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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Fremont Ridge Surfs the Craft Wave

There may be no better way to appreciate to growing influence of craft beer than to make a stop at a local dive bar. There are plenty to choose from...just pick one. You can use creative and non-creative ways to make a selection. In my case, I just traveled up to the road to Fremont.

The expanded patio looks inviting
A little background. The last time I visited Fremont Ridge was about 15 years ago. It was a total dive...in the parlance of those times, as the Dude might say. Smokey, stinky, dark, grubby and grimy...with a shitty beer selection to match the decor. I remember it well.

Fast forward to present day. Things have been looking up on Northeast Fremont. Alameda Brewing is celebrating 16 years in business this week. Bottles NW is just down the street. Fire on the Mountain (3Mont) and McPeet's Portland Pub are bookends on this stretch of Fremont.

A cleaned up street view is part of the package
Fremont Ridge is located a hop and a skip to the east of Bottles. Promotional signage on the building suggested it might be a good time to stop in. There were other indications that changes were in the works, including the fact that the business was closed for a while.

First things first. If you know this area, you'll note the name has changed. This place was known as Fremont Ridge Inn for many years. When it was sold a few months ago, the new owners opted to simplify the name to Fremont Ridge. That's what you'll see on the liquor license renewal application here and on updated signage.

The big board...a little thin on a Monday
Stepping back in time for just a moment, this space originally opened in 1940, as the Mirror Cafe. They have a picture of the old place near the bar and there's some brief information the menu. Very quaint. A tip of the hat to history is a nice touch.

They spent some serious money remodeling the space. The women's bathroom was moved to allow for a more functional kitchen and bar. Floors were redone. The classic wood bar was refinished. A small outdoor area was expanded and improved. The furnishings and menu were updated. Oh...and additional beer taps were added.

Tap handles on the back bar
Of the 15 or so taps here, the bulk are reserved for a rotating list of craft beers. It was a nice selection when I stopped by...Boneyard RPM, Laurelwood Free Range Red, 21st Amendment Back in Black IPA and more. PBR is the lone macro...and the barkeep said it sells nicely at times. They have a bit of Coors Light and Corona in bottles, as well as full bar. But Fremont Ridge is focused on craft beer in a big way.

This is a popular trend. More and more former dive bars are being bought and transformed into pubs that ride the wave of craft beer's popularity. McPeet's Portland Pub has undergone a similar transformation within the last couple of months. Both places hope to build their clientele by catering to people who have turned against industrial lager.

These changes are part of an evolving beer culture in Portland. Craft beer has gained a strong following thanks to the brewpubs and breweries. Self-respecting bars and taverns can no longer look the other way. If they don't have craft beer, customers will go elsewhere. The days of macro dominance are history here.

As I've alluded to before, this emerging reality presents both an opportunity and a risk for brewpubs. With taverns, bars and many restaurants moving to craft beer, there are growing opportunities to sell more beer. The risk is that customers may not frequent brewpubs if they can get good beer wherever they go.

These factoids surely explain why several Portland brewpubs have or will soon open production breweries: they want the capacity to brew beer to sell in outside channels. It also explains the growing efforts to create limited edition, specialty beers that are available only in brewpubs...or at select bottleshops and pubs. 

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