Veteran Brewmaster Following His Dream

BEND, OR — If anyone has earned the right to roll out his own set of barrels, it’s Larry Sidor.

Last week, Deschutes, the fifth-largest craft brewery by volume in the U.S., announced that Sidor, the company’s Brewmaster, would be leaving after eight years. Sidor will be starting his own brewery, currently operating under the holding name 856 Brewing Co.

Sidor won’t be going at it alone either. He is joining forces with Dave Wilson and Paul Evers, both of whom have extensive experience and strong reputations in the craft beer industry.

Wilson is currently the VP of Sales and Marketing for the 21st Amendment Brewing Company, and a driving force behind their 205 percent growth in 2010.

Evers, the Founder and President of TBD Advertising, designed some of the packaging for Deschutes and 21stAmendment, as well as Odell Brewing in Colorado.

But it’s Sidor, who has nearly 40 years of experience in the beer industry, who believes even more creativity in brewing is possible.

“My true belief is that the craft industry has not even approached the breadth of flavors and experiences that beer can offer,” he said. “And that’s really where I am going. I am going to do some new and unique things that I think are going to be pretty interesting for the beer consumer.”

Sidor couldn’t comment yet on exactly what those unique things would be, he did confirm that it would involve some equipment he is already quite familiar with at Deschutes.

“It will involve barrels, specialty products and processes,” he said. “I can’t wait to get started.”

A Detour, and a New Path

Larry Sidor was never supposed to be a brewer.

He was on his way to Alaska to work on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System in 1974 when he stopped in Olympia to visit a friend who worked at the brewery.

“I was trying to start a winery and didn’t have the money or the know how to do it,” he said. “I was actually hoping to make a bunch of money fast working on the pipeline.”

After a few too many beers and a midnight tour through the facilities at the Olympia Brewing Company, Sidor was offered a job. He accepted, temporarily diverting his dream of one day owning a winery.

In 1983, Olympia was purchased by Pabst Brewing Company, and Sidor stayed on board until 1997 when he left to work on the other side of the beer business.

Sidor joined S.S. Steiner, which is now one of the largest international hops dealers. It was there that he revolutionized hop pelletization, and is largely responsible for re-engineering the way many home brewers learned to add hops to their creations. But pelletized hops didn’t just revolutionize the process for home brewers.

“My largest company at the time was Anheuser-Busch,” he said. “They had always refused to go into hop pellets. With the work that I did and in cooperation with AB, they changed over all their operations to pelletized hops.”

Sidor, who was with S.S. Steiner until 2004, also operated a small vineyard during the same time under the name ‘Wapatox Hills,’ named for the area in Yakima where he lived.

“It was an ‘all hands on deck’ family operation,” he said. “Everyone would help whether it was my wife irrigating or my kids pruning and crushing – everyone was involved.”


A Return to Brewing

In 2004, Sidor sold the winery, moved across the border into Bend, Oregon, and joined Deschutes. That year, Deschutes produced 136,568 barrels of beer. Last year, the company broke the 200,000 mark (204,908 barrels), making them the largest craft beer producer in the Northwest.

His impact was felt immediately, as he changed up the recipe on the company’s IPA upon arrival, evolving it from an English style to a more highly-hopped American-style flavor.

“The beer was beautiful, but not relevant to today’s IPA’s,” he said. “I took the company in the direction of the bigger beers like Abyss and the sour beers like Dissident.”

Sidor is also solely responsible for creating the Deschutes barrel-aging program, which now boasts more than 500 wooden barrels used to age some of the brewery’s specialty brews.

“To take a company that asked why they would use wood barrels, to them now asking why we don’t have more is very gratifying,” Sidor said.

But that’s not what Sidor is most proud of.

“We are still a whole-hop brewery,” he said. “My biggest accomplishment was the ability to keep a steady flow of high-quality hops being delivered to the brewery all year long.”

A New Chapter

Sidor is the first to admit that — detours to Alaska and viticulture aside — starting his own brewery has been a life-long dream.

“It is something I’ve wanted to do for 30 years, and life just kept getting in the way,” he said.

Sidor just purchased a four-vessel, 10-Hectoliter brewhouse with 16 bright beer tanks. He says he plans to start small, producing just 1000 barrels during the first year.

“I have really bought an R&D brewhouse, with the attitude that I can make 8-10 brews a day,” he said. “It’s not going to be a stack ‘em high and sell ‘em cheap business model. We are going to be self-distributed until we have a following in the state of Oregon, then we can think about branching out.”

856 Brewing Co. will take the traditional packaging route to start – using glass bottles and kegs – but Sidor isn’t ruling out the possibility of canning a potential session beer, with 21A’s Wilson on board.

“We are obviously going to have to produce at least one style that you can drink more than one of at a time,” said Sidor. “So maybe that is where cans will play a part.”

Sidor isn’t getting ahead of himself; with another six months at Deschutes, he’ll have plenty of time to ponder which direction his brewery will take. But despite his resume, and the anticipation, he’s circumspect about his prospects.

“Our expectation is to support three families and that’s about it,” said Sidor. “And of course, I want to make some beers that I think consumers really want now.”

Photo credit: Brewpublic and Deschutes Facebook Page