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 Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
As the executive director of the Oregon Brewers Guild, one of Brian Butenschoen’s main responsibilities is publicizing and promoting the organization. Yet, he avoids publicity and promotion about himself. He prefers to stay out of the Oregon Brewers Guild picture and keep the member breweries front and center.
The Oregon Brewers Guild was established in 1992, originally named the Greater Oregon Brewers Association, and is the second-oldest nonprofit trade association for brewers in the U.S. Its mission is to protect and promote Oregon breweries.
With new craft breweries popping up daily in Oregon, the Guild continues to grow, both in size and influence. Membership includes 156 brewing companies, 125 associates that aren’t breweries but provide business services to the craft beer industry, and 3,500-plus enthusiasts called SNOBs — Supporters of Native Oregon Beer.
Brian always refers to Guild activities in the first person plural construction, as in “We print 75,000 copies of the Brew-Ha! map, showing all the member breweries.” Or, “We put on a 900-person dinner for all our supporters and friends every year.” However, since Brian is the only full-time employee, he surely deserves most of the credit for any and all Guild activities. He is the third executive director, a position he’s held since 2005.
One of the Guild’s primary vehicles for promotion is special events and festivals. Probably the best-known and certainly the most popular is Zwickelmania. The one-day open house held on the Saturday of President’s Day weekend began in 2009 and attracted 6,000 visitors to 20-30 breweries that year. Compare that to 2016 when 45,000 people visited 120 participating beer makers who provide brewery tours and special tastings.
Brian said, “It started with six of us sitting around a table and someone came up with the idea of an open house. When would be a good time? We agreed that it should be on a holiday weekend when breweries were NOT busy, when they wanted to see more people visiting them. That’s how we came up with the Saturday of President’s Day weekend.”
Now most participating breweries are so busy on Zwickelmania, they schedule extra staff and often have to control the number of people allowed through the door at one time. The event takes its name from the zwickel sample valve on beer conditioning tanks that allows brewers to take samples during the fermentation process.
What does it take, behind the scenes, to put on this event? The Guild — as in Brian — does all the promotion, signs up the breweries, handles the public relations and marketing, lists the participating breweries on the Guild website and creates maps for the six regions of Oregon. Suggested itineraries are also posted, grouping participating breweries by location.
The Guild sponsors two other main events in Portland. Cheers to Belgian Beers started 10 years ago and was held in May in 2016. Then there’s the Portland Fresh Hop Beer Fest, which has happened every fall. Now in its 13th year, the harvest celebration is slated to take place Friday, Sept. 30 and Saturday, Oct. 1 at Oaks Park.
In addition to a few other collaboration events with The Portland Mercury newspaper, like the Malt Ball, Brian tries to make sure the Guild is represented at many of the other festivals around the state. “We have tables and booths at the Spring Beer and Wine Fest, at the KLCC Microbrew Fest in Eugene, at the Oregon Brewers Festival, the North American Organic Brewers Festival and the Great American Beer Festival in Denver,” said Brian.
Events, large and small, mean planning, planning and more planning. Each one starts with a budget. Next, participating breweries are lined up. A venue is selected. People are informed about the event through public relations campaigns and marketing sales and website updates. Food vendors are arranged along with infrastructure providers who set up tents, tables, chairs and the ever-essential porta-potties.
Again, Brian is the main person responsible for coordinating and arranging these events.
Brian’s interest in beer stems, in part, from his family’s background in homebrewing. Following his great-grandfather and uncle, Brian took up the hobby in 1999 and decided to enroll in the Beer Judge Certification Program that same year. Brian also served as vice president and president of the Oregon Brew Crew, Oregon’s oldest homebrew club. Around that time he also started working at Belmont Station. He was fortunate enough to snag shifts on Fridays — free beer tasting days — which meant face time with the brewers who attended these events. He stayed on there until 2006, overlapping with his start at the Guild.
Events and promotions, important in their own right, are only part of the Guild’s duties. The other responsibility is protecting the industry.
“The Guild participates in decision making at the local, state and federal level. We stay out of lobbying and leave that to our individual members,” said Brian. “But we alert members and our board, by email and meetings, to legislative issues and other concerns.”
Oregon is one of the few states where the entire legislative congressional delegation is part of the Small Brewers Caucus, he said. “They all support the lower excise tax for U.S. brewers. Last June, Sen. Wyden sponsored a bill to give all alcohol manufacturers some excise tax relief. It has 24 co-sponsors in the Senate and more than 100 in the House.”
