Building a Beerscape

Salem is ripe for another attempt at building it’s beer culture, and many people have noticed as much. The interesting part is listening to the people who are shaping, or planning to shape, that landscape, and hearing where they’d like to see it go.

In recent years Salem has seen a reshaping of it’s downtown culture. It’s no longer being aimed primarily at teens and young 20 somethings. Salems food culture is a good example of this. We’ve always had a decent selection of restaurants downtown,  but the variety and style is changing. More and more Salems downtown culture seems to be shifting in a Portland direction. The question I have is should Salem follow the Portland model in terms of beer?

Portland has earned the nickname Beervana and has consistently been ranked in the top beer cities of the US. More and more though Oregon’s best beers are coming from outside of Portland. This is because Portland seems to be built on the brewpub/brewery model that came out of the 80’s and 90’s. Every brewery seems to have a selection of the same beers. No matter where you go in Portland you can get an IPA, or a stout. Because of this pubs spend more time trying to steal more market share from each other then on being unique. More and more it’s limited release beers, and a diversity of styles that are defining Oregon’s beerscape. But what does each new brewery bring to table? Just their versions of the same beers?

Should Salem build it’s beer culture on this pub platform? Do we really need more places like Boons or the RAM? Places where you can get pub food and their versions of the same beers. Salem has a chance to set off in a different direction. Salem has a chance to be different then Portland. I love diversity in beer, but the Portland model doesn’t have that, it just has lot’s of beer. Is there a way to preserve what makes Salem unique and at the same time build a unique beer culture?

17 Responses to “Building a Beerscape”

  1. Dr Wort says:


    State capitals are rarely the cultural centers of any state. For some reason, State Capitals have a tendency to be a little seedy and rather devoid of culture. Salem should just be Salem, the capital city. What attractions does Salem have? A thriving downtown? A Saturday Market? Tourist interest? Theater? Nice hotels? Music? Culture?? I don’t really know with the exception of what people tell me. All I hear is, “Salem is your typical Capital city.” See above.

    Portland has SELF-PROCLAIMED themselves BEERVANA. No one ever gave Portland that title. They self-proclaimed it! Like Michael Jackson self -proclaimed myself “the King of Pop.” In some ways Michael Jackson and Portland have some of the same insecurities disorders!

    You said, “Every brewery seems to have a selection of the same beers. No matter where you go in Portland you can get an IPA, or a stout. ” Also, “Just their version of the same beer….” Oh, I think the doctor has a tear in his eye…. ;-} NOW, you’re talking! You see the light! The light of mediocrity vs. uniqueness! IPA’s/ Porters/Pales….. Boring, pase’, antiquated! Been done to death! 80’s and 90’s tinker toy beers! You can go just about ANY state in our nation and get a decent IPA, Pale or Stout. Not saying I don’t enjoy one of these beers every so often, I do! But, we as American’s like to move on to new heights, new directions, new challenges….. We get bored easily with the same ol’ thing. Actually, looking around this state, I question that statement!

    Other states have moved on to new brewing horizons for over the past 10 years. We’re like the drowning kid in the middle of the lake, screaming, “Don’t worry, I can swim with the best,” as he goes under for the last time. It’s actually a very sad.

    Portland does have glimmers of hope. They may be jumping on the bus a little late and hanging off the side, but they’re trying. I have always said Hair of the Dog was and is one of the most unique “Quality” breweries in Oregon. Now, we have Upright trying to make their way with some good efforts and Cascade Brewing with their Acetone beers. I’m not a fan, but it is unique! Do we have any New Glaris type breweries? Jolly Pumpkin? New Belgium? Ommergang? Capital? Lakefront? Bells? Russian River? Lost Abbey? Bruery? etc…… the answer is NO! All these breweries stand out for making something NEW, interesting, cutting edge, unique.

    I love Old Lompoc’s LSD. It has that interesting smokiness and malt complexity. Is it unique? eh! Kind of, but not enough. Remember Alaska’s Smoked Porter? Yep! Been there, done that!

    Recently we had the Black IPA thing! New and interesting? Nope! It was done almost 10 years earlier by at least 2-3 breweries I know of in CA.

    I’m not sure Salem has a big chance with successful beer culture. Unfortunately, it is what it is. Bend has done a good job….. a good job at doing the same as Portland. ;-} I would think Eugene would have a decent chance at changing the beer culture of this state. Maybe Bend? They need to get beyond this boring IPA complacency and expand the locals palates. Of course, I’ve been preaching that since the beginning.

