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A century after Prohibition started, we’re still enjoying the sodas created to keep one giant Portland brewery up and running

Heather Arndt Anderson  – January 16, 2020

As we cruise into the second half of Dry January, let’s look back at a time when sobriety wasn’t just a health choice; it was the law. January 17, 2020 marks the centennial of when the Eighteenth Amendment, better known as Prohibition, was passed in the United States. And one product borne of that movement is still available today—and it’s absolutely delicious.

Suffragist and journalist Abigail Scott Duniway
Abigail Scott Duniway

It’s worth noting that Prohibition started early in a few places, Oregon being one of them. The temperance movement (initiated by religious do-gooders as well as some women who were probably very tired of getting knocked around by their inebriated husbands) had been blamed for stalling women’s suffrage for decades. And justifiably so—very often, the same women were on both the temperance and suffrage campaigns, fighting for parallel causes. Using her newspaper The New Northwest, journalist Abigail Duniway led the march for both temperance and women’s right to vote, and after years of rallying, she succeeded at the latter in 1912. She gained Oregon women the right to vote eight years before the rest of the nation — a right which they promptly exercised by voting in a complete ban on alcohol two years later, even though Duniway herself was ardently opposed to Prohibition, proclaiming that “Prohibition and liberty could not possibly pull together.” To the chagrin of liquor dealers, alcoholics, and general merrymakers across the state, Oregon’s Prohibition began five years before the Eighteenth Amendment was passed.

The Pacific Northwest’s foremost beer baron, Henry Weinhard, had died 20 years prior, but his five-city-blocks-large Portland brewery was still bustling. Once the plug was pulled on beer, they had to switch gears quickly in order to stay afloat. And they did so by bottling soda instead of beer.

weinhard's soda
Advertisement from the Morning Oregonian, June 5, 1919
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Soon, Weinhard’s Brewery was cranking out a variety of refreshing soft drinks—draught root beer and cream soda and “healthful thirst-quenchers with the glorious flavorings of the West’s finest fruits.” These sodas, which were billed as “safest for the children,” were sold under the Luxo, Toko, Appo, and R. Porter brand names, and came in a wide range of flavors such as strawberry, lemon, pineapple, sarsaparilla, and ginger ale. The R. Porter brand in particular had its own flavors, which were distinguished by the “-port” suffix: graport, loganport, apport, and orangport. They even sold fruit syrups for making sodas at home. These “non-intoxicating” products were relatively successful, but the brewery nonetheless sold its malt house and merged with Blitz in 1928 so the two breweries could better divide the labor of brewing, bottling, and shipping while they waited out Prohibition.

By the time they were sold off to Miller Brewing Company and unceremoniously shuttered in 1999 (despite healthy finances and 130 years of history), Weinhard’s was the oldest continuously operating brewery in the West. If you ever want a taste of the dry days, their root beer and cream soda are still available.

Portions of this story were excerpted from Heather Arndt Anderson’s book, Portland: A Food Biography.

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