Portland is a better beer town than Denver. As a Denver native, it pains me to say that, but after having visited Beervana for the first, time, there is no getting around it.
While Denver brewers consistently make better beer than those in Portland, there are more than three times as many breweries in the Rose City than there are in the Mile High.
Still, Portland's dominance doesn't have to do with quantity or quality. No, it's the little things in between, the culture, that makes the difference. And while Denver has made significant strides in that area over the past year, we still have a ways to go.
Neighborhood Pubs There are three to four dozen breweries in Portland -- depending on where and what you are counting -- and while not all of them are stellar, they are strewn throughout the city so that different neighborhoods can each claim at least one as their own. Ask twenty people in Portland where to go for a pint and you'll get twenty different answers, depending on where that person hangs out.
Like Portland, Denver has fantastic, distinct, walkable neighborhoods, but most of our breweries are clustered in one place. Imagine if Park Hill, Highland, Washington Park and Virginia Vale each had a place that locals could walk to and drink ales brewed just blocks from their homes.
Beer Bars In the past year, Denver's beer scene has changed immensely as more than a dozen bars have opened with a huge lineup -- ten, twenty or more -- of microbrews on tap.
By the end of 2010, more than 350 news craft beer taps will have been added in the city. But in Portland, the scene has looked like this for years. Even dive bars and Irish pubs have a least a couple of handles pouring Deschutes or Ninkasi or Rogue. Bottle Shops Beer Mongers, a store on the east side of the Willamette River, sells beer -- and beer only -- a hand-selected cross section of all the bounty that Oregon has to offer. Not sure what you want to buy? Crack a single bottle right there and enjoy it in a glass before buying a sixer.
Beer Mongers also has four unusual beers on draft at any one time. And it's not alone. There are several bottle shops in Portland that specialize in beer, beer pairings, beer glassware, beer knowledge and, yes, beer on tap.
Growlers Any Portland bar that sells beer can fill growlers -- 64-ounce containers that customers bring in and then take with them -- as opposed to Denver, where only brewpubs can sell their own stuff. The ability to buy growlers means craft-beer drinkers can take the beer culture with them in the form of fresh craft beer of whatever flavor they like.
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Airport The city of Portland and the state of Oregon take pride in their beer (and wine), and allow them to be sold in the airport, by the bottle, by the growler. You can buy a fresh growler of Rogue at the airport brewpub or in an Oregon specialty store and take it home on the plane. Both locations are past security, so it's not an issue. You can also buy numerous bottles of other Oregon beers in the airport and stash them in your carry-on bag.
Denver doesn't allow this, although Westword has been pushing the idea for years.
Together, these things create a beer culture that Denver is, oddly, just beginning to develop. Although Colorado still beats Oregon as a state when it comes to the community, creativity, quality (and possibly quantity) of beer produced, we have our work cut out for us in the city.