I just got back from a trip to Portland, OR. Part personal vacation, part brewery research trip, I definitely came home with a lot of insights. Thanks to the owners of Beetje Brewery and Breakside Brewery for being great hosts and giving me some great advice.
One thing I noticed was there seemed to be a different community among the brewers out there and it has a lot to do with the way the industry is. First, I would like to say that I have been slowly tapping into the community of brewers and brewery owners here in Philly, now that I am seen as more serious people have been pretty willing to talk to me. So I don’t want anyone to read this as a criticism. Portland was filled with many more breweries and brewpubs than we have here. Considering Portland is a city of half a million people, and Philly has 1.5 million plus a huge metro area, this is something I hope changes eventually. However, because they have a larger business community, and because those businesses are always expanding (as opposed to Philly where most brewpubs stay at a fixed size) there is a lot more communication up and down the line from the smallest nanobrewers to the big brewers. Nanobrewing also seems to be taken a bit more seriously out there but I think that is because there are more of them with a longer history. Plus the Northwest has always been known for having small entrepreneurs and garage startups, the East Coast tends more toward large start-up companies.
Another big difference was the beers that were made. The Northwest has been described as a little insular, the breweries there are mostly looking at the other local brews for inspiration and many of the bars only serve local beers. And those beers tend to be hoppy. Very, very hoppy. My taste buds were friend in two days, I was craving a good Belgian or a German Hefe. I can say that even though our brewing industry in Philly really should (and can) expand to be as rich as in Portland, the variety and selection we have at hand in this city is simply amazing. I had assumed any big city, especially a beer city, would be the same but judging from what I have seen in Portland, Montreal, Seattle and New York we really are one of the best. Even if New York might beat us sometimes on selection, we always beat them on affordability.