Portland: The center of the beer universe

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In the mid-1980s, when the city of Portland first became awash in handcrafted beer, jaded outsiders attributed the growing phenomenon to Oregon’s legendary rainfall. Rain is also the reason attributed to the abundance of bookstores and coffee shops in Portland. The idea was that Portlanders, restricted in their choice of activities by the occasional liquid sunshine (it’s really quite refreshing), were forced to (a) read voraciously, (b) drink relentlessly, or (c) do both at once. The fact that about 10 percent of Portland’s beer sales were from draft beer – three times the national average – was held up as proof that Portlanders especially took shelter from the rain in pubs. Truth be told, Portlanders do read, sip coffee and drink beer more than the average in any other city in the world – no matter what the weather. Rain or shine, Portland is the beer capital of the world, with 32 breweries in the city limits – 38 if you consider the entire metro area. That’s more than any other city on earth.

If that’s too much to remember, here it is in shorthand: Portland is “Beervana.” And, yes, to beer lovers in search of the finest configurations of the world’s classic beer styles – all in one place, all freshly brewed, all on tap no more than 10 or 15 minutes away from any spot in the city – Portland indeed is “Brewtopia.”

Looking back, it seems perfectly natural that Portlanders would take to craft beer. After all, this region is blessed with the best ingredients that are needed to make beer. Fourteen varieties of hops are grown in the Willamette Valley, which makes brewing fresh hops beer (made from hops picked within the previous 24 hours) a piece of cake for local brewmasters.

Two-row barley, so called because of the number of rows on each grain, is grown here as well. Softer and sweeter than the more traditional six-row barley, it is the preferred grain for quality craft beer. As for water, an essential ingredient of beer, local brewers use nothing but the best. It’s pure glacial water from the slopes of Mount Hood that flows throughout Portland with just a flick of the faucet.

All this fresh, tasty beer is reason to celebrate. There are beer festivals held throughout the year, some in the heart of the city at Pioneer Courthouse Square; others in the expansive Oregon Convention Center; others overlooking the Willamette River at Gov. Tom McCall Waterfront Park.

The biggest is the Oregon Brewers Festival. Celebrated since 1988 with guest breweries and multiple taps, it’s the largest event of its kind in North America. Now a four-day froth fest held on the last weekend of July (American Beer Month), the Oregon Brewers Festival attracts about 50,000 people to sample beers from 72 local, national and international craft breweries.

Beer experts abound in Portland and make up the membership of the Oregon Brewers Festival (www.oregonbeer.org), an organization that will send you a copy of the Oregon Brewpub Guide, a handy brochure with descriptions and maps. Just send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to the Oregon Brewers Guild, 2000 N.E. 42nd Ave., PMB 278, Portland, Ore. 97213.


For information about visiting Portland, contact the Travel Portland (POVA) at 1.87.PORTLAND (1.877.678.5263) or www.travelportland.com.