JULY IS OREGON CRAFT BEER MONTH. But then, so are June and August if you really think about it.
In fact, April is a great month for Oregon craft beer, as well... much like the months that start with “M” or end in “–uary” or “–ber.” As it turns out, drinking local suds never goes out of style or season, since folks are always looking for an excuse to drink—hashtag National Mutton and Tankard Day. So if one were forced to establish a "craft beer month," that person could make a much worse choice than July with its excellent weather.
But how did our love of craft beer hit such deliriously glorious heights? And why dedicate an entire month to their enjoyment? This time, the numbers tell the story.
Not That You Can Drink Numbers
Although we drink for flavor, to refresh, or to recover from an arduous hike/ride/paddle/gardening session, mostly we quaff because it complements our temperaments and quality of life. Bean counters and number crunchers know this, and have found myriad ways to quantify what kind of beer we drink and how much we drink it. So let's get to know Oregon's beer drinkers and brewers by the numbers. (Note: Much of this data is thanks to the Oregon Brewers Guild [OBG], and the following stats pertain to 2014.)
Last year, Oregon brewers collectively produced 1,641,000 barrels of beer. (A barrel is 248 pints.) Beer contributed $2.83 billion to the state economy with more than 7,400 people employed at our 216 breweries (more on that figure later). Roughly, a whopping 30,000 people are employed by the greater beer industry, from the guy who drives that beer truck all over Portland, to the woman working her family hop farm in the Willamette Valley, to the dude mushing thirsty pedallers around Bend on the Cycle Pub. But perhaps the snazziest stat is that of all the beer sold in state, 20 percent was made within our borders.
If one in five beers somehow doesn't sound all that impressive, consider that craft beer makes up 11 percent of the beer America drinks overall. (By way of defining the term "craft beer," let's just say craft beer is a beverage made from malted barley that is not manufactured by the three largest brewing concerns—Anheuser-Busch InBev, MillerCoors, and Pabst—or imported.) In other words, practically nine out of 10 of your compatriots swill Bud Light, Miller Lite, or possibly Blue Moon or Corona, but not Deschutes Fresh Squeezed IPA or the Commons Urban Farmhouse Ale. The national trade group advocating for craft brewers, the Colorado-based Brewers Association, states the industry-wide goal is to reach 20 percent market share by 2020. Oregon has already achieved that—and with home-state-brewed beer, no less.
Total beer sales are harder to track than you'd expect. The market research company IRI calculates national sales based solely on packaged product—bottles and cans—at grocers and major retailers. That India Red Ale you bought by the half-gallon at the Growler Guys? Doesn't count. That wax-dipped bottle of bourbon-barrel-aged imperial stout you scored at the boutique bottle shop? Doesn't register. As a matter of fact, the OBG points out that an estimated 60 percent of Oregon craft beer sales are draft format. That's because we prefer cheersing or prosting over pints instead of pounding 18 cans of Busch Light during a Game of Thrones binge-a-thon.
So for packaged beer alone, each of seven Oregon-brewed brands enjoy at least one percent of the overall market: Deschutes, Widmer, Ninkasi, Full Sail, BridgePort, 10 Barrel, and Portland/Pyramid. (Combined, these seven account for 16.2 percent.)
Now let's look at our neighbors to the north and south. Washington and California are the only states that spend more money, overall, on beer. They also boast nearly double and 10 times the population, respectively. They, along with Colorado, are the only states that support more breweries than Oregon does. Only two Washington brands cracked the single percentage point mark: Redhook and Pyramid (4.4 percent jointly). California fares slightly worse with only Sierra Nevada and Lagunitas in the top 25 brands, with a combined 2.8 percent. Colorado has a better showing with three craft brands.
Now keep in mind that these numbers represent all of Oregon. Here in Portland, denizens buy somewhere between 45-55 percent craft beer, quashing even the next most impressive numbers coming from cities like Seattle, Denver, San Francisco, and San Diego. It's no wonder more breweries open—and thrive—in this city we call Beervana.
Having said that, Oregon did just lose one bragging point: most breweries per capita. Last year, Vermont reclaimed that title with 8.6 breweries for every 100,000 residents of legal drinking age compared to Oregon's 7.4 per capita. When asked how many Beaver Staters would need to flee to the Green Mountain State (home to just 40 breweries) to put us back at the top, the Brewers Association's in-house chief economist Bart Watson responded, approximately "66,000." Hey teetotalers, you can still get there in time for the beautiful fall foliage.
If I were a betting man, I'd wager that despite Portland having 54 thriving breweries and another 30 in the metro area, it could sustain 30 more. Oregon had 216 at the end of 2014, but what with breweries such as Waltz in Forest Grove, Climate City in Grants Pass, as well as the 10 Barrel pub and Culmination here in Portland, 12 have already come online since New Year's. Add the breweries currently in the planning stages, like ColdFire in Eugene and Wolves & People in Newberg, and as many as another dozen will be open by year's end.
We've been on that pace of welcoming new beer makers—mostly small or nano in size, or following the more logical brewpub model—for the last few years. Only four closed last year and two shuttered the year before. I could be cruel and say they weren't worth crying over, and won't be missed—but what I can't say is that their product was bad. When a brewing company closes (as the Mash Tun in Alberta Arts District recently announced), it's typically because of business management or personal health reasons; "extenuating circumstances" isn't necessarily code for inferior IPA.
