PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — Sean Hiatt pays close attention to what his customers order at the bar.
It never ceases to amaze him that the large majority — he puts it at 95 percent or so — order something different every time.
“They literally will come in and say, ‘All right, what’s new?'” says Hiatt, general manager of the Civic Taproom at Civic Stadium.
It doesn’t matter if they love IPAs; they’ll try the latest sour beer. It doesn’t matter if they love lagers; they’ll try a saison. “They want to try it all,” Hiatt says.
Having opened six months ago — with 12 taps for beer, six for cider and four for wine, along with a bottle selection of 300 beers, 40 ciders and 75 wines — the Civic is just part of the newest crop of taprooms, brewpubs and breweries to hit the Portland scene in the past year.
In all, Portland’s brewpub count has reached 66, plus four more within Multnomah County. Just a couple years ago, the number hovered around 50.
All this growth raises the question: When will the Portland craft beer scene reach its saturation point?
Not anytime soon, most believe.
Along with Portland’s rising status as a food and drink destination comes plenty of growth and room for innovation, brewers and enthusiasts say.
They point to the rise of beer apps that rate and find beer, plus blogs and other social media that make it easier than ever to dip a toe in. New trends — like the rise of cider and easier, more cost-effective ways to make sour beers — are drawing in new demographics.
Besides, not every part of the city is swimming in good beer. Northeast and Southeast Portland are crowded, but other parts of Portland — including the close-in suburbs — are not as much or not at all.
While there are dozens of beer festivals in Portland year-round, Portland Beer Week, June 11-21, is considered a special time to “promote Portland’s beer culture and Portland as a beer city, and celebrate our appreciation of beer culture here in Portland,” says Ezra Johnson-Greenough, a Portland beer blogger who founded Portland Beer Week five years ago.
“We had 140 or more events last year,” Johnson-Greenough adds. This year, “we’re trying to keep it a little bit smaller so everyone can be successful.”
As in past years, the official week will include marquee events including Fruit Beer Festival, Rye Beer Festival, Beer and Cheese Festival and pub crawl. It will include special tappings and bottle releases, promotions at nearly every brewpub in the city, and — new this year — an official Beer Week donut, sandwich and ice cream.
In addition to the main events, dozens of brewpubs and tap rooms will host their own lineups.
The Civic, for instance will host tap takeovers from breweries in Corvallis, Washington and San Diego, as well as a “Pucker-Up Fest” of sour beers and a Pink Boots Fundraiser on June 19, a celebration of woman-brewed beers and breweries to advance in the beer industry through education.
Leikam Brewing, a wholesale beer producer that opened in January, will be featured at the New School’s New Breweries Showcase at Bailey’s Taproom and The Upper Lip.
Sonia Marie Leikam, co-founder with her husband, Theo, says she wasn’t concerned about the local craft beer market being too overcrowded — but it was hard to find a unique name.
So they stuck with their roots and went with their family name.
Like many of the new crop of brewers, they have a community-oriented spin on their business model.
Their “Community Supported Beer” program lets members pre-purchase their beer at a discount. Leikam brews custom batches and is working on putting out its own 22-ounce bottles, which the brewery will soon sell to its members and bottle shops around town.
Like many Portland operations, Leikum puts a premium on sustainability, but stops short of organic, both because it is cost-prohibitive to startups and because many hops varieties are vulnerable to pests.
To that end, they’re sourcing ingredients from a certified Salmon Safe Farm in Woodburn.
As for entering the crowded marketplace, Leikam says: “Is there not enough great craft coffee roasting? Brewing is an art and a way for self-expression. There is an amazing beer loving, local community here, and our customers seem to always want more.”
Cascadia Brewing is also feeling the love. Having opened its barrel house five years ago on Southeast Belmont Street, the brewery is now past the startup stage — it’s ready to expand.
“We’re thrilled with the amount of traffic and attention,” says brewmaster Ron Gansberg. “We’re maturing.”
With a focus on barrel-aged beers, Cascadia attracts a lot of what Gansberg calls “beer travelers.”
In five years he’s been able to grow the brand to distribute along the East Coast and West Coast, and some in Europe. He’s slowly been moving into other states, and is now looking to expand his facility for retail.
Part of the growth comes from his barrel exchange program: For example, when craft brewers came to Portland for the annual conference in April, they fanned out across the city to get a taste of it all. At Cascadia and other breweries they formed relationships to exchange barrels — not just for greater exposure in another market, but for inspiration.
“It opens and broadens our understanding of how beers are made,” Gansberg says. “We utilize it through innovation, continuing to be on the forefront. It’s also a good way to build a league of blenders across the brewing community.”
