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.


By all accounts, beer brewing in our state actually predates commercial hops production! In 1854, five years before Oregon’s statehood, an English immigrant named Charles Barrett opened the Portland Brewery and General Grocery Establishment. His August 5, 1854 ad joined others for barley, clothing, whiskey, bakeries, wagon shops, and temperance hotels. Swiss born Henry Saxer opened the Liberty Brewery in Portland in 1856, and by 1859, Jacksonville, Oregon City, Portland, and The Dalles all had breweries. But it was 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. When OHBA was launched in 2013, there were 154 craft brewing companies, operating 192 brewing facilities in 63 cities in Oregon. As of June 2018, 281 Breweries in operated by 228 companies in 79 cities across Oregon.

(Learn more about beer history in Tiah Edmunson-Morton's Oregon Encyclopedia essay "Brewing Industry in Oregon.")


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 George 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 2018 Oregon was the third 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)


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."


  • The first hop yard was established in 1867 by George (not William) Wells in Buena Vista.
  • The first brewery was opened in Portland in 1854 by Charles Barrett, not in 1852 by Henry Saxer.
  • The first mention of hops on OSU’s campus was in an 1893 course catalog.