    Preach on… brother Jared!

  2. Jared says:

    I think you missunderstood me Doc. I wasn’t talking about styles in particular. Many Oregon breweries make Saisons, Belgians, you name it. Even then though your drinking better or worse versions of the same beer in pubs that serve better or worse food. Honestly, it get’s old. What I was talking about was a unique approach. Something different from the typical brewery/pub model. I’ll clarify more on that later though

    BTW Salem/Keizer does have a couple nice hotels, we have a saturday market, a couple theaters, music festivals, and many things beside. The problem is that in these areas we keep trying to emulate Portland. I’ve never been a fan of city life though. Personally I’d love to see the diversity Portland has, but without the city approach. Is was born in Salem and raised in the morningside neighborhood. At the time Salem (or at least the south part) was structured more around family then culture. Why couldn’t you have a unique blend of diversity and culture combined with a family oriented environment?

  3. Dr Wort says:

    Can you name a city that emulates your descriptor? What do you want Salem to be like? A family city with good beer and culture? Keep it small, but have a thriving beer scene, family oriented, culture and something that attracts? I’m curious.

    Right now, you are using the word “COUPLE.” They have a COUPLE Theaters, a COUPLE nice Hotels. I can find a COUPLE of any of these in most major big or small cities.

    Portland diversity? I assume you don’t mean cultural diversity since Portland is one of the most White Cracker cities on the West Coast. ;-} Nor is Portland a big tourist attraction like Seattle of other West Coast cities. With tourists comes MONEY and diversity for the masses.

    I do understand what you are saying! Beyond the styles. Although, I don’t know if the word “MANY” is appropriate when it comes to Belgian styles in Portland. Name 5 breweries that make a Saison, then tell me how many are worth drinking. ;-} I see Belgian tinkering, but that’s about it. I see lager tinkering, but that’s about it. Unique beers? Not so much.

    New approach to beer and pub? What are you thinking that hasn’t already been done? Quality beer and Quality food? Been done. Would it be an improvement to have more? YES! Most pubs in Portland run with a working man’s theme. Industrial, funky, loft like, exposed ceiling, etc. All been done to nausea! Is that what you mean by not unique?

    Coming from CA, I know what happens when you try and combine quality food with quality beer….. one them suffers.

    Are you looking for gimmick? Maybe, along the lines of a real British pub where Curry is King? I have very good friend who is from England and he says it hasn’t been done yet in America…. that he’s seen. Even with that, you’d want a twist and serving Curry and other British items in a authentic British pub settling wouldn’t be enough. Whether you paired the food with NW beer or British.

    I’ve traveled to quite a few states and foreign countries drinking beer. I’ve seen quite a few gimmicky pubs. Some high end, some low end and some just a cluster F*ck.

  4. Jared says:

    I’m using the word culture loosely. 🙂 After all, culture is the big buzz word.

    Personally as far as beer culture goes you have to remember I’m a homebrewer. To me Pubs and Resteraunts are just meh. I look forward to the once a month brewer meetings where we try each others beers. The beer we drink at those meetings is far better then anything I could get at a pub. And best of all it’s made by us, for fun. Not by some brewer paid to reproduce the previous brewers same recipes over and over.

    Sadly I don’t think you could build a beer culture on that…. Well you could but I don’t think it’d work well. What I’d love to see is a beer culture that wasn’t based on beer geeks. I’d love to walk into a diner with friends and order a unique house beer that’s made in back. Or go out to a pub opened to all ages and play cards while relaxing. Right now Salems eateries and pubs are directed more at adults in their late 20’s and 30’s. They’re built around eating and drinking. This is one reason why I love the idea that f/stop had.

    I’m not looking for something that hasn’t, or isn’t being done. I’m just looking for something different. That’s the reason I left the question so open ended.

    I expected more ides and less criticisms though from you. After all, we both agree that portland could be much better.

    Also when I used a couple it was because I honestly have no clue. I’ve been to plays at the Elsinor and the Pinnacle. Also Willamette’s theatre has hosted some good plays. I don’t really stay in hotels, especially in Salem, so while we have the Phoenix and the Wittenburhg there are probably more. I’m not saying it’s strong and thriving, but the beginings are there. Why do we view this big city model like Seattle or what have you as one to be emulated?

