If there's a city that rivals San Diego in fondness for craft beer, it's Portland, Oregon. More than 100 breweries active in the greater metro area contribute to a $4.5 billion economic impact in the state, which consumes more than a million barrels per year. San Diego breweries looking to crack that market don't have it easy. The Oregon Brewers Guild estimates 63 percent of all draft beer served in-state, was also brewed in-state.
"Portland is a tough market," acknowledges Lisa Morrison, accomplished beer writer and co-owner of Belmont Station, the craft bottle shop known as one of Portland's best, with more than 1500 selections on sale or on draft. She says the 20-year-old shop is dedicated to consumer education, contributing to Portland's profusion of knowledgeable beer enthusiasts, and making Belmont Station a popular launch party location for San Diego breweries entering the Portland market.
San Diego brands such as AleSmith, Stone Brewing, Green Flash, and Ballast Point have long been represented in Portland, with Coronado Brewing appearing three years ago. "San Diego beers do mostly pretty well for us," says Belmont employee Mike Ashton, though he notes brands such as Stone don't sell as well as they used to. "People are excited to see new things," he explains.
For example, Belching Beaver, which entered the market in the summer. At the moment, Ashton says, "Everybody's obsessed with Peanut Butter Milk Stout," one of Belching Beaver's flagship beers. Beer and music fans have also gravitated toward the Oceanside/Vista brewery's Phantom Bride IPA, brewed in collaboration with rock band the Deftones.
When asked which San Diego breweries might do well to distribute in Portland, Ashton mentioned that Modern Times' late-December Facebook announcement that it's seeking a sales rep for imminent Pacific Northwest distribution has got beer fans buzzing.
A couple miles away, N.W.I.P.A. owner Jackson Wyatt echoes the notion newness appeals to Portland beer fans. "This is a very what's new market," says Wyatt, who opened the IPA-centric shop — which locals call "N-Dubs" — over four years ago.
Wyatt offers a limited, carefully curated draft and packaged selection that does feature several of the aforementioned San Diego brands, plus newly available Mother Earth Brewing — which recently began distributing to the northwest from its new Idaho brewery. While there's been some interest, so far he's seen demand for Mother Earth eclipsed by other recent arrivals, in particular the award-winning IPAs of Anaheim's Noble Ale Works, and Wyoming's Melvins Brewing.
Discussing San Diego brands Portlanders might be craving, Wyatt points to Abnormal Beer Co., which recently brought a few kegs to town while brewing a collaboration beer with nearby Great Notion Brewing. However, he adds, "The one we want to get the most is Societe."
Over at the Beer Mongers, a seven-year-old shop that carries more than 600 beers, buyer Chris Tappan also cites Abnormal, Societe, and Modern Times as San Diego brands his beer-savvy clientele looks forward to. While last month's arrival of Port Brewing, Hop Concept, and Lost Abbey beers have sparked some interest, Tappan and other beer folk I spoke to are keenly aware the triple-headed San Marcos brewery has been available in Seattle for years, and the fact it passed over Portland for so long may have dampened its initial reception.
Tappan also points out the biggest challenge to San Diego competing in the Portland market. Like other beer shop workers, he could point to many local beers on his shelves that had been brewed a week, or even days before, whereas bottles of AleSmith had arrived already two months old. "Freshness is key to me," he says, and particularly with IPAs, proves a selling point to customers.