Oregon beer history

On tap: 200 years of Oregon beer

The Historical Society's "Barley, Barrels, Bottle, & Brews" tells the tale of Oregon beer culture from then to now. We'll drink to that.

Oregon’s brewing industry is robust and growing, with nearly 300 breweries, hundreds of pubs and taprooms, and legions of fans thirsty for its hoppy, craft-brewed beers. But all that great beer had to start somewhere, so it’s instructive to put that pint down for a while and tour the new exhibit at the Oregon Historical Society that details the 200-year history of Oregon brewing.

Barley, Barrels, Bottles, & Brews: 200 Years of Oregon Beer fulfills its promise with a good selection of artifacts from the museum’s collections and a few high-tech twists such as the interactive brewing flow chart, the Hop AromaTron (not its real name) and the design-your-own-beer display that will interest even the non-beer-drinker ­– I mean, there must be a few out there, right? But not many, said OHS executive director Kerry Tymchuk as he led a gaggle of journos through the new exhibit. “Why should we care about Oregon beer,” he said, “because beer and brewing has always been a vital part of Oregon culture, thanks in part to the hops grown here and the fact that Oregonians have always loved their beer.”

Two hundred years of beer on the wall at the Oregon Historical Society. Photo: John Foyston

That love started early – if with a bit of orthographic diversity – with an entry from the Lewis & Clark journals: “Collins made Some excellent beer … which was verry good.” It probably wasn’t much like the hazy and brut IPAs that are the current Oregon favorites, it being brewed with Camas-root bread and all … but I imagine any beer was well received in that circumstance.