  5. Dr Wort says:

    Being a home brewer for over 20 years, I can relate to your thoughts. But, yes, there is an entire Home Brewing culture. It’s a little lax in this state, but other states have huge thriving home brewing culture with Home brewing festivals, multiple club tastings/interactions/events/ bbq’s/parties/ travels/etc.

    BTW, most long standing serious home brewer become beer geeks… ;-}

    Pubs are built around eating and drinking…. Oh my! ;-}

    I’m all for a universal aged pub. they exist in many places. It seems here, there are a lot of AGE TAGS that go onto pubs. I’d like to go somewhere where I can talk with people…. all people. Not just some geeked out hipster at one pub and some lumbar jacks in the other…. You know what I mean?

    Ooops… Sorry. You wanted ideas from me…. Well, other than everything has already been done. I might have to think about it.

    Criticism? Why does everybody in this state think they’re being criticized? I don’t see any criticisms in my last posts. Maybe it’s my written tone. I’m very up front, I don’t beat around bush. I calls it as I sees it. Here’s a criticism…. Why do so many people mistake honesty for criticism?

    I think you could find exactly the kind of pub you’re looking for. Just not here!

    What is f/stop?

    More later…

  6. Jared says:

    “Home brewing festivals, multiple club tastings/interactions/events/ bbq’s/parties/ travels/etc”

    “all people. Not just some geeked out hipster at one pub and some lumbar jacks in the other”

    Maybe we are on the same page after all 🙂

    The way you write does lend itself to being taken as critical. I don’t mind criticism, was just expecting ideas, not to have my post picked apart.

    f/stop is Salems smallest pub. It’s run as a community hangout that just also happens to serve alcohol. Sadly they have an age tag too. It’s only open Thursday Frday and Saturday, and it’s 21+ only. They have the a great idea though. I wrote a post on them that doesn’t do it justice. here’s the link.

  7. Dr Wort says:

    I told you we are on the same page…

    In regard to my responses…. I write as I read your posting. I like to be thorough and make sure I’m covering everything you say… ;-}

    21+ only? That covers everybody…. all adults at least. ;-} Personally, I don’t think many parents are responsible these to allow children in a bar setting. It seems many parents are not good at explaining things like self control and moderation.

    I’m not opposed to children in a pub or the like, just irresponsible parents.

    Yea! You’re just in the wrong state for what you want in a pub.

  8. Dr Wort says:

    In regard to f/stop…… My basement bar room is bigger than that! That’s not unique, that’s Uncle Franks basement bar with a new twist. ;-}

  9. dr wort says:


    Yea, it’s hard to get everything you want in a beer pub. My taste in pub enviroment changes. I get bored with the same ol place or the same surrounding. In that sense, I can be easy to please when it comes to surroundings.

    It’s what’s inside that becomes the key to me enjoying the surroundings. ;-} Whether in the mood for an Industrial Working Mans pub, dive, Tiki Bar or high end, the food and drink must be to my liking or why else would I be there.

    After 20+ years of drinking beer from all over the world you get a little picky…. unless you don’t care about what you’re drinking. Then, you’re just a drunk. ;-} Example: I don’t drink as much beer as I used too. Why? Bored with about 95% of it. Bored with it, so I don’t drink it to drink it.

    It sounds like you don’t know what you really want in da ecent pub. You kind of know, but have never been to one. need to get out there and check out the pub landscape. You’ll be surpised what’s out there.

    I’m used to pubs that are NOT so age specific or should I say generational and tribal specific. I know many, many, many pubs in my homeland that are for everyone. Actually, most are. People are a little more open and intersted in a good mix of people and some interesting conversation. That’s doesn’t usually mean fishing or mating pigs! You could easily be sitting with a guy wearing an Armani suit, who’s sitting next to a guy with a purple Mohawk who’s chatting with some Goth chick who walked in with a transvestite and hipster. Ah, yes…. now that’s something to make your pub experience interesting!

    I walk into a pub here and it’s like walking onto a Hollywood set of a bad sitcom! One pub is like the Hipster show, another pub is like Northern Exposure, another Axe-men and the average pub with average people looks like I’m viewing the Star Wars Clones…. everybody has the same haircut, clothes and boring lack of social skills.

    Ever hang around some of the local beer geeks? It’s like hanging around 13 year old mall rats. Tell me if you need clarifaction on that term. ;-}

    Yes! We may not be in search of the same exact pub, but we’re both looking for something that has a better appeal to us.

