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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Steve Duin Hearts Ninkasi

Every newspaper worth its salt features a flinty columnist who is equal parts cynic and romantic. The Oregonian's is Steve Duin, who today showed his romantic side by writing an ode to Ninkasi.
Just when crafting a product seems to be a lost art in Oregon, [Jamie] Floyd and [Nikos] Ridge are successfully making great beers and energizing the community of beer drinkers....

Everyone in Eugene buys in. "Ninkasi has taps in 95 percent of the bars in Eugene," said Chris Ormand at Portland's Belmont Station, which stocks 1,200 beers. "That level of saturation has an impact up here when Oregon students come home from college...."

They're proud the brews are local and glad the beers are rich. They want to believe there are profits, as well as rewards, in doing everything the right way.
Oh, Steve, Ninkasi is so yesterday. Don't you know all the Eugenies are now insane for Oakshire?

Kidding. Still, a strange piece. Ninkasi is a phenom right now, but surely Steve knows that crafting beer is not exactly a lost art in Oregon. Surely he had heard that there were a few breweries doing this before Jamie and Nikos. (Like, umm, 90.) If there is anything unique about Ninkasi, it's their phenomenal growth.
But it took only 24 months for Ninkasi to outgrow the building in Eugene's Whiteaker neighborhood that was meant to last 10 years. Its expansion has been fueled by great instincts, memorable graphics, unrivaled marketing and undeniable karma.
When I spoke to Jamie earlier this year, he said they'd probably hit 20,000 barrels this year, though according to Duin, it looks like it will be more like 17,000. What's interesting is that Ninkasi has done it solely with keg and 22-ounce bomber sales. As a business model, I wouldn't have expected that kind of growth was possible without six-pack sales. According to Jamie, 80% of Ninkasi's beer is sold in Oregon--which is roughly 13,500 barrels. That means the growth is coming in one of the most competitive, active markets in the country. That is newsworthy.

I have lately become fascinated in the different models breweries identify for growth. Rogue, for example, went for a national strategy, while Deschutes eschewed distant markets until they had grown into them. Ninkasi is going for the local strategy. Jamie told me:
It is absolutely our philosophy to be as deep as possible right here at home. We source ingredients locally and we always will stay focused locally as we grow. t is not at all important to me how far my beer gets or how many markets. It is totally not sustainable as a long term business model.
I will confess to a little anxiety about Ninkasi's growth curve. I was around in the early 90s when craft brewing was a fad, and we saw many examples of unsustainable growth. I've heard some grousing about diacetyl in beer, a buttery chemical that comes from not letting a beer age long enough, and some folks have suggested that this is due to quick growth. On the other hand, Jamie has been around since the 90s and he has a lot more experience than those early breweries did. Ninkasi seems to have tended very closely to its identity as a local brewery, and that's paying off in loyalty.

And with love like Ninkasi gets from Steve Duin, they should be fine.

1 comment:

  1. I credit Floyd's media savvy for the column, he is a master.