GABRIELLE LIP­TON

From Bangkok to Ber­lin, craft beer has emerged as a global phe­nom­e­non, which comes as no sur­prise to the brew-lov­ing peo­ple of Port­land. Here’s a look at the city that started it all.

DestinAsian - - CONTRIBUTORS - BY GABRIELLE LIP­TON

Wrote “Craft City,” When her mom made a late-in-life move to Port­land, Ore­gon, Lip­ton found her­self trav­el­ing to the north­west­ern cor­ner of her home coun­try on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, much to her de­light. “The city has this cer­tain charm where the qual­ity of life is very high—na­ture parks ev­ery­where, end­less cool neigh­bor­hoods to ex­plore, food like you wouldn’t be­lieve,” says the for­mer DestinAsian con­tribut­ing ed­i­tor. “Yet ev­ery­thing is un­pol­ished. The finer things in life are kept in a nat­u­ral state, and there’s some­thing re­ally lovely about that.” It came as no sur­prise, then, that craft beer, al­beit some of the best in the world, was the drink of choice around town—in cof­fee shops, mar­kets, and high-end restau­rants alike. “You see beer be­ing brewed with un­usual spices, la­bels made by lo­cal artists, and col­lab­o­ra­tions be­tween brew­eries and other sorts of busi­nesses. It re­ally is a linch­pin of sorts for the whole city.”

It was a snowy and blus­tery

night in Port­land, Ore­gon, when I ducked into the cabin-like bar at Ex Novo Brew­ing Co. I fig­ured such weather was typ­i­cal for Fe­bru­ary in this cor­ner of the United States, but ap­par­ently it’s rare. The wait­ress asked me how it was out there in “Snow­maged­don.” I told her I’d sur­vived just long enough to make it here. Then I joined the happy-hour crowd, or­dered a pint of Liq­uid Sweater red ale from a wool-swad­dled bar­tender, and watched as the streets out­side turned white.

I never thought I’d be brav­ing snow­storms to seek out beer. Be­tween my fa­ther—a de­vout Scotch drinker—and a rye-lov­ing bar­tender whom I de­vel­oped a crush on in col­lege, my com­ing of drink­ing age was pri­mar­ily fu­eled by whiskies. Lit­tle did I ap­pre­ci­ate the craft brew­ing revo­lu­tion that had swept across the Pa­cific North­west in the 1990s and 2000s and el­e­vated Amer­i­can beer to the sta­tus of wine and spir­its, the Scotch of the Stars and Stripes. Brew­eries were be­com­ing labs for culi­nary ex­per­i­men­ta­tion, brew­ers with PhDs in beer sci­ence were earn­ing name recog­ni­tion, and bot­tles were sell­ing in the hun­dreds and thou­sands. By the time I was of a

Ever since he started brew­ing, Sprints has put aside some bot­tles from each of his batches, let­ting them develop soft, lush fla­vors that new beer doesn’t of­fer.

more dis­cern­ing age (and in­come), beer was some­thing to ap­pre­ci­ate.

At the fore­front of the scene was Port­land. In part, this was due to ge­og­ra­phy; the com­pact river­side city is nes­tled be­tween Wash­ing­ton’s Yakima Val­ley to the north and Ore­gon’s Clacka­mas Val­ley to the south, which to­gether pro­vide more than 90 per­cent of Amer­ica’s hop pro­duc­tion. Its wa­ter sup­ply is also ideal for brew­ing, fed as it is by moun­tain streams. And then, as any­one who’s ever watched the sketch-com­edy se­ries Port­landia knows, Port­land takes food sourc­ing as se­ri­ously as the law—it’s a near crime if a menu doesn’t list farm­ers’ names. This ob­ses­sion has car­ried over into the brew­ing in­dus­try, en­sur­ing an avid fan base for lo­cal brew­ers and hop-grow­ers.

