It's Tuesday, and I'm feeling wistful. It's been two days since Bridgeport Brewing shut its doors forever. They announced the closure in mid-February, but the brewpub remained open until this past Sunday. Bridgeport began operating in 1984, so it's been around for 35 years. In craft brewing, that's a considerable amount of time. It was, for so long, a foundation in not only in the Portland brewery ecology, but the national beer scene. Many credit Bridgeport with inventing the modern American IPA!
With the explosion of the craft beer industry, there are so many breweries stuffed into this corner of the world now. Many of them are experimenting wildly, and even those that stick to classical styles have a kind of novelty that Bridgeport just hasn't been able to compete with. The newcomers perhaps also have a better handle on the evolving tools (i.e. social media) and technology (i.e. crowlers) that have emerged. It's hard to stay on top of the constantly shifting interests and needs of today's beer consumer.
We all respected Bridgeport. We might have even gone as far as to give them mad props. But how often did we stop in to get a pint? How often did we grab that six-pack of Tiny Horse bottles off the shelf? Not often enough, it seems.
I was determined to make it in once more, on closing weekend, to raise a glass to Bridgeport. I don't remember the last time I was here, but it has been a minute.
And yet, with these delectable salmon cakes and this superbly balanced, subtle IPA (The Original), I wish I'd been in with a little more frequency. How often does an IPA in today's craft culture weigh in at 5.5%, with hops that arguably play second fiddle to the malt bill? I just kept marveling at how clean and simple this was. I lately have fallen in love with craft lager (along with much of the rest of Portland), and this reminded me more of that than the flagship IPA you'll find on tap at most breweries. This, the Original, was ight, crisp, and perfect with food.
Compared to the opening of Great Notion's new space last week, this massive, two-story brewpub felt very sparsely populated on Saturday. But there were a few devoted that had made it the sorjourn to send off their old friend. I overheard a group of friends cheering in unison, "We made it!" But things were pretty quiet. For me, and surely for some of the others sipping a pint by themselves, it was an introspective experience.
I can't say this with absolute certainty, but I believe the first Bridgeport beer that I tasted when I moved to Portland in 2005 was their Ropewalk Amber Ale. I was part of a summer theatre workshop, and two of the young women that were working on costumes and props were the daughters of the head brewer at Bridgeport. They periodically gifted us with bottles of their dad's brews. After a long day of sawing and assembling scenic flats, it sure felt great to have that bready, sweet swig of Ropewalk on the grass outside. For a time, it was my favorite beer. After that show had closed, I still stocked my fridge with the stuff when I could. But then, at some point, I didn't. There was so much other stuff to try. And ambers started to feel less than adventurous. I moved on. I think most of us did.
But for this moment...for this final moment of Bridgeport Brewing, I found myself transported into a warm and welcoming space, and into my early Portland memories. I think about who I was when I partook of the Ropewalk, and who I am now. I think of how I felt about beer then, and how I feel about it now. It was a deeper experience than I usually have at a pub. I like to think that everybody that was there was having a similar one.
Cheers to you, Bridgeport! Thank you for 35 years of beautiful beers.