even get a little googly-eyed over it. (Hey, that’s what keeps the flames of passion burnin’, right?) It’s just that we usually don’t make a big fuss about it any more.
Instead, we value beer each time we amble over to our local pubs for a pint and some good cheer. We elevate beer when we serve it at everything from baseball games to local fundraisers to fancy restaurants. We advance beer when we take the kids to family-friendly brewpubs.
We celebrate beer in Portland as part of our cultural fabric. Because here in Beervana, it’s not about the beer, it’s about the beer. Every day.