0717 beer henry weinhard okspbr

If only Henry Weinhard's came in can.

Image: Amy Martin

At some point, every Portlander chooses a tallboy.

There’s the Pabst Blue Ribbon crowd. There are the soggy Olympia and Rainier loyalists, who remember sneaking cans from their parents’ fridge back in Tacoma. The Hamm’s romantics. The Old German nihilists. And let’s not forget the Tecaté misfits.

Indeed, no farmhouse ale or Cascadian dark can totally replace Portland’s thirst for the cheap and generic. Let’s be honest—for all these beers the taste is barely of consequence, the origins even less important. (PBR is based in Milwaukee and brewed in LA; Hamm’s, in St. Paul, Minnesota.) What matters is a low-budget buzz with a little “authenticity.”

So why not drink the cheap lager a Portlander can actually be proud of, Henry Weinhard’s Private Reserve? Easy: it doesn’t come in a tallboy. Yet.

Starting in the 1840s, entrepreneurial brewers moved from Germany to the United States—Adolphus Busch, Eberhard Anheuser, Adolph Coors, Frederick Miller, and Frederick Pabst were among that wave. So was Henry Weinhard. Born near Stuttgart in 1830, Weinhard landed in New York with his town’s lager recipe and eyes on an untapped New World market: the Northwest, land of thirsty loggers. In 1855 Weinhard made his way to Portland, where he partnered with the aptly named George Bottler for the Henry Weinhard & George Bottler Brewery. Later, after gobbling up three competitors, Weinhard built the modern City Brewery. By the 1890s, it was the largest brewery on the coast, shipping lager across the US as well as to Siberia, Japan, China, and the Philippines. An Oregonian review hailed Weinhard’s lager as the “choice of the connoisseur, being clear as amber and unequaled for a nice, exhilarating drink.”

Temperance movements eventually put an end to the party. In 1912, eight years after Weinhard died, Gov. Oswald West (himself the son of an alcoholic) targeted Portland breweries. (“Weinhard’s brewery won’t rule the state of Oregon,” West declared in a speech on the site of what is now Providence Park.  “There isn’t a brick in the brewery down here that doesn’t represent a broken heart.”) Of course, Henry’s outlasted Prohibition, and as late as 1999 still perfumed downtown Portland with the deliciously damp aroma from that red-brick brewery.

But that golden elixir is still out there, for about $6.99 per six-pack, with most of the same perks as that can of PBR. Out-of-state, macro owners? Check—in 1999 Weinhard’s sold to SABMiller. Out-of-date branding? You bet. Complete obscurity? Devastatingly so. In fact, the brewery whose founder once magnanimously offered to pump beer through Portland’s Skidmore Fountain is all but forgotten—even by its corporate caretakers. Calls and e-mails to MillerCoors (who own the brand now that SABMiller belongs to ABInBev) went unanswered. The footer of Weinhard’s spare website offers the only hint of a connection to the mortal world: Golden, Colorado.

Perfect. All that’s missing: a tallboy, that extra-ounces can perfectly sized for a cooler, a river float, or just sitting for a few extra minutes on the porch steps. Miller, if you’re reading this, help us out!

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