USA: Portland to be the nation
Breweries and brew pubs have popped up across Oregon - the state lists 103 of them, and some are no longer "micro." Five are among the 50 biggest in the nation, Associated Press recently announced.
"We are an independent people. We aren't swept up by the latest fad. Well, we are, but we don't admit it," said Fred Eckhardt, a Portlander who has written books and countless articles on brewing.
Even though Oregon has only about 1 percent of the population, it has 7 percent of America's estimated 1,400 breweries and brew pubs.
Oregon craft brews make up 11 percent of state sales, triple the national average. Sales of craft brews in Oregon increased 10 percent in 2004 and 12 percent last year, although beer sales in general are down.
Nationally the product is worth about $4.3 billion a year. Oregon brews account for about $80 million of that at wholesale prices.
And the center of beermaking in Oregon is Portland. In fact, said Eckhardt, "We are truly the brewing capital of the world."
Brian Butenschoen, director of the Oregon Brewer's Guild, said a survey by Information Resources Inc. placed Portland as the nation's top market for craft beers followed by San Francisco and Seattle.
"Portland is just about the right size to pull something like this off. You couldn't have this many in New York City. Nobody would know they were there."
Portland, Eckhardt said, is in the middle of the third great brewing revolution.
The first was the use of hops, he said. The second was the lagering process, "clear, bright in the glass." And the third is a movement "back to the ales," the heartier, heavier-tasting brews.
"One of the reasons it took off is that we made damn good beer," said Art Larrance, who helped found Portland Brewing in the mid-1980s and now operates Raccoon Lodge Brew Pub. "If we had made horsewater it wouldn't have been received so well."
Oregon craft beers vary widely but tend to be on the darker side, slightly opaque, not too fizzy with a smooth, creamy head and, at first sip, a nip of hops and whiff of grain. Some of the more ambitious stouts and porters are almost chewy.
Oregon's legalization in 1985 of brew pubs, where beer is made and sold on premise, followed startups of several microbreweries, and it spread, he said.
"Oregon had a strong draft beer market, a strong tavern trade," Larrance said, adding that about 16 percent of the beer sold in the state is on tap as opposed to perhaps 3 percent in California.
About 40 percent of the 683,000 barrels of Oregon craft beer made last year stayed in the state, and most of the remainder stayed in the West, Butenschoen said.
Larrance said the draft beer dominance means small brewers can get started without expensive bottling equipment. "And restaurant owners found they could get an upscale price," he said. "So they supported it."
He and others say Portlanders have become more educated.
"I was one of the first ones to have a beer column in a newspaper," Eckhardt said. "We were able to educate people. Once a month I had a piece where I could talk about different kinds of beer. I would wander around to the smaller breweries and ask them `what do you have that we haven't tasted yet?'"
Jim Parker, who just opened his own pub in Portland's trendy Sellwood district, said that for years, taverns were all selling about the same product.
"I realized, why should I sell something people can get next door?" he said.
He aspires to the role of the traditional publican, which goes far beyond just pulling tap handles.
"We used to have publicans, not just tavern owners," he lamented. The role he sees is one of educating people and letting them know what's out there.
He said he sees the job as making people say, "Wow! I didn't know beer could be like that."
Someone might order a Guinness, he said.
"I'll tell them, `if you like the taste of Guinness, why not try ...'"
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