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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 1,236

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This is the grave of Henry Weinhard.

Born in 1830 in the Kingdom of W眉rttemberg, which is today the southwestern corner of Germany, Weinhard went into the brewing trade at a young age, becoming an apprentice to a brewer. This was still the most common way someone entered a line work at this time, especially if they weren’t going into the burgeoning factory system. He worked for a brewer in Stuttgart and then immigrated to the United States in 1851, joining the large German migration at that time.

Weinhard first lived and worked in Philadelphia, where he got a job with a brewer there. Then he moved west to Cincinnati and then St. Louis. He was working for other brewers through these years. But he had no intention of remaining in that role. He wanted to own his own brewery. And while we might think of a lot of German lagers as basically the same, each brewer did have a different formula and Weinhard began experimenting with his own beers.

Weinhard first attempted to open his own brewery when he moved to Sacramento in 1856. He didn’t make it there yet and continued to move around to find better opportunities. That led him to Washington Territory in 1857, in the settlement of Vancouver, just across the Columbia River from Portland. It took a few years, with a brewery or two opening and closing, some partnerships not working out, all the common things that happens when someone is trying to make it in a new business. But this was to be his home. In 1862, Weinhard began consolidating a bunch of breweries he bought and built a big new brewery in northwest Portland. This became the Blitz-Weinhard Brewery, which was the largest brewery in Oregon for a very long time.

Blitz-Weinhard, and more specifically, Henry Weinhard’s Private Reserve, was still a huge thing in the Northwest when I was growing up. In fact, the first beer I ever had, which must have been about 1994 (I was a late bloomer on this front) was a Henry’s Red, of all damn things. This was the moment when a few breweries began to realize that the microbrewery thing was real and started experimenting on their own with some different things. I don’t know what ol’Weinhard himself would have thought of this, but looking back it was probably a pretty bad beer. More common was the green label Henry’s Ale, which we thought was “fancy” at the time while also being cheap, but was in fact an awful beer. In later years, I would occasionally have this and wonder what the hell I was thinking, but it was college and you know how that is.

The Blitz-Weinhard Brewery that opened its location in northwest Portland in 1864 remained in operation until 1999. In fact, I have argued that the closure of that brewery–and the loss of the rank hot smells of a gigantic brewery–was effectively the last straw for working class Portland. It used to be that when you went to Powell’s, you had to smell that brewery. It wasn’t necessarily pleasant, but it wasn’t that awful and it was a reminder that this was a city where worked happened. But of course like so many regional breweries at this time, it could not survive the consolidations of the industry. At this time, Stroh’s owned it and it sold it to Miller, who then closed the brewery. It became part of the many redevelopments of Portland and included a pretty good beer bar called Henry’s that kept some of the original piping and was something of a homage to what was once there but was also a just too typical of what was happening to Portland. Miller kept it going for awhile. First it brewed it at the Rainier Brewery in Seattle but then it closed that in 2003 (and that went through its own renovation that is similar to the Weinhard Brewery in what that contributed to the redevelopment but also erasure of work from south Seattle). Then it brewed a bit of it at the Full Sail Brewery in Hood River, Oregon, one of the microbrews it had bought. But it finally ended the brand. It was almost impossible to find after 2013 and I believe is officially gone today. But then Hop Valley, which is another Oregon once microbrewery that sold out, is claiming it will brew it again. I don’t know why, given the only value for it is nostalgia. The brand name has occasionally popped up, most notably in a bunch of sodas but for awhile with those loathsome alcoholic sodas, one of the many attempts to find booze for people who actually hate alcohol. What a desecration of a once noble brand.

As for Weinhard himself, he grew rich and became one of the respectable citizens of Portland. That’s what he always wanted anyway. He became a major investor in the city’s business community, owning or partially owning railroads and hotels. He had a big family and lived the life of the rich patriarch. Notably, when the city opened the Skidmore Fountain in 1888, Weinhard offered to fill it with his beer to start it off. But the city declined, because it worried that all the horses would get drunk. What a missed opportunity.

Weinhard died in 1904. He was 74 years old.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the Northwest beer companies had something of a race to the top in terms of quality commercials. Think of it as the older version of the insurance companies today (as an aside, while insurance company commercials are enjoyable to watch, who the hell is changing companies because Jake from State Farm is hot or whatever). The most famous of these commercials came from Rainier, which are true all-time classics of the genre. But Weinhard had some really excellent work as well and it’s time to watch some of them.

This second one I am actually writing about in one of my book projects.

Writing this post was way too much fun.

Henry Weinhard is buried in River View Cemetery, Portland, Oregon.

If you would like this series to visit other American brewers, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Frederick Pabst is buried in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and David Yuengling, maker of the most vile beer to ever pollute our shores, is in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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