By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Buyouts. Closures. Startups. The roller coaster of Oregon’s brewing industry has seen more twists and turns than ever lately. As we start 2018, it’s time to take a good hard look at what this year and the next few might look like for craft beer in this state. And there’s no better person to talk with than Patrick Emerson. The Oregon State University economist also produces and co-hosts the “Beervana” podcast with Jeff Alworth, and his research focuses on development, labor economics, industrial organization and applied microeconomics. He offered his thoughts on where the industry is going — and whether or not there’s cause for alarm.
What is your outlook for 2018 through 2020, especially for Oregon’s craft beer industry?
The future is still very bright, but markets are now maturing — particularly Oregon — and in these markets competition is increasing and the pressure that this creates is starting to result in exits from the market. I expect this dynamic to increase in the next few years. There are still a lot of new breweries opening up, but not all will be successful and some more established breweries will exit as well. A good example is The Commons Brewery in Portland, an established brewery with an excellent reputation recently called it quits.
Why are new Oregon craft breweries growing more than more established ones?
In most industries, smaller businesses tend to have faster growth than bigger, more established ones. In craft beer there is definitely a novelty effect where new breweries have a certain buzz, which helps propel sales and growth. What we are seeing more and more nationally is the larger legacy craft brewers like Sierra Nevada, Widmer and Boston Beer Company are finding it harder to sustain sales, let alone continue to grow as they face intense local competition from newer brewers. The old model of growing through the focus on a flagship beer is starting to fade as the industry becomes more and more fad-driven.
What is driving craft beer’s current growth?
Innovation and novelty is a big part, but the artisanal nature of craft beer plays a big role, too. Consumers want some kind of personal connection to the beer. They want to know about who makes it, are proud of local beer and are interested in new and unique experiences. Macro brewers cannot offer any of that.
What does the merger-and-acquisition trend of the past few years portend?
The hurricane has subsided as the overall growth has slowed a little and as the macro brewers have grown fairly large portfolios of regional craft breweries. There is less of an incentive for venture capital and less of a need for companies like AB InBev to find more breweries to acquire.
How much do people care about who owns a brewery?
It has less to do with ownership and more to do with beer. Yes, there is a small percentage of consumers who really care a lot (and know enough about the industry to know who owns whom), but I don’t think this is very significant. More significant is great beer at a good price. If breweries with large corporate owners can maintain quality while leveraging the scale and distribution that corporate ownership can provide to keep prices low, I think the consumers will be there.
Are we reaching a point where there will be a brewery shakeout? What factors do you think will cause craft breweries to close up shop in the next couple of years?
I would not characterize it as a shakeout, but there will be a lot more breweries going out of business simply due to the maturation of the market. The breweries that are more likely to close are those with inconsistent quality, poor business acumen, are overly leveraged and/or fail to gain traction with their brand. All pretty standard factors, but the window for really gaining traction with a brand is becoming smaller and smaller as so many brands proliferate. It is going to become more and more important that brewers do the job of telling their stories and helping consumers connect with their brands.
How is increased shelf space competition forcing breweries to rethink distribution?
When there is a distributor in the middle, many breweries are relying on these folks to tell their stories and try to get shelf space and tap handles. But distributors represent many brands now. Breweries are really going to need to do more personal outreach to retailers and pubs. Distribution is tricky, but many breweries are doing self-distribution for this reason.
Should Oregon expect to see more growth in urban markets, such as Portland or Eugene/Springfield, or are we going to see more breweries opening in rural areas and small towns?
We will see both. Smaller towns have relatively untapped markets (pun intended). Bigger cities have established markets and are exciting places for brewers to be — not to mention all of the brewers currently getting on-the-job training whose dream is to have their own brewery someday.
How much attention will Oregon craft breweries give international markets?
This will continue to be a very minor market for most craft brewers, especially as transport costs are high and local craft beer is growing in those markets as well.
Is the industry healthy, and how should breweries steer the ship?
People should not view brewery closings as a sign of a market in trouble, but the sign that the market has matured. This is good for consumers: it will result in higher average quality and consistency and lower prices. For breweries, however, the market is going to demand a high degree of discipline: good and consistent beer, good brand management, good business acumen and tighter margins.
By Ben Waterhouse
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Our long, hot summer of sipping ice-cold radlers and macro tallboys in between wildfires has finally come an end, and I could not be happier to be returning to the big beers of winter. Fall is a time of rising ABVs and darkening malts as the temperature drops. The days grow shorter and we gather at the bar to salute the harvest. Here are eight season-appropriate beers to enjoy from the hop harvest through Oktoberfest and beyond — and not a one of them contains pumpkin.
