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How Consistency Kept BridgePort Brewing Afloat

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PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- In the north end of Portland's Pearl District, trucks still load kegs out of BridgePort Brewing's squat little brick headquarters and steam still drifts up from the brewery, just as it has for much of the last three decades.

Those trucks now sit in the shadows of the towering condo complexes that replaced the warehouses and tool-and-die shops that once made up the area of Portland now known as the Pearl District. The steam drifts up to balconies with views of the Willamette River and the Freemont Bridge. BridgePort brewmaster Jeff Edgerton has been with the brewery since 1989 and has seen his duties increase from beer quality control to brewing and occasional neighborhood damage control. He's still tweaking BridgePort's beer, but occasionally has to give some away when the noise or smell get too much for one of the brewery's neighbors in the "Alimony Flats/Empty Nest Flats" that Portland author Chuck Palahniuk described in his 2003 memoir/travel guide Fugitives and Refugees: A Walk In Portland.

That's the price Edgerton pays for being a constant in a town with few of them beyond the rain. As BridgePort marks its 30th anniversary this year, Edgerton celebrates his 25th year with the company. Before BridgePort, Edgerton had gone from Oregon State University to a job at Portland's Blitz-Weinhard brewery. Portland brewer Henry Weinhard's facitily at NW 12th Street and Burnside Avenue opened in 1864 and was still brewing when Edgerton left in 1989. It closed a decade later and now houses a beer-centric restaurant, offices, coffee shops and a grain silo that now exists solely as decor.

Even when Edgerton arrived at BridgePort as a quality assurance manager, the brewery was less than half a decade removed from its original name -- Columbia River Brewery -- and only three years removed from opening its brewpub. Under the guidance of BridgePort's founding brewmaster, Karl Ockert, Edgerton made his way up to assistant brewmaster, ran the brewery's filter cellars and teamed with Ockert to make the brewery's Hop Czar line of hoppy beers that were more boozy and bitter than the brewery's flagship IPA.

That was no small deal, as BridgePort IPA basically saved the brewery. After BridgePort was sold to Gambrinus (which also owns Texas-based Spoetzl Brewery and its Shiner Bock brand) in 1995, Bridgeport debuted its IPA a year later with what was then a whopping 50 international bitterness units (IBUs). It earned BridgePort autonomy from its Texas-based parent company but, little more than a decade later, even the IPA wasn't enough to appease the nation's evolving craft beer palate.

"What we were seeing was a lot of people making what we called tongue-ripping bitterness unit IPAs of 80, 90 and 100 IBUs," Edgerton says. "So Carl and I got together and said, 'Hey, let's make a tongue-ripping version of our IPA.'"

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