The author’s opinion does not necessarily reflect that of Tap Trail.
In the world of craft beer, a question that always seems to pop up is, “How big is too big?” Whether we’re talking about a brewery’s production level or the number of breweries per city, there seems to be an underlying fear that people associate with craft beer becoming “too big.” At what point does craft beer lose its heart and sense of community? From its overwhelming amount of breweries to the disconnection of local beer and bars, I believe Portland’s craft beer community is currently suffering.
Portland currently is home to 58 breweries; 84 if you include the Portland metro area. What’s more shocking than the number of breweries, however, is how little they are represented in the local bar and pub scene. While there are quite a few beer-centered taphouses, the majority of restaurants and bars seem to believe the only breweries in town are Deschutes, Widmer Bros., Laurelwood, and Portland Brewing since that’s mostly all you’ll ever find on tap.
One thing we really push here at Tap Trail is the importance of community in craft beer. There’s beauty to be found in local bars and restaurants highlighting the local craft beer. As Aubrey explains in another article, part of what makes a great beer city is the beer culture. I believe Portland has traded in its beer culture for a yuppy, hip bar culture. Neighborhoods are filled with cool bars with ironic names serving overpriced cocktails in mason jars while a vinyl record of some old band you’ve never heard of plays in the background.
In a town bursting at the seams with craft beer, you’re left hunting around the city looking for it. Friends of mine who have lived in Portland for years will go to McMenamins Pubs and Breweries once a week, yet have never been to places like Hair of the Dog, Cascade, Upright or many other fantastic craft breweries; some of which are located literally blocks away from their apartment or work!
As Portland grows more and more, people are flooding across the river into Vancouver, WA. As a cause, much of downtown Vancouver has developed into a little craft beer hub. There are ten craft breweries in Vancouver, and downtown is proud to showcase them. When I was dragged to a hip bar that reeked of Portland called The Grocery, I pleasantly found that they had six taps, all of which were filled with local Vancouver craft beer. Not big name Portland brews that everyone already knows, but new names that I could try for the first time. That’s what Portland desperately needs.
To be clear, I’m not saying Portland is not a craft beer town. The town is filled with awesome breweries, great taphouses (I’m looking at you Belmont Station), and festivals galore. What I am arguing, however, is that the craft beer culture has been buried under levels and levels of pretentiousness.
The amount of breweries in Portland seems more like an accomplishment to waive over people’s heads, not an actual result of a city responding to a love of craft beer. The heart of craft beer seems to be missing in parts of Portland and only seems to worsen as the years go by. Portland has all the components in place to make a great beer city, however, the rising Portland community is failing to piece those components together.