On the day before Oregon locked down the first time, the Civic Taproom & Bottle Shop in Southwest Portland looked like it had already been closed for a year.
During soccer season, the beer-focused bar next to Providence Park would normally be swarming with Timbers and Thorns fans draining pints next to neighborhood regulars with leashed dogs in tow. But on March 15, 2020, as the state braced for the governor’s stay-at-home order, stools sat empty, and the bartender lamented he might be out of a job for a while.
It seemed like a preview of a coming brewpocalypse.
In the earliest days of COVID-19, nobody was sure how big a blow it would deal to Oregon’s nationally renowned craft beer industry. Coming off an already rough year that saw many iconic brands go under, plenty expected the worst: What if the pandemic took out so many breweries Portland could no longer rightly call itself “Beervana”?
Within days, however, the industry began to adapt. Breweries that had long been staunchly draft-only turned to canning for the first time. Companies with no experience doing delivery launched ambitious store-to-door drop-offs. Come winter, brewpubs turned streets into cozy shelters, serving hot mulled drinks inspired by European traditions for extra warmth.
Such success stories exemplify the creativity and determination of Oregon’s beer culture. And with Willamette Week’s annual Oregon Beer Awards happening this week, it’s the perfect time to recognize the hardships these businesses endured so we could all continue to enjoy a thoughtfully made beverage during a highly stressful year.
That’s why, in this issue, we’re using eight great beers to show how craft brewing managed to survive its most challenging year yet—from bars and breweries to yeast suppliers and the hop farms that had to pick their crops just as historic wildfires ignited across the state.
Even if we couldn’t clink glasses together at last call for much of the past year, Oregon did not lose its connection to locally made beer. In the Pacific Northwest, brewing is much more than just an economic sector—it’s part of what defines us. That’s worth raising a glass to.
—Andi Prewitt, Assistant Arts & Culture Editor
WATCH: Willamette Week’s Oregon Beer Awards 2021 streams 5:30 pm on Thursday, May 20. $5. Get tickets here.