    In regard to cities…. Everything changes and sometimes not for the better. Sometimes you have to go out and find what you’re looking, rather than wait for it to come to you.

  10. Jared says:

    Way to get all deep Doc.

    What’s wrong with basement bars? Some of my favorite moments involved a beer with a few people in someones home or basement 🙂

    I’ve been to bars like what you discribed and loved that people were just people there. The problem is these places serve crappy beer/drinks, and really atmosphere alone doesn’t bring me back. Perhaps I don’t know what I’m looking for simply because I haven’t found a watering hole I truly like through and through yet. I do know I’ve been to Portland, and Portland is not where I want to live 😉

    It dose amuse me though to see all the hipsters sitting outside Boon’s smoking and talking politics, or watching the clubbers stumble out ot their holes at 2 am. For now I’ll just stick to basement bars and homebrewer meetings I guess.

    I think we’ve tea partied this convo enough. People may start getting ideas.

  11. Dr Wort says:

    Basement bars are great….. when you’re at home. ;-} I don’t want to go out to basement bar unless it’s at someones house.

    Gotta find what you like…. that usually evolved too…

    Who cares what people think….. That’s the city boy in me. ;-} We don’t worry about what people think. If you did, you’d be to judgmental to hang out at bar with a diverse crowd. ;-} Maybe that part of the problem I have with a lot of places, People are to judgmental of everyone else…

    Hipsters talking politics…. that’s funny!

  12. Carlos says:

    Guys!! What ever happened to just finding a drinking hole, enjoying a COLD beer and just getting away from work, stress and haning out with great friends??

    P.S-Jared, Me and Amy love Boon’s!!!! Almost the only place where we can have Hipster Hummus, beer and a cigar!

  13. Jared says:

    Hipster Hummus….. Wow I still can’t stop laughing at that.

    I find myself at Boons occasionaly, and have enjoyed myself almost every time. Besides once the rains start smoking outside might become a thing of the past till summer arrives again. Besides it’s good points though it isn’t a place I want to go back to again and again though. The closest any drinking hole comes to that for me is Venti’s, and I’m down to what? Drinking there once a month or so? Sometimes less I think. Hanging out with friends at home with good beer unwinds me better I guess.

    If you look at alot of Salems bars you can see that they make highschool clicks in 80’s movies seem tame in comparison. There are some exceptions of course.

  14. Carlos says:

    I completely agree, and it was your consistant blogging that made us go to Venti’s and try it. We love it there also. Plus they have Iron City beer which isnt the best tasting beer, but It’s like my PBR! In a can of course.

    The only thing that i dont like about Venti’s is the thin bartender (male) that is always twittering and not brining me drinks, or food or check! Also that the night bartenders need TWO guys to carry out the pony kegs. It makes me laugh everytime.

  15. Jared says:

    That thin bartender wouldn’t happen to have black hair would he? If so his names Bobby, I’ve known him since highschool. Bobby has to be my favorite bartender because he treats people like old friends. That being said the one time I was there that it was really busy we had a similar experience. Service was exceptionaly slow. Slower then it should’ve been, and Bobby had to wait for someone to help him move the pony to replace a drained keg, and the one he was waiting to install was the one we wanted.

    Having moved full 5 and 6 gal carboys pretty often I can testify that while it’s not impossible to lift a pony keg those things are stinking heavy, and there may be rules there for lifting because of that. After all, that is over 7 gal of beer plus a steel shell. Go easy on them. If I had a choice between going on workers comp or waiting for help I’d take waiting.

  16. Carlos says:

    Yup thats him. He is a nice guy, dont get me wrong, Amy and I have been there more than 3 times where he is fiddling on his phone and there is maybe..2 other couples there. Maybe you could tell him someone is commenting about his service???

    I understand the serving side and one MUST stay focused on there tables.

    As to the pony kegs, I see what your saying about workmans comp, makes sense. I did see this saturday night a fit blonde carry a pony keg herself when one of them blew. It made me laugh again!

  17. Jared says:

    I was honostly grasping at straws with the workmans comp thing 🙂 But ya, I haven’t been to Venti’s in a bit. Next time I see Bobby I will if I can remember. JR will probably see him before I do. I guess I don’t mind the phone thing as long as I don’t have to wait to long for a beer. Heck at f/stop the bartenders facebook in between serving drinks.

Leave a Reply