February 16, 2006 Written by Oakes
Vancouver, CANADA -
Visitors to Oregon, beer geek or not, will undoubtedly come across a McMenamin’s in their travels. They call their empire a “Kingdom of Fun”, and while that has a Disney-ish sound to it, McMenamin’s are something of an amusement park for adults, albeit spread out across the coastal sections of Oregon and Washington.
Brothers Brian and Mike McMenamin started some 25 years ago with beer bars that largely featured the higher-end imports (so Spaten rather than Heineken). While the granddad’s of Oregon microbrewing are widely known to be Portland, Bridgeport and Widmer, the McMenamin brothers were right there, lobbying the government to allow brewpubs. The first brewery to open in Oregon after Prohibition was in fact the brothers’ Hillsdale Brewery and Public House, in 1983.
McMenamin’s properties have a certain look and feel to them that makes them distinctive, even when the McMenamin’s name is nowhere to be found. Mike McMenamin is largely responsible for this. He has a keen interest in local history, and this has resulted in the purchase of many historic properties for the chain. The flavour of the original building remains intact while Mike directs the interior decoration process. He places strong emphasis on lighting, both in terms of the fixtures themselves and also the atmosphere that the lighting arrangements create. He also guides the artwork, which is done largely by in-house artist Lyle Hehn.
The chain has a total of 23 breweries, and many other properties. In Oregon, brewpubs are allowed to service one other outlet without going through a distributor, so many Oregon McMenamin’s are paired – one brewing and one non-brewing. Others are served via distributor from the flagship Edgefield brewery. In Washington, all the McMenamin’s must by law have functioning breweries, so they do.
There are several corporate-wide recipes, such as the smooth Terminator Stout and raspberry-flavoured Ruby. It is interesting to note that while all McMenamin’s have an IPA, each of those is created by the brewer at the respective brewery. Seasonal beers work under a similar system. Some seasonals are created by an R&D Squad of 4-5 brewers for use in the entire chain, but all of the brewers can create limited edition seasonals if they have the tap space and extra capacity at the brewery.
Among the most interesting of McMenamin’s properties are Edgefield (Troutdale, OR), a former poor farm that is now a retreat with several pubs, hostel, brewery, winery, distillery, Par 3 golf course and movie theatre. The company actually owns several movie theatres, taking advantage of the fact that in Oregon and Washington theatres are allowed to serve alcohol in the seats. Portland’s historic Mission Theater was the first, now they have eight. The White Eagle Saloon is an old-school rock ‘n’ roll hotel and bands still crank out tunes there, just as they do at 13 other McMenamin’s locations. Along with the White Eagle and Edgefield, branches like Kennedy School, Grand Lodge and Olympic Club all have accommodations. Disneyland for adults? Give me some mouse ears.