A large part of 10 Barrel’s success in Portland is due to head brewer Whitney Burnside’s unique beers. As far as the AB InBev purchase, she said, “There will always be those who frown upon it.” But she hasn’t had any issues with the acquisition and gets “complete creative freedom.” Photo by Patty Mamula
By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
10 Barrel Brewing Co. opened its newest brewpub in the trendy Pearl area of downtown Portland in February 2015. The opening was just months after 10 Barrel shocked the craft beer world by selling to AB InBev.
It seems the Portland location had been in the works before the sale, but there was much local speculation about how selling out to the corporate beer giant would affect business. Predictions were negative.
Surprise. The Pearl location has been busy from the day it opened.
A large part of its success is due to brewer Whitney Burnside and her unique brews.
Burnside said, “The original plan was that I would make new beers and one-offs for limited release. I have complete creative freedom here.”
The core beers, such as Apocalypse IPA and S1NIST0R Black Ale, are still brewed in Bend.
So far, Burnside has made a mix of ales and lagers. She likes to throw in unusual beers that incorporate different processes and ingredients. A few examples:
— A lychee sour made with the fruit native to Asia that has a white grape flavor
— A Belgian ale made with ginger, honey and hibiscus
— A gose made with Casper pumpkins (the white ones) and bay leaves
The day we met, she had just released a witbier. This style is often brewed with coriander and dried orange peel, but she used dandelion root, toasted cardamom, fresh zested Meyer lemons and true cinnamon.
“We’re slowly starting to put these beers out in the market,” she said. They’re available at the Bend and Boise pubs.
One of her most popular beers, the first one she ever brewed here, is the Pearl IPA. “We keep making it. People love it. It’s the No. 1 best seller,” she said.
Burnside’s path to brewing started in culinary school. The Northwest native from Seattle traced her interest in cooking to TV celebrity chef Alton Brown. “I watched his show all the time,” she said. He’s the one who got her hooked on cooking with his technical, “sciency” style. His shows often focus on a single drink, dish or snack — such as shortbread cookies.
She attended Johnson & Wales University’s College of Culinary Arts in Denver with plans to become a chef. During an externship at The Herbfarm restaurant in Woodinville, Wash., she started making artisanal cheese and homebrewing. She fell in love with brewing and decided she wanted to become a brewer. For her, brewing is similar to baking. They both require detailed measurements, fermentation and meticulous attention to detail.
With her culinary school diploma and a little homebrewing experience, she started looking for a brewing job. She was a tough sell, as much for her lack of experience as her size. Although she finds people in craft brewing are open-minded about female brewers, her petite size didn’t help. “I had a hard time. Finally, Chad Kennedy, the brewmaster at Laurelwood, gave me an internship,” she said.
That was the chance she needed. From there, she put in a short stint at Upright Brewing, a brewery near the Moda Center in Portland that specializes in farmhouse beers. Both of these opportunities were steppingstones to her full-time job at Elysian Brewing Company in Seattle. She stayed there for a year before moving to Pelican Brewing Company in Pacific City, where she was the head brewer for three years. She took the job at 10 Barrel in December of 2014, several months before it opened. That meant she was there for the buildout and installation of the brewhouse.
“The cool part about being here from the get-go was I was able to acquire parts I needed to make the system complete,” Burnside said. She was involved with decisions regarding the piping, plumbing and changes in water.
Burnside brews twice a week, making one 20-barrel batch at a time. Right now, the facility doesn’t have a mill and all the malt is ordered pre-milled. “Bag by bag, we (she has a part-time assistant) climb up the stairs and empty the bags, usually around 25 in all, into the mash tun.” The bags, by the way, weigh around 50-55 pounds. “We’re usually mashed in by 7:30 a.m., well before we open at 11 a.m.,” she said. On the days she is not brewing, Burnside is cleaning, taking care of cellar work, monitoring or doing something with the beer that’s in-process or finished.
The 500-square-foot brewhouse is open on two sides to the pub, separated by a low, black metal railing from the guests. “It’s compact, but works well,” said Burnside. One challenge is finding space for barrel-aging. Right now, she’s managed to squeeze three barrels in between the fermenters. The previously used barrels that once held merlot are now filled with a Belgian dark strong called Alton Bruin after the chef who inspired her.
The craft brew world has been a welcoming place for female brewers, but people who aren’t in the industry are often less so. Burnside said it’s not unusual for a delivery driver to repeat his request to see the head brewer when she appears. As far as the AB InBev purchase, she said, “There will always be those who frown on it.” Personally she hasn’t had any issues.
“I’ve never been told to make a certain beer,” said Burnside. Her only direct contact with the corporation is with one of the people who oversees hop growing and availability. She likes being able to get some of the newer varieties of hops. Ultimately, Burnside is happiest when her hand controls the finished product.
10 Barrel’s founders, Garrett Wales and brothers Jeremy and Chris Cox, continue to run the brewery, which has expanded to the tune of $10 million, six new 400-barrel tanks and an increased capacity of 120,000 barrels a day. So far, even with increased production and new facilities, the quality has remained consistently high and business continues to increase.