Baerlic Brewing Company: Hellsner Helles Fresh Hop
5.0% ABV, 20 IBUs
As of this writing, the hop harvest was still in full swing, and few fresh-hopped beers had made it to bars. Baerlic, a 10-barrel brewery with a design-heavy taproom in Southeast Portland, was ahead of most, dropping three fresh-hopped beers in early September. The Pioneer Bitter, a gold medal winner from the 2017 Oregon Beer Awards, might be the most eagerly awaited, but my favorite of the bunch is this juiced-up Munich-style lager, which pours golden yellow. Flavors of mango and papaya mingle with floral aromas from a big dose of Santiam hops. It tastes like a bakery full of proofing bread with hints of apple juice. There’s no telling how long this one will stick around, but Baerlic’s lagers have been consistently strong of late, so if you can’t find Hellsner on tap one of its less-seasonal counterparts will likely suffice.
Hopworks Urban Brewery: Mt. Angel Volksbier Bavarian Session Ale
5.0% ABV, 40 IBUs
Hopworks released this limited-edition homage to Oregon’s largest Oktoberfest just in time for the event’s 52nd birthday in mid-September, when the Portland brewery’s beers were the only non-German offerings in the Biergarten. The mild, straw-colored brew owes its lightly spicy aroma to Hallertau hops sourced all the way from Bavaria — a radical allegiance to the Reinheitsgebot if ever there was one. The bready bitterness gains some floral and citrus notes as it warms, but overall it’s a pleasant ale to pound while you polka. It may not capture the imagination as well as Mount Angel’s own Benedictine brews, but it’s far more appropriate for all-day drinking.
StormBreaker Brewing: Stormtoberfest Marzen-Style Lager
5.1% ABV, 27 IBUs
The label for this Märzenbier features an anthropomorphized fermenter tank sporting a feathered cap, four-legged lederhosen and a single, baleful eye: an unsettling vision for a comforting beer. The latest lager from North Portland’s StormBreaker pours clear copper with no head and strong aromas of anise and bubblegum. Although the marketing copy brags of putting “heart, soul and lederhosen into every batch,” I taste no leather here. Despite the low IBU, this isn’t a barley bomb. It’s clean and classic, with a creamy texture and enough bite on the finish to offset its sweetness. It’s a beer for an Oregon autumn, inspiring visions of grey skies and damp denim. It would make a good companion to a plate of brats, but is even better suited for braising them.
Occidental Brewing: Festbier
6.3% ABV, [Unavailable] IBUs
North Portland’s Occidental brewing is dedicated to classic German styles, and this very classic Marzen has long been a feature of its annual Oktoberfest party. Now that it’s available in bottles for the first time, it can become a fixture at yours, too. Festbier pours a clear Pre-Raphaelite red with unusually bright, fizzy carbonation. It smells Negra Modelo and tastes like fresh-baked biscuits. There’s no clever tricks or new concepts here — Occidental takes on the style and nails it. This beer is fresh, clean, mild and dangerously drinkable. Stay safe by downing it alongside an abundance of pork products.
Deschutes Brewery: Hopzeit Autumn IPA
7% ABV, 60 IBUs
Deschutes’ newest autumn seasonal is “Marzenbier-inspired,” which I take to mean that it’s an Oktoberfest beer for those who don’t much care for Oktoberfest beers. Hopzeit pours a rich coppery amber, the color of fresh apple cider, with abundant fruit-salad aromas. It’s got the sweet booziness of a classic Oktoberfest ale, but it’s balanced with a hefty dose of Herkules, Sterling and Hull Melon hops that lend a bitter bite and lingering peppery finish. It reminds me of nothing so much as Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Ale. I’m not sure who the target consumer might be for this hybrid, but it makes for a pleasant pint. Just make sure you serve it straight from the fridge — as Hopzeit approaches room temperature, it becomes unpleasantly syrupy.
Ninkasi Brewing Company: First Rule IPA
7.5% ABV, 60 IBUs
According to Ninkasi, the first rule of this new IPA is “Do not talk about this IPA.” Rules are made to be broken. This bright, fruity special release is the star of the brewery’s 2017 IPA variety pack and hardly seems like it could be the product of the same brewery that brought us Total Domination and Tricerahops. A clear golden ale with strong aromas of passionfruit and nightshades, it packs a huge tropical wallop of mango and papaya giving way to a smooth finish that leaves you wanting more. With a hop bill including El Dorado, Mosaic and Calypso, it reminds me a little of tropical punch. I want to sip it from a tiki mug with a tiny umbrella while basking under a sun lamp, but I’m more likely to schlep a couple of six-packs to the next neighborhood house party.
