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Oregon Awash With Craft Beer Producers

Decanting with Delkin

By Fred Delkin

The United States will never challenge Germany, Belgium or the Czech Republic as a national standard-bearer for beer quality, since our major brewers pump out an overwhelming quantity of nationally advertised sour soda water…yes, we mean you, Anheuser Busch, SABMiller and Coors! Yet, state by state, community by community, the USA dominates and continues to grow, the “Craft” beer category…with Oregon leading the way for a beverage segment we practically invented.

Craft beer is defined as being produced by small, independent brewing facilities each pumping out no more than 6 million barrels per annum. We’re talking local and regionally distributed ‘microbrews’ and the swarm of ‘brewpubs’ serving thirsty mouths in our cities and towns.   At last count by the national Craft Beer Alliance,
Oregon boasts 53 brewpubs and 48 microbreweries, each fermenting unique thirst quenchers (see the listing @ craftbeer.com). Yup, from Enterprise to North Bend, Hood River to Ontario, virtually no Oregon hamlet of any size lacks a commercial beer producer…and nationally, the craft industry grew almost 15% in volume in 2012…And the Alliance website lists a dozen more Oregon-based producers in the “planning” stage.

If you haven’t attended the annual Portland waterfront “Oregon Brew Fest” you’ve not sampled the full range of beer stylings from across our thirsty nation. These include Amber, Belgian, Bock, Cream, ESB, Fruit, India Pale Ale, Kolsch, Lager, Pilsener, Stout, Porter, Strong and Wheat. There, you can even sip golden liquid flavored with chili peppers. Oregon pioneers who propelled our beer-laden opportunities include the McMenamin brothers, who own more brewpubs than you can count, Art Larrance, co-founder of Portland Brewing, the aforementioned Brew Fest and Fred Eckhardt, longtime chronicler of all that is brewing. We should also salute Fred Ponzi, founder of Bridgeport Brewing and Ponzi winery. These notables lobbied the Oregon legislature to establish brewing legislation now copied by state legislative bodies across the USA.

Now, quaint provincial Oregon follows the sudser’s nirvana established centuries ago in Deutschland, where there’s a branded brewery serving every community of 10,000 or more Germans. And now, the brewpub concept has extended from the New World to the Old, as we discovered on our recent trip to Bavaria, and our host
led us to Munich’s first ever pub that produces its own suds.

Distiller’s Mecca as Well

In addition to Oregon’s embrace of local beer production, our state is also welcoming a growing body of distillers. There are now no less than 336 distilling licenses granted by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. Our distillers can sell unopened bottles of their elixirs at their tasting rooms. These distilleries are producing $53 million in cider, whisky, vodka, rum, gin and liqueurs, sold through OLCC outlets in 132 Oregon communities.  These state-licensed stores peddle a choice of some 1,800 ‘hard’ alcohol products. We may all gripe about having to go to a government store to get our serious booze, but note what’s happened to our north.

The state of Washington, impelled by a Costco-led retail lobbying effort, has now opened the gates to private retail liquor sales, and this has ’til now, boosted sales at OLCC outlets as Washington customers rebel against the markedly higher prices state taxes have foisted on private retail liquor store pricing. There’s an object lesson here in the fact that the highest volume Washington state-operated liquor store has long been located in Point Roberts, a hamlet on the end of a thumb of land adjacent to the border of British Columbia, where provincial taxes escalate liquor prices on Canadian soil.

A new Oregon distiller, Indio Spirits of Beaverton, has appointed distributors in 21 states for its line of flavored vodkas (Marionberry, Lemongrass, Lime), Cricket Club gin, Red Island Rum and Snake River Stampede Whisky. Talk about label name creativity, the new 4Spirits Distillery at Camp Adair just north of Corvallis, is
bottling Slaptail and Webfoot vodkas in honor of our major university athletic teams. Oregon’s oldest distillery, Hood River, founded in 1934, has recently released SinFire Cinnamon whisky, a spicy beverage certain to enliven cold winters in the producer’s Columbia Gorge location.

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