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Beer as Unifier: The Tipsy Portland-Sapporo Connection

An entire ocean may separate them, but Portland and Japan have more in common than you’d think.

An entire ocean may separate them, but Portland and Japan have more in common than you’d think.

In Portland you can have a dose of Japanese architecture at the Japanese Gardens, proclaimed the most authentic Japanese garden outside of Japan. And you can hop on a direct flight from Portland to Tokyo, and reach the country in about 10.5 hours. It may come as no surprise then that the capital of Oregon’s oldest sister city is a Japanese one: Sapporo. It’s such a longstanding relationship that it even has its own association. Both cities lie at about the same latitude, and given their natural settings, both have an appreciation of the outdoors.

But if there’s one thing that really links Sapporo and Portland, it’s beer.

Home to the famous Sapporo Brewery, Sapporo has exported its beer around the world, paired with sushi and udon from New York to Paris. On the other side of the Atlantic, Portland is Mecca for beer lovers, with 52 microbreweries within city limits according to the Oregon Brewers Guild. In fact, Oregon’s craft beer industry is worth over $2.4 billion, and its so strong that Saccharomyces cerevisiae (in laymen’s terms: yeast) might soon be the official state microbe.

Sapporo’s beer history dates back to the Meji period (late 1800s to early 1900s in Japan) when wild hops were discovered on Hokkaido. The city of Sapporo was soon chosen as the place to brew beer. A man named Seibei Nakagawa who had recently returned from Germany with a Beer Brewery Engineering License in hand was chosen to run the operation, and Sapporo was officially founded in 1876.

Portland’s beer history goes back to about the same period, when German brewer Henry Saxton arrived in the Oregon Territory, and seeing the natural resources available—specifically soft water from the mountains, and hops—began brewing. He was joined by fellow German Henry Weinhard in 1856 and the Portland beer industry was born.

A taste for craft beer has hit Sapporo just like its sister city. Jibiru—the term for local, regional or craft beer—is what you want if you’re after a microbrew in Japan. After the de-regulation of the brewing market in the early 1990s, the craft-brewing scene in Japan has been growing, home to beer competitions, and world-renowned beers. Even some sake makers are ditching their standard cultural roots and opting to make craft beers instead. There’s even a bilingual magazine devoted to the industry, Japan Beer Times.

In Sapporo you’ll find Beer Inn Mugishutei, a hub for foreign and domestic craft beers opened by American expat Phred Kaufman in 1980. The Oregon connections don't stop there. Kaufman has been importing Oregon’s own Rogue Ales to Japan since 1994, and has even worked to develop beers specially for the Japanese market, under the name Ezo Beers.

While the city’s namesake beer might be the biggest pull—it has a museum dedicated to it after all—there are plenty of places to get a microbrew in Sapporo. Ask a Portlander for a top tourist destination and they’ll tell you Powell’s, the local independent bookstore. Books and beer come together in Sapporo as well at Adanonki, a used bookstore that has a rotating selection of craft beers.

Both cities love to showcase their beer. From July to August Sapporo hosts the Sapporo Beer Festival, and around the same time is Oregon Brewers Festival in Portland.

Sister cities with a love for craft brews? We’ll drink to that.

Want a taste of the two? It’s hard to choose, but here are five locations in Portland and Sapporo that will give you a good feel for the local scene:

In Sapporo:

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