Henry Weinhard: one of Portland’s first craft brewers

Red brick buildings loom above a city block in Northwest Portland.

The northwest end of the old brewing complex houses a Madewell store. | Photo by PDXtoday

The year was 1851 when a young German man set out on an adventure that would change his life… and leave a lasting imprint on Portland and the beer industry at large. Perhaps you’ve heard of him before: his name was Henry Weinhard.

Henry was an eccentric fellow with a love of bringing people together. He apprenticed in the brewing trade in Stuttgart, before immigrating to the US. After jumping around New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Missouri + California, Henry landed in the Pacific Northwest. He spent six months working at a brewery in present-day Vancouver, Washington, before venturing across the Columbia River to start a brewery in Portland in 1856 with a man fittingly named George Bottler. Fun fact: Portland was just five years old at the time.

A black and white portrait of Henry Weinhard.

Henry and his wife Louisa had five children together. | Photo via Wikimedia Commons

The partnership didn’t pan out: Henry sold his stake to George and returned to the brewery in Vancouver, which he purchased in 1859 + creatively renamed the Vancouver Brewery. Henry found his way back to the Rose City three years later, but this time, he was ready to tap a proverbial keg and get the party started.

Henry bought a couple more Portland breweries — including the city’s oldest, Liberty Brewery — and revived his partnership with George to build a new brewing hub on the outskirts of town in what’s now Northwest Portland’s Pearl District. After buying out his partner, Henry bent his focus on improving and expanding his flocculating business.

The red brick buildings of the Weinhard Brewery Complex housed malt and brewing facilities, cellars, and refrigeration machines that were top-of-the-line at the time. By 1890, Henry’s sudsy empire was producing 40,000 barrels of beer a year, making it the largest of its kind in the PNW.

Amid his push (or dare we say, hop?) toward becoming a brewing legend, Henry made an offer to the City of Portland that has bubbled over into the pages of history books. In 1888, the Skidmore Fountain was placed near Southwest Ankeny + West Burnside streets, bearing the inscription “Good Citizens Are The Riches Of A City.” Our friend Henry, being the good citizen he was, offered to pipe beer through the fountain for its dedication ceremony — but the chairman of the Fountain Committee (who shall not be named) turned him down. Apparently, the chairman was worried about horses getting rowdy. But if you ask us, he sounded like a bit of a buzzkill.

Henry died in September of 1904 at the age of 74 and was laid to rest in River View Cemetery. His business carried on, briefly pivoting from suds to sodas during Prohibition. Those non-alcoholic beverages, with flavors like root beer + orange cream, are still on store shelves today. But Henry Weinhard’s Private Reserve — brewed locally from 1976-2021 and known as a “gold standard” of beerhas gone flat. Parent company Molson Coors discontinued the beer in favor of focusing on hard seltzers.

A black-and-white rendering of the Weinhard Brewing Complex in Portland, Oregon.

A “New Year’s Greeting!” ad in the Morning Oregonian, circa Jan. 1, 1914. | Art by Paul Wessinger + Henry Wagner

As for the Weinhard Brewery Complex, it was sold in 1999 to developers who transformed the buildings into commercial businesses and condos — though some of the original structures remain in what’s now known as the Brewery Blocks. You can see the bones of the brewery on West Burnside Street between Northwest 11th and 12th avenues. Maybe you’ll even catch the ghostly scent of boiling wort on the breeze.

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