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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

When it Comes to the Pac-12, Coors is the One

One of the things that's happening as the industrial beer producers lose market share is an expansion of their marketing efforts. This is hard to miss, particularly if you watch sports on TV or go to games. The big boys are spending big bucks to tap into fan bases, a strategy generally not available to the craft brands due to exorbitant cost.

Look, sports marketing is hardly a new concept with the macros. They've been working to link themselves with popular sports for a long time. What's different today is their aggressiveness. Back in the olden days, they mostly just bought advertising. Today, they want their logos to be ever-present in and around sports venues. And not just in pro stadiums.

Point of purchase display at Freddy Meyer
So I shouldn't have been surprised when I saw a retail display at Fred Meyer announcing a partnership between Coors Light and the Oregon Ducks. There are billboards around town with the same news. What? If you're wondering how a college sports program can partner with a beer company, good for you. More on what's at work shortly.

Being a Washington State alum, I don't like seeing the Duck logo on anything. They have a lot of advantages in money, facilities and talent. Now an official beer partner, albeit a crappy macro beer? Another prize for Oregon, I figured. Too bad it turns out this problem, if that's what it is, goes deeper than the Ducks. Because Coors has deals with half of the Pac-12, including Washington State.

Now the NFL's Official Beer Sponsor
Setting aside the issue of how a beer company can partner with a college for just a moment, you may wonder what's driving this. Please recall that Coors Light was the Official Beer Sponsor of the NFL for quite a few years. The current plunge into collegiate sports is surely related to the fact that the NFL deal expired prior to the 2011 season. Bud Light is now the OBS of the NFL. Coors is out.

While we're on the subject, you may wonder why light beers are the ones partnering up. Why not Budweiser or Coors Banquet Beer? The answer is that light beer is the only segment in the macro portfolio that continues to perform reasonably. Virtually everything else is in free fall, being driven out of the marketplace principally by craft beer.
The 2011 list of Coors schools

Anyway, Coors launched the effort to expand its reach into college sports as the NFL contract expired in 2011. About a year ago, it announced deals with 23 schools (Oregon was not on that list). To be fair, some of these deals were rollovers of existing contracts. In others, Coors Light replaced a competitor (I wonder who that could be?) or became a first-time partner.

The way it works seems simple. In exchange for money (industry sources say more than $10 million is being funneled into this program)  Coors gets to use team logos and related visuals in point-of-purchase retail displays and other signage.

There are some restrictions. Coors is not allowed to use school marks on bottles, cans or packaging of any kind. And they can't use an actor to portray an athlete or likeness of an athlete in any promotional vehicle or ad. (More details here.)

What are the schools getting in return? Over and above whatever cash they got to sign on, you'll see co-branded promotional materials and advertisements all over the place. In effect, Coors will help schools promote their teams.

Part of that program incorporates what Coors refers to as its "strong responsibility message." I suspect this message is a big part of the reason they've been able to tap into the college market, where many, if not most of the fans, are not of legal drinking age.

To prop up this campaign, Coors ran a series of "responsibility messages" during Pac-12 games last year and will do something similar this year. If you look closely at the point of purchase display in the top photo, you'll notice the "21 Means 21" messaging at the bottom left of the poster. It also says "Great Beer, Great Responsibility." Not to demean the responsibility message, but the great beer claim is pretty lame. Coors Light is not close to a great beer.

Craft beer brands, as noted at the outset, are pretty much locked out of deals like the one launched by Coors simply due to money. Coors spends lavishly to promote a product of questionable quality; craft brewers spend lavishly to create a quality product and advertise little.

As diametrically opposed as their approaches are, we should not forget that Coors once did the craft beer movement in Oregon a big favor...unwittingly or not. I'll be looking back at what they did and how it benefited the craft movement in an upcoming post. Watch for it.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Fremont Ridge Surfs the Craft Wave

There may be no better way to appreciate to growing influence of craft beer than to make a stop at a local dive bar. There are plenty to choose from...just pick one. You can use creative and non-creative ways to make a selection. In my case, I just traveled up to the road to Fremont.

