In April 2015, conservation group Oregon Wild announced the formation of The Oregon Brewshed® Alliance. The coalition of breweries and more advocates for the protection of forests and watersheds. Featured here, left to right, are Christian Ettinger of Hopworks, Colin Rath, co-founder of Migration and member of Oregon Wild’s Board of Directors, Julia Person, sustainability manager at Widmer, and Marielle Cowdin, outreach and marketing coordinator from Oregon Wild. Photo by Emma Browne
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Brewers know that great beer begins with clean water. Oregon craft beer is especially connected to the Northwest’s land and waterways, and that’s why in April 2015, conservation group Oregon Wild announced the formation of The Oregon Brewshed® Alliance. The coalition of breweries, other craft beer organizations and conservationists advocates for the protection of forests and watersheds.
Launching with eight partners from the craft beer industry, in less than a year there are now 21 partners, including 7 Devils Brewing Co. in Coos Bay, C-BIG (Craft Beverage Industry Group), Crosby Hop Farm in Woodburn, Fort George Brewery in Astoria, GoodLife Brewing in Bend, the brewpub chain McMenamins, Standing Stone Brewing Company in Ashland and multiple other breweries in Eugene and Portland.
“Conservationists and breweries joining forces for clean water might be a bit unconventional, but the partnership is really a natural fit,” says Marielle Cowdin, outreach and marketing coordinator for Oregon Wild. “Keeping our drinking watersheds clean and protected is essential for living. And it’s just as essential for keeping our craft brewing industry, something that has so defined our state’s culture, alive and thriving.”
Brewshed® partners and Oregon Wild also realized they had an opportunity to help the public understand the importance of clean water for brewing. “Many craft beer drinkers don't realize how significant water is for the process,” says Cowdin. “Two-thirds of Oregonians get their tap water from our state's lakes, streams and rivers. Since water is a product of the land that it flows through, our cleanest and best-tasting water flows through unspoiled public forest lands, with healthy forests acting as a natural filtration systems.”
Oregon Wild (formerly the Oregon Natural Resources Council or ONRC) began in 1974. Their conservation efforts have protected 1.7 million acres of wilderness, 95,000 acres of forests, and 1,800 miles of water protected by the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The foundation of the Brewshed® was laid in 2009 when Oregon Wild partnered with Widmer Brothers Brewing to protect Portland's Bull Run Watershed. “The partnership sparked plans for a larger initiative, given the intimate connection between Oregon's thriving craft brewing scene and our public wildlands.”
Partners collaborate on various outreach events, such as pint nights, happy hours, special brews, Brewshed® hikes and fundraisers that support Oregon Wild's forest and watershed conservation work. Eugene’s Claim 52 Brewing considers conservation efforts a priority and works with various nonprofits on environmental stewardship. “From inception, Claim 52 has been proud to credit the McKenzie River for the flavor profile of our signature beer, the kolsch,” says co-founder/owner Mercy McDonald. “The river that runs in our backyard is vital and needs our care and protection to keep it pure. All of us have a role and stake in that outcome.”
Claim 52 hosts events for Oregon Wild throughout the year and contributes to raffles to help with fundraising. Last year, Claim 52 also bottled a specialty beer, Scrivener’s Sour, and donated a portion of the proceeds to Oregon Wild. McMenamins provides similar support. This year, while celebrating the 30th anniversary of Hammerhead, McMenamins donated $1 for every pint of the pale ale sold in Oregon Jan. 30-31. The brewpub chain is also donating event space for the Brewshed® Brewfest, which is set to take place Wednesday, May 18 at the Kennedy School in Portland. The inaugural event will feature beers from Brewshed® partners and guests can vote for their favorite beers.
“The amazing beers our Brewshed® partners will be pouring will showcase Oregon water, but we'll be incorporating information about Oregon watersheds and water conservation into our program for the evening, with speakers from Oregon Wild and other Alliance members,” explains Cowdin. “Fest attendees will get to know about watersheds beyond Portland and get to taste beer from across the state. Overall, this first annual Oregon Brewshed® Brewfest will be a celebration of Oregon beer and the Oregon water that helps it stand apart.”
In 2015, partners held 12 events to raise awareness and support, including an Earth Day fundraiser, a Community Tap Month, a hike along the Salmon River and an environmental speaker series. Events in 2016 have included a fundraising campaign called Weekend for Water in partnership with the Oregon Environmental Council, Base Camp Brewing Company’s Collabofest presented by #PDXNOW, and February’s KLCC Microbrew Festival in Eugene, where the Alliance sponsored the water stations.
“Moving forward, we hope to continue growth with new partner breweries and others in the brewing community that care about clean water across the state,” says Cowdin. “As the Oregon Brewshed® Alliance builds new partnerships, our voice for Oregon watersheds becomes stronger, and eventually, the Alliance could be seen as a model for craft brewing and water conservation nationwide.”
For brewers such as Mercy McDonald, the need for partnership is simple. “Clean water is often taken for granted, and that’s where quality beer starts.”
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