The first time Henry Weinhard made beer in America wasn’t in the Oregon Territory but in Cincinnati, Ohio. The 22-year-old left Wurttemberg, Germany, his birthplace, and immigrated to New York in 1852. Soon after, he headed to the Midwest. He found a thriving German community in Cincinnati with businesses — saloons, candy stores, bakeries, butcher shops and breweries. He spent four years there as an apprentice learning the brewing trade and refining the beer recipes he’d later be known for.
He headed to the Oregon Territory traveling by sea around Chile’s Cape Horn to San Francisco, then Portland. He found the climate like Wurttemberg and conducive to a brewing and distribution business. The area provided easy access to water for beer-making and better weather. While Ohio’s freezing winters limited wagon deliveries, often making them impossible, Oregon’s temperate winters would allow regular distribution to saloons and distant markets.
John Muench ran a brewery in Washington Territory at Fort Vancouver, and Weinhard found work there. After six months, he returned to Portland and established a partnership with a local brewer, George Bottler. But Weinhard, frustrated with the business’s growth, returned to the Muench Brewery at the fort. In 1859, he bought the brewery outright, renaming it the Vancouver Brewery. He brewed about 600 barrels a year, selling it for 50 cents a gallon along the lower Columbia.
A few weeks before Oregon gained statehood in 1859, Weinhard wed Louisa Wagenblast in Oregon City. She was from the same area of Germany, but the two hadn’t met until they were in Oregon. After the ceremony, the newlyweds fought a fierce snowstorm to return to their home in Vancouver. Louisa suffered from a childhood illness and couldn’t walk far, so she focused on their home and family while her husband focused on brewing. The couple had five children, but only one survived the parents.
In 1863 when Portland first required a liquor license, Weinhard paid the city for one, but the location of his first brewery isn’t precise. A city directory lists the brewery on First Street in the same place as the old Saxer Brewery. Weinhard prospered by involving himself in all areas of his beer enterprise. He was a persnickety businessman and sought to create the highest-quality beer. He didn’t just make beer; he marketed and distributed it.
He didn’t miss a sales opportunity. He advertised his beer for saloons, steamships, restaurants and hotels. In addition, he offered daily deliveries to beer-drinking families, telling people they could place orders with the wagoner. If a saloon owner’s credit was poor, he made the sale but took a percentage of that business. When a railroad threatened to bypass Portland for Kalama, it put Weinhard’s business in jeopardy. He gave $300 and, together with the German community, shifted the terminus to Portland.
In 1892, Weinhard filed a lawsuit against Daniel Kippe for $864.50 for “goods, wares and merchandise sold and delivered” to the defendant. A summons appeared in the Vancouver Weekly Columbian, and a year later, Sheriff George Nerton published a sale notice resolving the case by auctioning land Kippe owned.
Martin Middlewood is editor of the Clark County Historical Society Annual. Reach him at ClarkCoHist@gmail.com.