By John Foyston
I've been banging this drum for a few years now — that the corporate owners of Pyramid and Portland Brewing are squandering valuable, historic brands by running them by remote control, as it were, from corporate offices far away from here.
Recently, I got to meet Rob Rentsch, the new Portland-based general manager of Pyramid and Portland Brewing, whose job it is to restore the luster to a couple of great Northwest brands and make them a vital part of our craft beer community again. I think he's just the man for the job.
We met in the beer garden off the Portland Brewing Taproom over pints of fresh-hop Mac's Amber, and Rentsch — tieless in an open-collar white shirt — told me of his career in the beverage business, which includes stints with high-end wine and spirits distributors as a brand manager for tipples as varied as The Macallan whisky and Piper-Heidsieck Champagne. He and his family moved to Portland eight years ago and he worked most of that time at Craft Brew Alliance, where he helped reinvigorate the Red Hook brand and develop the CBA portfolio.
“I love craft beer,” he said. “That's where I'm staying because it's the most dynamic part of the beverage industry. My job as general manager of Pyramid and Portland Brewing is to restore the luster of those heritage brands in an ever-more competitive marketplace and to make them vital parts of the Northwest craft brewing community again.”
The brands are lackluster performers in the current market for a couple of reasons. Pyramid Brewing bought Portland Brewing in 2004, and was subsequently bought by Magic Hat Brewing, then North American Breweries in 2010. Which was bought in 2012 by the Costa Rican company, Florida Ice & Farm Co., so it's easy to see how two Northwest brands could get lost in that shuffle.
“The business has had multiple owners and multiple strategies over the last few years,” Rentsch said, “and the brands were run from places other than Seattle or Portland.”
Rentsch, whose office is in the Portland brewery, says the exciting part for him is that this new general manager position signals the desire to run the brands from their home base. “For the past few years, Pyramid and Portland Brewing have been largely silent — we haven't had a place at the table. I want to restore the greatness of these heritage brands because you can't buy or manufacture that kind of history.”
He acknowledges that laurels are nothing to be rested upon in the current market, which worships the latest/greatest/hoppiest/oakiest/sourest/newest/most extreme beers and breweries, but he's confident that there's room for reinvigorated Pyramid and Portland Brewing brands, and recent beers such as Pyramid's Lord Alesworth English-Style Royal Ale affirm that the brew crew is more than up to the task. “We can't just look back, we have to be relevant to today's markets and consumers,” he said, “a bit like Porsche: the first 911 was from the 1960s, but modern Porsches are still identifiable as an evolution of that basic form.
“I want to acknowledge our history and heritage and become an ongoing part of Portland beer history as it’s developing now. We have great beers, great people and a great culture that will help us do that. There's a real drive and excitement about becoming more involved with our craft beer community again.”
And Rentsch is staying in Portland, which he says feels like home after years on the East Coast. He's even commuting by bicycle out to industrial Northwest from his Southeast Portland home ... “But ask me how that's going when February rolls around,” he laughed.
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