Back to Stories List

Forest to Pint

As Portlanders, we enjoy some of the country’s best drinking water and owe it all to the Bull Run/Little Sandy Watershed. 

Located 26 miles from Downtown Portland, the Bull Run Watershed is a 102 square-mile river stretch that collects rain, fog drip and melted snow runoff. It is surrounded by a protected 95,000-acre forest west of Mount Hood and feeds into two reservoirs that store around 17 billion gallons of water. This wasn’t always the case though. A quick history lesson is in order.

The Willamette River is one of only three rivers in North America that flows north. For this, the Willamette River and the Willamette Valley were recognized early on - and by early on I mean the 1800s - for having rich soil and a climate perfect for farming. The river was also the main source of drinking water for much of Oregon and specifically the main source for the expanding city of Portland. As farming a population began to increase, so did pollution. Willamette water quickly became unhealthy for consumption. 

In 1886, Henry Failing (namesake of Portland’s Failing Street) began a commission to find a new source of drinking water for the city. Failing hired a surveyor/civil engineer by the name of Isaac Smith who determined the Bull Run Reservoir to be the best option. Smith is known as the “father” of Portland’s water system, which is awesome. Smith was also an engineer officer of the Confederate Army, which is not at all awesome! This though, seems pretty fitting for the checkered past of our state. Sorry, I digress….  

Bull Run Reservoir would be the new source of Portland’s drinking water and in a mere nine years, the project was completed. Good thing the City of Portland Bureau of Development Services wasn’t around back then or they’d still be waiting on permits….  Again, I digress, sorry, where was I? Ahhh yes, Bull Run water is flowing to Portland!

"Better water helps make better beer, it just does. Like bagels and pizza in NY, the water makes a huge difference in our end product." - Ben Dobler

Through the use of a conduit system that utilizes gravity, the reservoir has provided clean drinking water to more than 60% of the tri-county area for over 125 years. On it’s first day, January 2, 1895, it carried 25 million gallons a day. Now, the system carries over 212 million gallons of fresh water a day to our city. 

Ok, ok, history lesson over. We know you’re here for the beer so let’s tie this all together.  

Beer is 90% water and the benefit of the water from Bull Run is its purity. This stripped-down water allows us brewers to build the water profile we want, rather than having to doctor a less than desirable profile. It’s literally a clean slate to work with. 

A beer’s water profile is the starting point to its classification and has a large effect on its taste, which is why Portland (unofficially and officially in Ben Dobler’s opinion) has the best beer and the best diversity of styles available. You want classic Burton on Trent ales? No problem. You want to make a high alkalinity Dry Irish Stout? No problem. It is endless what we have at our disposal because of the Bull Run.  

We plan to help Bull Run remain pristine and do this water justice by creating kick ass beers that span the style spectrum. Celebrate forest to pint! Cheers!

More About Bull Run

While you can't tour Bull Run right now, you can learn more about how Portland's water travels from Bull Run to our faucets!
Learn More

Oregon Brewshed Alliance
Oregon Beer is proud of its water sources. Learn more about Oregon's "brewsheds."
Go to Their Site

By visiting this site you consent to cookies.  Privacy Policy

Got It!