Dr. Wort is a gadfly in the Socratic sense: an anonymous blogger who bites the lumbering steed that is Portland's brewing scene, whipping local beer geeks into a fury with what he says is in the service of truth.
In an attempt to quiet Wort, Dave Selden, creator of the 33 Beers tasting notebook, wrote a blog post in 2009 "outing" the man he thought was the Doc. Selden poured the pint of hemlock because Wort's "commentary strays from facts and opinion into insults and mudslinging."
The blog has been quiet of late, but the Doc lives on—he's just drinking more wine these days.
Today, we published a Beer Guide that celebrates everything right in Portland beer—look for it at bars and bottle shops and in boxes listed at wweek.com. But we also wanted to talk to someone who hasn't been so impressed. So, over the past month, I've had an email correspondence with Portland's most-hated beer writer. This is a very truncated version of that conversation.
WW: So how did the Doc get started and what's he been up to? It seems like he's been pretty quiet lately.
Dr. Wort: Switched to cocktails and wine! Beer has become rather boring lately. With the exception of a small handful of new beers, the current beer scene has become mostly repetitious and banal. The Doc got tired of beating the same drum over and over.
The local beer scene was getting out of hand; its self-ingratiating habits were losing sight on reality and the progressing beer world outside its borders. The Doctor's persona was created to be a pot stirrer, soothsayer, educator and comic. The character was to be abrasive enough to cause attention, but witty enough to bring in a slap of reality. His slant on beer, beer society and the brewing business is an amalgamation of the writer along with other similar-minded beer aficionados. His comments and observations are collective; the Doc hears what others are saying in a crowd, amplifying those thoughts amongst his own.
What's wrong with the Portland beer scene?
Complacency and those that promote it.
Portland has become the Jan Brady of the West Coast. Lost in the middle but forcing others to take notice of the smallest accomplishments, and even glorifying blunders.
The Portland beer scene has become a sea of strip-club barkers and snake-oil hawkers preying on the impressionable local beer drinkers. Blogger and media barkers try to lure the public into pubs. Sometimes for events that are self-profiting.
Self-proclaimed beer-expert hawkers write fallaciously glorified beer reviews. Now, you might find exactly what the hawker and barker proclaimed or you could end up drinking some sorry swill while watching some saggy, mid-aged broads with bruises on their asses. That's the reality if you accept their hook.
The Doc's always waiting to read this review: "Great new brewery opened down by the Willamette in an old sanitation waste-processing plant. Some say the place is rather odoriferous, but I rather enjoyed the pungent fecal aromas as they mingle with the hops of their IPA. Those hops are grown right here in Oregon! Clem and Goober down by Salem have been growing them for the past two years. They're super-uber-sublime. They don't use any pesticides and the whole process is green!'
It's all self-promotion at any cost, even if it's a fallacy or fantasy.
To make it worse, if Dr. Wort walked into the same pub, he'd be quickly shunned because his wardrobe doesn't consist of Goodwill/dumpster relics and he's not wearing a fedora last worn by someone's dead Uncle Waldy. He's ignored or asked to leave because he doesn't quite fit within the pub's ambiance. "Hey! I just wanna have a beer!"
This self-segregation is not welcoming, and beer drinkers come from all walks of life.
How have people responded to you?
Local readers responded with denial, disbelief and threats of physical violence. Rarely an intellectual rebuttal.
The Doc doesn't take offense to words, just threats. A person in this country has a right to voice his opinion, whether others like it or not. Every human—man, woman or child—has the right to listen, read or ignore. I found it funny that those who didn't like the Doc were the ones who followed him the closest. Sometimes people don't like to see or hear the truth, others have no sense of self-deprecation and prefer to just be hostile rather than insightful. Our society has changed for the worse over the past 10 to 15 years. Being PC is more in vogue than honesty, truth, opinion or individualism.
Are there any Portland breweries you actually like?
Hair of the Dog has been a favorite for years—not a secret to any Dr. Wort reader. The new pub is open, inviting and airy. It's a check-your-attitude-at-the-door kind of place. Owner Alan Sprints has true love for the artistry, skill and craft of brewing. Years before we had beers like Arrogant Bastard, Alan went out on a limb and chose to brew Adam as his flagship beer! He could have easily made a quick profit off easy-drinking beer like pale ale or IPA. He chose artistry over the almighty dollar. It took Hair of the Dog more than 10 years to turn a profit.
I asked Alan once, "Why did you keep going?" His answer: "I wanted to brew the beers I liked, and I hoped others would like them, too." That's pride in artistry, and integrity to not cave to mass appeal. People wait to buy his beers starting in the wee-morning hours despite the cold, dark or rain to buy a limited-batch beer. I don't see that happening at any other brewery in town, do you?
Lucky Lab isn't always a big favorite by locals, but I've always found Lucky Lab's breweries to be unpretentious and welcoming. I prefer the larger, barn-like venues of the Hawthorne and Quimby locations. They remind me of large German bierkellers where one can socially interact or just quickly lose oneself. Lucky Lab always has a huge selection of beer creations. Some are great, some not so much, but I enjoy the endless imagination that makes beer fun and exciting. I love their English Bitter, especially when they served it off a beer engine from the cask. It was English Bitter perfection in a glass or as an old friend used to say, "Smooth and alluring as the nipples of Venus."
So how can Portland drinkers help improve our beer scene?
Don't sit back on your laurels. Look outside the Oregon beer bubble, be adventurous and drop the "in-your-face" cheerleading attitude. Oregon is becoming too aloof, screaming like a psychotic with Tourette's syndrome, "Look! Look! We have 50 breweries in one city! Look at what we've done! Drink this! This is really good!"
Unfortunately, the rest of the beer world has been progressing. All one has to do is look at some of the national beer competitions: They'll see that Oregon isn't winning all those hoppy-beer categories. Growing the hops isn't enough; breweries all across the country can brew decent and award-winning IPAs. Your complacency is just breeding lackluster beer by stagnation.