A History of Beer Gardens

Germans in the Pacific Northwest

The vast majority of German immigrants who settled in the Pacific Northwest came by way of Russia. The German born Catherine the Great aimed to settle lands from the Volga and Black Sea regions. She invited foreigners to immigrate to these areas to serve that purpose. The benefits for the immigrants were many. The Russian government provided free transportation for those who could not afford it, these immigrants were allowed to chose where they wanted to settle with freedom of religion for all non-Muslims. Interest free loans were given to purchase the supplies needed to settle the lands from farm equipment down to household wares. The communities of immigrants were granted local autonomy and not required to serve in the Russian military. The promise was too good to last however and after Catherine's death in 1796 the immigrants were expected to assimilate. It was then that many German communities decided to pick up stakes and head across the Pacific landing in, what is modern day Washington State and Oregon. 

The German immigrants brought their knowledge of logging, trading, trapping, journalism, and their farming practices to Washington. Wheat, barley and hops were well suited to the region's climate. Brewing beer was a common household practice for these immigrants. German immigrants were able to cultivate enormous tracts of land due to the relatively small population and the favorable growing conditions. Most farmers grew a combination of cereal grains as well as hops. 

According to the Oregon Hops and Brewing Archives, "The hop harvest was more than just agricultural, but also offered social and cultural opportunities as many farms offered entertainment and camping facilities. More organized hop festivals grew out of the and of harvest celebrations in the migrant camps found at the fields. Pickers still have fond memories of these celebratory evenings, but less fond ones of the hard picking during the day. By the early 1950s the hop crop began to the decline and mechanical picking machines replaced the need for seasonal laborers. This change meant a demise of a large hop festivals, but also a shift in growing practices. Many growers abandoned their crops, while others increased acreage to pay for their investment in mechanical pickers." These festivals were the beer gardens of the Pacific Northwest. As the farming became more mechanized the traditional beer gardens disappeared but breweries such as Olympia opened beer gardens for profit. This change in farming practices opened beer gardens to the general public, one did not have to work all day picking hops to enjoy the festivities, anyone could come to the beer gardens and partake in the music, food and lagers of the Northeast. This made beer gardens not just a German activity but an American activity.

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