PORTLAND – Most major metropolitan areas tend to have a particular industry that really thrives there, and in Oregon’s largest city, it’s a product with very widespread appeal: beer.
So much so, said Bill Schneller, that Portland has a long list of beer festivals that it celebrates.
“Here we’re like, ‘Hey, it’s another season, let’s have a beer festival,’ “ he said.
Schneller definitely knows a thing or two about beer. Originally a New Yorker, he migrated to the Pacific Northwest, settled in Portland, and has become know as a nationally ranked beer judge, beer educator and former president of the Oregon Brew Crew, the Beaver State’s oldest and largest home-brewing club. He’s been published in national brewing magazines and has also worked in the wine industry.
“He’s incredibly knowledgable,” said Lisa Morrison. “He actually teaches the BJCP here in Portland,” a reference to the Beer Judge Certification Program.
“He knows his stuff,” Morrison said.
So does Morrison, who is also known as the “Beer Goddess,” and who hosts Beer O’Clock!, a weekly, hour-long commercial radio show devoted to craft beer that’s available on podcats on KXL.com and iTunes. She’s also the author of the book “Craft Beers of the Pacific Northwest.”
“Beer has been around,” Morrison said. “It’s 3,000 years old.”
On Saturday, Morrison and Schneller teamed up for a presentation titled “Beer 101: With a Pacific Northwest Slant,” at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Portland. They noted that beer may be a relaxing drink in some places, a staple of your local pub, liquor stores, or Friday night parties, but in Portland, it’s very serious business.
“Boulder (Colorado) might have more breweries per capita, but we have 30 breweries in Portland,” Schneller said.
“And there are 25 in the works,” Morrison added. “
That’s a lot of beer manufacturing for one city. But they were also quick to note that as beer is made here, it also gets sold locally in a very wide variety of flavors, brands, and formats.
“Portland has always been a beer drinking town,” Schneller said. “You can go to any hole in the wall Mexican place or hole in the wall Thai place, they will have craft beer.”
That’s part of the city’s legacy, Morrison noted.
“More than a century ago, Portland was a beer town then, too,” she said. “Portland was always a blue collar town.“ People came here to work hard – and do plenty of beer drinking, she said.
“Beer has always been a part of Portland’s history,” Morrison said. “One of the other things we have here in Portland is we have fantastic beer bottle shops. You can go buy a bottle and drink it there. Most of our bottle shops have upwards of 1,200 (varieties.)”
There’s even a local establishment called Beermongers, Schneller said.
“They have several beers on tap, and they have a barber shop as well,” he said. ”There is a surprising amount of variety here, even in the supermarket. We drink so much fresh beer here, that it’s not a good town for imported beer. Fifty percent of the draft beer sold here in Portland is local.”
Having more than 1,000 types of beer to pick from offers a dizzying array of choices. Schneller said in Portland, the locals simply love trying something new.
“We like bitter beer here,” he said. “A lot of people think bitter, they think sour. Totally, totally different thing. It’s not just a flavor. It’s a tactile sensation in your mouth. So it’s not the same as sour.”
it helps that the hop plant that’s used to make Hop beer is grown locally.
“We love Hops in the Northwest, big bit time,” Schneller said. “It’s a big extreme thing we have here. Fresh Hop comes out in the fall.”
“Fresh Hop beers are especially popular here in Washington and Oregon because we’re in close proximity to where Hops are grown,” Morrison said. “It’s literally fresh off the vine here. It’s just a great climate here for it.”
But it’s not the only source for making beer, Schneller added.
“Most beers are made from malted barley,” Schneller said. “Hops, as opposed to that, are flowers. They are a plant. Hops are toasted to get a darker color for beer. Malt is generally a grain. Malt is really the backbone of beer. It’s like what flower is to bread. Malt defines what beer is. It gives it its texture, it give it its color.”
“When we say malt, it’s basically a process where you take the grain and sprinkle it with water so it starts germinating,” Morrison said. “The malt then is used in the beer. That’s the process.”
Not surprisingly, festivals celebrate beer all year long in Portland.
“We have two big festivals coming up in July, and we have some canned beer festivals as well,” Morrison said. That includes the Oregon Brewers Festival.
Come embrace the city’s love of beer, Schneller said – or simply move aside.
“We really don’t care what you think,” he said. “This is Portland. We invented Hops here. We’re serious about our Hops, we’re serious about our coffee.”
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