So don't tell prospective brewing entrepreneurs that the Portland market is tapped out. Coin Toss and Oregon City Brewing recently opened in Oregon City, joining Feckin; and two more new breweries—Shattered Oak and Bent Shovel—will join them down there soon. Oregon City's brewery total of five may not match Bend's 18 brewing companies, but it does have 60 percent fewer residents and it does not have nearly four million tourists flocking there to go brewery hopping (yet?).
In PDX proper, places like Breakside prove that every neighborhood would enjoy having a brewpub of its very own. So while inner Southeast areas like Buckman may be tight, how is SE Division—which teems with trendy bars and eateries—devoid of its own brewpub? The Foster-Powell neighborhood doesn't have a single brewery within a two-mile radius. That may sound like Thirst World Problems in any other city, but in Beervana, it's more like a gaping hole.
- Andy Sparhawk
- © BREWERS ASSOCIATION
As Andy Sparhawk, the Brewers Association's craft beer program coordinator, puts it, "If the entire country looked like Oregon and Colorado, there'd be 12,000 breweries making 78 million barrels of beer representing 40 percent of the beer industry." In reality, of the nearly 200 million barrels brewed in America last year, almost 22 million hailed from craft brewers. Sparhawk continues, "That's around the specialty coffee industry—and no one's talking about a coffee bubble."
But again, the twin issues of quality and diversity must take precedence over quantity. What good is having 100 folks making the same IPA? On that front, local brewers still have little to worry about. Whether it's the renowned sour ales found at Cascade Brewing Barrel House, the rustic farmhouse ales from the Commons, the German-style beers at Occidental, or the gluten-free beers for our celiac friends from Ground Breaker, local brewers continue to find ways to differentiate themselves and satisfy their neighbors.
That's something worth celebrating all month long. And then some.
- Ben Parsons
- Baerlic Brewery
Craft Beer Events NOT TO MISS!
Here's a brief rundown of the month's remaining highlights of unsomber insobriety.
Pioneers of the Brewpub Law
Hear brewing pioneers Brian McMenamin, BridgePort founder Dick Ponzi, Kurt Widmer, and Portland Brewing founders Art Larrance and Fred Bowman talk on this 30-year anniversary of brewpub legalization.
Mission Theater, 1624 NW Glisan, Thurs July 9, 7 pm, free, all ages
When a day of sipping sour beers isn't enough, come celebrate a days-long bender of sour and wild ales. Belmont Station, 4500 SE Stark, Tues July 14-Mon July 20, noon–11 pm, pay per beer
Ex Novo First Anniversary Party
Portland's first nonprofit brewpub is throwing a street party to celebrate a whole year of not turning a penny in profits.
Ex Novo, 2326 N Flint, Sat July 11, noon-9 pm, $5-10 or VIP for $30
It's lager's time down here at the White Owl. And 50-plus lagers never say die.
White Owl Social Club, 1305 SE 8th, Sat July 11, 2-10 pm, $10 (includes five tickets)
The Cornelius Pass Roadhouse hosts McMenamins' brewers under one roof. No wait, it's outdoors. Take off those Ruby-colored glasses and see what these brewers can do.
Cornelius Pass Roadhouse, 4045 NW Cornelius Pass, Hillsboro, Sat July 18, 11 am-late, free, all ages
Oregon Brewers Fest
Nearly 30 years strong and getting bigger and better every year. Enjoy IPAs, fruit beers, and more with thousands of beer lovers who flock here from around the world—including guest brewers from New Zealand and the Netherlands this year—to enjoy 90 different craft beers.
Tom McCall Waterfront Park, SW Naito & Oak, Wed July 22-Sat July 25, noon-9 pm, Sun July 26, noon-7 pm, free, $7 mug, $1 per ticket
Bite & Brew Salem
This fest offers great food (and a kid zone) enjoyed in a great park with plenty of beers including the locals—Santiam, Salem Ale Works, Vagabond, and Gilgamesh.
Riverfront Park, 200 Water NE, Salem, Thurs July 23-Fri July 24, 4-11 pm, Sat July 25, 11 am-11 pm, Sun July 26, 11 am-6 pm, $5, all ages
Serving as Oregon Craft Beer Month's closing ceremony, the fifth installment of BenFest, which brewpublic.com blogger Angelo De Ieso whimsically launched to rejoice in the outsized share of brewers named Ben. Any style goes, so long as the hands of a Ben have touched it.
Belmont Station, 4500 SE Stark, Fri July 31, 6-10 pm, pay per beer
Let's meet the Bens and their beers:
Ben Dobler of
Widmer Brothers Brewing
Beer entry: Mexican lager with lime and jalapeños
Favorite beers right now: Heater Allen and Occidental's lagers
Ben Edmunds of Breakside Brewery
Beer entry: Possibly Just the Tip Spruced Wheat
Favorite beer right now: Ex Novo's the Most Interesting Mexican Lager
Ben Engler of
Beer entry: a light lager
Favorite beer right now: Deschutes' Red Chair NW Pale Ale
Ben Flerchinger of Lucky Labrador Brewing
Beer entry: Benry Winkler's Wheat
Favorite beer right now: Burnside's Couch Lager
Ben Kehs of
Beer entry: "The beer will be a play on the word 'Ben.'"
Favorite beer right now: Deschutes's Foray IPA
Ben Love of
Beer entry: Tiny Benpire, dry-hopped ISA
Favorite beers right now: pilsner, kolsch, lambic, and radler
Ben Parsons of
Beer entry: Benchanting (style TBD)
Favorite beer right now: "I'm nerding on heavy oats."
- Artwork by Murphy Phelan