|jess rotenberg photography|
|Ben Edmunds takes the kids to school|
2010 marked an unprecedented boom of new breweries and pubs to open in Portland (Burnside Brewing, Coalition, Migration, and Breakside, among others) and inspiring many questions about Portland reaching a craft beer saturation point. Not coincidentally, I launched The New School on January 1st, 2010, with one of my chief sources of inspiration being the boom in new breweries. One of my first outside writers, columnist Ben Edmunds would later become the Brewmaster at the new Breakside Brewery. In his very first story on this site on March 29th, 2010, Ben wrote about the Portland Beer Apocalypse and said "I fear for the Portland brewpubs," offering a skeptical view on the success of new brewpubs just as he was himself working on opening one. "The numbers don’t lie: one brewery’s gain means another one’s loss." It's fun to re-read his post and remember a time just a few short years ago when the previously-mentioned breweries were just on the horizon, along with Green Dragon's Buckman Village Brewery, Hair of the Dog's Tasting Room, Cascade's Barrel House, Mt. Tabor Brewing, and Occidental Brewing on the upcoming list. Note in the comments Brian from the newly-opened Short Snout Brewing hints at opening his brewery and concurs with Ben's assessments.
Ben estimated in a few years we would see some shakeout from oversaturation, and in this post I will discuss his past predictions as well as make my own predictions for the 2012 crop of new brewers.
|Breakside Brewery buildout|
On a surface level I think most of us will agree we have not seen a brewer shakeout, and many from 2010 have produced some damn fine and memorable beers, but a closer look reveals there have been failures. In 2010 Roots Organic Brewing closed and one of that year's newest, Rivergate Brewing, ceased operations practically as soon as it opened. Buckman Village Brewing is only successful as a tax writeoff for Rogue, and Mt. Tabor Brewing relocated to Washington. Another, American Flatbread, never even came to pass. However, based on that same brewpub model, Breakside Brewery took off and is on the verge of opening a much larger production facility. Burnside Brewing has expanded and began bottling, and so has Coalition. Migration Brewing also pumps out a lot of beer for such a small brewpub and has a loyal following. We all know that both Cascade Barrel House and Hair of the Dog feel like classics and are already thriving tourist destinations.
2011 brought us Occidental Brewing, which is really beginning to come into its own with its German-style ales ,and the unique Portland U-Brew concept has proven to be a hit. The Commons Brewery graduated from a nano to a full-fledged operation.
Since 2010 the opening of new breweries has slowed, but has far from stopped with the 2012 crop of new craft brewers including the likes of Fire on the Mountain, Pints Brewing, Old Town Pizza, Kells Brewpub, Short Snout Brewing, Harvester Gluten-Free Brewery, and Gigantic Brewing.
What do these breweries have in common? The first four are all brewpubs and have failed to create waves or any real buzz. I don't think I am going out on a limb to say that these four openings have been met with a resounding "mehhhhh" from craft beer fans. But then again, what is our barometer for success? If beer credibility and welcoming arms from the craft beer community is what they need, then so far it's been pretty disappointing. Perhaps that judgement is unfair, though; I do not think the owners of Fire on the Mountain, Kell's, or Old Town Pizza planned to do anything other than to serve their already growing customer base and make a higher profit from doing so. In those terms, I personally believe there is no limit for new brewpubs.
|Mike Wright at The Commons pre-buildout|
Short Snout Brewing is a nano operated out of a garage and is still a side project, not a day job, for founder Brian Van Orum. As such, Short Snout has proved itself a success in the beer geek scene after getting funding from Kickstarter and gaining a small but dedicated fanbase. At this point I think the future is unwritten and will be decided by the dedication and time Brian can spend on the project. It could well become the next The Commons.
Harvester is the only one that has so far created any real buzz by becoming Oregon's first gluten-free brewery and winning a medal last weekend at the Great American Beer Festival. As a maker of gluten-free beer Harvester faces an uphill battle to get any beer geek cred, but by distributing bottles to other bars and breweries and trying new things like a Gluten-Free IPA and a Fresh Hop brew, it is staying fresh and relevant. The question is how far can the gluten-free beer demand go when its alternative, hard cider, is blowing up like craft beer used to be and the Omission brand is breathing down its back. Will the gluten-free category continue to grow or fizzle out? If you ask me, I predict the fad to die down, but as a niche it will remain strong.
|Base Camp's Justin Fay before buildout|
The last, Gigantic Brewing, has been an unbridled success, but anyone who knows founders Ben Love and Van Havig could have told you that. As a business model, Gigantic chose to go the production brewery route with just a small tasting room. If anything, the only stumble so far has been a gross underestimate of demand for its beer, and, as they say, there are worse problems to have. Being unable to keep up with demand, though, is a very real problem for a brewery, if you cant supply the stores--especially the chains--then they can easily drop your shelf space for another eager young brewer, of which there seems to be a nonstop flow. I am sure Ben or Van can correct me here, but from an outsider's perspective, it would appear that with Gigantic's distribution secured in advance of opening not only in Oregon but as far as Alaska and Vancouver, BC, the brewery already had a significant commitment that it has been having a hard time meeting. Perhaps I am wrong, but shortages of bottles and recently finding the IPA unavailable on draft leads me to believe Gigantic is already feeling the crunch, though I am confident it will emerge successful.
|Fire on The Mountain pre-buildout|
What do you think the future holds for Portland's craft brewers?