As Attendance Declines, Oregon Brewers Festival Announces Changes

For the third consecutive year, the economic impact of the Oregon Brewers Festival (OBF) has declined, leading festival organizers to say that changes are coming in 2018.

The 2017 edition of the five-day Portland, Oregon beer festival, one of the oldest and most well-attended in the U.S., generated an estimated $23.9 million in economic impact, an 18 percent decline from the previous year.

Jeff Dense, a professor of political science and craft beer studies at Eastern Oregon University, who has studied the festival’s economic impact on Multnomah County since 2011, attributed this year’s drop to an overall 15 percent decline in attendance.

Speaking to Brewbound, Dense said the number of unique visitors to this year’s festival dropped to about 49,000 versus 56,000 last year. He added that more local residents skipped this year’s festival and that the number of out-of-town visitors now accounts for about half of all attendees.

“I think there’s some fatigue in the local market in terms of craft beer festivals and events,” he said, noting that the number of out-of-town attendees increased by 6 percent in 2017.

Even though more out-of-towners attended this year’s festival, spending on lodging still decreased 38 percent compared to last year, a press release noted.

“The lodging industry should take heed to the increasing number of cost conscious visitors who are availing themselves of the vacation rental lodging market and staying with family and friends while attending craft beer festivals and other community events in Portland,” Dense said via the release.

Dense also found that spending on food and drink decreased in 2017, from $7.6 million to $6.9 million. He added that per attendee spending decreased for the third straight year, to an average of $532.

In response to the declines, OBF director Art Larrance, who founded Cascade Brewing in 1998 and Portland Brewing Company in 1986, said the festival’s Wednesday session would be eliminated. He added that this year’s attendance was hampered due to the oversaturation of beer festivals and hot weather.

“When we started this festival, we were one of the only ones to do it,” he said. “Now there’s a festival or two every weekend, and it’s not just Portland.”

Unlike many other beer festivals around the country, the OBF is not a ticketed event that offers attendees unlimited samples. Instead, organizers require that festival-goers purchase 14 oz. mugs for $7 and individual drink tokens for $1 apiece. In 2016, five tokens got attendees a full mug of beer.

However, in an effort to increase profitability, the festival will make a number of changes to the way it operates next year.

First, the OBF will reduce the mug size to 12 oz. and offer 3 oz. sample pours for $1 as well full pours for $4. In doing so, the festival will earn .20 cents more for every ounce of beer it pours.

It will also cut the number of beers being poured to about 80 and do away with a tent dedicated to specialty beer releases.

“It was hard to manage, and the beers were very expensive,” Larrance said of the tent. “When you’re paying $220 for a one sixth barrel, you should be selling 2 oz. samples for $6 or $7 rather than $2. It just wasn’t economically feasible to do that anymore.”

Additionally, Larrance said the 2018 edition of OBF will include local cider and wine for the first time.

A press release with additional information is included below.

2017 Oregon Brewers Festival Generates $23.9 Million for Local Economy

PORTLAND, Ore. – Oct. 24, 2017 – A recently completed study estimates the economic impact of the 2017 Oregon Brewers Festival (OBF) at $23.9 million.

Jeff Dense, professor of political science and craft beer studies at Eastern Oregon University, and a team of students administered 908 on-site interviews between July 26 and July 29, 2017.

The study utilized IMPLAN (IMpact Analysis for PLANning) data and software package to estimate the economic impact of the Oregon Brewers Festival on Multnomah County. The 2017 OBF generated an estimated $15.3 million in direct, $4.4 million in indirect (additional input purchases made by local businesses) and $4.1 million in induced (expenditures by employees from wages paid by companies in direct contact with tourists) economic impact. The $23.9 million economic impact for the 2017 Oregon Brewers Festival constituted a 18% decrease from the 2016 edition of the event which can be attributed to a 15% decrease in total attendance.

Respondents were queried on a range of demographic factors, along with estimates of expenditures in tourism-related categories, including transportation, lodging, meals, gasoline purchases, non-beer related recreation, beer purchased to take home, expenditures at the festival grounds and retail purchases.

Two of the most significant findings unearthed by the study are the number of women (44.2%) attending the 2017 Oregon Brewers Festival, along with a precipitous decline (38%) in lodging expenditures by OBF attendees, despite a 6% increase in the percentage of out-of-town visitors.

“Women are the key to the future of the craft beer industry,” Dense said, adding “The lodging industry should take heed to the increasing number of cost conscious visitors who are availing themselves of the vacation rental lodging market and staying with family and friends while attending craft beer festivals and other community events in Portland.”

Other findings of the study include:

  • Visiting OBF patrons spent an average of $532.
  • Nearly half (48.7%) of attendees were out-of-town visitors.
  • Visitors from Washington (9.9%) and California (9.7%) were highly prevalent at OBF.
  • Food and drink ($6.9 million) accounted for the largest share of OBF patron expenditures, followed by the lodging industry ($5.9 million).
  • Half (47.2%) of patrons were attending OBF for either the first or second time.
  • OBF generated $1.3 million in indirect business taxes for state and local government.


Founded in 1988, the Oregon Brewers Festival is one of the longest running beer festivals in the country. The event annually draws tens of thousands to Waterfront Park in downtown Portland to celebrate independent craft beer. The Oregon Brewers Festival always includes the last full weekend of July; next year’s dates are July 26 to July 29, 2018. Learn more at or follow @OregonBrewfest on social media.

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