Wolves & People Farmhouse Brewery: Tractor Pull Tawny Old Ale
8.5% ABV, 32 IBUs
This hefty English-style old ale has been kicking around in bottles since early 2017, but there’s something distinctly autumnal about the vanilla and cinnamon that give this tawny brew its kick. Sold in sturdy 500-milliliter bottles with cheery yellow labels, Tractor Pull pours a deep nut brown and smells like an orchard after harvest, with hints of cocoa and coffee. It’s brightly fizzy and tastes of rye bread, molasses, cinnamon and subtle vanilla. It reminds me of pain d’epices and Dr. Pepper, and should probably be sipped alongside a plate of fresh-baked spice cookies. Looking for even more autumn? Watch for Trolley Pull, a version aged in Eagle Rare barrels made in collaboration with North Portland bar Interurban, coming out soon in 750-milliliter bottles.
Claim 52 Brewing: Bird Up Milkshake IPA With Strawberry
7.3% ABV, 30 IBUs
Strawberries don’t exactly scream “fall,” but, thanks to a late harvest, this strange beast of a beer dropped in September. Bird Up is the latest in a series of “milkshake” IPAs from this small Eugene brewery in recent months, brewed with lactose in the manner of creamy, fruity brews from Pennsylvania’s Tired Hands and Seattle’s Urban Family. This one, available only in cans, was made with strawberries and vanilla and pours an enticing peachy-pink with thick haze. Its enormously hoppy nose is heavy on grapefruit. The strawberries contribute tart acidity and a lingering floral sensation. It reminds me of an Orange Julius, or maybe a scoop of strawberry sherbet floated in a pint of Claim 52’s coveted Fluffy IPA. Stout floats are common enough — why not other ales? Bird Up is a limited release, but if you can’t get your hands on a can I bet there’s another milky fruit concoction coming our way soon enough.
Oblivion brewmaster Darin Butschy (left) recruited three new partners last fall, and their capital, enthusiasm and labor have re-invigorated sales and visibility. Pictured, clockwise: Bryan Harrison, Chris Springer and Ryan McDevitt. Photo courtesy of Ryan Schneider, Oblivion marketing/digital media coordinator
By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Oblivion Brewing in Bend has been on an economic roller coaster since opening in the summer of 2013.
Owner/brewer Darin Butschy and his wife started the small eastside brewery. Sales were slow at first, especially since it was a bare-bones, two-person operation with self-distribution out of their Subaru. The clean, crisp, easy-drinking beers soon gained a following and a local restaurant owner decided to open a pub on Northwest Galveston Avenue and feature Oblivion’s beer.
“We gave them rights to our name. We had nothing to do with the pub itself. We had all eight tap handles,” said Butschy. The pub was busy — too busy for owner Jon Sargent and he closed it after seven months at the end of 2015.
“It hurt the name,” said Butschy. “People thought the brewery was closed.”
When the couple split up, Butschy was on his own for a while. Business was definitely down. That’s when he recruited three friends to help shore up the operation. Together, they bought 65 percent of the company and Butschy retained 35 percent. Chris Springer, who worked at JELD-WEN for 23 years before retiring a couple of years ago, is now the assistant brewer and production manager. “When we came to meet Darin we really liked his beer and wanted to be involved,” he explained. The rest of the trio includes Bryan Harrison, who handles business management, and Ryan McDevitt, who is in charge of sales and distribution. “We have 85 active accounts now. We self-distribute all over Central Oregon in Bend, Redmond, Prineville, La Pine, Sisters and Sunriver. We are talking with distributors now,” McDevitt said.
Starting last fall when the new partners came on board, the brewery has seen steady growth. Production alone has increased to 60 barrels a month — three times the amount made in the same period of time last year. A small office was recently repurposed as a taproom inside the brewery for tastings and growler fills. The space is similar to Boneyard Brewery — no frills, just beer. While there are limited hours at this point, Butschy said drop-ins are welcome if you call ahead since someone is almost always there working.
Butschy learned to brew at SLO Brew in San Luis Obispo, Calif. while he was studying chemistry at Cal Poly. “I was there for six years during the time when Firestone Walker was negotiating a buyout,” said Butschy, “foreshadowing what it has become.” His brewing work brought him into contact with California’s craft leaders like Sierra Nevada Brewing Company and Anderson Valley Brewing Company.
