By Emily Engdahl
It’s a wet and rainy (typical) winter morning in Portland. Entering the Moonstruck Chocolate Cafe on NW 23rd Avenue, I’m welcomed by rows and rows of chocolate truffles, confectionary creativity, and the warm smile of Chris Crabb, Oregon’s Craft Beer Sweetheart.
Crabb is an integral part of several beery endeavors, breweries, and fests across the state - and one of the kindest and hardest working women in the industry. I had an opportunity to chat with her about her roles in celebrating Oregon beer, being a go-getter, and parenting a teenager. Despite myriad challenges and the hard work involved in balancing a successful career, family life, and hobbies (Crabb has exquisite taste in antiques and collectables, creating vintage looking family photo postcards along with her husband and son each holiday season), she is ever cheerful, always professional, and a pure delight.
You are one of the most important figures in current Oregon Beer culture - how did you begin working in the industry?
First, I don’t consider myself all that important, but I truly appreciate the compliment! I stumbled into this industry by luck. I was working for a PR firm in the early 1990s, and it leased office space to Gill Campbell, an event promoter who owned Campbell Productions. Gill was looking for someone to do PR for her client, the Oregon Brewers Festival, and hired the firm; I was assigned as the account manager. 1995 was my first official OBF. That same year, Gill and Art Larrance started the Winter Ale Festival (today the Holiday Ale Festival) and I worked on that one as well. Gill went looking for her own office space in 1996 and took me with her. I continued to work for both festivals and started picking up other beer accounts along the way (including working eight years for BridgePort). She (Gill) closed shop in 2003 to run the Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, Calif., and the beer clients stayed with me. That was when I started Crabbsoup Public Relations.
You work on several fests around Oregon - can you tell us which ones they are?
I work on four big festivals, and promote several smaller ones that are brewery specific. The big ones are The Oregon Garden Brewfest (April 25-27, 2014) in Silverton; the North American Organic Brewers Festival (June 26-29, 2014) at Overlook Park in North Portland; the Oregon Brewers Festival (July 23-27, 2014) at Waterfront Park in Portland; and the Holiday Ale Festival (December 3-7, 2014) in Pioneer Courthouse Square in Portland.
We all know you as the one who knows EVERYTHING about Oregon beer fests - what kinds of things do you do for the fests, and what is your favorite task or activity surrounding fests?
I have different roles for different festivals. This summer will mark my 20th year with the Oregon Brewers Festival, and my role has increased as time has gone on; currently, my job description for that festival runs four pages long! In a nutshell, I handle pre and on-site communication with the brewers, the vendors, the food vendors and the public; I do all the advertising, social media, public relations, posters, work with the mobile app developers and update the website. I manage all aspects of the brunch and the parade; I gather all pieces for and edit the program; and I am onsite every hour of every day, from 5 a.m. on the opening day doing morning TV until 8 p.m. on the last day, tearing down. While onsite, I handle media opportunities and check in with vendors, but mostly I operate the Information Booth. I decided we needed one a few years back, and figured I knew enough about the festival to answer just about any question thrown at me. (Number one question at the OBF? Where’s the ATM.)
My role with the North American Organic Brewers Festival is very similar to the above, plus obtaining all the permits for the event. My role with the Oregon Garden Brewfest is strictly public relations, which keeps it simple; and my role with the Holiday Ale Festival is somewhere in-between, mostly PR and social media but also communicating with brewers and producing the program.
My favorite? I love working with the brewers – who wouldn’t, they are talented, witty, irreverent, amazing! – but I also love working with the public. With the festivals, I often act as a concierge, recommending hotels and restaurants and pubs and beers. I am a Portland native and incredibly proud of this town. I want everyone who comes here to not only enjoy the beer, but the entire city and all that it offers.
Which festival is your personal favorite to attend?
That’s like asking which of my children is my favorite! (By the way, I only have one child, so that is an easy answer.) Each of the festivals I promote offers something different to love. The Oregon Garden Brewfest is held in such a beautiful setting, and they let you walk around the gardens with your beer! It has a really sweet, small town community feel to it. I love the NAOBF for its park setting and its mellow vibe. Very family friendly, it’s as if everyone there is having a picnic on the grass with a beer in hand. The OBF is great people watching, but my absolute favorite part of that festival has to be the kick off parade - it’s become an amazing tradition. And the Holiday Ale Festival is so festive, held in the heart of the city in the winter with the clear tents that allow you to see the Christmas lights above.
Do you like beer? What kinds? Are you learning to like new styles?
I love beer! Although I am very picky about styles. I have a certain palate and know what I like. I’m not a fan of malty beers, I find them too sweet. Also not a fan of lagers. I used to be a self proclaimed hophead, but the older I get, the bitterer the beers seem to taste. These days, I lean toward a lovely non-Imperial IPA, a tart sour, or a chocolate stout. Stout is truly my new favorite, which is great as it pairs so well with the dark winter months. I’m also becoming a bit addicted to ciders.
What do you love about Oregon beer culture?
I love the camaraderie of it. It truly is an industry where rivals are friendly and supportive of one another. They help each other out, and you can’t say that about most other businesses. I also love the fact that new breweries open all the time in Oregon, yet rarely do they close. The beer lovers in Oregon go out of their way to help these places not only survive, but flourish. Soon, it won’t be a Starbucks on every corner, it will be a craft brewery. I also love the reporting of our craft beer scene - we have a ton of beer and event bloggers in this town, and I’ve grown to develop really great relationships with so many of them. As a PR person, that’s my job, but I would count many of these media among my friends.
What do you do for fun?
I’m self-employed, I work 24/7! Fun for me is spending time with my husband and son. And planning our next trip to Maui, which is where we love to be.
Do you have any funny stories about working on the beer fests for us? Ever had a keg not show up until the last possible second? Any other YIKES! moments?
We’ve had many kegs not show until the last possible second; which may not sound like a big deal, but when they arrive on a tractor trailer rig in the middle of Naito Parkway and you have thousands of people on the festival grounds - it is! Unfortunately for the readers, most of the stories I have either can’t be shared or shouldn’t be! Oddly enough, they usually involve porta potties..
You run PR/Marketing for several breweries around town. Which breweries are you associated with?
I am lucky enough to work with Lompoc Brewing, Cascade Brewing, Raccoon Lodge & Brew Pub, Kells Irish Pub, and the newly opened Growlers Hawthorne. I also do project work for Sierra Nevada Brewing. And believe it or not, I have non-beer related PR clients as well, including the amazing people at Tea Chai Te, the Oregon Garden/Oregon Garden Resort and Portland International Raceway.
It’s 6 p.m. on a “typical” Tuesday night - where do we find you?
Typing one last email before making dinner and helping my son with homework. Because as much as I think I have the greatest job in the world, I am a mom, first and always.
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.