written by Brian Yaeger |
The hangovers have waned. The kegs have kicked. And the 2015 Craft Brewers Conference (CBC) that touched down like a beer-nado from April 14-17 in Portland is in the industry’s collective rearview mirror.
Philly has eleven months to prepare. That’s because every year, the Colorado-based Brewers Association selects a different city to host the event that’s part pedagogical conference by day, part family reunion by afternoon, and part-tay all night long.
Nightly shows included performances by Mudhoney, D.O.A. and a semi-secret show by Tone Loc. The national acts underscore how well-off the craft segment of the beer industry has become: nearly $20 billion of the beverage’s overall $100 billion market.
Oregon plays no minor role in that fiscal windfall, though for most of the country, our beer culture is just hearsay. 12,000-ish brewers and other members of the beer community that descended on Beervana (one of Portland’s many monikers) like thirsty locusts. Since this was the first time CBC chose Portland since 2001, Oregon brewers relished the opportunity to put their best beer forward for visitors who may not have experienced Beervana before.
The convention center was bursting at the seams during the three-day conference. Hundreds more kegs than usual were tapped around the city as Portland transformed into a wall-to-wall public house—filling pints in all of its prodigious taprooms, and even flowing into empty parking lots. Mike Wright, owner of The Commons Brewery in Southeast, said “It did seem like the crowd was pushing the limits of our neighborhood establishments.”
Nationally-focused, the Craft Brewers Association is flaunting the statistic that craft beer now accounts for ten percent of coast-to-coast beer sales. Not to be outshined, the Oregon Brewers Guild just released the doozy that, according to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC), 20 percent of statewide beer intake in Oregon was brewed in Oregon. In addition, six out of every ten pints poured at a bar or restaurant in Oregon was brewed in this state. (I did the math; that’s 145,080,000 pints last year alone.)
The lion’s share of that flows from the five largest Oregon breweries—Deschutes, Widmer Bros., Ninkasi, Rogue, and Full Sail (with Bridgeport and Pyramid in the mix). Each of those breweries produces more than 100,000 barrels a year. This doesn’t mean the state’s 195+ other breweries are hurting. Growth is the order of the day at Bend’s Boneyard, Eugene’s Oakshire, Ashland’s Caldera, and Hood River’s Pfriem—just a handful of examples of breweries that recently underwent major expansion projects. Portland’s Breakside Brewery has a relatively new production facility in Milwaukie and keeps adding fermentation capacity. During CBC, Breakside was quite active, hosting events and showcasing their collaborations with fellow brewers.
Breakside brewmaster Ben Edmunds said, “This was the first year in my memory where CBC felt like it turned into a real ‘destination event’ for people who are not working in the industry … In San Francisco, San Diego, and D.C. there was not the level of outside events that we saw.” Portlanders were not about to let industry weasels have all the fun and suds. Continued Edmunds, “I’d like to think that it’s thanks, in part, to the fact that Portland is one of the few cities really equipped to elevate an event—fundamentally a trade show and governance conference—into a world-class beer fest. When ‘dive’ bars like Katie O’Brien’s and the Bear Paw Inn are hosting events with Firestone Walker and Hair of the Dog sour beers, you know that craft (beer) runs deep in the city’s blood.”
When asked for his takeaway after the dust had settled, pioneering brewer John Harris—whose new Ecliptic Brewing hosted industry icons and legends-in-the-making during CBC—said, “We need more cabs!” As a postscript to the conference’s conclusion, four days after bustling throngs of professional beer makers/drinkers overran the most craft beer-drenched city in America, Portland City Council voted to allow Uber and Lyft. With all this success, we have a hunch that CBC will be back in Portland sooner than later.