He moved to Bend for the Northwest lifestyle and the excellent water. “I kept brewing to stay sharp on my game,” he said. As he saw more and more breweries pop up, he decided to go commercial. “I brew more traditional beers. I try to keep it balanced and traditional. That’s the way I was trained, not swaying away from what beer should be.”
His 10-barrel system includes a couple of 10-barrel fermenters along with one 20-barrel vessel and two 40-barrel tanks. Business manager Harrison is not stopping there, though, adding that “six more 40-barrels are on our wish list.”
The top-selling flagship beer is an IRA called Road Ryder, described as a “dry-hopped bomb.” Introduced as a fall seasonal, it took off and is now available year-round. “Our red is one of the best; it’s where we stand out,” said Harrison.
Oblivion has six regular beers, with additional seasonals and a few one-offs. All the beer is draft only. Other beers include a German-style pilsner with German lager yeast and hops in accordance with the German purity laws, a summer ISA, an IPA with five different Oregon hops and a stout featuring ten malts. Butschy is also aging a blond in Woodford Reserve bourbon barrels for the low-production/specialty XTap at the Bend Brewfest in August. Additionally, Oblivion’s Oblivious Blonde recently won the Central Oregon Beer Week SMaSH (single malt and single hop) competition. It’s customary for the winner to brew the official Central Oregon Beer Week beer the following year.
With that victory and a path for continued growth, Butschy and his new partners are looking forward to reestablishing Oblivion in Central Oregon and they’re having a good time while doing it.
Oblivion Brewing Co.
63027 Plateau Drive, Suite 4, Bend
Hours: Noon to 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
A small city, a little off the beaten path, in a beautiful region, known for its outdoor activities and increasingly renowned for its craft beer. It might sound like Bend — but it can also describe Bend-based Deschutes Brewing’s recently announced new East Coast home: Roanoke, Va.
To be clear, this isn’t the mysterious vanishing colony you learned about in school (that’s Roanoke Island, off the coast of North Carolina). Nicknamed “Star City of the South” for the 88.5-foot neon star atop Mill Mountain near downtown, Roanoke has been many things. Originally established in 1852 as Big Lick (it was the site of a large salt lick known for attracting wildlife), the city officially became known as Roanoke in 1882. The city of 98,465 has been a popular train stop and manufacturing town, and today is a scenic city to visit when driving I-81 or the Blue Ridge Parkway, the 469-mile scenic National Parkway and All-American Road that runs through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and North Carolina.
There’s a mix of Southern charm and an emerging New South. Like many other small American cities, Roanoke has been redefining itself with small, artisanal businesses in travel, food, art, the outdoors, wine — and craft beer.
“It’s similar to Bend 15 years ago,” says Michael LaLonde, president of Deschutes Brewing. “In Central Oregon there’s nearly 30 breweries, and most of those have developed in the past five to 10 years. Within Roanoke and a little outside, there’s a half-dozen breweries now.” Those breweries have also been welcoming neighbors. “They have been so gracious,” says LaLonde. “Every one of those brewers came to the announcement and sat down with us. There’s a similar ethos of getting along and working together that we see in Bend.” The brewing industry has other support too, with a brewing program at nearby Virginia Tech as well as programs at the local community college.
Founded in 1988, today Deschutes now distributes to 28 states and the District of Columbia. But as a brewery distributes farther from its base of operations, transportation and environmental costs increase — as does the risk of quality control problems. Like Full Sail, New Belgium and Sierra Nevada, Deschutes decided to set up a new production and distribution facility east of the Mississippi — or, as LaLonde explains, east of Omaha, Neb., the midpoint between Bend and Roanoke.
The two-year search took Deschutes to hundreds of locations, and the decision could have gone a different way. Except that Roanokers launched a social campaign, #Deschutes2Rke, to persuade the company that a small valley city was a better fit than those bigger East Coast places who, as Southern charm dictates, will remain nameless.
“It was amazing,” says LaLonde. “They sent me Louisville Slugger bats engraved with #Deschutes2Rke. Local breweries sent T-shirts. One guy even wrote and recorded a song, sent us the lyrics and CD. They welcomed us with open arms and the hospitality was amazing.”