Every June, right before Oregon Craft Beer Month in July, Brian holds a press conference about the economic impact of craft beer in Oregon, including information about the number of direct and indirect jobs created, number of barrels produced and sold here, the amount of charitable contributions and other economic indicators. For more information about the industry, upcoming Guild events or to learn how to become a SNOB, go to oregoncraftbeer.org.
By Jim McLaren
For the Oregon Beer Growler
There was a golden crack of sunshine in the gray, mist-filled sky that had ridden with me from Portland to visit a budding nanobrewery in Silverton on a cold November afternoon.
The “gold” was in a glass on the bar at the back end of a big, cluttered metal shed, half of which is home to Belgian Underground Brewing. Co-owner Sheldon Lesire, a school teacher, describes the brew as “a golden strong ale, bottle conditioned. It is about 9 percent ABV. Real bright golden color. It is unfiltered, but it sits so long everything settles to the bottom of the bottle.”
This is Underground’s version of what the Belgians call Duvel. The word means “devil” in Flemish, which is odd because it’s so bright and lively — reminiscent of spring in its aromas and flavor.
As Sheldon explains that Belgian beers are lightly hopped and draw most of their flavors from the yeast strains and adjuncts used to make them, his father-in-law is smiling broadly through a full salt-and-pepper beard. Dale Coleman is the brewer whose hobby of 16 years is filling Silverton taprooms with excited taste-testers.
But Dale, who also works at a company that manufacturers off-road products like winches, didn’t start out making Belgian beer. “I’ve always been a stout and porter type of guy,” he explains. Dale only decided to try Belgians a couple of Christmases back when Sheldon asked if he’d show him how to make beer for the holidays. That led Dale and Sheldon on a recipe search through every brewing book Dale had until they settled on Duvel. Several experimental batches gave them the taste and color they wanted, and taste tests in Silverton and at Portland’s Bazi Bierbrasserie, which features Belgian-inspired beers, proved they had what they wanted.
That’s when the Underground story came to a new chapter. The next beer Sheldon, Dale and third partner Eric Druliner, a Lake Oswego police officer, tried was a chocolate porter. Dale says it’s made with Madagascar vanilla beans soaked in Maker’s Mark bourbon for about a month. He also pitches Belgian chocolate into the secondary fermenter.
When Sheldon, who was born in Belgium, first smelled that porter he “had an emotional moment.” The tobacco aromas reminded him of his Opa, or grandfather in Flemish. It was then that Sheldon realized the brewery’s philosophy had to be “we make beer to tell stories and we tell stories to sell beer.”
Underground’s story actually began, then, in 1939 when Sheldon’s then-19-year-old grandfather joined the Belgian Resistance movement to fight the invading Nazis. Over the next few years he passed along information, such as railroad schedules for German troop movements. The young man was arrested three times and each time he lied his way out of jail.
But Sheldon explains that “almost nobody knows anything about the Belgian Resistance.” And, he adds, like that movement, “Belgian beers are unsung.”
Belgian Underground Brewing wants to share those stories and its take on those beers.
Both agree that any new beers will have to wait until they build out their small brewery and get OLCC approval. It could happen this coming spring.
Until then look for other Belgian Underground Brewing tasting events in Silverton, grab a glass and raise it to Sheldon’s Opa and what he inspired.
As the Oregon Beer Growler was going to press, Belgian Underground Brewing was in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign to raise $15,000 to outfit their current facility in order to meet OLCC standards for a brewery.
By Kris McDowell
For the Oregon Beer Growler
With more than 80 breweries in the Portland metro area and 183 in the state of Oregon*, one might think that all the niches have been filled. BTU Brasserie proves that incorrect and brings a solution to a long-standing problem: finding a place that makes great Chinese food and craft beer.
BTU, which opened Aug. 2014, is located on a triangular corner on the south side of Northeast Sandy Boulevard. If you frequent the area just east of Laurelwood Brewing you may recall this building used to be a Chinese restaurant, and one that was vacated rather abruptly. But it was still a property that business partners Chris Bogart and Nate Yovu saw as promising. Their vision required extensive renovation due in large part to the installation of the brewery as well as a reimaging of the dining space. The focal point is a 13-seat bar with tables lining the perimeter of the room and an adjacent private room designed to accommodate groups.
The brewery contains a 7-barrel system heated by a steam boiler that was created by local fabricator Portland Kettle Works. By Nate's own admission, the installation of the boiler was an additional expense, but one that the duo felt was important to the soul of the operation. Both beer and Chinese cooking require massive amounts of heat, the extent of which can be expressed as Btus, or British thermal units. Most of BTU's beers fall in the range of 5 to 6 percent ABV, a range that includes lagers. Customers should know that the brews are designed so that more than one can be enjoyed during a sitting and they are meant to be paired with the food.
