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Thursday, September 01, 2011

From the Oregonian: Sad and Sadder

I was saddened to see that Paul Pintarich died yesterday. He was a longtime Oregonian journalist and editor, but perhaps his most enduring legacy will be History by the Glass, his 1996 history of Portland's old taverns (which was revised and re-issued in 2007). Our friend John Foyston had a connection to Paul (they worked together for a time, and Pintarich's fascination with old bars is in the heart of Foyston's wheelhouse), and he has a short piece at his blog you might like to see.

The second piece is a trivial matter, but a maddening one. Have a look at this photo:

See there where it says "Governor of Beervana"? That refers to the John Hickenlooper, the governor of Colorado. Now, I'm never surprised to see misappropriations of the word "Beervana" in the popular national press. A lot of people don't realize that we seized the term for our own purposes in about 1995. But the paper this was taken from is the Oregonian. Absolutely shameful and unforgivable.

(As for the article, it is the usual hack work of a once-great writer. As a perfect example of Will's fall, he begins the piece with a misquote from Franklin. Later he claims America was "founded on beer." Again, wrong. Beer, that famous antiscorbutic from the 17th century, did indeed ride in the belly of the Mayflower. But the colonists couldn't make proper beer here and imported tons from the old country. North America was, by a wide margin, a far bigger market than either India (tiny) or the Baltics.

I wouldn't expect Will to know that arcana, but if he's going to flop out the "founded on beer" quote, we should expect him to have done a little research. For its first 200+ years, America was a rum and whiskey country. Daniel Okrent, for instance, in his fantastic account of Prohibition, Last Call, notes that by the time of the American revolution, there were 100 distilleries for every brewery in the country.

Hey look, three paragraphs and we're still in a parenthetical digression.)

The real crime lies with the Oregonian slug-writer, though--whom we must assume has arrived so recently in Oregon that s/he doesn't know where Beervana is.

Update: Bill Night weighs in, insightfully and amusingly. Must read. For more O craziness, have a look at the spat Patrick gets in with editor Peter Bhatia. It does not reflect well on the O.


  1. pre-1840s, the US was primarily a cider country.

  2. Lotta cider, too, good point. (It was so popular it was effectively exempted from Prohibition.) Here's some stats from Okrent.

    Distilleries in New England in 1763: 159. Breweries in the entire country: 132. Distilleries in the US in 1830: 14,000.

  3. Yeah, that "Beervana" headline ticked me off, too. I'm working up a rebuttal -- with a fortuitous picture from Tuesday night!

  4. I will ride everyone about the Cascadian Dark Ale nonsense, but you've all earned Beervana. Seize it.

    I hope you'll join me this March 30th as we celebrate, "Misquote Ben Franklin Day" where we say stuff like:

    "When I speak of rain and vines and vineyards, I am appeasing the French but I really mean, beer." - Benjamin Franklin prior to his travels to France as an ambassador.

    "Relax, Don't Worry, Have a Madeira. And by Madeira, I mean a beer made in the confines of one's home." - Benjamin Franklin


  5. I just got scolded by Peter Bhatia (perhaps rightly so) for joking about all the new young reporters at the O. But though I might have been a bit too flippant, I don't think I am wrong. This here is a case in point.

  6. Jeff, I was going to say that America was actually more a cider country, than anything else. But someone beat me to it ;)

  7. Will's commentary "Colorado's purple brew" is subtitled: 'Commentary' vis-a-vis 'Governor of Beervana' in today's Boulder, Colo., Daily Camera [newspaper].

  8. Patrick, you should have linked to the exchange--it's priceless. After very mild (and inoffensive) insouciance directed at a real phenomenon, the editor of the Oregonian comes on to miscorrect you and offer genuinely offensive comments ("A blog is a blog, but please report before commenting.")

    And the O wonders why its readership declines year by year. I'm still sticking to my old prediction: 2017 will see the last dead-tree copy hit my front porch.

