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Brew Talks Portland: Exploring Beervana

When Brew Talks moved south from Seattle to Portland to wrap up the tour, many pounds heavier but much better educated, we continued to explore the contrast between the way the two hubs of Northwest brewing think about the meaning of the business for their civic identities.

While Seattle brewers complained that the approach to craft was too buttoned-down, Oregon has its own state-selected craft beer-supporting microorganism, yeast. Even more demonstratively, the Mayor of Portland – whose name, ironically enough, is Samuel Adams – last year declared May 16 as Gluten-Free Beer Day.

It was a point that Andy Thomas, the president of commercial operations for Craft Brew Alliance raised during the final stop of the Brew Talks tour in Portland at the Widmer Brothers Brewery.

“Now, I dare say there aren’t a lot of cities around the country where you could have actually had the mayor declare a gluten-free beer day,” he said. “It sounds like an episode of Portlandia. I think that speaks to the support that we have in this city, and broadly in the state of Oregon, for craft beer and I do think it makes a difference.”

Christian Ettinger, the owner of Hopworks and Karmen Olson, the brand manager for Redhook Brewery also joined the panel and shared their thoughts on Portland’s thriving craft brew scene.

“In Portland, there is more affection for the community of beer,” said Olson.

Ettinger agreed.

“We have a whole generation of people who have grown up with craft beer as a part of their vernacular and that doesn’t exist, but in Europe,” he said. “We are this epicenter. Very genuinely, it is part of the fabric. We don’t know any different.”

And he’s right. Thomas said that in Oregon, 1 in every 3 beers sold is a craft beer. That’s compared to California – the largest craft beer producing state in the country – where 1 in every 8 beers sold is craft. And in states like Florida and Texas the separation is even greater. 1 in every 19 beers sold in Florida is craft while 1 in every 33 beers sold in Texas is craft.

Still, when asked if he thought the craft category was becoming too crowded in Portland, Thomas pointed to the numbers.

“There is more than enough opportunity for all of us,” he said. “There are 2 out of 3 beers that are still non-craft. That’s who I want to go after.”

In the video above, Thomas, Ettinger and Olson discuss Portland’s mature and still growing craft beer scene.

Editor’s note: Our stop in Portland also featured the inaugural ‘Startup Brewery Challenge,’ sponsored by Craft Brew Alliance. Stay tuned for the announcement of our first challenge winner and additional information about our partnership with CBA.