Portland-based Laurelwood Brewing has long been a popular family brewpub staple, but owner Mike DeKalb is finally realizing a dream to put the brewery's beer into many more mouths by contracting brews out to Craft Brew Alliance, makers of Widmer, Kona, RedHook, and Omission brands. With the new deal many of the brewery's staples will see regular production in 12oz bottles. The small Laurewlwood brewpub chain has experienced its ups and downs, like the closure of both the NW location and the Laurelwood Pizza Co. Recently, though, the brewery has been experiencing a renaissance of beers with the addition Brewmaster Vasilios Gletsos to the team. Will these new changes affect consumers' feelings on the brand?
“We were looking to expand on our terms,” says De Kalb. “We didn’t want to change our line-up or the fact we are a Portland business by selling shares to outside interests. Instead, we found a way to increase our production and keep Laurelwood a locally-owned, independent company.”
Contracting with Craft Brew Alliance, Laurelwood is set to increase its production by as many as 15,000 barrels a year, making it finally possible to package Laurelwood beers in 12 ounce glass bottles. With the rise of production, there will be a few change,s but we have been assured the quality will be the same. Among those changes is the once-flagship Free Range Red, Laurelwood's first organic beer, will now no longer be organic. Unconfirmed rumors also suggest that the current best-selling Workhorse IPA's recipe will change due to hop availability and CBA's existing hop contracts not accounting for specific varieties key to Workhorse. That change alone, I am sure, will stir some controversy, as the last time the beer was temporarily discontinued and returned, some claimed it had changed for the worse.
The question I am left asking is why Laurelwood did not simply open its own larger production brewery rather than contract out. It makes sense to contract out if you're trying to expand distribution to further reaches, i.e. some of New Belgium beers produced at Elysian in Seattle and vice versa to cut shipping costs and increase freshness. CBA's breweries are all largely in the Pacific Northwest, though.
Stay tuned for a follow-up with more info from Laurelwood owner Mike DeKalb.
I followed up with Mike DeKalb via email with a couple questions. First among them was why Laurelwood is not opening up it's own production brewery as others like Amnesia, Breakside and Alameda have done recently. His explanation is they don't have the cash and don't want to take on an investor who would want to change the brand. All relevant but then it makes you wonder how the previously mentioned breweries did it. I think the answer is that Laurelwood wants to go even bigger than they have.
"As you can see from the release we wanted to do this on our terms. We've had offers from investors, but they all came with that lack of control thing. We also didn't want someone from out of state trying to tell us how to brew beer. Who better to work with than people I've know for 20 years. Yes I managed the. Widmer pub at the Portland Airport years ago," said mr. Dekalb.
On Workhorse recipe changing the answer is yes but it appears they have been gearing up for this for awhile:
"Not sure if you get out brews letter updates, but we've actually been brewing different versions of Workhorse in the pubs for several weeks. We feel they with all the new hops coming into the brewing scene that we need to be on the cutting edge. Workhorse Galaxy and Workhorse Eldorado were both well received. We threw some Citra hops in both I believe. Vasili is a wizard in the brewing world. Many positive comments from the customers on being innovative."
What beers will CBA be brewing?
"initially we will brew Free Range Red and Workhorse. In the spring we'll come out with Portlandia Pils. These will be available in 6 packs and cases as well. "
On expanding distribution:
"We are going to penetrate deeper into the Oregon- Washington market, expand to Idaho and then see where it takes us after that."