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Monday, June 21, 2010

PoMo's "New Masters"

In the current issue of the Portland Monthly, Christian DeBenedetti has an intriguing piece wherein he identifies "the five brewers poised to redefine Oregon’s Craft Beer Movement." The chosen? Cascade's Ron Gansberg, Hopworks' Christian Ettinger, Bend Brewing's Tonya Cornett, Ninkasi's Jamie Floyd, and Widmer's Ike Manchester.

Any piece that highlights the personalities behind the beers is a good piece, but I'm a little surprised by the choices.
When you think of "redefining" a market, you think of breweries that are setting new courses either in terms of the beer they make or the way they affect the market. Gansberg is an obvious choice for redefining beer choices, and Ninkasi has demonstrated how to storm the market, Hopworks and Widmer--while they make fantastic beer--seem to be charting quite familiar courses. (To my great shame, I've never visited Bend Brewing, and the beers I've tried are the few that have made it west.)

If I were to offer a list, it would look something like this (as usual, I can't keep the list to five):
  • Gansberg. The troubadour of sour is definitely trying to make inroads into hop central.
  • Floyd. He's shown that you can build a 20,000-barrel brewery by dominating a local market and selling in 22s of uber-hopped ale.
  • Alex Ganum, Upright. So far, this wee brewery is only making an impression among the beer geeks, but it has a chance to be the new millennium's Hair of the Dog--a brewery that challenges traditional views about what beer is, garners lots of press and awards, and slowly, slowly, begins to affect local tastes.
  • Nick Azner, Block 15. Nick's beers aren't out of the mainstream like Ganum's and Gansberg's, but they raise the bar on what we consider good beer. He just recently completed a trip to Belgium, and it's likely that we'll see him charge out into new territory. I'll be watching to see if he creates Belgian-inspired beers that remain within the Northwest's palate or instead joins Alex and Ron.
  • Jack Harris/Chris Nemlowill, Fort George. Much like Ninkasi, Fort George is trying to build a larger small brewery outside of Portland. They are expanding and adding a canning line, and it will be interesting to see if they build a regional power on the North Coast.
  • Ted Sobel, Brewer's Union. At the moment, Ted sells almost all of his very small production to the good folks in remote Oakridge. But as the pied piper for cask ale, his influence could ultimately generate enough excitement to support a niche for authentic cask ale, something Oregon really hasn't embraced.
No doubt there are other good choices--Matt Swihart at Double Mountain, Caldera's Jim Mills, Oakshire's Matt Van Wyk, Larry Sidor and/or Cam O'Connor at Deschutes all spring to mind (though the latter two fall into the Ike Manchester category). If you'd written the article, who would you have chosen?


  1. I'm VERY glad to see Jack and Chris form Fort George make your list. Couldn't agree more with you there. Their Vortex IPA is probably one of the most underrated beers produced in the NW, and I like the fact that they're committed to aluminum as their packaging -- a lot of other breweries would be wise to follow their lead, as it's a superior packaging technology to the conventional glass bottle.

    Block 15 as well. Solid beers, and their One-Hop Wonder line of single-hop beers really highlights the local hop bounty that we enjoy here in the Willamette Valley.

    I'm on the fence about Alex Gannum at Upright. I think he's doing some interesting things, but he has a long way to go before we (as a region) can stand behind him as one of the local visionaries in the brewing industry. I hope he keeps at it though. There's a lot of potential in his Belgian-inspired brews.

  2. I get where he's going with "the five brewers poised to redefine Oregon’s Craft Beer" and his list makes sense to me if we aren't talking actual beer flavor/styles(except for Gansberg):

    Gansberg = Sours
    Ettinger = Sustainable
    Tonya Cornett = the Growing Roll of Women
    Floyd = New Super Regional Brand Ike Manchester = The Old Guard Changing to Stay Relevant

    Those you listed will push flavor profiles of beer, but I don't think they have the same potential "redefine" Oregon craft beer like those he list can.

  3. Ted also appears to be rubbing off on the rest of Oregon. Block 15 installed a beer engine a while back and Nick is currently casking several of their brews. It is also one of the only places you will find Ted's brews on tap outside of Oakridge.


  4. Joe--I think you're right. Good call. Among his categories, I like the women one best. I don't think sustainability and "old guard changing" are exclusive enough to elicit a single choice. Every major brewery in Oregon is now changing--even Mac's. Full Sail and Deschutes are out with Widmer at the front of the pack. And as far as sustainability, pick 'em. Full Sail, Lucky Lab, Fort George--lots of breweries are making big strides there. (I think Full Sail still has bragging rights, though their pub is not so self-consciously sustainable in branding.)