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.
McMenamins recently reached a milestone by producing 1 million kegs in July. The Pacific Northwest institution is well-loved because of its unique properties. You can visit all 53 in Oregon and Washington, including seven historic hotels and eight theater pubs, during your travels. Photo by AJ McGarry
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
On July 2, McMenamins began Oregon Craft Beer Month with a unique milestone: one million kegs. The millionth keg, the raspberry ale Ruby, was racked at 11:39 a.m. at the McMenamins Queen Anne pub in Seattle.
“It is an interesting milestone for us, this whole ‘Keg Million’ business,” says John Richen, Chief Brewery Administrator for McMenamins. “It was crazy. It was daunting. And ultimately, just a huge amount of fun.” But he keeps perspective: “It is a symbolic milestone. There isn’t anything substantially different about keg one million from keg nine-hundred-ninety-nine-thousand, other than the gravitas of what it stands for to folks inside our brewing ranks.”
The Oregon and Washington chain of more than 50 pubs, breweries and hotels began brewing in 1985, initially releasing 5.5 kegs of Hillsdale Ale at the Hillsdale Brewery & Public House in Southwest Portland. The first year of production reached 83 barrels, or 165 kegs. Five years later in 1990, production had leaped to 12,813 barrels (25,625 kegs). By the turn of the century, McMenamins produced 173,427 barrels in 2000, or 346,853 kegs — more than 30 percent toward one million.
Five years ago, in 2010, production was more than 75 percent of the way: 395,692 barrels, or 791,385 kegs. Now, as of July 15, McMenamins has officially brewed 1,001,806 kegs. While 24 percent of that was produced at the Edgefield Brewery in Troutdale, 76 percent was brewed at “small house” breweries, such as High Street in Eugene, Lighthouse in Lincoln City and Spar in Olympia, Wash.
Of the one million kegs, 89 percent were kegged in Oregon and 11 percent were kegged in Washington. But not one used “kegging robots, automated golden gate fillers, racking line programmed replicants or Amazon drones,” says Richen. “We filled them all ‘the hard way.’”
Early Experiments, Today’s Favorites & Yesterday’s Disasters
Hillsdale Ale gave rise to other standard McMenamins beers enjoyed today, such as Terminator Stout, Hammerhead and Ruby. Originally brewed as extract-based recipes, the ales were switched to all-grain malt bills starting in March 1987. Early experimentation set a precedent that continues — but the brewers are glad that there have been equipment improvements.
“McMenamins pioneer brewers were a rugged breed,” explains Richen. “The brewers’ day started by driving to F.H. Steinbart to pick up their bags of malt. They would then drive to the Barley Mill Pub to crush the grain through the functional malt mill, which serves as the pub’s namesake. After cleaning up the mess and loading the resulting grist back into their vehicles, they would return to the Hillsdale to begin the brewing process. There was great rejoicing when a simple plate mill was purchased and installed in the brewery.”
In 1985 McMenamins released their first fruit beer, named simply Batch No. 2 and made with blackberries growing in the parking lot. The first Terminator Stout (Brew No. 12) was brewed Nov. 19, 1985 and the first Hammerhead (Brew No. 37) was brewed Jan. 25, 1986.
While first year production focused on original standards — Hillsdale Ale, Terminator Stout, Crystal Ale, Hammerhead and Barley Mill Ale — by November 1986 the fledgling brew operation had produced 40 batches of fruit beers between the Hillsdale, Cornelius Pass and Lighthouse breweries. Early fruit batches also included Brew No. 67, a raspberry ale brewed on March 21, 1986.
Today we know it as Ruby.
Despite the regional popularity of bitter beers such as IPAs, Ruby and Hammerhead remain two of the company’s most popular beers, with Ruby alone comprising 21 percent of total output.
Not every experiment has paid off, though.
“We’ve had great success with incorporating fruit, coffee and spices into styles both traditional and untraditional,” says Richen. “Forays into the worlds of garlic, Mars Bars, Cherry Garcia Ice Cream and wormwood were not as successful, which, to be honest, is a tremendous understatement. They were unmitigated disasters.”
With 24 breweries in two states producing more than 70 batches of beer each week, it’s no small challenge to balance brand consistency with freedom to experiment.
“There is so much that has been learned, much of it the hard way,” says Rob Vallance, general manager of McMenamins Breweries. “Most importantly is the big-picture concept of how every facet of the process affects the beer that goes into every glass. You have to be ever-vigilant.”
However, Vallance notes that McMenamins brewers have an “unprecedented amount of freedom with recipe formulation.” Instead of locking down specifications across all the breweries, some beers — such as a standard McMenamins IPA — actually have no official standard recipe.
“Brewers have different philosophies and skill sets in our system,” he explains. “With the standard and seasonal recipes, it is very difficult to create consistency across so many breweries across such long distances with so many hands on so many paddles.”
This creative freedom also reflects simple practicality. “Water tables can be so different,” says Vallance. “Each brewery is its own unique ecosystem. These are neighborhood breweries. We have to accept that our methods will breed some inconsistencies, and it has always been, and always will be, our most daunting challenge to try and minimize those inconsistencies. The goal is always production of a quality end product with a nod to the stamps the various regional factors place on a beer.”
Creative license, though, does have limits. “We’ll let our brewers try pretty much anything,” says Vallance. “Once anyway.”
The Path to 2 Million
“Having worked in this craft beer business since 1987,” says Richen, “I was unexpectedly moved seeing the listing of the 195 names of folks who put the beer into those million kegs since 1985, many of them in batches with a number of kegs you could count with the fingers on two hands. I pictured faces of people I hadn’t seen or even thought of in years.”
Now as they look ahead, Vallance and Richen wonder what the path to 2 million kegs looks like.
“It certainly won’t take us 30 more years,” says Vallance. “Probably between 15 and 20.”
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