The expanded patio looks inviting
A little background. The last time I visited Fremont Ridge was about 15 years ago. It was a total dive...in the parlance of those times, as the Dude might say. Smokey, stinky, dark, grubby and grimy...with a shitty beer selection to match the decor. I remember it well.

Fast forward to present day. Things have been looking up on Northeast Fremont. Alameda Brewing is celebrating 16 years in business this week. Bottles NW is just down the street. Fire on the Mountain (3Mont) and McPeet's Portland Pub are bookends on this stretch of Fremont.

A cleaned up street view is part of the package
Fremont Ridge is located a hop and a skip to the east of Bottles. Promotional signage on the building suggested it might be a good time to stop in. There were other indications that changes were in the works, including the fact that the business was closed for a while.

First things first. If you know this area, you'll note the name has changed. This place was known as Fremont Ridge Inn for many years. When it was sold a few months ago, the new owners opted to simplify the name to Fremont Ridge. That's what you'll see on the liquor license renewal application here and on updated signage.

The big board...a little thin on a Monday
Stepping back in time for just a moment, this space originally opened in 1940, as the Mirror Cafe. They have a picture of the old place near the bar and there's some brief information the menu. Very quaint. A tip of the hat to history is a nice touch.

They spent some serious money remodeling the space. The women's bathroom was moved to allow for a more functional kitchen and bar. Floors were redone. The classic wood bar was refinished. A small outdoor area was expanded and improved. The furnishings and menu were updated. Oh...and additional beer taps were added.

Tap handles on the back bar
Of the 15 or so taps here, the bulk are reserved for a rotating list of craft beers. It was a nice selection when I stopped by...Boneyard RPM, Laurelwood Free Range Red, 21st Amendment Back in Black IPA and more. PBR is the lone macro...and the barkeep said it sells nicely at times. They have a bit of Coors Light and Corona in bottles, as well as full bar. But Fremont Ridge is focused on craft beer in a big way.

This is a popular trend. More and more former dive bars are being bought and transformed into pubs that ride the wave of craft beer's popularity. McPeet's Portland Pub has undergone a similar transformation within the last couple of months. Both places hope to build their clientele by catering to people who have turned against industrial lager.

These changes are part of an evolving beer culture in Portland. Craft beer has gained a strong following thanks to the brewpubs and breweries. Self-respecting bars and taverns can no longer look the other way. If they don't have craft beer, customers will go elsewhere. The days of macro dominance are history here.

As I've alluded to before, this emerging reality presents both an opportunity and a risk for brewpubs. With taverns, bars and many restaurants moving to craft beer, there are growing opportunities to sell more beer. The risk is that customers may not frequent brewpubs if they can get good beer wherever they go.

These factoids surely explain why several Portland brewpubs have or will soon open production breweries: they want the capacity to brew beer to sell in outside channels. It also explains the growing efforts to create limited edition, specialty beers that are available only in brewpubs...or at select bottleshops and pubs. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Is Project 12 a Sign of Things to Come?

Craft beer continues to gain momentum and market share. Not exactly news, huh? The Brewers Association says craft grew 13 percent by volume in 2011. Craft's share of the overall beer market grew to 5.7 percent in volume, 9 percent in dollars. It looks like 2012 will be an even better year, so we may be passing the 10 percent threshold soon.

We're a special case in Portland, where it's fairly evident that craft beer is giving the macro brands a serious beating. Check out the beer selection at your local grocery (or convenience) store or dive tavern. The macro brands are being displaced...rapidly in some cases. We are an anomaly, of course. Craft beer has been building a following in Beervana for nearly 30 years. But the trends for industrial lager are moving in the wrong direction nationwide...if you're a macro brand.

Given this scenario, I keep wondering what kind of a beating the big boy brands are willing to endure before they launch a serious counteroffensive. Will they get serious when craft passes 10 percent market share? Will it take 20 percent? What's the magic number?

