You love the blog, so subscribe to the Beervana Podcast on iTunes or Soundcloud today!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Strange Nature of Culture and Beer

See the update below with numbers from the Oregon Brewers Guild.

The city of Portland, Oregon is widely regarded to have the best beer culture in the US. (Ashevillians, sit down and listen.) It is abutted:
  • on the west by Beaverton, population 90,267,
  • on the southeast by Milwaukie (not Milwaukee), population 20,291,
  • on the east by Gresham, population 105, 594,
  • on the south by Lake Oswego, population 36,713,
  • on the southwest by Tigard, population 47,460.
Portland has 53 breweries, and the residents consume an absurd percentage of craft beer. Beaverton, Milwaukie, and Lake Oswego, combined, have zero breweries (there are a couple McMenamins pubs scattered around, but none have attached breweries). Tigard has one brewery, and Gresham has one. Doing a little back-of-the-iPhone math here, I see that the 583,776 residents of Portland enjoy one mash tun for every 11,000 citizens. The 300,325 residents of the suburbs ringing Portland, by contrast, have one brewery for every 150,000 citizens.

You could probably calculate this in ways to make this disparity appear smaller--adding the McMenamins into the mix, for example--but the result is not going to much change. The fact is that the city of Portland has scads of breweries and the cities immediately adjacent to Portland have next to none.

All of this came into my head yesterday as I read a story that Milwaukie is looking to attract a minor league baseball team. The teaser mentioned that a brewpub would be a part of the deal. A brewpub--in Milwaukie--huge news! Well, sort of. It turns out the McMenamins are the suitor, so it's not clear if there will even be a brewery attached.

One of the things that most fascinates me about good beer is the culture that surrounds it. It may be that Portland suburbanites drink a fair amount of good beer. Those cities have a far less developed sense of pub-going, and only 10% of the beer sold in America is sold in pubs. So possibly fridges are stocked with Hopworks, Upright, and Deschutes beer. Portland suburbs benefit from the richness of Portland's beer culture, whether they support it directly or not. If we had depended on Lake Oswego to create the craft brewing renaissance in Oregon, though, we'd still be waiting.

Why don't breweries flourish in the suburbs? Why doesn't the market demand a corner brewery in every neighborhood? Why do people living within five miles of each other have such different attitudes about pub-going? I haven't the vaguest clue. I do know that it has nothing to do with the beer and everything to do with the people. But what?


Update. Brian Butenschoen, Director of the Oregon Brewers Guild, sent me a note with these numbers which you can take to be the gospel truth. It doesn't change the thrust of the post, but it does resolve some of the issues with exact counts. (Vancouver, WA isn't included.)
I did want to clarify for your records Portland has 40 breweries in the city limits, 53 in the metro area. Gresham has two breweries, 4th Street and McMenamins Highland. Tigard has two as well John Barleycorns and Max's Fanno Creek. Beaverton has none, Oregon City has none. Sherwood now has one, Wilsonville now has one and West Linn has had one for a while.


  1. I bet there are at least a _couple_ that got missed here, like Vertigo:

    Granted, there' no pub to be had, but they will sell you beer. :) As a suburb dweller, though, I think you're right on the mark. We must almost universally go in to Portland for our fix.

  2. This is more or less the opposite of San Diego. Of the roughly 45 breweries in San Diego County about half of them are located outside of the City of San Diego.
    And many of those that are within the City limits are located outside of the urban core, in more industrial areas.

    Most of the bars/pubs San Diego is known for on the other hand are more centrally within more urban areas of the city though.

  3. Jeff -

    Yeah, but if you're from SD, you know that you don't really look at the city of SD, you look at the county.

    Probably because the freeways are pretty good, and you get can damn near anywhere in the county within 30 minutes.

  4. What about The Ram in Lake Oswego:

  5. We win. Oakridge has one mash tun for 4400 citizens. We'd be lucky to get 1% of the local market, though.

    A pub on every corner ... swoon.

  6. Dave, Vertigo's in Hillsboro, I think. And the Ram must not be a member of the Oregon Brewers Guild--I was using their list of breweries to compile my numbers.

    Ted, I think Bend actually wins. They have 77,000 people and 298 breweries. (Number approximate.)

