UPDATE: Figures released today by the Oregon Brewers Guild show that 2009 was the best year ever for craft brewers. For the first time, total production topped a million barrels of beer, a 15% increase over 2008.
It’s always good to start the New Year on a positive note, so let’s dispose of the leftover faux champagne and talk Oregon beer. The Eugene Register Guard reported yesterday that Ninkasi Brewing has become the first Oregon brewer to earn regional brewery status in a decade. Ninkasi, which added 10 jobs in 2009, is on track to crank out 30,000 barrels of beer this year, about 10 times the amount it brewed when it first launched just three years ago. By crossing the threshold from brewpub to regional brewer, this growing business joins Oregon icons such as Rogue Ales, Full Sail Brewing and Deschutes Brewery in an industry as resilient as it is quirky.
Oregon continues to buck the national trend by opening new breweries from the Caldera Brewpub in Ashland to Mt. Emily Alehouse in La Grande and Mutiny Brewing in Joseph. The market for craft beer in Oregon is four times as strong as the national average, boosting an industry with more than 5,000 jobs. Portland leads the nation in urban brewpubs, with more than 40 and counting. Most other states have experienced a net loss of brewpubs during the recession, but Oregon has gained several dozen including, I am thrilled to report, two soon to open within walking distance of my home.
Locally crafted beer is just the latest in an amazing string of improvements that have transformed NE 28th into one of Portland’s most vibrant neighborhoods. This once-dumpy business district is now overflowing with great restaurants, lively cafes, bike racks and unusual shops. If you want to feel better about Oregon’s economic prospects, take a stroll along 28th from Glisan to Stark some evening when it isn’t raining and stop into a few places at random. The place is hopping, and it will only get better with the addition of Migration Brewing and Coalition Brewing.
Both brewpubs are on track to open soon. Migration is converting a former radiator shop into a pub that has 273 Facebook fans even though it has yet to open. Coalition is working with Compressed Pattern to design an outdoor beer garden and planning to collaborate with local homebrewers to make distinctive new brews—the latest twist on the “crowd-sourcing” phenomenon.
It’s impossible to tell whether either of these newcomers will match the fast success of Ninkasi in Eugene, or Green Dragon and Hopworks in Portland. But they are creating jobs in an industry of growing importance, whether it’s in upscale neighborhoods in Portland or struggling Main Streets in places like Oakridge, where the local brewpub is arguably the most promising business in the city center. This is much-needed good news for Oregon hop farmers, who saw prices plummet from all-time highs to all-time lows over the past year. They sell the bulk of their crop to the MillerCoors and InBevs of the world, but the savvier among them are capitalizing on the craft movement by growing specialty hops for Oregon craft brewers on the side.
When new pubs succeed they give birth to more new pubs. While Oregon’s beer industry will never match employment numbers with semiconductors or steel, the multiplication effect is encouraging on several levels. Brewers tend to employ people with dreams of spinning off to build establishments of their own. The cycle continues, and it’s good for the neighborhood, the state and the economy.
Ben Jacklet is managing editor of Oregon Business.