Portland, where craft beer began brewing.
(July 2015)


From Boise, the home of the late Maureen O’Hara, we drove west again towards Portland in Oregon. This time the morning coffee break was in Baker City, just off Highway 84.

Continuing west we left the freeway near The Dalles and took the old Lewis and Clark trail along the north side of the Columbia River. This was beautiful countryside with a winding road that rose and fell with the river on our left. We were in Washington State and looking over the river to Oregon.

In 1804 the Lewis and Clark Expedition was the first American venture to cross the western portion of the United States. Their main objective was to explore and claim US sovereignty over the west, hopefully before Britain and other European powers had a chance.

It was a long day’s drive, the longest yet – we covered 700 km.

Hotels in the centre of Portland were a bit like hen’s teeth, so we were forced to go east of the Willamette River. Fearing the worst, as far as places to eat, we discovered Hopworks, yet another gastropub and craft brewery. They had seventeen beers on tap and for Thea’s enjoyment a number of ‘draft wines’.

Hopworks pride themselves on their sustainability and serving wine direct from the barrel is their way of avoiding the waste of bottling.

I am not sure that drawing wine from a keg has the same allure, or taste, as beer.

I think Thea agrees.

Oregon is the Craft Brewery capital of the US.

In Portland alone there are 100 locations brewing craft beer and in the rest of the state there are another 150 doing the same thing.

In 1852 the first beer was brewed in Oregon and in 1985 the Legislature legalised Brewpubs – this led to their rapid growth.

Most of the Brewpubs serve food, with much of it being in total contrast to main-stream American cuisine. It’s usually sourced locally, the portions are smaller and the style is a fusion between US, European and Mexican flavors. With many claiming to have environmentally sustainable production.

The food and wine is as important as the beer in many of the Brewpubs.

The concept of Brewpubs or Gastropubs has spread with nearly 1,500 of them in North America offering a real alternative to a hamburger and fries.

They are revolutionising the food scene by hiring young innovative chefs who are embracing contemporary food culture.

Beer and food matching is widespread and they often offered a great selection of wines with their food. In the wine producing areas, like the Napa Valley, the Gastropubs support the small independent vineyards and vice-versa.

They are also breaking the model as far as the way they pay and reward their staff.

Unlike most restaurants and fast food chains, Gastropubs pay above the award to their wait and kitchen staff. This means the employees are happier and aren’t continually groveling for a tip.

Eating at the Gastropubs kept our food prices lower and gave us a great and tasty alternative. This was very important considering we were eating out 7 days a week.

It’s also a much more enjoyable dining experience.

Because they are not serving fast food you aren’t expected to be out in less than 30 minutes. In fact they encourage you to stay longer and many of them also provide entertainment.

The atmosphere is also an integral part of the brewpub charm. The pub space is divided into individual areas for eating, drinking and socialising. You can seamlessly move from one area to another according to your needs.

Portland not only has an abundance of microbreweries but it also has a disproportional number of beer festivals. Apart from the Oregon Brewers Festival there is the Spring Beer and Wine Festival, North American Organic Brewers festival, the Portland International Beerfest and the Holiday Ale Festival.

They love their craft beer in Portland, as they do in all of Oregon.

Is the success of craft beer in North America due to their large population?

The USA is home to over 320 million people and this gives a scale to production, markets and consumption that we just don’t have in Australia. However Portland only has a population of just over 600,000 with the greater area being nearly 2.5 million.

Yet Melbourne has a population of 4.8 million people and a fraction of that number of craft breweries.

Based on the 2012 figures beer consumption in the US is 77.1 litres per capita while in Australia it’s 83.1. Currently craft beer has 12% of the market in the US while in Australia it’s just approaching 6%.

In the USA most of the beer produced in the craft breweries gets consumed locally, with the national distribution being left to the big brewers.

There is something sadly lacking in the basic marketing of craft brews in Australia and that’s exposure to the product.

What the Brewpubs and Gastropubs offer in the US is not only a different eating experience but also an opportunity to try new and different brews. Draught craft beers are also available at local bars and restaurants, with many of them providing a wide choice.

Because we were a fair distance out of town we took the bus into Portland and spent the day exploring it on foot, and by the very efficient tram service.

Our first stop was the Pioneer Courthouse. Built in 1869 it’s the oldest federal building in the Pacific Northwest.

Just over the road is the Pioneer Courthouse Square with the Portland Visitor’s Centre. A quick visit there helped us to plan the rest of our day.

Just round the corner was the Farmer’s Market, with an abundance of natural, organic food and sustainable products of all descriptions.

Powell’s Bookstore, in the Pearl District of Portland, claims to be the world’s largest, occupying a full city block. It boasts 6,300 square meters of floor space.

Continuing our patronage of the craft breweries we visited Deschutes, Perl District Brewpub, for lunch. In 1988 Deschutes were one of the first craft brewers to open in the US.

As with many of the Brewpubs we visited this one was in an interesting location. Opened in 2008, it was in a converted auto-body shop.

Again the food, wine and beer were excellent, the only disappointment being that they didn’t serve an espresso.

Oh well you can’t have everything.

Like many craft brewers and Brewpubs, Deschutes have a very strong Corporate Social Responsibility Program. They are actively involved in local charities and received the 2012 Sustainability Award for their work in the Deschutes River Conservancy program.

By craft brewery standards Deschutes are large, with distribution to 28 states of the US.

After lunch we took the Aerial Tram to Marquam Hill, or ‘Pill Hill’ as it’s known, home to Oregon Health & Science University, Portland VA Medical Center and Portland Shriners Hospital. This vantage spot gave us a great view of Portland right down to the Willamette River.

Later that day we walked down to the river just as the evening joggers we coming out.

Leave a Reply