  7. Although many of Denver's suburbs have Rock Bottoms, BJS and CB & Potts, it looks like we are in the midst of an independent suburban brewery Renaissance. Elk Mountain, Arvada and Lone Tree, along with Dry Dock and a few others. I posted on Lone Tree today:

  8. The Ram in LO closed years back.

  9. I think the ability to walk or bike to a neighborhood bar (like in Portland) makes a huge difference. Plus, beer bars and culture seem to thrive in areas that have a thriving art scene (again, like Portland). All in all, I wish I lived in Portland.

    Conversation's always better inside a bar:

  10. I guess since you were using the Oregon Brewer's Guild numbers you forgot Vancouver. But it's really easy: 2 brewpubs- Hazel is outside the city limits and Salmon Creek is in downtown Vancouver.

    Mt. Tabor Brewing (ironically coming from Portland) should be opening in Vancouver sometime later this year.

    My theory about brewpubs in suburbia is that they are competing with too many soul-less chains like Applebees. At the same time, it is too bad. I live in Salmon Creek, and I think a brewpub would do very well up here, and Laurelwood's brewpub in Battleground is usually crowded.

  11. I think @Historyinabar is on to something regarding 'the ability to walk or bike to a neighborhood bar . . . makes a huge difference.'

    And, perhaps, more so when there are multiple craft beer establishments within walking distance of one another. Boulder, Colo., and Asheville, NC, downtowns have a cluster of brewpubs and craft beer taprooms. Corvallis, Ore., similar; but, lesser.

    It is as if individual brewpubs and taprooms benefit from the critical mass [density] created by nearby craft beer outlets.

    The density creates the sophisticated taste; the sophisticated taste supports the density.

  12. There's the obvious connection between suburbs being full of families and the city more so made up of the 20-something/single crowd.
    I'm not an Oregonian but a frequent visitor. I'm a mid-30s new-to-the-craftbeer-world married father of two. We have a handful of breweries where I live. But I am much more likely to buy craft beer in a bottle from a store than to go to one of those brewpubs (and if I do, more likely just to fill a growler than to sit down at the bar).
    If I lived in the Portland area (which I want to do), I would likely be a suburbanite who would do the same there.
    (aside: I think you have a typo in your number of Bend breweries...though that would be awesome).

  13. This comment has been removed by the author.

  14. I guess I consider Raccoon Lodge to be in Beaverton; also, what about 'outlets' like the Lucky Lab in Multnomah Village (again, Beaverton?), the Lompoc in Sellwood, and what about 4th Street in Gresham? There's also tap-houses to consider.

  15. Here's my thought: The breweries are clearly concentrated where the bulk of the people live. What's more important is who makes up that population. The Urban Growth Boundaries have caused Portland to grow up, not out. The people streaming into the city proper for the last 20 years are typically young, single, etc. These are beer drinkers and pub-goers. Once they are married with children, these same folks flee to the suburbs and are no longer pub regulars. I don't have the demographic stats to prove that theory, but I think it's viable.

  16. I'm surprised Cedar Mill doesn't have a brew pub although there is a McMenamins at Oak Hills and Cedar Hills, almost doesn't count but at least they brew at Oak Hills. Lived in 3 very different areas in and around Portland and never had a brew pub more than 10 min away.

  17. The recent news story about the plans for a pub to open in Hillsdale (I can't recall which brewery, not McMenamins), and the neighborhood protesting a pub being located there illustrates this divide perfectly.

  18. Jason, regarding Vancouver--I considered adding it, but it's an odd suburb, being in a different state. But it wouldn't much affect the stats. With 160,000 people and one brewpub (we're not doing suburbs of suburbs here), it's in line with the others.

    Jack and others on the walking issue. Not having a place to walk to isn't the cause of the problem, it's a result of the culture. Suburbs could easily create walkable sections, but the laws, zoning, and local preferences deter it.

    Anon and Pete, on the issue of families, I think you're exactly wrong. Anon, the next time you visit Oregon, come to Portland and go to one of the many family friendly pubs or brewpubs in the city. Note the density of children and families. Opening craft beer up to families--and, effectively, everyone--is why it has been such a massive success here. The Bend thing wasn't a typo, it was (possibly poor) comedy.

