Gloves Out, Bottoms Up

Beer Brawl

Colorado is treading on Oregon’s turf as the country’s microbrew mecca, something we don’t take lightly. Behold, the smackdown.

By Christian DeBenedetti May 19, 2009 Published in the June 2008 issue of Portland Monthly

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Image: Dylan Harkavy

ALL METEOROLOGICAL evidence to the contrary, Colorado and Oregon actually have much in common. We have the Cascades; they’ve got the Rockies. (And no, we don’t want to read any letters about how much more "epic" the Rockies are. Save it for the chairlift, brah.) We have Brandon Roy; they have Carmelo Anthony. But the parity ends when it comes to beer.

Sure, Time magazine recently lauded Denver as the beer world’s Napa Valley equivalent. And true, in April, when the Brewer’s Association named America’s top 50 craft breweries, Colorado boasted 6 while Oregon had 5. But any beer-o-phile who knows his hops from a hogshead will tell you that Oregon is the birthplace of craft beer, and Colorado, well, it’s just riding on our coattails.

Consider the numbers. Portland has 31 breweries; Denver, a mere 11. Colorado’s 108 craft brewing companies produce about 100,000 fewer barrels than Oregon’s 89 companies. Moreover, according to the Oregon Brewers Guild, 42 percent of beer on tap in Oregon also was made here—in craft breweries. That’s well above the national average, and Colorado’s. And of the five 2008 World Beer Cup Champion Brewery and Brewers awards, Oregon micros nabbed two (Bend Brewing Company and Pelican Pub and Brewery), while the Centennial State mustered only one (Blue Moon Brewing Company, a Coors subsidiary, no less).

We’ll admit that by volume, Colorado produces a lot more beer overall than Oregon—they churn out more than 23 million barrels, while we craft less than a million. But when about 97 percent of their beer comes courtesy of major corporations and is rather flavorless, we, frankly, couldn’t care less how much they make.

“Colorado’s market is dominated by major players—Coors, Anheuser-Busch. Oregon isn’t like that. We’re legit,” says Van Havig, president of the Oregon Brewers Guild and head brewer of the Portland outpost of Rock Bottom brewery. Then, perhaps feeling a little guilty (Rock Bottom’s headquarters are, after all, based in Colorado), Havig praised craft brewers Avery and New Belgium as quaffable Colorado exceptions.

For a Rocky Mountain retort, we turned to Marty Jones, marketing guru for Oskar Blues brewery in Lyons, Colorado, producer of Dale’s Pale Ale, the first-ever micro to come in a can. “Colorado has an edge on the extreme side, in terms of big, assertive beers that also have balance,” he says, citing Colorado’s Avery and Great Divide breweries. “When I go to the Northwest, I get hopped out.” Still, even Jones couldn’t deny Oregon’s superiority as a brewpub paradise, something he (predictably) blames on the weather. “Our weather is great,” he laughs. “You don’t have that luxury, so you go to a bar and drink.”

We can’t argue with that. But we’ll sure as hell drink to it.

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