It all began with a homebrew kit in a friend’s kitchen in 2004. Brewing became an obsession, and eventually a thriving business.
Ben Parsons and Richard Hall opened Baerlic Brewing Company in 2014 in Southeast Portland after spending two years working on financing, business planning and location hunting. At present, they are working on their second taproom location that they said should open in about two months.
“The brewing scene in Portland is so damn collegial that we got an amazing amount of support from our friends. What would be, in most other industries, seen as competition is really a community in the Oregon brewing scene,” Parsons says. “I believe this high tide raises all ships mentality is what makes Oregon beer some of the best on the planet in terms of depth of beer culture, innovation and overall quality.”
Oregon beer is not just tasty and collegial. It’s good for the economy. The Oregon Brewers Guild’s 2016 report shows Oregonians are drinking more Oregon beer. Beer consumption increased in 2016. More than 23 percent of the 3.04 million barrels of all beer (both bottled and draft) consumed in the state were made in Oregon. The 707,000 barrels of beer consumed by Oregonians in 2016 were made by an Oregon brewery, an 8.7 percent increase from 2015.
Oregon draft beer consumption stole an even larger market share, with Oregon breweries producing an estimated 64.9 percent of all draft beer consumed in the state. Barrel producing in the state increased by 4.8 percent in 2016, coming in at a grand total of 1.78 million barrels. More beer meant more people, with roughly 369,000 people visiting an Oregon brewery, pub or tasting room on a weekly basis, or about 19 million total visitors in 2016.
"Of particular note, I’m personally grateful that I work in this industry and get to be a part of it," said Thomas Bleigh, longtime brewmaster at Hopworks Urban Brewery and now innovation brewmaster for Craft Brew Alliance Inc., which includes Widmer Brothers Brewing. "I started this as a passion play over 17 years ago and I’m very grateful that I’ve been able to support a family doing what I love.
“I’m also in awe that this industry has contributed to an economic landscape with jobs and a 40+ share of craft beer in the marketplace," Bleigh continued "Seeing the growth in quantity of breweries to over 70 in under 20 years speaks to the viable economic nature of the business.
"There are also amazing ancillary benefits of craft beer – glassware, wholesalers, publicans, beer tourism, growler manufacturers, design firms, and retailers all benefit from this industry. The touch points are numerous and significant," Bleigh said.
The Oregon brewing industry continues to support job growth in the state, employing about 31,000 Oregonians directly and indirectly and contributing $4.49 billion to the state’s economy. Oregon brewing establishments employed 9,453 people in 2016, according to Damon Runberg, economist with the Oregon Employment Department.
According to the OED, the craft beer industry added around 1,340 jobs over the past two years, a growth of nearly 22 percent, which compares to a growth of 6.3 percent for total nonfarm growth during the same period. Runberg says the job count underestimates of the total employment impact, as newer brewing establishments and small owner-operated breweries are not included in that total.
“Oregon is a consistent leader in the U.S. for craft beer, whether it’s the number of breweries per capita, 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 the state, and we saw Oregon breweries increase their export sales by 25.6 percent in 2016," Butenschoen said. "Oregon’s craft brewers sold a total of 1.075 million barrels in the U.S. and around the world last year, including barrels shipped to five Canadian provinces and 37 different countries.”
Similarly, a recently completed study estimates the economic impact of the 2017 Oregon Brewers Festival 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.
Two of the most significant findings unearthed by the study are the number of women (44.2 percent) attending the 2017 Oregon Brewers Festival, along with a precipitous decline (38 percent) in lodging expenditures by OBF attendees, despite a 6 percent increase in the percentage of out-of-town visitors.
“Women are the key to the future of the craft beer industry,” Dense says, 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.”
Parsons says those involved in the beer industry should pay attention to the market, in Portland and throughout the state, and how best to figure out their niche.
“There is no shortage of great breweries in Portland, but those that are lacking a focus on the numbers and how to stand out in a crowd are at greater risk moving forward,” he cautions. “Craft beer cannot sustain the same kind of growth it has over the last several years, but the sky is not falling. Those who focus on small(er) and more nimble operations will weather any and all storms much easier than those going after the gold and growing too fast.
“People are not going to stop drinking beer; we've been doing it for a gazillion years. But those not paying attention definitely put themselves at greater risk – the devil is in the details.”