“It’s very dense here, very cre­ative,” Jeff Edger­ton, the brew­mas­ter at Bridge­Port Brew­ing Com­pany, told me on my visit last Fe­bru­ary. “All the most artis­tic brew­ers in the U.S. some­how have a con­nec­tion to the Pa­cific North­west, and Port­land in par­tic­u­lar. We’re still con­sid­ered the cra­dle of craft brew­ing.”

Bridge­Port, which op­er­ates out of an old cordage fac­tory in the heart of down­town, is a pi­o­neer of the city’s craft-brew scene. It was founded by two wine­mak­ers in 1984, not coin­ci­den­tally the year be­fore Ore­gon’s state leg­is­la­ture passed a bill al­low­ing brew­eries to sell beer on-site, paving the way for the now-ubiq­ui­tous brew­pub. “That’s when things got crazy,” Edger­ton said.

Bridge­Port’s par­tic­u­lar con­tri­bu­tion to the brew boom was pop­u­lar­iz­ing a type of beer that has since be­come a main­stay of the U.S. craft scene: In­dia pale ale, or IPA.

“It’s a vari­a­tion of the English IPA, which emerged in the early 19th cen­tury for ex­port to In­dia,” Edger­ton ex­plained. The brew was strongly hopped to help pre­serve it on the long voy­ages. “But it was still pretty mild. Here in the States, we don’t tend to put re­stric­tions on things. Our idea was that if some

hops are good, a lot of hops is bet­ter. We push those lim­its.”

While the bit­ter­ness of hops made the rene­gade batches of IPAs ill-re­ceived at fes­ti­vals 15 years ago, now, at any given brew­ery, nearly half of the draft beers on tap will be IPAs. The spe­cific hops used are of­ten listed on beer menus, so you know ex­actly which fla­vor of bit­ter you’ll be get­ting—fruity Mo­saic hops, per­haps, or cit­rusy Cas­cade, or earthy Sim­coe. For its part, Bridge­Port was ex­per­i­ment­ing a rosé IPA for sum­mer, which speaks to the seem­ingly in­fi­nite hori­zon of brew­ing here.

“Since the be­gin­ning,

the craft scene here has been about do­ing some­thing that’s dif­fer­ent,” said John Har­ris, the owner and brew­mas­ter of Ecliptic Brew­ing. “It was like, ‘Throw a candy bar into the beer, man, and let’s see what hap­pens.’ We em­brace that ap­proach, and want to push it even fur­ther.”

Af­ter work­ing at var­i­ous other big-name brew­eries around town, Har­ris opened Ecliptic in 2013 to com­bine his two pas­sions: beer and as­tron­omy. It’s not un­com­mon to find drinkers at Ecliptic’s bar Googling the ce­les­tial ob­jects for which beers like Quasar Pale Ale and Cal­listo Black­cur­rant Tripel are named, while a big or­ange wall mu­ral of the so­lar sys­tem adds to the place’s unique, er, at­mos­phere.

When I asked Har­ris how he fares in a city that now has more than 70 craft brew­eries, he shrugged. Com­pe­ti­tion leads to dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion—hence Ecliptic’s space theme—and this is a good thing. It gives drinkers more op­tions, and it doesn’t seem to be hurt­ing busi­ness. He can’t re­call more than a few brew­eries that have failed.

It turns out that snow days, when there’s noth­ing bet­ter to do than stay warm, are a great time to suc­cumb to the domino ef­fect of beer drink­ing, by which I mean Har­ris in­sisted I visit an­other brew­ery, whose brew­mas­ter in turn pointed me in the di­rec­tion of an­other, and so on. Thus, I spent a few days tipsily ac­quaint­ing my­self with all the dif­fer­ent iden­ti­ties a brew­ery can have. Do-gooder: Ex Novo, the coun­try’s first non­profit brew­ery, whose prof­its go to char­i­ties like Friends of the Chil­dren and Mercy Corps. Health nut: Ground Breaker Brew­ing, which sub­sti­tutes hops for gluten-free len­tils, chest­nuts, and sorghum. Old-school ro­man­tic: Hair of the Dog, se­duc­ing with high-al­co­hol Eu­ro­pean-style beers and rare vin­tages.

