3. Hop Fever

From: Hoptopia

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34 by the time oregon achieved statehood in 1859, a few local breweries served the Pacific Northwest’s major towns and cities. The quality of beer varied, and beer-making establishments often came and went, not unlike many settlements in the boom-and-bust Far West. In Portland, a town of around three thousand residents by 1860, a handful of brewers had set up shop. According to historian Tim Hills, British immigrant Charles Barrett was probably the city’s first professional brewer, operating his Portland Brewery from 1852 to 1855. There, he sold traditional British ales and porters, as opposed to the German lagers that would dominate the regional and national marketplace by the end of the decade. A year after Barrett closed his brewery to reinvent himself as a bookseller, German immigrant Henry Saxer opened Liberty Brewery on the west bank of the Willamette River near what is present-day Old Town. The lager-producing brewery stepped in to help quench the thirst of the working-class town of loggers, millers, fishermen , and merchants. And it fared quite well, as evidenced by the expansion of its facilities over the decade of its existence.1 The most significant brewer operating in Portland prior to the Civil War, however, was none other than Henry Weinhard, a name familiar to even Oregon’s non-beer-loving residents for almost as long as there has been beer culture. After arriving in the region from Germany in the mid-1850s, Weinhard found work at the Vancouver Brewery, established by John Muench and the first to have opened alongside Fort Vancouver. At the same time, Weinhard built a business relationship with George M. Bottler, who established the City Brewery on the other side of the Columbia River in Portland. In a short time, Weinhard built a brewing empire. By 1858, he acquired Muench’s establishment, and four years later, in a partnership with t h r ee Hop Fever Hop Fever • 35 Bottler, he purchased Saxer’s Liberty Brewery plant in Portland and used it as a new Vancouver Brewery outlet. Amid this flurry of activity, Bottler had also relocated the City Brewery from its original riverfront location into a much larger state-of-the-art facility he had built at what today is Northwest 12th Avenue and Burnside Street.2 When Bottler fell ill and eventually died in 1865, Weinhard took full control of the business, and it became the most productive and famous of Oregon’s breweries for more than a century. Weinhard’s flagship beer during his lifetime, Columbia Lager, would not only become the beverage of choice for many residents of the American West but, by the turn of the century, also reach markets in East Asia, in Russia, and around the Pacific Basin. While the brewery underwent substantial transformations throughout its existence, one thing never changed. Portland’s most famous brewery contributed a heavy malty and hoppy aroma that enveloped all who passed by.3 As Hills has explained of the early brewing crowd, Barrett, Saxer, Muench, Bottler, and Weinhard were far from the only professional beer makers in the Pacific Northwest. Into the late nineteenth century, it appears, a cadre of German-born brewers navigated from town to town, either establishing their own breweries or working for a financial backer as head brewer. These individuals might have started in Portland but moved around to Oregon City, Eugene, Tacoma, or Spokane as various opportunities arose.4 There were undoubtedly differences in the flavors of the beers these brewers produced. But most were German lagers, the beer style that had won broad popularity in mid-nineteenth-century North America. Along the Willamette Valley, some of the other lasting operations included the Oregon City Brewery, the Salem Brewery (later the Capital City Brewery), and the Albany Brewing and Bottling Company. In Portland, the Gambrinus Brewery joined Weinhard’s City Brewery as a major regional producer during the late nineteenth century . Elsewhere in the region, John Kopp (no relation to the author) made a name for himself after founding the North Pacific Brewery in Astoria, eventually opening an establishment in Portland.5 Prior to that, Kopp had partnered with Andrew Hemrich to build the Bay View Brewery in Seattle, famous for launching the Rainier Beer brand. That brewery and the Washington Brewery (later called the Seattle Brewery) controlled a large percentage of the Seattle market, with dozens of smaller brewers doing good business on both sides of the Cascades. At the same time...


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