It also doesn’t hurt that the municipal water supply is similar to Bend’s, and that Deschutes found a slab-ready location (complete with access to a bicycle greenway and a creek). With site construction expected to begin in 2019, by 2021 Deschutes plans to have more than 100 personnel on site and be shipping beer throughout the region. With initial production of approximately 150,000 barrels, LaLonde expects the Roanoke facility to eventually become bigger than the Bend brewery. East Coast beers will include Deschutes’ three most popular flagship beers and four seasonal beers. Regional beers will also be produced and distributed more broadly if they prove popular in the market.
Although opening day is years away, Deschutes is already on the ground, speaking at engagements and sponsoring events. On Aug. 27, Deschutes will host a one-day setup of its 40-tap Street Pub. The family-friendly event will feature live music and cooking demonstrations, with proceeds going to a local charity.
“We were looking for a place similar to Bend where there was lots of outdoor activities that our employees could participate in,” says LaLonde. “We have people who love to trail ride, mountain bike, fly fish. Someone who was in Bend could move to Roanoke and feel comfortable.” LaLonde estimates 15-30 Bend personnel will relocate to Virginia, and there’s plenty of excitement — one person has already bought a house there.
Things to See and Do in Roanoke, Va.:
—See the city and surrounding Roanoke Valley from Mill Mountain Star, the world's largest freestanding illuminated man-made star
—Traveling with kids? Ride the Zoo Choo at Mill Mountain Zoo
—Drive or bike the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway
—Tour the Virginia Museum of Transportation, Center in the Square and Science Museum of Western Virginia
—Hike part of the Appalachian Trail
—Go swimming in or boating on Smith Mountain Lake
Visit Area Breweries
--Big Lick Brewing Company
--Chaos Mountain Brewing
--Flying Mouse Brewery
--Foggy Ridge Cider
--Hammer & Forge Brewing Company
--Parkway Brewing Company
--Sunken City Brewing Company
--Soaring Ridge Craft Brewers
--Twin Creeks Brewing Company
Ninkasi’s in-house metal fabrication shop regularly produces artistic, elaborate steel pieces, including tap handles, conference tables and fire pits. Recently, they added a project to that list: a gate to Sierra Nevada’s North Carolina brewery/taproom. The gate serves as a grand entrance to Sierra Nevada’s new facility in Mills River, N.C. Ninkasi fabricators worked with 672 barley kernels, affixed by 13,444 nuts, as well as 540 studs around the perimeter. Photo courtesy of Ninkasi Brewing
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
While collaboration is nothing new in the craft beer industry, projects typically aren’t 3,000 pounds of steel that travel 2,663 miles — from the Willamette Valley’s Eugene, Oregon to the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina. However, when Chico, Calif.-based Sierra Nevada Brewing needed a “grand entrance” for its new East Coast brewery in Mills River, N.C. (10 miles south of the region’s urban center, Asheville), they turned to Eugene’s Ninkasi Brewing.
Spanning the width of the 20-foot drive leading to the 350,000-barrel brewery and 400-seat/23-handle taproom and restaurant at 100 Sierra Nevada Way, the gate evokes sheaves of barley with the same shaping as Sierra Nevada’s logo banner. The two members of Ninkasi’s in-house fabrication department, Jazz Khalsa (design and fabrication specialist) and Pat “Phatty Fab” Evans (metal fabricator), worked with 672 individual barley kernels, affixed by 13,444 nuts, as well as 540 studs around the perimeter. Evans built the project with no tape measure or blueprint.
Ninkasi co-founder Jamie Floyd met Sierra Nevada founder Ken Grossman at Beer Camp Across America. During a BCAA cross-country bus trip, Floyd and Grossman began talking metal. Conversation soon turned to Ninkasi’s in-house metal fabrication shop. With Ninkasi’s two-man team producing artistic, elaborate steel pieces — from tap handles to conference tables, bottle openers to fire pits — Grossman and Floyd realized they might be able to work together on the gate for the Mills River facility.
Concept and design began at the end of 2014 and fabrication began in March. “There was only really one design, but it went through several iterations,” says Khalsa. “I channeled the aesthetic of Sierra Nevada, highlighting the barley and brass features. I felt pretty good about the concept, so I only proposed the one to the Sierra team. The Grossmans approved it very quickly.”
“I’m really pleased with the design [Ninkasi] gave us,” says Grossman, “They understand what we’re trying to do here, and I think it’s because we’re both brewers and both share a lot of the same ideals.” The Mills River facility is now brewing beer and serving customers.
For Ninkasi it’s a new type of collaboration that highlights how even in a competitive industry, there is room to work together. “It’s exciting and humbling to be a literal piece of such a remarkable building,” says Floyd. “It gives us all something to strive for.”
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.