About 175 years ago, thirsty immigrants were moving West into the Oregon Territory. Imagine, if you will, the hardships of that life - dry, dusty trails through Eastern Oregon, over mountains into the lush (but treacherous) forests of this great state. Water safety was still a precautionary tale, as fresh water (while seemingly abundant in Oregon) was the only option for safe and potable drinking sources. Rainy seasons, miserable and cold to the bone... Dry summers in the new establishments, working hard to build new lives... This wasn’t the bucolic setting of Little House on the Prairie. Oregon was rough territory in the 1840s.
Now, German Brewer Henry Saxer arrived on the Oregon scene in 1852, to those thirsty settlers, and the available mountain water must have been a welcome sight. Within the Willamette Valley, the agricultural bounty of barley and hops sprang forth like a beacon. Brew beer here! With Saxer’s establishment of Liberty Brewery in Portland, commercial brewing came to Oregon.
Recreating the Old Country methods of brewing, Saxer’s brewery near the corner of First and Davis Streets (in what is now “Old Town” Portland) blew the door wide open for Oregon’s Beer Pioneers. Eight years after beginning brewing in 1852, one year after the city’s incorporation, Henry Saxer’s operation consisted of three large two story buildings. Henry Weinhard (a young German brewer from neighboring Fort Vancouver, across the Columbia River) also bought George Bottler's interest in City Brewery (a separate, existing brewery in Portland), then located in the future Pearl District. Oregon Territory achieved statehood on February 14, 1859. In 1862, while Weinhard had been brewing for some time, the purchase of Saxer’s Liberty Brewery began the history of one of Oregon’s most iconic breweries; Weinhard’s.
Weinhard’s empire expanded from the original buildings into additional city blocks, and eventually, into California and Canada. By 1890, Henry Weinhard’s brewery produced 100,000 barrels of beer annually. The Weinhard buildings were completed in 1908, in an effort to meet the expansion into the Philippines and China. Despite setbacks with the enacting of Prohibition, Weinhards survived by brewing “near beer” (less than 0.5% alcohol), creating syrups and sodas. Weinhard’s empire continued to expand, including the Root Beer and Vanilla Cream elixirs, and the brewery became a local bottler of national brands.
In 1912, lumber baron and teetotaler Simon Benson attempted to thwart beer consumption in Portland with the installation of twenty Benson bubblers, bronze water fountains which are still in use today and visible around the downtown Portland area. When Oregonians voted to ban alcohol in 1914, (five years before the 14th Amendment established a national prohibition) alcohol consumption dropped drastically. Despite Prohibition, Weinhard’s City Brewery managed to survive the nineteen dry years with their diversified products and local bottling industry until Congress repealed prohibition in 1933.
Mergers with competitors and local Portland Brewing introduced the Blitz name into Weinhard’s brewery. Arnold Blitz, former owner of Portland Brewing, became Chairman of the new Blitz Weinhard company. In 1979, Blitz-Weinhard was sold to the Pabst Brewing Company. By 1980, the number of breweries in the entire country had shrunk to just 80.
Hope was brewing for Oregonians, however, as President Jimmy Carter signed a bill by California Senator Alan Cranston in 1979 allowing a single person to brew up to 100 gallons of beer annually for personal enjoyment, or up to 200 gallons in a household of two or more adults. This homebrewing bill accelerated the demand for local beer, the growth of craft and microbrews in Portland and elsewhere in Oregon.
Since the opening of Cartwright’s in 1980 (Oregon’s first craft brewery), the beer boom in Oregon has been a part of our state’s identity. While Cartwright’s beer was unable to attract a following and closed within a few years, the enthusiasm with which beer was met in Oregon paved the way for the state legislature to make brewpubs legal in 1983. This time, Oregon was ready.
A quick succession of Oregon’s supporting craft breweries were established shortly thereafter, including Bridgeport in 1984. Rob and Kurt Widmer created Widmer Brothers Brewing, and in 1985, Mike and Brian McMenamin created the Hillsdale brewery and Public House - Oregon’s first post-Prohibition brewpub. That same year, they became the first brewery in the US to legally include fruit in their brews, with raspberries in Ruby Ale.
Excitement for beer wasnt just in Portland. Beer friendly laws, growing appreciation of local ingredients, and Oregon’s affinity for do-it-yourself pioneers created a healthy environment for craft beer across the state. In 1988, in Downtown Bend, Oregon, Gary Fish opened the Deschutes Brewery & Public House.
Meanwhile, in Southern Oregon, a 10 barrel system was percolating the Rogue Brewery’s beer offerings in October of 1988 along Lithia Creek in Ashland. In May of 1989, John Maier, a Siebel Institute graduate, joined Rogue after a stint with Alaska Brewing. In 1988, the first Oregon Brewers Festival, a gathering of breweries and beer lovers across Oregon, drew 15,000 people, where they sampled 16 beers from 13 different breweries under a big top tent in Portland’s Tom McCall Waterfront Park. By 1990, with more craft breweries and brewpubs per capita than any other city in the United States, Portland was proclaimed “America’s Microbrew Capital.”
A sale in 1996 to Stroh's and final sale of Weinhard’s to Miller Brewing Company in 1999 meant that after 135 years of continual operations, the Weinhard Brewery brewed its last beer on August 27, 1999. It was put up for sale the following month. Henry Weinhard’s historical importance was recognized with a listing on the National Registry of Historic Places in August 2000, a year after brewing had ceased. While The renovated Brewhouse and “Brewery Blocks” project was completed in November 2002, after two years of extensive renovations. Henry's 12th Street Tavern, in the Brewhouse building, continues the building's historical connection to beer, and the building was awarded an LEED certification.
Today, numerous breweries, brewpubs, bottle shops, tap rooms, and bars dot the landscape of Oregon’s cultural highlights. Whether your tastes run towards the sessionable, low alcohol beers of Occidental in North Portland, rich notes of Prodigal Son’s Bruce/Lee Porter in Pendleton, the sustainably produced beers of Standing Stone in Ashland, or innovative brews of Portland’s Breakside, there is truly something for every palate in Oregon.
Our exquisite array of natural beauty, quirky cities, stellar zoo, child friendly destinations, outdoor opportunities and vast nightlife opportunities provide something for every visitor.
Welcome to Beer Country. We’re glad you’re here.