Brewtopia:Portland's Brewing Scene

Publish date:

Dylan Goldsmith, who single-handedly runs Portland’s Captured by Porches brewing operation, takes a very DIY approach by default. Every pint of the company’s beer is made in a makeshift, one-room brewery–part of the process involves a dishwasher–at Clinton Street Brewing, the brewpub that sells the bulk of Goldsmith’s beer. The home brewer was first inspired during a stint working at a grocery store, when he transformed some apple cider into hooch using an old recipe from a Food Not Bombs customer. He continued making his own beer for parties and eventually became inspired to start his own venture. One day, while biking to school with some homebrew in his backpack, he saw his friends hanging out on someone’s porch. He never made it to class that day. In a friend’s words, he was “captured by the porch.”

“My DIY ethos comes from belief that the Walmartization of America can only lead to more low-paid and meaningless jobs,” says Goldsmith. “Every bar that is moderately busy could support a full-time brewer and only sell their own beer. They would save money–one-third of the price of a keg goes to the distributor–and create a meaningful and well-paying job. I guess when gas hits $10 a gallon, the choice will be made for us anyways.”

Goldsmith is one of many independent-minded local brewers who, over the last few decades, have turned Portland into a mecca for beer lovers. Located near the biggest hops-growing regions in the United States–which account for the bold, spicy, hopped-up varieties popular in the area–Portland boasts 30 breweries within city limits (the most in the world), along with a budding-but-healthy micro-distillery scene (local Integrity Spirits just released its own absinthe).

There’s a lot of pride in the local product. Over 11% of the beer made in the state is consumed in Oregon, according to the Oregon Brewer’s Guild. To make a comparison between music and the city’s massive craftbrewing scene: Many of the bigger independents, like Rogue or Deschutes, are the same size and stature as labels like Merge or Sub Pop, but there are numerous home brewers tinkering with recipes in their kitchens and basements. An entire community has coalesced around the creation of the social lubricant.

“There’s not that ‘we want to run you out of business’ aspect,” says Matt Wiater, who runs “Many of the new breweries are opened by guys who worked for other places and got help from their former employees. That sharing of ideas is why it’s gotten so big. It’s a growing industry and is still steadily growing.”

Part of that growth comes from the trend towards organic brews. The recently opened Hopworks Urban Brewery only serves organic beer and food; the building has numerous eco-friendly touches, like biodiesel-fired brew kettles, and was constructed with recovered materials. Rogue Ales, which is based in nearby Newport, just planted its own hops fields, in an ambitious plan to make an all-Oregon product by 2009.

“The innovativeness and the inventiveness of the brewers in the Northwest really stands out,” says Megan Flynn, editor of Beer Northwest magazine. “They’re not afraid to try new things. We have huge, hoppy IPAs and over-the-top stouts. The craft brewers of the Northwest are taking the traditional styles to the extreme.”