Beer-lovers across the region have a new way to experience a growing beer industry on Portland's Westside on the so-called Tualatin Valley Ale Trail.
In partnership with 22 craft breweries, the Washington County Visitors Association last month announced the creation of a passport program, which encourages people to earn souvenir stamps as they're guided to longstanding breweries as well as a growing number of new establishments across the county.
The "ale trail" passport includes seven breweries in the Beaverton area, six breweries in Hillsboro, three in both Tualatin and Tigard, two in Forest Grove, and one in Sherwood.
Similar ale trails have existed in areas across the state for years, such as Central Oregon and the Eugene-Springfield area. There are also a variety of beer tours throughout Portland.
Michael Kinion, co-owner of Vertigo Brewing in Hillsboro, said there simply weren't enough breweries even a few years ago to create the interest that would motivate people to travel to the area with the intention of visiting multiple breweries.
"It wouldn't have been much of a trail," Kinion said. "Once people come through the tunnel leaving Portland, nobody comes out this way for one or two breweries. You get a number of breweries, people will make the trip."
When he and Haines founded Vertigo Brewing in 2008, it was the second brewery in Hillsboro — the other being the long-established McMenamins Cornelius Pass Roadhouse Brewery at Imbrie Hall.
There has been a dramatic change in what breweries the Westside has to offer in the last decade, particularly within the last few years, Kinion said.
A handful of Washington County-based breweries, such as Cascade Brewing, have expanded east into Portland.
More recently, Portland-based breweries such as Ex Novo Brewing Co. and Great Notion Brewing opened new locations in Beaverton. Both are featured along the ale trail.
And there's more expected to come.
Steeplejack Brewing Company announced plans over the summer to open a Hillsboro counterpart to its recently opened location in Northeast Portland. In March, Breakside Brewery announced it will open another location in downtown Beaverton. Not open yet, the locations are not featured on the ale trail.
Population growth has fed a growing market — and Kinion is well familiar with eager customers' thirst for new beers. But aside from those factors, Kinion said the proliferation of small breweries has been encouraged by a culture of collaboration in the local beer industry.
Jeff Farrar, co-owner of Ridgewalker Brewing Co., whose Forest Grove location is on the ale trail, said that culture, as well as a willingness to share resources, has been key to the growth of his brewery and its stability during the pandemic.
Farrar partnered with Gilgamesh Brewing in Salem during the beginning of the pandemic to use the brewery's canning system, facing a severe decline in taproom sales due to business restrictions.
Farrar said he always expected to can Ridgewalker beer eventually, but the pandemic made it a necessity to keep pace with the demand for to-go sales.
The brewery also partners with FlyBoy Brewing and Cooper Mountain Ale Works, both on the ale trails and located in Tigard, to produce its beer, as well as Bull Run Cider in Forest Grove to produce ciders.
"It's been nice having so many relationships," Farrar said. "You never know what doors and opportunities are going to open up."
People can request an ale trail passport at tualatinvalley.org/ale-trail.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.