THE NUMBERS 21-4-1 sound like a padlock combo. If they are, they unlock the story of Oregon's continuing development in the brewing industry.
As the year winds down, the arc once again shows impressive growth, because 21 more breweries opened, bringing the state's brewery population to 230. And while four (the second number in our combo) may have closed, four closed last year, too; and anyone would be hard-pressed to name them. Heck, even most Beaverton residents didn't realize that Brannon's Pub and Brewery popped up and shuttered in a matter of months.
As for the last digit in our padlock code (one), that's the item that'll long define Oregon beer, since it represents the moment the craft brewing business went from cute to serious.
Oregon had one brewery sell out to Big Beer: AB InBev bought 10 Barrel in Bend in late 2014, technically. (There was also the Full Sail sale to a private equity group when its employee-owners cashed out, but that's not the same as selling to Bud.) Five other hot beer commodities around the country followed suit. (Four were in California—Lagunitas, Golden Road, Saint Archer, and Ballast Point—which stands to reason since the Golden State has roughly 400 more breweries than Oregon.) But ultimately, since you can't drink numbers, it was a great year for beer.
As Oregon brewing pioneer Rob Widmer says, "The acceleration of brewery openings and the valuation of brewery sales are both breathtaking!" Whether or not he emailed this quote from the jacuzzi he's rumored to have installed in the office he shares with his brother, Kurt, cannot be confirmed.
We have entered a post-craft world. Big beer means big money. The most recent sale to an industrial brewer—San Diego's Ballast Point to Constellation, which owns most of the Mexican brands you can name—was trumpeted to the tune of a walloping billion dollars. A billion bucks is more than Americans spent on IPAs combined in 2015 (we checked with market research group IRI to confirm). Far shy of a bazillion, the terms of the 10 Barrel sale are undisclosed, but are believed to be in the healthy eight figures. The deal not only put 10 Barrel on a bigger map, but the brewery is already preparing for a $15 million expansion that will increase brewing capacity by 120,000 barrels. And if you're among the vocal minority who claim you'll never drink the stuff again, we'll just see about that once the weather heats up and stubbies of Cucumber Crush appear in four-packs on the shelves.
Yes, that's right, 10 Barrel's awesome Crush series of tart, fruited Berliner Weisses (cukes are a fruit!) are going big, albeit in cute little bottles. Furthermore, if you're boycotting their brewpub in the Pearl (oh wait, that means 22 breweries opened this year!), you've been missing out on Pearl IPA, which we believe is one of the best IPAs in the state.
Even the indies are expanding at a rapid clip. In recent years, several have built secondary brewing facilities and continue to add large fermenters to their "tank farms" for greater production capacity. This year, Block 15 added a second production brewery in Corvallis. Double Mountain is opening a public house in the Woodstock neighborhood, meaning you no longer need to drive to Hood River to enjoy their great pizza. Breakside's opening a new location, their third, in the Slabtown neighborhood. Hopworks has not made an official announcement, but owner Christian Ettinger confirmed to us in August that it will be opening a second brewpub "within a 30-mile radius" (noting that Vancouver happens to fall within that 30-mile mark).
And then there's the biggest, Deschutes, which said it will reveal where its East Coast production facility will be built by year's end. Our money is on Asheville, North Carolina, putting the Bend company hot on the heels of Oskar Blues, Sierra Nevada, and New Belgium.
In the end, Oregon breweries are still about community. Take Portland's 60-plus breweries, for example. Michael Kora, who's lived in Montavilla with his wife for the last decade, noted there was "no freshly brewed beer this far into East Portland." Hence, he opened Montavilla Brew Works this summer. It's become a neighborhood success, but even Kora knows locals will call bullshit if the beer's not up to snuff.
"Portlanders know the difference between good and bad beers and will tell you about it," he says.
Same goes for breweries throughout the region.
"Pacific Northwest breweries thrive on community-building, inspired collaboration, and sustainable coexistence," Kora says, before adding with a smile, "and hops."