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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Does Oregon Have Too Many Breweries?

That title is a provocation, so I won't string you along.  The answer's no, but with an asterisk.

Ted Sobel's influence?  Santiam Brewing does cask ale.
When I first started writing this here blog (early aught six), there were maybe a hundred breweries in Oregon.  That's a lot, but a great many of those had been around years or decades.  (Just to give you a freaky sense of how different things could have been just that recently, this was the period before Ninkasi existed.)  The concept of "nanobrewery" didn't really exist.  The pace of brewery openings was such that a reasonably-engaged beer geek could hope to keep up and familiarize herself with all the newbies. 

That's just not possible now.  I know because I talk to Brian Yaeger, who has been tasked by Stakepole Books with doing just that.  He's writing a book on Oregon Breweries, and the publisher wants it to be comprehensive.  That means that poor Brian is off to the far reaches of the state (a region greater in size than the island of Great Britain) every time a homebrewer decides to convert his half-barrel brewhouse into a commercial venture.  I'm one of those dinosaurs who still gets a paper copy of the Oregonian*, and in today's edition there was an advertising insert for Oregon Craft Beer Month. Brian has an article in there where he talks about the valley's thirty breweries.  Thirty breweries?  What in the blue hell?
In the Corvallis area alone, beer-loving Beavers fans can choose from 10 breweries....  Not to be outdone, Ducks fans will find 12 breweries in the Eugene area.  [I'd link to this article, but of course there's no online edition.  But hey, that switch to online publishing is a great idea, Oregonian--you totally rock the internets!]
Brian reviews Falling Sky, a brewery I've at least heard of (their beers come north for fests) but also Santiam and Agrarian Ales, which I had not.  As I read Brian's article, I realized I had a lump in my stomach that was equal parts anxiety and embarrassment: how do I not know about these breweries? I've had that a lot lately.  Recently I was sailing south on 101 and looked up to see a brewery I'd never heard of: Seaside Brewing.  Uggh, anxiety and embarrassment.  On reflection, though, I see that it's time to give that up.

We have to abandon our old mental models.  It's just not going to be possible to keep track of  openings when the breweries are getting ever smaller and the openings ever more rapid.  There are 463 Oregon wineries, and nobody knows all of them (except maybe the people who are paid to keep track).  The brewing scene is headed in that direction.  A lot of these new breweries have opaque business models that may rely more on just having a brewery for the sake of having a brewery--selling fifty barrels a year is totally cool with the owners.  Many just want to serve their local communities and have no grand plans to expand.  If you happen to find yourself in that town, it'll be great to stop in for a pint.  But otherwise, we'll be content to just keep up on the splashier larger breweries (you know, the seven-barrel giants) and those in our neighborhoods.  We have to give up the idea that we'll know every brewery in our state.

And that's just fine.

________________
*Though not for much longer

8 comments:

Alan said...

Isn't this like the return of youth? "So much to learn" got replaced by "I seem to have a good handle on this" replaced by t"his is getting a little dull" then replaced by "so much to learn"!

Ron Pattinson said...

Are they using sparklers? I hope it's appropriate to the style and origin of the beer.

Jeff Alworth said...

I believe sparklers are acceptable south of Salem.

Alan, all I know is that these damned kids need to get off my lawn.

Brewers Union Local 180 said...

Santiam sparkles, and the term is used in all the facets of its overloaded meanings.

We'll be there for the "Rock the Cask Bar" (who's idea was that?) on the 6th.

Nitch said...

Never too much of a good thing?...Right

Gary Gillman said...

Interesting about the sparkler. Never liked it personally, although it's better than nitro-keg. Recently I was at a mini-real ale festival in Toronto where the beers were poured by thumb-taps from the casks, sitting on racks like you see at CAMRA festivals. By far the best way to serve real ale IMO but not always practical for bars including viz. temperature.

It's good to see the proliferation of breweries: we are almost back to old England here with a small brewery or brewing pub at every corner.

Gary

Pete Dunlop said...

Roughly 40 percent of Portland's existing breweries have opened since 2009. Those are Oregon Brewers Guild numbers, not mine. And there are more on the way. I enjoy having lots of great choices as much as the next beer geek, but the pace of growth is unsustainable. There will be a shakeout. We just don't know when.

Anonymous said...

Brian is a bit late. Oregon Brew Tour was published in 2011 and includes not only write-ups about all the breweries in Oregon at that time, but four listings of them: alpha, by region, by tour route, and by city. It also includes info on festivals, homebrew organizations, and various interesting beer info. This 502 page guide is interesting for beer drinker and non-beer drinker alike. Additionally, if you order from the website, brewtourbooks.com, you will receive a current updated addendum, containing all the new breweries.

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