As a state, Oregon ranks 3rd in the U.S. for the number of craft breweries per capita. When I moved to this area of the country I was most definitely NOT a beer drinker. I didn’t like the taste of beer and I couldn’t quite understand what the appeal was, other than the obvious alcohol content. But then again, I came from the Midwest, the land of Bud Light and Milwaukie’s finest. Yeah, no thanks.
And then in Oregon I was introduced to microbrews. Over the years I slowly became a fan, to the point where I am as picky about my beer as I am about my wine.
My wine = a good Australian Cabernet
By beer = just about any IPA as long as it’s not too hoppy
So if you are even remotely a beer drinker, and you’re in Portland, you have no excuse but to go on a beer tour, or at least a brewery tour. There are many throughout the city. We chose the Widmer Brewery Tour.
The First Hefeweizen
The Widmer brothers (Kurt and Rob) were born and raised in Portland, and as young men in the late 1970’s, they went to Germany (the world’s beer capital) to learn how to make beer from beer masters there. For six months they studied under one beer master who showed them every step of the process, and how to make several different beers, most notably, the Hefeweizen. This same beer master sent the brothers home with enough hops to start their own home brews, and one of the first Oregon microbreweries was born. (Second only to Bridgeport Brewing, which actually began just a week before Widmer, in 1984.)
What started out at a “garage band” brewery has since expanded into a multi-building operation that sells their beers around the world. Widmer is a world leader in tasty and distinctive microbrews. In recent years, they have banded together with several other breweries to create the Craft Brew Alliance in 2012. A compilation of five beer and cider brands around the nation, where they join forces to be able to distribute their products more efficiently. They are Widmer Brothers Brewery, Redhook Ale Brewery, Kona Brewing Company, Omission Beer and Square Mile Cider.
Touring a Brewery
We started our Widmer Brewery Tour at their little retail shop just down the street from their pub in North Portland.
There are many different kinds of malts to give a beer its distinctive flavor. First, the malt is mixed with a ton of water that turns into kind of a paste. Then the mixture is given more water and is filtered through a series of tanks where the majority of the beer is brewed. At the end of the brewing process, the hops are added, to which there are also several types. Add to that some fruity or flowery flavors and you have one hell of a tasty microbrew!
But don’t forget the yeast that is added at the VERY end, and left to ferment for several days in gigantic beer silos, where the yeast munches on various stuff and voila, alcohol is born!
Each of these 10 beer silos can hold about 40,000 gallons of beer. If you had just one pint of beer a day it would take you 10,000 years to drink it all!
The Beer Tasting
At the end of the tour, we had the opportunity to taste four of their current beers. One of them was not even offered yet to the general public. We even got to keep our cute little tasting glasses! For $5 per person, this tour was more than worth it.