Chris comes from a restaurant background, having worked in classical Chinese restaurants before relocating from the East Coast and taking a position at Burnside Brewing. Nate represents the brewing half of the equation, with a background that includes graduation from the American Brewers Guild and time at Captain Lawrence Brewing in New York. While his focus is on brewing, he commented that "Food is a huge emphasis for us." To that end, they convinced Dusty Berard, who worked for Chris's father's restaurant in Vermont and for Ming Tsai in Boston, to head their kitchen. The menu offers many familiar dishes – dumplings, sesame noodles and spring rolls – from a kitchen focused on turning out food that will leave you wondering which was more carefully crafted, the food or the beer.
As 2015 begins, BTU will call upon their Chinese influence and release a doppelbock to recognize the Year of the Goat on the Chinese zodiac calendar. The bock style was originally brewed in the German town of Einbeck and was later adopted by Munich brewers who, due to their Bavarian accents, pronounced "Einbeck" as "ein Bock," or billy goat. In addition to the doppelbock release, the kitchen is gearing up to celebrate Chinese New Year with a prix fixe menu. The weeklong celebration begins Feb. 19 and comes on the heels of a big celebration here in Oregon: Zwickelmania. Along with many other breweries, BTU will be swinging open their doors and inviting the public in for a closer look at the setup.
Whether you enjoy a comforting bowl of peanut noodles, which pairs nicely with their single-hopped Polaris Wheat, are looking for something more assertive, like the dry-fried green beans whose smokiness intermingles deliciously with the roasty qualities of Dark Helmet Schwarzbier, or are craving a decidedly different place for weekend brunch, BTU has you covered.
*As of October 2014. Provided by the Oregon Brewers Guild.
[a] 5846 NE Sandy Blvd., Portland
By Chris Jennings
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Now that the new year is upon us, we should make some beer resolutions to continue to enhance our brewing skills. No recipe is complete without the perfect yeast, but what happens if the yeast that we love doesn’t get produced again? Not only can we as homebrewers harvest yeast from bottles and the world around us; we can also save a few dollars by keeping our favorite strain going for several yeast generations.
After your tasty homebrew’s primary fermentation period, the yeast will fall to the bottom of the fermenter and form a cake. Usually we would just discard this cake, but it‘s still a viable yeast pitch. As long as you were careful not to introduce anything foreign into it, you can use the cake as a new pitch for your next brew. The fastest and easiest way to reuse the cake is to brew the same day you empty your fermenter, then just put the new wort into the bucket with the yeast. You can only use this method a few times before you may notice some off-flavors beginning to develop. This is because there is protein and even some beer left from the previous brew. If you are planning to use this strain for much longer than a few brews, you can wash the yeast.
In order to wash the yeast, put about 3 gallons of cold water into your fermenter. Transfer as much of the sludge into a glass carboy or other clear vessel. Make sure there is plenty of liquid and that most of the sludge is stirred into the solution. You need to then put the carboy into a chilled area around 50 F. This will force the proteins and dead yeast cells to fall back into the cake and should only take a few minutes. Once most of the cake has re-formed, the live yeast cells will be floating in the water, so rack the water with the living cells into a separate sanitized container. After this is complete, you have a fresh yeast pitch with minimal impurities. You can continue to wash the same strain of yeast for several generations with very low levels of flavor change. Eventually the yeast will mutate and it may take on a completely new flavor. As long as it still tastes good, there’s no reason to stop using it when it can save you money.
Capturing New Strains
Purchasing yeast at your local homebrew shop is the safest guaranteed way to get the flavors that you are looking for in your homebrew. But sometimes you can harvest yeast out of an empty beer bottle and have your very own Duvel strain. If you are going to attempt this, you need to be sure that the beer has not been filtered or pasteurized. When you have found the beer with the yeast that you want, decant as much of the beer out of the bottle as possible. Add some cold water and transfer the remaining contents of the bottle into a flask or growler to begin making a starter.
To make a starter, cook up a small amount of wort by using dry malt extract and boil it with some water. Once the wort is chilled, add it to your flask or growler and allow it to begin fermentation. Be sure to incorporate air into the solution as well because it will help the yeast grow. You can do this by swirling the container every few hours or every time you walk past it. Another option would be to use a stir plate with a stir bar like the kind you might remember from high school chemistry class. Either way, in a few days your yeast should have enough cell growth for you to pitch it into your next tasty experiment.
Though it is cost-effective to save yeast and begin your own yeast bank, it can be a daunting task. Starting small and getting a few of the different techniques mastered can help to start the new year off right and ensure a successful brew year.
Killer Winter White [Extract]
Killer Winter White [AG]
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