Round and round they go, up one row and down the next. They look like kids waiting to ride Space Mountain, except they’re here for beer.
It’s a Saturday night in San Francisco, and a bright, linoleum-floored liquor store called the Jug Shop is packed for a tasting of beers Portlanders can buy at Fred Meyer or a grungy bodega. These people—mostly fashionable youngsters and bespectacled techies—spent $65 to make an endless loop around the store, sampling a few ounces of whatever Oregon beer is being poured when they get to the counter. Tickets sold out before the doors opened.
“I heard that in Portland you can get a bottle of the Cascade Kriek for $15,” says an eager 20-something steeped in the legends of Beervana, where the world’s great fruit beers flow like water.
“Sorry, no,” says Brian Yaeger, the beer writer who organized the event. “It’s never that cheap, even in Portland.”
It’s hard to see the gravitational pull of Portland’s beer scene until you’re standing outside it. Say, inside a California liquor store with all the glamour of a Bi-Mart, where a crowd of sippers who rent one-bedroom apartments for $4,000 a month in one of the world’s great cities spend Saturday night forming the shape of a beer-buzzed Ouroboros to sample nectars of the north.
Such ardor surprised me. Even after spending the last three months visiting 88 breweries operating within an hour’s drive of Portland for this guide’s directory, linked here and at bottom. Even after agonizing over our list of the top 10 beers made across the state. Even after hosting the marathon nomination meeting where 20 of the state’s top industry insiders debated the ballot for the first Oregon Beer Awards. Even after popping a fresh bottle of Mirror Mirror in Bend, admiring the stunning view of the Columbia River from the state’s best new brewery in Astoria, and even after drinking a preternaturally crisp cider in Hood River.
More than surprised, though, I was humbled. Portland’s beer scene feels so small and warm when you’re inside it that it’s easy to forget how much cachet it has with the ever-expanding base of beer geeks around the world. A generation ago, Willamette Week coined the term Beervana, but we can claim no part of what’s happened since. We just feel lucky to be along for the ride. Our hope is to pay that back by publishing what we hope is the one truly indispensable guidebook for beer lovers in this time and place.
It starts with our 2015 Beer of the Year, which has been around for five years but is only now showing itself to be a forerunner to our favorite development over the past year, the rise of the craft lager. That beer is Upright Brewing’s Engelberg Pilsner. Sorry to those dedicated fans in the Bay Area, but it’s nearly impossible to find outside Portland city limits.
Breweries Within an Hour's Drive of Portland