“When I started brew­ing in the early ’90s, most brew­eries were still do­ing light and draft, so I did high-al­co­hol and in bot­tles,” Alan Sprints told me in the wood-beamed beer hall at Hair of the Dog, which he founded in 1993. “The idea of 10 per­cent [al­co­hol by vol­ume] was crazy to bar own­ers. I was told that if some­one wanted to drink some­thing that strong, they’d just drink wine. But here we are all these years later.”

Sprints’ most-sought-af­ter cre­ations come from

his col­lec­tion of aged beers that he says is quite pos­si­bly the largest in the world. Ever since he started brew­ing, he put some bot­tles of each batch aside, let­ting them develop soft, lush fla­vors that new beer doesn’t of­fer. His 23-year-old bar­ley wine, named Dave, now goes for up­wards of US$2,000 a bot­tle.

But for Sprints, ex­per­i­men­ta­tion has al­ways been more of a mo­ti­va­tor than prof­its. Back in Hair of the Dog’s brew­ing fa­cil­i­ties, along­side the stan­dard steel casks, he has stacks of wooden bar­rels as well as an egg-shaped, un­lined con­crete tank that “makes the fla­vor of the beer softer and rounder, just like the tank.” He of­ten brews the same recipes in all three con­tain­ers to ex­plore the range of a sin­gle beer’s per­son­al­i­ties, then holds tast­ing ses­sions for drinkers to try them and com­pare.

“Beer is one of the ear­li­est bev­er­ages, go­ing back to Egyp­tian times,” Sprints said. “So I like to think that hu­mans have some in­stinc­tual ap­pre­ci­a­tion of beer. We don’t un­der­stand why we like it so much, but it’s been around for so long that it’s just in our bones.”

On a Sat­ur­day

around noon at Hop­works Ur­ban Brew­ery’s Pow­ell Street brew­pub, the sun was shin­ing through walls of win­dows, in­die rock was play­ing at a con­sid­er­ate level, and kids were draw­ing on chalk­board-cov­ered walls as their par­ents caught up over farm-to-ta­ble piz­zas and a round or two.

Hop­works is pri­mar­ily known for be­ing a global leader in sus­tain­able brew­ing. It is cer­ti­fied as a “B Cor­po­ra­tion,” an ac­cred­i­ta­tion given by the non­profit B Lab to com­pa­nies that com­mit to am­bi­tious so­cial and en­vi­ron­men­tal goals. It sources hops from farms that pro­tect down­stream salmon habi­tats. And, at the smaller of its two lo­ca­tions, it has sta­tion­ary bikes that cus­tomers can pedal to off­set elec­tric­ity use. But what I—slung back in a bar chair, deep in a book and a cof­fee stout made with grounds from lo­cal roaster Nossa Fa­milia—found more im­pres­sive than Hop­works’ green ethos was the drink­ing cul­ture it fos­ters. Along­side brew­ing fan­tas­tic beers, it’s des­tig­ma­tiz­ing not just beer but drink­ing in gen­eral by mak­ing its bars gath­er­ing places for all ages, all ac­tiv­i­ties, all ap­petites. In ev­ery sense, it em­bod­ies re­spon­si­ble drink­ing.

“We’re just try­ing to make the world a bet­ter place through beer,” a bar­tender ex­plained. Telling him that was a mis­sion worth toast­ing, I or­dered an Uber to take me home through the snow.

The bar at Hop­works Ur­ban Brew­ery’s Pow­ell Street lo­ca­tion.

Above, from left: A mu­ral of the so­lar sys­tem serves as an out-of-this-world back­drop at space-themed Ecliptic Brew­ing; a dried hop flower at Hop­works Ur­ban Brew­ery. Op­po­site,from top: Brew­mas­ter Jeff Edger­ton at Bridge­Port; the same brew­ery’s for­mer fac­tory build­ing in down­town Port­land.

A sam­pling of beers at Hair of the Dog. Left: Ecliptic Brew­ing’s John Har­ris.

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