The United States now has more breweries than any other country in the world, more than 2,400, according to the Brewers Association. We are opening small breweries about as fast as they are being closed in Germany! More than 10 percent of U.S. breweries are here in Oregon.
It follows, then, that Portland must be the brewing capital of the world. Yes, you did read that right. Our fair city, with 583,776 of us, is the largest such in this state. We have no fewer than 169 craft breweries operating across our Oregon. Fifty-two of them are inside Portland city limits. According to Brian Butenschoen, director of the Oregon Brewers Guild, if one travels 25 miles out of Portland, there will be another 17 breweries to sip at. This includes our close neighbor, and suburb, just north of here: Vancouver, WA. We call ourselves Beervana with good reason.
It’s true, the Bamberg area of Northern Bavaria may have up to 150 breweries, but Bamberg itself is a small city of 70,000 population, with only nine or 10 breweries.
As far as I am concerned, it’s time to tell the world: “Portland is the greatest.” What about the beer? you ask. Is our beer the greatest, too? But, of course! Well, not all of our beer is the greatest, but plenty of it is very good, and we have some beers that really are great. More important, there is a wonderful array of truly fine brews produced in this city, some 300 labels, by my guess. We have everything from altbier to doppelbock, from porter to double stout, from Scottish pale to ESB to IPA—all those and rye beer, too. Besides that, we have raspberry-weizen, lemon lager and far more than our share of yellow, red and icy dry industrial beer, too.
I am frequently asked, “Why Portland?” Why do our craft brewers do so well? How did Portland get to be No. 1? One reason might be that Oregon (and Washington, too) has a cooler, wetter climate than many other places. Both states drink a greater proportion of their beer (18 percent) on draft from on-premise locations. Our city water is among the best on our planet.
Our climate is similar to that found in England, Belgium and Germany, where the drinkers also consume much of their beer in public houses of one sort or another.
It helps to have a good law. Oregon has what may be the best brewpub law in the country. It went into effect in June of 1985 and is very well-written. A new craft brewer may choose to have a pub, or she may choose to distribute her own beer. That’s very brewer-friendly.
Most of our pubs are interesting and well-managed, and serve a large selection of beer accompanied by good food. They are more likely to be beer and wine bars, and less likely to serve hard liquor. (The latter is changing, because we are also enlarging our distilled beverage base in this area.) Oregon has a small advantage over Washington, in that Oregon taverns and pubs are required to serve food, which makes for a better atmosphere than if only snacks are available.
Oregon and Washington pioneered wide distribution of multiple-tap bars back in the early ’80s. It is almost impossible to find a tavern in Portland or Seattle that does not have at least eight to 10 tap or draft beers. This also means that even small-town bars will offer at least a craft beer or two on tap. The popularity of good beer is spreading ever more widely around the Northwest.
This multiple-tap situation means that small craft breweries and brewpubs can expect success merely by producing draft beer. They can succeed in the market without having to install expensive
Another reason for the success of Northwest craft beers is that we have beer columnists writing in local newspapers—notably in Portland and Seattle. People here are better educated about beer.
This education has led to an appreciation of beers with rich and distinctive tastes. The taste profile of even the most innocuous of our local brews is far and away more interesting than any of the nation’s industrial beer (which also sells well here). In all, our Northwest citizens have the inclination, education and opportunity to enjoy the best of this new wave.
Speaking of education, did I mention the world-famous Oregon Brewers Festival, held annually, on Portland’s downtown Willamette River Waterfront Park, at the end of July, (24-28)? Any reader of All About Beer would enjoy a vacation in Portland. It’s not an expensive city to visit.
Compare some of America’s best micros with the Northwest’s best and draw your own conclusions. Perhaps you’ll agree with me when I say, in my most provincial tone: “Our Northwest ales are among the best in the world.” I urge you, go for the dark side and forget the mellow yellow—live it up!
Fred Eckhardt lives in Beervana am der Willamette.