In the five years I've been reviewing the Portland beer scene, I've been in some heated conversations.
But until earlier this month, I'd never had a sales guy from a local distributorship right up in my face, pushing, calling me a "piece of shit" and informing me that he could "fart" and move more kegs than any review we publish.
It was late, and we were at a strip club, where machismo goes into high gear. When you publish blunt critiques, you learn not to take blowback personally. And, hey, the guy trucks around some great beer—three of our top 10, in fact.
But it made me think about the soft theme of this year's guide.
We're living in a weird time. In America generally, but also in Portland beer. Tensions are rising, especially among beer distributors fighting for tap handles and shelf space.
For years it seemed like there was no limit to how big Portland beer could get, with double-digit gains every year. But last year, American beer sales overall were down for the first time in a long time, and the Oregon craft market has flattened to a modest 5 percent growth. Large, old-school breweries
like BridgePort and Cascade Lakes saw double-digit declines in 2016.
Is the market peaking? Nobody knows, but it's grown at unsustainable speed—there are now more American breweries than ever before. This year's guide features 116 breweries within an hour's drive of Portland, which is nearly double the number in our 2013 guide. At least six of them are up for sale.
Meanwhile, the aforementioned gentleman's outfit specializes in the sort of ultra-bitter Northwest IPAs that've been put in the crosshairs by the likes of our Beer of the Year: the juicy, hazy IPA called Juice Jr.
I'd take a punch for Great Notion's New England-style IPAs, which aren't just uniquely refreshing and ultra-flavorful, changing the entire conversation
around IPA here. Dozens of other local breweries have tried to make the style now, which I take as a positive sign that brewers will adapt to evolving tastes.
As you'll see throughout our top 10, there's a lot of very exciting and unique beer being made in this city right now, from the first pinot-grape brew that really captures the essence of the fruit to a nearly extinct English style that a local homebrewer and beer scholar revived with the help of old brewing texts.
Personally, I'm excited to see how the landscape changes in the next year. This guide is a snapshot, and we hope it'll serve you well as a resource of information and recommendations. To make our suggestions more clear, this year we've adopted a star system loosely based on the Michelin guide—one star means a spot is highly recommended, while two means it's among the best in the entire world.
As always, the goal of this guide is to arm you with the information needed to explore this city's beer scene. We hope you do and that you have a whole lot of fun in the process.
In the near future, I'm expecting a scrappy fight to fill your next pint. For customers, that's a good thing. Let the sales guys battle for handles—the best beers will win and so will you.
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