    Daniel, Multnomah Village and the Rac Lodge are both in Portland. I've learned my lesson on the Rac Lodge, because in past posts when I said it was Beaverton, nearby residents took me to task. It's still in Portland.

  19. Jeff, also I'd say that McMenamins serves as most suburb's brewpubs. Probably 90% of the people that go to these think the beer is brewed there, and what does it really matter if the beer is really brewed on location or not, it's still their beer. So, overall I'd say the suburbs are pretty damn well taken care of in Oregon, probably much greater so than any other state. Now don't get me wrong, I'd love for my burb to have a step above McMenamins, but at least most have one of those.

  20. That's funny. Are you really going to argue that families are the backbone of the craft beer business in Portland? That is most certainly NOT the case. There are obviously some places that are very family-friendly, and that aspect has boosted their bottom lines. But families are not the dominant clientele. What I mostly see on my brewpub travels is young adults. Lots of, couples, groups. They drink a lot more than your families and they frequent the pubs more often.

  21. Derek, I don't mean to dispute this, and I totally agree. But it's easier to eliminate the McBrothers for the purpose of making the point; otherwise I have to say that Portland has 100 "breweries," which biases the data in a different direction. The point is that five miles makes a world of difference.

    Pete, I'm going to stick with the argument I made:

    Opening craft beer up to families--and, effectively, everyone--is why it has been such a massive success here.

    rather than the one you said I made:

    Are you really going to argue that families are the backbone of the craft beer business in Portland?

    The reason craft brewing has been so successful is because it is a culture open to everyone in Portland. Young people spend a lot more time in bars than older people--that's true in rural roadhouses and the Pearl, and it's true in brewpubs, too. But what's different is that brewpubs also create an atmosphere hospitable to families and older folks. This is a far cry from the taverns I found when I arrived in Portland in 1986, which were windowless, smoky, largely male dens where kids were banned.

    My point was in response to anon's point that is patently ridiculous:

    There's the obvious connection between suburbs being full of families and the city more so made up of the 20-something/single crowd.

    We're not talking about downtown, we're talking about Portland, which is a diverse city made up of people of all ages. This is just a suburban prejudice against the city. I have three schools within a five-minute walk from my house, almost identical to the density of brewpubs. It's silly to think that there are no families in Portland, Oregon, or that they're not going to pubs. The only way to hold that view is in not going to pubs.

  22. Jeff,
    As a current craft brewer who grew up a few blocks north of Racoon Lodge, I might have some perspective on this. The main barriers to the establishment of brew pubs in suburban areas are relatively higher lease rates on buildings, a lack of suitable warehouse or light industrial structures with high ceilings near retail areas, and the need for an adjoining parking lot for suburban customers. Most brewery startups would cringe at the idea of building their pub from scratch, and it comes down to existing infrastructure more than anything.

    Dan Munch
    Head Brewer
    Walking Man Brewing

  23. I'm sticking with my argument that young adults are the dominant clientele of the city's brewpubs. Of course there are families in Portland. Of course opening the brewpubs up to them has helped the business flourish. I'm simply saying if you take away the young adult city dwellers, the industry would be less prolific than it is.

  24. @Tracy
    The Hillsdale issue was with *one* resident. How and why one complaint made the paper is beyond me but "the neighborhood protesting" is decidedly inaccurate. Most people (and business owners) are excited for it to come in. When the complaint was brought up no one at the meeting agreed with her-she was met with blank stares of "crazy lady, why would we NOT want a brewery?"

  25. Ditto on what the last Anonymous commenter said about the impending brewery/pub in Hillsdale (which is Sasquatch Brewing, btw). I live in Hillsdale, and everyone I've talked to here (aside from the one overwrought neighbor lady with strange ideas about what happens in brewpubs) is stoked that Sasquatch will be opening soon (late Sept, by the latest reports.)

  26. I think Jeff is on to something. As a parent the time I can spend in a bar is limited and I need to be mostly sober when I get home. Given that I'd much rather go to a brewpub, if I'm only having one or two drinks I want to enjoy them.

  27. Not sure if Hillsboro would be considered part of the metro area, and it obviously isn't adjacent, but it has 3 breweries of which I'm aware: Vertigo, Ambacht, and McMenamins Roadhouse. This might put us in a slightly better position than some of the adjacent suburbs.