Portland Oregon, is a craft brewing hub, notorious for its big, hoppy beers.
BridgePort Brewing is Oregon’s oldest and first craft brewery, established in 1984. Assistant brewmaster Eric Munger (pictured above) is visiting New Zealand next month, one of five guest brewers coming to Beervana.
Beertown.NZ: BridgePort is proudly Oregon’s first craft brewery, and now Portland is world famous for its beer. What made Portland such fertile ground for craft brewers?
Eric Munger: At least part of the answer is a legal one. Basically the Oregon State Legislature passed a law in 1985 allowing the creation of the brewpub as a place where beer could be brewed and sold on premise. Interestingly, my father-in-law was a member of the legislature that approved this Bill. This was about 10 years before I became a professional brewer and several years before I even knew his daughter! Here’s a link to a good summary article about the law.
Portland’s geographic location is another reason. We have huge hop growing regions nearby, and brewers’ grain from Great Western Malting is just across the river in Vancouver, WA. The raw materials for brewing are local, high quality and easy to obtain.
The home brewing culture in Portland is strong. Fred Eckhardt’s book, The Essentials of Beer Style, (1989) provided a template for brewers who wanted to make and drink styles of beer that were unavailable on store shelves. Home brewers provide tons of creativity when it comes to creating new beers. Many of today’s pro brewers started out by brewing at home. I started home brewing in 1988 and began my paid brewing career in 1994.
The beer drinking culture in Portland is also strong. “Drink Local” and “Keep Portland Beered” slogans are everywhere. All these things (and more) just add up to make Portland a great place to visit if you appreciate beer.
B: I’ve checked out your website and had a smile at your core range including an IPA, a Double IPA, and an Imperial IPA. Is BridgePort responsible for developing the hoppy West Coast pale ale styles?
EM: IPA is the top selling beer style in the USA right now and lots of breweries are making them. What’s interesting to me is how much the IPA style has evolved since BridgePort IPA was first brewed. Today’s IPA’s have more of everything; more alcohol, more BU’s, more hop aroma, More, More, More. The specifications for BridgePort IPA have not changed over the years. It’s still 5.5% ABV and 50 BU’s.
One of my functions at BridgePort is to enter our beers in competitions. The competition guidelines for the IPA style at the Australian International Beer Awards and Great American Beer Festival, for example, have changed to the point where BridgePort IPA is no longer even considered an IPA for judging purposes! I have to enter our IPA as pale ale or strong pale ale.
While BridgePort is not solely responsible for developing the hoppy West Coast pale ale styles, we are certainly an IPA pioneer and have introduced the style to a generation of beer drinkers.
Here’s another link, to a history of BridgePort Pale Ale.
B: Your annual production (12+ million litres) is about ten times that of New Zealand’s bigger craft brewers. How do you maintain consistent quality across those big production runs?
EM: Our consistency comes from attention to detail at all stages in the brewing and packaging process. Our brewing and packaging teams work very hard to maintain and improve quality. We have two full time quality control staff that constantly analyze raw materials, wort and beer to ensure our standards are maintained. We have an experienced team of professional brewers that communicate well with each other. In other words, the people at BridgePort maintain quality across our big production runs.
One of the traditions at BridgePort is the “Afternoon Tasting”. Every weekday at 2:45pm we gather together in our lab to taste every beer that is ready to be moved to the next stage in the production process. For example, we’ll taste beer in the fermenter that is ready to be cooled and moved to a conditioning tank. We’ll taste beer that is ready to be filtered, and we’ll taste beer that is ready to be packaged, etc. If something doesn’t taste right, regardless of what the analyses indicate, we circle the wagons to find out why and propose a solution. We also taste our packaged beer before we release it for sale. We do a lot of tasting, and we do a lot of taste training. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it!
B: How much do you know about the New Zealand craft brewing scene and New Zealand hops in particular?
EM: I’m fortunate to have a co-worker who grew up in the Auckland area and he keeps us partially informed about the craft brewing scene. I look forward to having my own first hand experiences during my visit this coming August.
Regarding hops, I went online to do some research, and it turns out I didn’t know nearly as much about New Zealand hops as I thought I did. There are a few New Zealand varieties that we’ve tested and been impressed with (Nelson Sauvin and Motueka). But there are so many more that were not on my radar! Perhaps being so close to major US hop growing regions is a disadvantage in this regard. I wasn’t aware that your hop growing areas are disease free which translates into no pesticides. I can’t wait to try fresh beer brewed with these hops! I definitely have a lot to look forward to.
Eric will be at Beervana’s Oregon Mash Up (12-13 August), and will also be at the Road to Beervana’s Battle of the Brewers food/beer matching lunch (10 August).