Portland Beer by Pete Dunlop
American Palate/The History Press, 142 pages
I don't think anyone who has visited Portland doubts its place in the pantheon of good beer cities. Its status is far too nascent to offer comparisons to historic centers like Munich and Brussels, but now, in 2013, it has precious few rivals. You may ask yourself: why?
History is a funny thing. In the moment, world-historical events may not seem world-historical (did contemporaries realize what fruit Rosa Park's bus ride would bear?). We tend to retroactively designate one moment to stand in for what were, in the event, a long series of smaller causal happenings. And because things happen incrementally, we sometimes forget how remarkable they are. It is the job of historians to look at end points and snake their way back through time to answer the question of how we got here.
In what will become the definitive narrative for years forward, Pete Dunlop lays it all out. When we scan the current beer scene, what we see--the fifty Portland breweries, the seeming established reality of craft beer--is actually only the denouement. The real story begins far earlier, almost as far back as the founding of the city. It was in 1845 that Bostonian Lovejoy and Mainer Pettygrove flipped their coin to name the city; seven years later, the town of a thousand had its first brewery.
The period between the birth of Liberty Brewery and the sale of the Weinhard Brewery to Pabst in 1979 is largely untrod territory, but critical in understand why Portland is now Beervana. My favorite chapters in the book describe the period following Prohibition through the 1970s, as the city's brewery struggled to stay solvent in a world of mass-production and -distribution that ultimately swamped it. It reads like an elegy not just for Blitz-Weinhard, but a city that was once the pride of the Northwest but was slipping into second-rate status.
Then there are the indispensable chapters on the early craft breweries, including the quirk of the failed, bottle-only Cartwright Brewery and the keen preference it sparked among later craft breweries to stick with the draft market. The chapter on the brewpub bill corrects long-held misunderstanding about how the fight moved through the legislature. And finally, most of the later chapters focus on the founders--a critical capturing of that oral history while the principals are around to tell it.
I was writing about beer for some of the history covered in the book and--full disclosure--Pete interviewed me and I'm quoted in the book. And it's obviously a topic I'm deeply interested in. But my own connection aside, I encourage everyone to get a copy--those who like beer but live outside of Portland, those who don't like beer and do live in Portland, and of course, the hordes who live in Portland and love beer. It's a wonderful story wonderfully told, relevant to the Upright-only beer geeks as much as to the beer-neutral Portlander interested in her city. It's a story about beer, but it transcends it. It is a story of a place and how culture evolved there--a universal tale. And one you should read.
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