THERE WAS BEER. The story of beer’s ascent to become one of Portland’s most beloved industries is now part of our state’s folklore. But for most of us, the details are still a little fuzzy. Legend has it that Henry Weinhard appeared one day on the Columbia in the mid-19th century piloting a golden barge loaded with barrels of lager. And—presto!—the next thing you know, we’re cutting up lemons to go in our hefeweizen. But there’s more to it than that. To bring you up to speed, we offer this handy guide.
German immigrant Henry Saxer arrives in Portland, an area that, not unlike his homeland, is rich with fertile fields for the cultivation of hops. Surrounded by thousands of thirsty loggers and dockworkers, Saxer founds Liberty Brewery. It doesn’t take long to make acquaintance with the local workforce.
After a stint as a brewer in Cincinnati, another German immigrant, Henry Weinhard, founds City Brewery in the present-day Pearl District. By 1875, Weinhard buys out Saxer’s business and begins shipping beer as far away as Asia.
Lumber titan Simon Benson donates 20 bronze drinking fountains to the city. With blue-collar workers having less of an excuse to slip into saloons to quench their thirst, alcohol consumption drops 25 percent.
A full five years before the rest of America follows suit, Oregon votes to ban beer and liquor sales as well as production of both. Not coincidentally, Oregon women had just earned the right to vote two years earlier. (Thanks a lot, ladies.)
Declining beer fortunes inspire a merger of Weinhard City Brewery and Arnold Blitz’s Portland Brewing Co. The new Blitz-Weinhard partnership ekes out a living selling root beer and orange soda until the Eighteenth Amendment is repealed, in 1933. With Prohibition behind them, the company lasts until the close of the 20th century.