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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Way Back When - Henry Weinhard

Over the holidays, Sally and I picked up a new printer to replace our obsolete 1990s tech. The new-fangled machine we got is a printer/copier/scanner, which gave me the opportunity to dig around through the box of photos for digitization. Amid those thousands of snaps are a few cool beer pics, and I'll be posting them from time to time as I come across them. First up, a shot I took of the Henry Weinhard brewery sometime between about 1995 and when it closed in 1999.

Henry Weinhard founded his brewery in downtown Portland when there really wasn't much of a town to speak of. He located it on the western outskirts, several blocks away from the river. For the next 140 years, it scented the Rose City. Going downtown meant encountering that particular aroma--bready, yeasty, wet, spicy. The city has transformed itself so radically that it's difficult to recall the era when a million-barrel industrial brewery anchored downtown--or perhaps more accurately, stunted it. Until just before Henry's closed down, Burnside was a very rough street; prostitution, drug sales, and homelessness marked it as a kind of dangerous DMZ. On one side, office workers and respectable downtown; on the other, old town and long unihabited tracts of quiet warehouses.

There was a functional aspect to the brewery's location: it was right on the rail line, critical for delivery of those tons of ingredients Weinhard consumed. Periodically you'd see the scene I captured in this photo--a rail car of corn syrup (more visible in the detail). Now, I'm not sure what they used corn syrup for--quite possible it all went into their root beer--but as meta-narrative, the image was stark. By the time Henry's died, Portland had already become Beervana. Jackson had feted us as the country's best beer town, and we were already bragging about having the most breweries. There was something so anachronistic about a creaky old brewery that had corn syrup delivered by the rail car.

When Miller finally shuttered the doors in '99, it was a sad time. Henry's had been a part of the city since pretty much there was a city. (It was founded in 1856, five years after the city had been incorporated with just 800 souls.) Fortunately, you can still get that lovely aroma at points throughout the city. I wouldn't be surprised if Widmer one day brews more beer than Henry's did. Certainly the time when the city produces more beer in aggregate is not far away (or maybe has already arrived). And of course, most of that beer is far tastier. Still, Henry's was an institution. It was a little bittersweet to find these photos--but also amusing. Times have changed, haven't they? I don't think we'll be seeing corn syrup being delivered to breweries anytime soon.



  1. The steam heated rail car of corn syrup was pumped into the brew house (now Henry's on 12th), and primarily used for the Colt 45 brew stream. The root beer high fructose corn syrup came in totes delivered by truck, and was off loaded into the bright cellars building (what is now P.F. Chang's). I second Angelo's emotion.

  2. I have been in Portland just less than 20 years, but Henry's will always have a place in my heart, and belly. Upon arrival, we were hardly in a position to drink craft beer exclusively. More than a year of travel had drained the reserves. Henry's was my choice and I was gratified to know that it was being brewed just down the street. They also won my affections for their advertising. The :30 television commercial, "Chuck Wagon," featuring cowboys on a cattle drive and the mocking of the "specials" being served remains one of my favorites in all of advertising. Yes, sadly, just ten years after that spot was produced, Henry's was gone.

  3. One of my first 'craft beers' really. I remember getting a 12-pack of Red or Blackberry Wheat... my two favorites from them.

    Then they vanished at about the same time Miller took stake,.