The Strange Nature of Culture and Beer

See the update below with numbers from the Oregon Brewers Guild.

The city of Portland, Oregon is widely regarded to have the best beer culture in the US. (Ashevillians, sit down and listen.) It is abutted:
  • on the west by Beaverton, population 90,267,
  • on the southeast by Milwaukie (not Milwaukee), population 20,291,
  • on the east by Gresham, population 105, 594,
  • on the south by Lake Oswego, population 36,713,
  • on the southwest by Tigard, population 47,460.
Portland has 53 breweries, and the residents consume an absurd percentage of craft beer. Beaverton, Milwaukie, and Lake Oswego, combined, have zero breweries (there are a couple McMenamins pubs scattered around, but none have attached breweries). Tigard has one brewery, and Gresham has one. Doing a little back-of-the-iPhone math here, I see that the 583,776 residents of Portland enjoy one mash tun for every 11,000 citizens. The 300,325 residents of the suburbs ringing Portland, by contrast, have one brewery for every 150,000 citizens.

You could probably calculate this in ways to make this disparity appear smaller--adding the McMenamins into the mix, for example--but the result is not going to much change. The fact is that the city of Portland has scads of breweries and the cities immediately adjacent to Portland have next to none.

All of this came into my head yesterday as I read a story that Milwaukie is looking to attract a minor league baseball team. The teaser mentioned that a brewpub would be a part of the deal. A brewpub--in Milwaukie--huge news! Well, sort of. It turns out the McMenamins are the suitor, so it's not clear if there will even be a brewery attached.

One of the things that most fascinates me about good beer is the culture that surrounds it. It may be that Portland suburbanites drink a fair amount of good beer. Those cities have a far less developed sense of pub-going, and only 10% of the beer sold in America is sold in pubs. So possibly fridges are stocked with Hopworks, Upright, and Deschutes beer. Portland suburbs benefit from the richness of Portland's beer culture, whether they support it directly or not. If we had depended on Lake Oswego to create the craft brewing renaissance in Oregon, though, we'd still be waiting.

Why don't breweries flourish in the suburbs? Why doesn't the market demand a corner brewery in every neighborhood? Why do people living within five miles of each other have such different attitudes about pub-going? I haven't the vaguest clue. I do know that it has nothing to do with the beer and everything to do with the people. But what?


Update. Brian Butenschoen, Director of the Oregon Brewers Guild, sent me a note with these numbers which you can take to be the gospel truth. It doesn't change the thrust of the post, but it does resolve some of the issues with exact counts. (Vancouver, WA isn't included.)
I did want to clarify for your records Portland has 40 breweries in the city limits, 53 in the metro area. Gresham has two breweries, 4th Street and McMenamins Highland. Tigard has two as well John Barleycorns and Max's Fanno Creek. Beaverton has none, Oregon City has none. Sherwood now has one, Wilsonville now has one and West Linn has had one for a while.