A restaurant man thru and thru.
Oregon’s oldest craft brewery, Bridgeport Brewing Company, saw an enormous opportunity and seized it—or more accurately, fermented it. As a result, Portland’s first micro-brew, Columbia River Brewery, as it was originally named, opened its doors in 1984.
Bridgeport noticed that, much like beer drinkers today, people wanted better beer crafted with flavor and finesse, rather than manufactured beer. It’s almost serendipitous that the call for well-crafted beer came from the region that could produce it. Bridgeport’s recipe has changed little since the first small batch productions, using tap water from the Bull Run Watershed, and malts and hops from nearby local farms.
I sat down with General Manager, Dave Pendleton, at Bridgeport Brewing Co. to talk about the importance of local ingredients, how Bridgeport Brewpub is altering people’s perspective on beer, food, and a tradition that has stood the test of time.
With craft breweries popping up left and right, how do you maintain your stronghold in the craft brewery scene?
On the pub-end, we do it through what our Executive Chef, Jack Henniger (pictured below), refers to as an elevated cuisine—a large menu that has gluten-free options, vegetarian options and vegan options that we try to keep priced in the $8 – $16 range. That, of course, allows food-goers access to our beers that we make here. It helps us expose our beer through the pub. It’s a very competitive market—we’re up 60 to 70 brewpubs now, but the interest in beer and the tourism around beer has increased the pie as well. So, more competition, sure, more beer drinkers sure. Oregon, and arguably the nation, is moving away from what’s known as ‘the big three’ which are the lagers made by Coors, Miller and Bud and the craft brew has grown.
Bridgeport is known as an ale house; in beer, there are ales and lagers. You have two different types of beer—one being top fermenting and one being bottom fermenting. We make ales, primarily. Our IPA was the first big hit for us and it really pushed India Pale Ales into the market. We continue to make a traditional mid-bodied IPA that is fruity, floral and has a beautiful orange hue without adding too much bitterness to it. Now IPA’s have gone much more bitter and higher alcohol. We’ve kept to the traditional style ales in the British fashion since 1984.
It seems like you’re trying to keep the quality and popularity of your beer synonymous with your food. What is your goal with this?
When you think about going out for a really nice meal you think of pairing it with wine and cocktails; you don’t really think of beer. What our menu has done here has shown that good handcrafted beer and good fresh creative cuisine to go together well.
How did you get your start in beer?
This (Bridgeport) was my start in beer. I’ve been working in the restaurant scene since I was 17, but in coming to Portland, what excited me about Bridgeport was the opportunity to run and manage a restaurant within a setting that had so much beer heritage and a focus on beer. My start in learning about beer making started here and I’ve been doing it for the last nine years.
It is an art and our beer is local, including using local berries for the Stumptown Tart that’s out now. Our head brewer, Jeff Edgerton, stays within the Pacific Northwest for ‘most everything that’s in our beer, from Yakima Valley down to Willamette Valley. So, you have local dynamic food paired with local traditional English ales made with Oregon ingredients.
What beer is in production that you would suggest for summer?
We have our Long Ball Ale. It’s not a newbie, but it’s seasonal, and that is a light pale ale, which we’ve partnered with the Hillsboro Hops, the AA baseball team in Hillsboro. We take it to the stadium there and serve it at the pub. Also, the Stumptown Tart, which is our spring release in bottle form only, is a raspberry infused beer done in a sour style. It’s not a sour, nor a wheat beer, but it grabs some of those characteristics that liken them. Then, in late summer and early fall, we do a yearly hop harvest. It’s a fresh hop, meaning our brewer Jeff gets fresh hops and there’s only about a four-week window for that beer to be here for the summer season.
If you could be any type of beer, what would you be?
We make a barley-style beer called Old Knucklehead that we release during the holidays. It’s a strong ale that has over seven percent alcohol and it’s got a barley wine character—malty and a little sweet and really good on cold, rainy Portland nights. That would be me.
Bridgeport Brewing Co.
Photos by Tim Sugden