History in Portland
Early years: George Weinhard and Simon Benson
Professional brewing came to Portland in 1852, one year after the city's incorporation, when German brewer Henry Saxer settled in town and opened Liberty Brewery. In 1856, another German immigrant named Henry Weinhard arrived in Portland and launched its second brewery, City Brewery, with his partner George Bottler.
Weinhard bought Liberty Brewery from Saxer in 1862. In 1864, he also bought Bottler's interest in City Brewery, then located in the future Pearl District.
In 1888, as the city was preparing for the celebration of the Skidmore Fountain, Weinhard offered to pump beer from his brewery through city fire hoses into the fountain. The generous offer was vetoed, however, by city leaders who feared citizens would puncture the valuable hoses to intercept the beer.
In 1912, lumber baron and teetotaler Simon Benson attempted to reduce beer consumption in the labor force by donating 20 sculpted bronze drinking fountains to the city. Beer consumption dropped almost 25 percent after the installation of the Benson Bubblers.
In 1914, two years after women's suffrage arrived in Oregon and six years before the federal prohibition of alcohol, an Oregon state law banned the manufacture and sale of beer, wine and liquor in Oregon.
Weinhard City Brewery stayed in business by producing non-alcoholic beer, soft drinks, fruit drinks, syrups and flavorings. In 1928, with Prohibition still in effect, City Brewery merged with Arnold Blitz's Portland Brewing Company.
Prohibition ended in Portland with the end of national prohibition in 1933.
1970s: The Wessingers take charge
By the 1970s, two of Weinhard's great-grandsons, Bill and Fred Wessinger, bought out the remaining Blitz and Weinhard descendants and, to celebrate, launched Henry Weinhard Private Reserve as a special "super-premium" brand. After a successful test at Jake's Famous Crawfish, the Wessingers decided to expand Henry's nationwide.
The Wessingers established the brewery's Old English 800 as a national brand.
In 1979, President Jimmy Carter signed a bill by California Senator Alan Cranston, allowing a single person to brew up to 100 gallons of beer annually for personal enjoyment, or up to 200 gallons in a household of two or more adults. The move accelerated the growth of craft and microbrewing in Portland and elsewhere.
In the same year, the Wessingers sold Blitz Weinhard Brewery to Pabst Brewing Company.
1980s: Bridgeport, Widmer, MeMenamin and the craft beer revolution
In 1981, winemaker Charles Coury opened the short-lived Cartwright Brewing Company, Portland's first craft brewery since Prohibition. In 1984, the grape-growing Ponzi family Bridgeport Brewing Company began operation in a former hemp rope factory in Northwest Portland under the name "Columbia River Brewery." The success of one of the new brewery's beers, Bridgeport Nut Brown Ale, gives the company a new name.
In 1985, the Oregon Legislature allows brewers to sell beer directly to the public. Among the first beneficiaries are Mike McMenamin and Brian McMenamin, who open Oregon's first brewpub, the Hillsdale Brewery and Public House. The pub is the first link in the McMenamin's regional entertainment chain.
Also in 1985, brothers Kurt Widmer and Rob Widmer establish Widmer Brothers Brewing Company in Northwest Portland, one block from Bridgeport. The wheat-based, lemon-flavored Widmer Hefeweizen is introduced in 1986 and becomes Widmer's most popular brew.
In 1986, Art Larrance and Fred Bowman open Oregon's first craft brewery, Portland Brewing Company. In 1987, Full Sail Brewing Company begins operation in Hood River, an hour's drive up the Columbia Gorge.
In 1988, the first annual Oregon Brewers Festival marks the flowering of local beers. It grows into a four-day celebration, North America's largest gathering of independent brewers.
Decline of Henry Weinhard brand
In 1983, Chicago-based G. Heileman Brewing Company bought Pabst and, with it, the historic Weinhard-Blitz brands and breweries.
In 1996, the Heilman company's subsequent bankruptcy led to the brewery's sale to Detroit-based Stroh Brewing Commpany. Stroh then sold the profitable Henry Weinhard brand to Miller Brewing Company in 1999. Miller transferred production to the Olympia brewery in Tumwater, Wash., and put the five-block Blitz-Weinhard complex up for sale. The Brewery Blocks were purchased and renovated Portland development firm Gerding Edlen.