By Emily Engdahl
Oregon’s oldest craft brewery, BridgePort Brewing Company, is celebrating its 30-year anniversary in 2014. Along with changes coming to Hop Czar, BridgePort is adding the “BridgePort Trilogy Series,” brewed to honor pivotal moments in BridgePort’s history by highlighting the adoption of aroma hops and the IPA movement, and exploring what’s still to come for craft beer in Oregon.
Jeff Edgerton, Brewmaster for BridgePort Brewing Company, is watching the horizon for what’s next and laying groundwork for the future of BridgePort by following the path laid by his predecessor, Karl Ockert.
“It’s great to be turning 30, but it’s even more exciting to see how far the craft brewing industry has come in the last three decades,” says Edgerton, who grew up in Canby, at the north end of the Willamette Valley hop growing region. He remembers the common childhood sight of the hop fields as he traveled through Woodburn, Silverton and Mt. Angel with his family. “BridgePort and a handful of other craft brewers picked up on these varieties and started making flavorful, all-malt beers that had incredible taste and aroma.”
“30 years ago we took our inspirations from traditional British brewing styles. Since then, the innovations we have seen in pushing flavor boundaries is amazing. The UK and European brewers are trying to catch up with us,” says Karl Ockert, former brewmaster at BridgePort.
Karl Ockert began homebrewing with his mother when he was about 10, igniting a love that led him to study fermentation sciences at UC Davis. After graduation in 1983, he returned to Oregon and was hired by Dick and Nancy Ponzi of Ponzi Vineyards. Says Ockert, “Dick helped start Cartwright Brewery a year earlier and was interested in starting a small “micro-brewery” in Portland.” They launched BridgePort in November 1984.
“My goal with BridgePort from the start was to help pave the way for a specialty brewing revolution in the US. When the Ponzi’s and I started BridgePort in 1984 the beer scene was so different than it is today. It was not common to find anything but the regional lager brands (Rainier, Oly and Blitz) on tap. An exciting bar might have Blitz Bavarian Dark or Guinness on tap. Brewers like ourselves, Kurt and Rob Widmer, Art Larrence and Fred Bowman, we all worked so hard to sell exotic micro brewed beers that no one had ever heard of, for twice the price of domestic lagers, and luckily some of the more forward thinking bar owners like Don Younger, Bill McCormick, the McMenamin brothers, among many others embraced our efforts to get this started.”
The revolution has gone global, Ockert explains. “Fast forward 30 years! Now just about every bar you walk into will have a majority of craft and specialty beers on tap.” Ockert gave a recent presentation on West Coast IPAs to a gathering of brewers from the United Kingdom. Additionally, says Ockert, “German brewers adapted their brewing laws so they can now add hops after the brew kettle and are actually producing some dry hopped IPA’s. That is incredible considering where we started out. I am very proud to have been a part of the revolution, which is still on-going… America has gone from being the laughing stock of the beer world 30 years ago to its envy. That says a lot.”
Since departing Bridgeport in 2010 with over 27 years experience, Ockert has become the Technical Director for the Master Brewers Association of the Americas (MBAA, www.mbaa.com ). Ockert’s position within the MBAA allows him to continue participating in and enjoying the camaraderie of the brewing industry. “Its almost magical to watch the bonding process as people from competitive global breweries sit and talk brewing with people from small brewpubs. They learn from each other and that same feeling of openness is prevalent in this industry more than any other that I know of,” he says.
Edgerton concurs “People that work in brewing make it their lifestyle, not just a job. So not only do I get to work with a product that I love, I get to be much more creative than most people do at their jobs AND I work with people that love their jobs as well. All of us here at BridgePort operate under one main mantra: Quality above all else. We love what we do, we aren’t in this to get rich or famous, and wouldn’t be happy doing anything else.”
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.