Thursday, April 16, 2009

Product (re) launch and beer (brand) documentaries

A day that begins with tropical fruit and ends with a pint of local beer is a day that is bound to be a bit odd. In my case, not odd so much as disparate. And, the distance between tropical fruit and local beer is not as great as some of the other activities, but let's look at the beer side of things.

Bridgeport Brewing re-launched their Hop Czar product this afternoon in fine fashion, though somewhat restrained compared to previous product launches which I attended, notably Ropewalk Amber Ale. Nonetheless, the brewery continues to show us how combining good products and professional marketing and brand management can make for a good consumer experience. Judging by the nearly packed house, a few other Portlanders agree.
Following that authentic experience, I attended the Beer Wars movie "event" at a local theater. My low expectations arose from the fact that the producer/director a) claimed familiarity with the beer "category" having been CEO of Mike's Hard Lemonade and b) doesn't (cannot) drink. The latter problem is not an issue, but someone whose experience resides with a kiddie drink that only competes against beer because it is nominally a malt beverage is perhaps not the most capable person to dissect the complex issues in beer competition.

The film's thesis seems to be that the big three, now the big two, are category crushing, brand behemoths who will do and say anything to remain the dominant breweries in the universe. Their rapacious behavior is aided and abetted by an out-of-date distribution system that the breweries support and cherish because it rewards them with the leverage they need.

The movie succeeds at a certain level with folks who have had little exposure to the craft brewing business. That is to say most folks regardless of their beer preferences. One could see a documentary like this from Frontline on PBS, but without the fawning over a very select number of craft brewing business owners who seem chosen for their on-camera capabilities. Stone Brewing and Dogfish Head are featured and, indeed, their owners are great in front of the camera. Interestingly, both companies seem to be succeeding quite well. Stone admits to an average 46% growth year-over-year since its inception. So, where is the threat if these guys do so well? Who is being harmed? It would have been useful to show the breweries that struggle against the three-tier system and are not nearly so successful.

The one odd bottle in the six pack, if you can excuse the metaphor, is Moonshot. This unlikely product, "premium" beer with caffeine, is the brand brainchild of Rhonda Kallman, one of the brains and brand builders behind Boston Beer and Sam Adams. By the end of the movie, my fellow movie goers were booing or calling her out, much as the Beer Advocate's Todd Alstrom does in the live panel discussion that concludes the event, for producing something that is technically beer, but hardly fits with the craft brewing industry. Sure, she knows all about building brands, but what, exactly, is in that bottle and why should we care? Is adding caffeine to a contract brewed light beer anything like a complex, rich beer made by the same person that is trying to get the distributor to carry it? The audience, and this author, say no.

Ultimately, Beer Wars is a reasonable distraction, sort of like the Hammerhead I enjoyed after the movie. But, it doesn't satisfy in the way Hop Czar did or the cask-conditioned Blue Heron I enjoyed while watching the band and dancers at the Bridgeport Brewpub.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Venerable Oregon Brewers Festival celebrates 22 years of American craft beer

PORTLAND, Ore. – April 13, 2009 - It’s the event that brings together 80 craft breweries, 2,000 volunteers and 70,000 beer lovers for a four-day summer celebration of American craft beer. The 22nd annual Oregon Brewers Festival, one of the nation's longest-running and best-loved craft beer festivals, will take place July 23 through July 26 at Tom McCall Waterfront Park in downtown Portland. Event hours are Noon to 9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and Noon to 7 p.m. Sunday.

Eighty craft breweries from 14 different states will each send one product to serve at the event; an 81st beer, Collaborator, is a joint project between members of the Oregon Brew Crew homebrewing club and Widmer Brothers Brewing Co. More than 70,000 fans annually travel from points around the world to sample more than two-dozen beer styles, ranging from malty ambers to bitter pales to fruity wheats.

Joining the breweries are industry exhibits by hop growers, homebrewers, breweriana collectors, and national beer writers and publishers. Four days of live music showcases the best high-energy talent the Northwest has to offer. Food booths sell meals and alternative beverages, while the Crater Lake Soda Garden provides handcrafted sodas free of charge to minors and designated drivers. Minors are allowed into the event when accompanied by a parent.

Admission into the festival grounds is free. In order to sample beer, a taster package is required. Taster packages are available in $10, $20 and $50 increments. All packages include a 2009 souvenir mug, which is required for consuming beer (mugs from previous years will not be filled); a souvenir program that includes a map of where the beers are located onsite; and various quantities of tokens, which are used to purchase beer. Patrons pay four tokens for a full mug of beer, or one token for a taste. Additional tokens may be purchased at $1 apiece. Sales of taster packages and tokens cease one-half hour prior to the close of the event each evening.

Alternative modes of transportation are encouraged, with free monitored bicycle parking available each day. The main entrance is at SW Oak Street and Naito Parkway, one block from the MAX Light Rail line.

The Oregon Brewers Festival takes place during Oregon Craft Beer Month, a celebration of craft beer by Oregon's specialty breweries. A variety of special events will take place at craft breweries throughout the state, culminating with the Oregon Brewers Festival. The festival also hosts two ticketed auxiliary events: the Oregon Brewers Dinner, held on the eve of the festival opening, and the Oregon Brewers Brunch and Parade, a kick off to the festivities held the morning of July 23.

The Oregon Brewers Festival was founded in 1988 as an opportunity to expose the public to microbrews at a time when the craft brewing industry was just getting off the ground. Today, that industry has succeeded, especially in Oregon, and particularly in the city of Portland. There are currently 96 craft brewing facilities in Oregon, and 30 breweries operating within the Portland city limits – more than any other city in the world. The Portland metropolitan area boasts 38 breweries, making it the largest craft brewing market in the United States.

For more information about the Oregon Brewers Festival, visit or call the event hotline at 503-778-5917.


Note to Editor: High resolution digital images are available upon request.

Chris Crabb