The kindred spirit extends to many of Portland’s more community-forward breweries.
Ex Novo Brewing Co., which opened on North Flint Avenue last summer, is a nonprofit that brews beer, serves food and gives 100 percent of its net profits to selected charities including the International Justice Mission, Impact NW and Mercy Corps.
Coalition Brewing Co., which marks its fifth anniversary this month, is a 10-barrel brewery and taproom on Southeast Ankeny Street that invites homebrewers to come in, design and brew a new beer as part of the Coalator Program.
Apex Bar, on Southeast Division Street, has a constantly overflowing patio in the summertime, known as the “bike bar” for its ample bike parking.
Apex is one of several taprooms that do not serve food, which is allowed by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission with a brewpub license.
The OLCC requires food only for pubs that have a full license, which many obtain in order to be family-friendly for minors. Those licensees must show that drinking alcoholic beverages is not the predominant activity.
As for the future of craft beer in the city, insiders say it’ll continue to grow.
Bryan Keilty, head brewer at Lompoc Brewing, says interest in beery events is huge. One of Portland’s more established breweries, Lompoc has been around since 1996, and participated in many of the Beer Week events since 2010.
This year they’re adding a few new ones, including a Beer and Whiskey Cigar Dinner, a release of a special “El Commandante” Mexican amber beer, a Mussels in Brussels event at Bazi Bierbrasserie and a Belgian night.
Keilty says there’s definitely enough interest to sustain the level of festivities.
“The awesome thing is everyone seems to be successful. It goes to show, people in Portland — we appreciate the small guy working hard, and have definitely accepted craft beer.”
Chris Bogart, co-owner of Northeast Portland’s BTU Brasserie — a 10-month-old brewery and restaurant serving modern Chinese food — agrees.
“There is a growing talk among our industry of over-saturation, but if the product you deliver is good, then I believe there is always space in the market,” Bogart says. “I think it would be great to try a different beer at every bar I go to, which may hurt the larger companies who distribute to most bars in the city. But in terms of more diversity of production I think the more the merrier. It seems like when breweries are competing for tap space around town we may be a bit congested, but there is always room for smaller production throughout the metro area.”
PORTLAND BEER WEEK
• June 11 — Kickoff party, pre-Fruit Beer Festival and pig roast at Eastburn, 1800 E. Burnside St.
• June 12 — Portland Beer Week bottle release of Breakside/Fremont “Back to the Future IPA” at Whole Foods in the Pearl District.
• June 12 — Fourth annual Rye Beer Fest, 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. at Eastburn, 1800 E. Burnside St. A celebration of the revival of rye beers. Live music starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 for a glass and eight tickets; a benefit for Dawn to Dusk paddle fund for the Children’s Cancer Association.
• June 12-14 — Fifth annual Portland Fruit Beer Festival, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Burnside Brewing Co., 701 E. Burnside St. Open to all ages, $20 tickets include a glass and 12 tastings. The festival will showcase two dozen local juicy and exotic fruit beers and ciders made in a variety of styles.
• June 20 — Second annual Mississippi & Williams Pub Crawl, noon-8 p.m., $5 wristbands good for $1 off drinks at nine locations. Special drinks, rare beers on tap and food.
• June 21 — Fourth annual Portland Beer and Cheese Fest, noon-5 p.m. at The Commons Brewery, 630 S.E. Belmont St. $35 tickets include 10 beer and cheese pairings, collectible glass, Olympia Provisions charcuterie and Woodblock Chocolate.
• For more: http://pdxbeerweek.com/event/kickoff-party/
More Beer Week facts:
• According to the Beer Institute, Oregon’s beer economy stands at $2.8 billion. The state has about 30,000 industry-related jobs, which account for a total of $1 million in wages and a tax contribution of $485 million.
• The Portland Beer Week sandwich is a beer-braised brisket and gravy po’ boy with bitter green slaw and herb salad, $11, available at Bunk Bar Water (1028 S.E. Water Ave.) and Bunk Bar Wonder (128 N.E. Russell St.).
A deluxe queso dip with beer-braised brisket, $8.50, will be available at Bunk Bar Wonder.
• The Portland Beer Week ice cream is Salt & Straw’s all-Citra hopped new IPA from Breakside Brewery, specked with actual Citra hop flakes. Available at special Portland Beer Week parties only.
• The Portland Beer Week donut is a collaboration between Hopworks Urban Brewery and Blue Star Donuts, available at all Blue Stars during Portland Beer Week and other select events.