Way Back When - Henry Weinhard

Over the holidays, Sally and I picked up a new printer to replace our obsolete 1990s tech. The new-fangled machine we got is a printer/copier/scanner, which gave me the opportunity to dig around through the box of photos for digitization. Amid those thousands of snaps are a few cool beer pics, and I'll be posting them from time to time as I come across them. First up, a shot I took of the Henry Weinhard brewery sometime between about 1995 and when it closed in 1999.

Henry Weinhard founded his brewery in downtown Portland when there really wasn't much of a town to speak of. He located it on the western outskirts, several blocks away from the river. For the next 140 years, it scented the Rose City. Going downtown meant encountering that particular aroma--bready, yeasty, wet, spicy. The city has transformed itself so radically that it's difficult to recall the era when a million-barrel industrial brewery anchored downtown--or perhaps more accurately, stunted it. Until just before Henry's closed down, Burnside was a very rough street; prostitution, drug sales, and homelessness marked it as a kind of dangerous DMZ. On one side, office workers and respectable downtown; on the other, old town and long unihabited tracts of quiet warehouses.

There was a functional aspect to the brewery's location: it was right on the rail line, critical for delivery of those tons of ingredients Weinhard consumed. Periodically you'd see the scene I captured in this photo--a rail car of corn syrup (more visible in the detail). Now, I'm not sure what they used corn syrup for--quite possible it all went into their root beer--but as meta-narrative, the image was stark. By the time Henry's died, Portland had already become Beervana. Jackson had feted us as the country's best beer town, and we were already bragging about having the most breweries. There was something so anachronistic about a creaky old brewery that had corn syrup delivered by the rail car.

When Miller finally shuttered the doors in '99, it was a sad time. Henry's had been a part of the city since pretty much there was a city. (It was founded in 1856, five years after the city had been incorporated with just 800 souls.) Fortunately, you can still get that lovely aroma at points throughout the city. I wouldn't be surprised if Widmer one day brews more beer than Henry's did. Certainly the time when the city produces more beer in aggregate is not far away (or maybe has already arrived). And of course, most of that beer is far tastier. Still, Henry's was an institution. It was a little bittersweet to find these photos--but also amusing. Times have changed, haven't they? I don't think we'll be seeing corn syrup being delivered to breweries anytime soon.