The Craft Brewing Scene In Portland & Beyond
Portland is Craft Brewing Heaven
“We are truly Beervana” said Lisa Morrision, aka the “beer goddess.” “It’s not hype. We not only have incredible brewers, we have a very educated and experienced consumer base,” said Morrison. “If the rest of the country wants to know what the beer industry will look like in 10 years, they need look no further than Portland.”
It definitely appears like the rest of the country might be looking, and learning, from Portland’s bustling brew scene.
“With a strong presence across the 50 states and the District of Columbia, craft breweries are a vibrant and flourishing economic force at the local, state and national level,” said Bart Watson, Chief Economist for the Brewers Association, an online voice for the craft beer industry. “As consumers continue to demand a wide range of high quality, full-flavored beers, small and independent craft brewers are meeting this growing demand with innovative offerings, creating high levels of economic value in the process.”
According to a report from the Brewer Association, small and independent American craft brewers contributed $55.7 billion to the U.S. economy in 2014.
That’s a of lot of pints, pitchers and kegs.
The BA derived that figure from the total impact of beer brewed by craft brewers as it moves through the three-tier system (breweries, wholesalers and retailers), as well as all non-beer products like food and merchandise that brewpub restaurants and taprooms sell. The industry also provided more than 424,000 jobs, with more than 115,000 jobs directly at breweries and brewpubs, including service staff.
Oregon Leads the Craft Brewing Scene
“Oregon is a consistent leader in the U.S. for craft beer whether it’s the number of breweries, the percentage of dollars spent on craft beer or the economic impact per capita by Oregon’s breweries,” says Brian Butenschoen, executive director of the Oregon Brewers Guild. “We continue to see an increase in the amount of manufacturing and service jobs added in Oregon (1,100 last year) and we saw a 66% increase in the amount of beer exported— where Oregon’s breweries sold over 500,000 case equivalents outside the U.S. for the first time in 2015.”
According to Oregon Craft Beer, Oregon is the No. 2 hop growing state in the country, with a 2014 crop value of $35,679,000. In addition to supplying a vast majority of hops and strengthening the local economy, Oregon’s 206 brewing companies donated an estimated $3,200,000 to non-profits in their communities in 2015. In total, the Oregon brewing industry contributes $4.49 billion to the state’s economy and employs roughly 31,000 Oregonians directly and indirectly.
Lisa Morrison: “Beer Goddess” and Chief Support Staff for Belmont Station
Lisa Morrison is smack dab in the middle of all this beer busyness. A self described Jill-of-all-trades and “Master of None,” Morrison is co-owner and “chief support staff” for Southeast Portland’s extremely beer-friendly Belmont Station (23 rotating taps and a shop with 1300+ bottles of beer and cider). She became known as the “beer goddess” when, writing an online beer column for a local television news station, she stumbled across the URL beergoddess.com. “I bought it on the spot,” said Morrison. “Being one of very few women involved in beer at the time, as soon as I told someone I bought the URL, the moniker stuck.”
Morrison was born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She remembers her first taste of beer: “My dad used to let me drink sips of his Busch all the time when I was a kid.”
But her first “OMG” moment was when she was in college at Colorado State University. “My friend, Ralph, was famous for getting amazing care packages from his mom,” said Morrison. “He was from New York City, and these packages had stuff this girl from Oklahoma had never seen: espresso! Dutch cheeses! Exotic cookies!”
Whenever boxes showed up, Morrison and her friends started hanging around Ralph’s room. One day, when Ralph cracked open one of those boxes, there was a mini-keg of Dinkelacker, a German beer. “I got a glass, took one sip, and fell in love!,” said Morrison . “I had never tasted anything so good in my life! And paired with some of the cheeses, it was a match made in heaven. I learned what good beer was that day. I also had a lesson in stronger beer, because I got pretty tipsy.”
Morrison moved to Portland, Oregon in 1989. Over the years she says she’s become an “equal opportunity imbiber.” “I’ve been into wines lately after a trip to Lisbon for my hubby’s and my 25th anniversary last fall,” said Morrison. “And I love a good cocktail, especially after a day of judging beer. Life’s too short to not drink deeply.”
Craft Brewing Industry is Supportive
Beer was Morrison’s first libation love. “But what really pulled me into the beer business was the business model. Craft beer is so supportive. It’s the only industry I know where competitors support each other.”
Morrison knows countless stories of breweries needing a hand with broken equipment or other repairs and nearby breweries offered their help or equipment.
“It’s the only industry I know where, if you tell a brewer you really like his IPA, he will say; ‘Oh! You should try this other brewery,’ said Morrison. “You’d never see [a company like] CenturyLink doing that, or Microsoft and Apple.”
The beer business is not as glamorous as people might think: “It’s a great small business to start, but it’s a lot of physical labor and, honestly, about 90-percent janitorial work. You have to keep everything sanitary and that means a lot of cleaning. If you are someone who doesn’t embrace that, brewing will not be for you, says Morrison.”
There is also a huge difference between becoming a brewpub owner and a brewer. “Beer bars and bottle shops are very customer-oriented. You have to be personable, helpful, pleasant, courteous. Brewing is often a very solitary job. They are polar opposites,” she says.
Regardless, both beer bars and breweries always need the same thing: good beer. It’s also all about creativity, consistency and branding: “Good branding is becoming more important with more competition.”
Consistency and creativity are the hallmarks of a good brewer, too. Morrison ticks off a few other qualities a quality brewer must possess: “Passion… thinking outside the box, being able to brew the “core” beers exactly the same so the consumer knows what to expect, good palate and being able to combine flavors in your head before putting them into a beer.”
The Future of the Craft Brewing Biz
As for the seemingly lucrative lure of dipping your feet into the brew biz?
Morrison believes a storm might be brewing on the craft brewing industry horizon: “I think it’s still a good business. But I think a lot of people are getting into it for the wrong reasons these days. People think it’s fun and romantic. It’s not, and their beers reflect their lack of passion for the craft.”
She expects a fallout in the craft brewing industry, or that big national brewing companies, like Budweiser, Busch and Coors, will eat up all the small craft brewers. “(It will happen) to some extent, but I hope not,” said Morrison.
One thing she does know is that breweries, brew pub and brew halls will never disappear. “Public houses, as we used to call pubs, have always been gathering places…The Boston Tea Party was planned at a public house,” said Morrison. “The “third place” that everybody needs (our social place outside our other two places, work and home) has been the pub for many people for centuries. That will never stop.”
Move over, Bud. This craft brew is for you.