Hillsdale Brew Pub: Where Portland's craft beer revolution began
Brian and Mike McMenamin just wanted to make beer and serve beer under one roof. It was a very different beer world back then in the early 80s. It took some serious lobbying in Salem but eventually the brothers and others got their way. And the very first brew pub in the State of Oregon began operating in Hillsdale.
Should future generations market it as Historic Hillsdale, the Hillsdale Public House and Brewery has be the first stop on the tour.
The Oregon Historical Society recognizes the important role this brew pub played in Oregon's rise to prominence in the beer world
in a new exhibit. Barley, Barrels, Bottes and Brews - 200 Years of Oregon Beer opened the last week of October and can be seen at the OHS until June.
For those new to the neighborhood, McMenamins Hillsdale, as locals call it, is located on the east side of Sunset Boulevard about halfway between Wilson High and the public library.
For those who have been here longer than the McMenamins, you might recall the location as the site of a Skippers
restaurant. In fact, the huge drain Skippers had in the kitchen made it possible to start brewing there.
The McMenamins surely had no idea that when they began to make beer in Hillsdale they would make history as well.
"It's huge," says McMenamins Historian Tim Hills of the brewpub's place in the evolution of the McMenamins empire.
"It is the mecca of craft brewing."
Hills points out another "first" that took place on the property, "The first brew fest was put on right here in the parking lot," he said.
The forerunner of the massive Oregon Brewers Festival held in Tom MCall Waterfront Park? "That's the one."
It was also in that parking lot that the McMenamins tried their own version of making lemonade out of lemons by harvesting the fruit of those ubiquitous blackberry bushes and brewing a blackberry ale.
It took action by the Oregon Legislature to make this brew pub thing happen. And the legislative ball got rolling in the showers of the
Multnomah Athletic Club. It was there after a basketball game that Art Larrance, pioneer craft brewer and owner of the Raccoon Lodge and Brew Pub, cornered Tom Mason, a young lawyer who would later be elected to the Legislature.
"Art starts telling me about this new concept in Colorado where beer could be made on the premises of pubs," Mason recalled
recently for the SW Connection. "I said great Art, but can I finish taking my shower first."
So Mason introduces a bill in the 1985 session to allow pubs to brew and serve their own beer on the premises for the first time since Prohibition. He says beer distributors and the big breweries - especially Blitz Weinhard - opposed the bill but he had no trouble getting the votes to pass it. "It was a cute bill. Everybody thought 'What a cute idea'. Little did they know," he said.
According to in-house historian Hills, his bosses recall the battle to pass the brew pub bill as some pretty serious politics.
"Brian remembers chasing Vera Katz down the halls of the Legislature pleading with the then-Representative 'But Vera this is good for Oregon.",
The unknown and unsung heroes of the many McMenamin successes that have followed what happened in Hillsdale 33 years ago are the hundreds of customers in the early days who were open to the idea of having a pint or two of what was essentially really good home brew. Well not all of it was really good. According to Hills, "Some really bad beer was put out and different batches of the same beer could taste different each time. But it was still better than the tasteless beer everyone else was serving and those early customers in Hillsdale appreciated that"
In an official history of McMenamins Hills writes, "Each brewery is, to a large degree its own entity that reflects the preferences of its particular patrons."
"Way back in the 70s Mike and Brian were interested in increasing common spaces where people felt welcome to come and have a beer. Then Mike went on his honeymoon and saw the pubs in England and the cafes in Paris. He came back determined to build pubs that celebrated the local community," said Hills. Who knew then that the little pub in Hillsdale would play such a large part in his plans?