By Gail Oberst
Oregon has nearly 140 craft breweries. But Nov. 5, when officials from one of those breweries announced they are selling to international brewing giant Anheuser-Busch/InBev, Bend-based 10 Barrel Brewing Company set social and traditional media on fire. The sale will be final by the end of the year.
The announcement by owners and founders Chris and Jeremy Cox (twin brothers) and Garrett Wales was followed by “expert” opinions locally and nationally. Wall Street experts sought to advise investors on what A-B/InBev was up to. National statistic geeks tried to ferret out trends reflected in the sale. Fellow business owners suggested 10 Barrel’s owners were just being smart. Others felt betrayed.
The owners indicated 10 Barrel’s success since they began in 2006 exceeded their own expectations – and management abilities. In a video announcing the sale of 10 Barrel, Wales and the Cox brothers admit they are good at making and drinking beer. But they said they are not good at a lot of things that a growing brewery needs, some of which includes administrative functions from packaging and distribution to employee benefits and making quality videos.
Despite recent administrative struggles, 10 Barrel’s brewers continued to produce award-winning beers. Most recently, the brewery won three medals at the renowned Great American Beer Festival for its Cucumber Crush (gold) and bronze medals for both Amber Waves and P2P.
A-B/InBev officials have deferred to 10 Barrel’s former owners, who responded to questions about the impact of the purchase on brewery jobs in Oregon, on plans to expand to Portland, and on the quality of 10 Barrel beers that inspires passionate reaction from fans.
10 BARREL’S FUTURE
Portlanders have been anxiously watching construction of 10 Barrel Brewing’s new Portland brewery and pub in the Pearl District, but does the sale of the brewery put this on hold? Absolutely not, said Wales: “We're on track for a mid-winter opening for the Portland pub,” he said. The 6,229-square-foot space at 1411 N.W. Flanders St. will have seating for 150 people and will reportedly employ more than 80 people. Nov. 7, the brewery announced it was hiring Whitney Burnside to be the Portland location’s brewer. Burnside has been Pelican’s specialty brewer.
Jeremy Cox also said that there won’t be any personnel changes at the Bend or Boise facilities in the near future. “The team is staying the same,” he said.
Might there be an increase in production at any of the 10 Barrel facilities in the future? Jeremy Cox said that keeping up with current expansion plans is about all they can handle. "It's business as usual for us right now. We've been growing fast over the last few years and we're staying focused on continuing our growth while keeping our distribution focus here in the Pacific Northwest,” he said.
Meanwhile, the affiliation with the larger company will have its advantages for the brewers. "You tell Jimmy, Shawn and Tonya that they have access to unlimited hops and the best of the best malt and see their faces light up. We're really excited about the opportunities this partnership will provide for all our team,” said Garrett Wales.
Cox had a few words for those who fear that 10 Barrel will lose its Northwest quality and flavor. "We're still brewing our beer here in Bend, our families are here in Bend, our employees all live and work here in the community and we're not going anywhere. We definitely still consider ourselves a local Bend brewery,” he said.
A-B/InBev is a Belgian-Brazilian multinational brewing company headquartered in those two countries. Although it is most often affiliated with Budweiser products in the U.S., A-B/InBev’s international owners claim a brewing history back to 1366 through its Belgian merger with Artois, as in Stella Artois. A series of mergers created InBev, the world’s largest beer company in 2004. In 2008, InBev bought Anheuser-Busch, further expanding its holdings. Today, nearly half of all beer products sold in the U.S. are owned by A-B/InBev. Bud, Corona, Michelob and Beck’s are all part of the A-B/InBev family.
Despite the craft beer craze (which it has apparently joined), the company is doing well. According to New York Stock Exchange reports, as of mid-November, its stock was listed at $87 per share, up from $35 per share four years ago. For the quarter that ended in October this year, the company earned $12.24 billion – times that by four for an approximate annual income, and you’re talking real money.
Even with climbing profits, the company is not selling more beer, according to A-B/InBev’s October report to its shareholders. Volume had dropped last year throughout the company’s holdings by nearly 3 percent, and this quarter, volume sales were nearly flat worldwide. The biggest volume drops among company labels recently were in North America and Europe, where small craft brewery beer sales are climbing. But is a drop in volume a problem for the company that sells nearly a third of the world’s beer? Stock prices in November took a tiny dip, but in the long run, probably not.
Owners are reassuring, but fears abide that small breweries bought up by large corporations often disappear. Macro Trend Investor writer Charles Sizemore, a self-described proponent of these kinds of buyouts, suggested 10 Barrel’s brand could go the way of George Killian’s Irish Red and Shiner Bock, both bought out by large beer companies before they disappeared.
“Could BUD and the rest of Big Beer take a page out of Warren Buffett’s playbook, buy a craft beer brewery outright but leave its management in place and maintain a low profile? Maybe. But it’s hard to see regional microbrews having much of an impact on the bottom lines of companies with tens of billions in annual sales,” said Sizemore.
Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association, sees the purchase as a sign of the times. “With middle-of-the-country Goose Island, Long Island’s Blue Point and now Bend and Boise’s 10 Barrel part of the portfolio, it looks like A-B is developing its own version of a regional-brand footprint strategy,” he said in a blog post. “I am thinking about why these deals don’t happen more often,” he said.
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.