Oregon State UniversitySpecial Collections & Archives Research Center

The History of Brewing in Oregon

Hops flower with pollen.
Hops flower with pollen.
P 151 - Bill Reasons Photograph Collection. (Click to enlarge)

The History of Brewing in Oregon

Beer in the 19th century was a local endeavor and American brewers cultivated a local market, selling to customers who lived around the corner or a few miles away. We see this in our present day with an emphasis on local ingredients and personal connections between customer, grower, and brewer.

Brewing

By all accounts, beer brewing in our state actually predates commercial hops production! In 1852, seven years before Oregon was a state, a German immigrant named Henry Saxer opened the Liberty Brewery in Portland. He was followed by Henry Weinhard, the well-known Oregon beer icon who took brewing in our state to a new level. Unfortunately for the industry, when Oregonians voted to ban alcohol in 1914 (five years before the 18th Amendment established a national prohibition), alcohol consumption dropped drastically and breweries closed. The 1970s and 80s were decades of positive change and renewed growth. In October 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed H.R. 1337, which contained an amendment that created an exemption from taxation for beer brewed at home for personal or family use. Locally, craft brewing in Oregon took a major turn when a small group of brewers worked together toward the passage of the 1985 Oregon's brewpub law, allowing for the brewing and dispensing of beer on the same premises. In 2013 we had 154 craft brewing companies, operating 192 brewing facilities in 63 cities in Oregon.

(Click to read more about Brewing History)

Hops

Though New York was the first state to commercially produce hops in the early 19th century, the specialty crop moved west with the people. When William Wells planted his first hop yard in Buena Vista in 1867, commercial hop production officially arrived in Oregon. In the early 20th century Oregon was the nation's largest hop producer and by the 1930s the area around Independence in Polk County was known as the "Hop Center of the World." Both mildews and mechanical picking machines had a significant impact on the number of farms operating in the state, but in 2013 Oregon is still the second largest hop producing state in the country with a vibrant farming culture in our own Willamette Valley.

(Click to read more about Hops History)

Robert Magee running a hops analysis sample, August 1950.
Robert Magee running a hops analysis sample, August 1950.
P 120 - Extension and Experiment Station Communications Photograph Collection. (Click to enlarge)

OSU

Scientists began experimenting with planting hops on campus grounds in 1893, but 78 years later it was OSU’s Dr. Alfred Haunold who made an indelible mark on the industry with the Cascade and other popular modern American hop varieties. Food science and studies on fermentation have long been a part of research at OSU, but since the establishment of the Fermentation Science program in 1995 OSU has been a leader in its education and training of new brewers.

Since the days of Saxer calling on Old Country methods for making beer in the 1850s, brewing in Oregon has been a community celebration of historic styles and traditional ingredients, with unique twists and the non-traditional, based on solid science and experience. The Willamette Valley has settled into the epicenter of a "craft-brewing renaissance," with Portland affectionately nicknamed "Beervana" and the "Munich on the Willamette."

Trivia

  • The first yard was William Wells’ in Buena Vista, established 1867.
  • The first brewery was Henry Saxer’s Liberty Brewery in Portland, established 1852.
  • The first mention of hops on OSU’s campus was in an 1893 course catalog.

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