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|Tale of Two Portlands|
|Written by Chris Sweet and Lisa Morrison|
|Tuesday, 30 November 1999 00:00|
In our ongoing look at Great American Beer Drinking Cities, we pair up the two Portlands — Maine and Oregon — which both have good, but disparate reasons reasons to stake their claim to beer fame.
Portland, ME is an unlikely candidate for inclusion in this series of Best Beer Cities when you consider our population is a mere 65,000. We’re no doubt the smallest city in this series, but our claim to the title is legitimate.
No less than seven breweries reside in Portland, that’s roughly one brewery for every 9,300 people. While I can’t definitively say that no other city in America has that good of a brewery-to-person ratio, I wouldn’t be surprised if it were the case. Especially when the non-drinking age population is factored out.
This city also sports a huge number of taps dedicated to craft brewing from all over the world. The Great Lost Bear sports 52 tap lines, the new kid on the block, Novare Res Bier Café has the inverse with 25 taps and the unheard of TWO hand pumps. Now Prost! has arrived on the scene with 84 taps and a desire to reach 100 very soon.
Portland’s craft brewing history dates back to the early 1980s when Alan Eames opened Three Dollar Dewey’s in 1982, deciding to carry only imported craft beers. A crazy notion at the time, but one that caught the attention of David Geary who is considered the dean of Portland brewers.
He credits Eames with introducing him to the brewing bug. "Alan Eames was a true visionary," according to Geary. "It was my friendship with him that really got this thing going." Eames introduced Geary to the legendary Peter Maxwell Stewart of the Traquair House brewery in Scotland where Geary apprenticed.
Before bringing that knowledge back to Maine he teamed-up with British brewmaster Alan Pugsley after they studied with Peter Austin in England. Geary and Pugsley officially placed Portland on the microbrew map in November of 1986. Pugsley says, "Commonwealth Brewery in Boston opened a few months before us, they were the first small brewery in New England and then Geary’s opened up and we were the first ‘craft’ brewery in New England and then shortly thereafter Catamount and Harpoon opened up around January of ’87, but Portland was at the forefront of this movement.
"Portland is a place where traditionally people appreciate hand-crafted goods," said Pugsley. "And obviously Shipyard (where Pugsley is now brewmaster) fits that description."
This appreciation of the uniqueness of handmade ale is echoed by another veteran of Portland’s brewing scene: Gritty McDuff’s brewmaster, Ed Stebbins who has more than 20 years of experience here. "I’ll tell you one thing about Portland, they love their cask-conditioned beers in this town," he said. "I’ve never been anywhere where cask-conditioned beer flows more regularly than Portland, Maine."
It’s not only the veterans of Portland’s craft brewing movement who see Portland as the Best Beer City. Bruce Forsley of Shipyard explained why Shipyard decided to open in this city back in 1994. "Fresh beer is the best beer and the Shipyard brewery is within one mile of over 100 licensed pubs and restaurants," he said. One of those licensees is Enzo Raggiani, the proprietor of Prost! International Tap House. "Right now we have the second-most taps in all of New England with 84, soon to be 100 (The Sunset Grill in Allston, MA is number one)," he said. "I’ve been to Italy, Switzerland, France, Germany and everywhere else in Europe and I think Portland has a bigger percentage of beer drinkers than any of those countries."
Portland is holding its own versus Boston but in this issue we’re matched-up with the other Portland, in Oregon, where some amazing craft brewing takes place. Another exciting new establishment in Portland, Novare Res Bier Café, recognizes this and in late August (exact date yet to be set) owner Eric Michaud features the other Portland’s superstar Rogue Brewery. "I opened a bar here because Portland (Maine) loves its beer and I saw an opportunity to bring diversity to this market." The upcoming Rogue event will feature more Rogue beers on tap than anywhere outside of Rogue’s main brewing facility. "I’ve been open a mere four weeks and I’ve gotten great feedback that people are loving our special European imports and some of the better craft brewed American stuff," said Michaud. "The Rogue event fits this philosophy perfectly."
The final piece in Portland’s claim as Best Beer City is its early adoption of Belgian-style brewing which is all the rage now. Rod Tod of Allagash anticipated this trend way back in 1995 when he sold his first bottle of Allagash White, thus ushering in a period of experimentation which happily seems to have no end in sight.
Despite what the calendar tells us, there are two seasons in Portland: Indoor Beer Drinking Season and Outdoor Beer Drinking Season.
The relentless gray skies and drizzle that the Pacific Northwest is known for has a lot to do with both seasons, really. Their presence entices us to linger inside over good beer, good food and lively conversation. And their absence inveigles us to shed the fleece jackets and Gore-Tex, hit the nearest outside beer garden and soak up the sun along with our suds.
Indoor Beer Drinking Season typically starts in late October or early November and runs precisely until the fifth of July. Never the Fourth, as our Independence Day celebrations usually are red, white — and gray. During this lengthy stretch of the year, there are a few glorious sunbreaks (that’s an Oregon word meaning "the clouds part and we see that big, yellow orb in the sky"), but for the most part, we either choose to stay dry and inside or endure the drizzle.
Either way, it seems to be a good excuse to enjoy locally made craft beer — making it, drinking it or both — because we Portlanders are proud and fortunate to have a whopping 30 breweries within our metro city limits. If you’re counting (and we know you are), that’s more than any other city in the world.
A year or two ago, the Brewers Association released statistics indicating that, on average, most Americans are within 10 miles of a brewpub. That must mean there are some mighty dry stretches of road out there somewhere, because in Portland, you are usually closer to being within 10 blocks of one.
Portland’s brewers are among the most competent and creative in the country. That’s not boasting; it’s just a fact, exemplified by the number of awards they win — and a model of the basic law of supply and demand. When one of our breweries loses a brewer, the owner has no trouble finding a qualified replacement. Because of Portland’s reputation, brewers want to be here. Plain and simple.
During Indoor Beer Drinking Season, we don’t let a little drizzle get in the way of our love for beer, though. In early December of each year, we huddle under giant tents in the downtown square to celebrate the season’s offerings at the Holiday Ale Festival. The tents are clear-topped so we can look at the city’s holiday lights above us — usually through a Monet-like dappling of colors created by the rain.
Of course, when the sun finally comes around again, our fair city shines just as brightly as those holiday lights. Portlanders break out the sunglasses — not so much to shade our eyes from the rays but to protect them from the blinding glare of our own sun-deprived fish-belly-white skin — and celebrate the highly anticipated arrival of Outdoor Beer Drinking Season. Beer gardens, patios, decks and sidewalk tables come to life and there’s hardly a weekend that goes by that doesn’t feature some sort of outdoor beer event — or five. I’ve taken to calling those rare weekends without a beer event happening "bye" weeks. It seems to fit.
But Beervana, as Portland is often called, is more than just breweries, festivals and brewpubs. It’s beer lists among the wine lists at many of the city’s most elegant restaurants. It’s tap houses with dizzying selections. It’s local craft beer at dive bars, barber shops and even strip clubs. Even our corner convenience stores offer shelves of good beer selections, the quality of which have brought outsiders to their knees in awe.
Several movie theaters serve up craft beer to enjoy with the show — and have been doing it for more than a decade. Many brewpubs feature special play areas for kids so that Mom and Dad can enjoy a handcrafted beer while the little ones play. The Pub Course at Edgefield Manor encourages golfers to drink McMenamins ales while chasing the ball around.
Beer has become more than, well, beer, here in Portland. It is entwined in the social fabric of our lives. We have created an environment unlike anywhere else, a place where beer is unabashedly and yet unceremoniously celebrated every day, rain or shine.
It has become Beervana.