    The sad thing is, Bhatia's larger point is correct: we desperately need good newspapers and good reporting. I worry that under the current management, the O risks squandering this public trust.

  9. Jack: Same for the Denver Post, no "Beervana". Here's my rant about it.

  10. Well, I'd gloat...but no, I can't. Portland IS Beervana, and George Will has become a buffoon.

  11. I emailed Mr. Will a terse note to Google "Beervana" and see what comes up.

  12. Will is a hack. I stopped reading his drivel a long time ago. He should do commentary on FOX...maybe he does and I don't know it. Did he write the foreword to Cheney's book? Oh, sorry, that was Satan.

    Colorado isn't the only place that wants the Beervana title. Asheville is in the hunt, as well. Am I wrong?

    The Big O will fall by the wayside soon enough. The print piece keeps getting thinner, with next to nothing in it. And their website is a disaster. They've gotten rid of many people who once made it a decent product. You think 2117? Could be sooner.

  13. RE: Andrew P
    RE: Pete D
    You may have missed a subtle point.

    Apparently, it was an Oregonian staffer who added the subtitle: 'Governor or Beervana' to Mr. Wills' Commentary.

    The offending subtitle appeared in neither the Denver Post nor the Boulder Daily Camera.

  14. Jeff, I do hope your upcoming visit for GABF opens your eyes a touch. I'll cheerfully admit that Oregon tops Colorado for overall beer quality, but we do have some nice beers here.

  15. @Jack R
    I didn't miss the point at all. Will is generally a hack. The Big O is in decline and now infested with hacks. They go together.

  16. The whole "cider" angle is exactly why Johnny Appleseed was such a controversial character at the time!

  17. Soggy, my eyes are pretty wide open--but this is an Oregon blog, which I shamelessly lard with local chauvinism. I probably won't taste a single Oregon beer when I'm in Denver in a month.

    And you shouldn't take this post as a shot against CO; it's a shot against the Oregonian's editors.

  18. Jeff, I hear you. In the O's defense, a headline on a George Will column is a pretty trivial example of their journalism. The O isn't perfect, of course, but they have some brilliant journalists whom I've had the pleasure of learning from.

    I would expect Portland to hold its newspaper to a high standard, and it does, but it's worth remembering that The O is probably one of the top 10 or 20 newspapers in the nation.

    I wonder if Patrick's post also includes a generational dynamic we'll be seeing more and more. The Baby Boomers are reaching retirement age, and they'll continue to be replaced by younger and younger workers. There's a demographic shift happening that goes beyond companies simply trying to be cheap.

  19. @Soggy: I also know a couple of Oregonian writers, and I don't want to disparage them.

    But the newspaper as a whole is pretty lame, IMO. Lately the way they have jettisoned the inverted pyramid on straightforward crime stories -- in favor of very dramatic, punch-line-at-the-end storytelling -- is indicative of how they are now just trying to sell copies instead of trying to be a record of our place and time.

    Years ago we made great fun of what a small-town newspaper the Austin American-Statesman was -- we used to call it the American-RealEstatesman. But a series of editors after it was bought by Cox Newspapers revamped it into a very creditable publication. I was kind of dismayed upon moving to Portland to see that our newspaper here is in the minor leagues, and it shows no sign of moving up.

  20. re: 'I probably won't taste a single Oregon beer when I'm in Denver in a month'

    But, Jeff, you could if you choose to.

    A crucial assessment of Oregon beer availability at Liquor Mart [an exceptional liquor, wine, and beer emporium in Boulder] yielded the following list of Oregon beers breweries with the number of styles available.

    Bridgeport, 05 styles; Deschutes, 07 styles; Full Sail, 09 styles; Pyramid, 02 styles; Redhook, 03 styles; Rogue, 21 styles; Widmer, 08 styles.

    I posit, the absence of some of your favorite quintessential Oregon beers is indicative of their limited distribution range; not Liquor Mart's chauvinism. A point to bear in mind for style examples for your much anticipated Beer Bible.