Please realize I'm talking about a serious effort to compete with craft beer. All the consolidations and takeovers of recent years are not that. Shock Top and Blue Moon are most certainly not that. The fact is, the macro brands could make and sell plenty of good beer if they wanted to. They have simply chosen not to.

This is largely a matter of structure. The macro brands are built to make a consistent product cheaply and efficiently. Taste and character hasn't been much of a consideration. Brands are built via advertising, where the big boy brands currently spend in excess of a billion dollars a year. This is the macro business plan in a nutshell...has been for some time.

This Bud variation is from LA
What if they suddenly decided to invest in making good beer? They certainly have the technology to do so. They would simply need to shift to better ingredients and better recipes. Anyone think they couldn't do that?

Perhaps AB's recently announced Project 12 is a move in that direction. What they did is ask 12 of their regional brewers to create small batch variations of Budweiser. The beers (named by the ZIP code where they originated) use Budweiser's proprietary yeast and (they say) natural ingredients. Terrific. Internal tastings reduced the list to the top six to test market with consumers. The top three will be released in a limited edition variety pack this fall.

Don't expect to see any of the Project 12 beers in Portland. Our opinions aren't going to carry any weight in this conversation. We're hard core craft drinkers. These Project 12 beers are likely targeting folks who haven't yet made the move to craft...cutting them off at the pass, as it were.

It will be interesting to see what happens with this initiative. I suspect it won't gain much traction. But what if Project 12 is part of an ongoing effort by AB to address the challenge of craft beer? What if it's part of a push by the macros? That would be an interesting development.

It seems to me the biggest obstacle the macro brands face is structural. If they want to mount a serious challenge to the growth of craft beer, they will have to change the way they're organized. Changes like that can be difficult ...though not impossible.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Spinning the Brewery Growth Numbers

There was an awful lot of buzz when the Brewers Association released its mid-year state of the industry snapshot a few weeks back. Continued big growth in craft beer is the nuts and bolts of it. Setting the details aside for just a moment, you have to wonder how long this train can keep on rolling.

No matter how you cut it, craft beer continues to be one of the few bright spots in our haggard economy. Dollar sales were up 14 percent on a volume increase of 12 percent for the first half of 2012. The Brewers Association estimates that craft brewers sold 6 million barrels during this time. Something to remember if you're keeping track at home is that all of this is happening at a time when overall beer sales are in mild decline. Indeed.

Download a high-resolution version of this graphic.
Looking at the numbers, you won't be surprised to learn that the number of new breweries opening continues at a rabid pace. Since the end of 2011, we've added 177 new breweries, to reach a count of 2,126. If we compare June 2011 to June 2012 numbers, we've added 350 new breweries. Put another way, a new brewery has opened almost every day over the course of the last year. Wow.

Of the operating breweries out there, the vast majority (2,075) are craft breweries. In case you aren't aware, the Brewers Association defines "craft brewery" according to a list of requirements focused on annual production, ownership and type of beer brewed. There's an ongoing debate over what constitutes a craft beer and a craft brewery, but I think that discussion is best left for another time, quite possibly another blog.
By the way, the numbers for growth and total breweries are unprecedented. The only time we've seen similar growth was the period following the repeal of Prohibition, but there were nowhere near as many breweries then. In terms of total breweries, you have to go back to the 19th century to find a time when there were as many. In those days, almost all beer was local and there were small breweries on virtually every street corner in some cities.

Another number that always attracts a lot of interest is breweries in planning...I'll get to why. The Brewers Association says there were 1,252 breweries in planning to go against the 2,126 in operation at the end of June. That's right...the number of breweries in planning is now more than half the number of operating breweries. Another first.

If you go back to the end of 2011 (my graph), you'll see there were 915 breweries in planning. I admit it's somewhat shocking to see that an additional 300+ breweries in planning have been added in just six months time. It's a number that's likely to balloon further by the end of the year. Who knows where it will wind up.

The brewery in planning number tends to create a stir among beer fans. Big numbers can have that effect. It's important to understand, though, that many of these breweries won't open for years...and some will never open. As a gent at the Brewers Association told me a while back, there's a lot of tire kicking going on out there. People get jazzed up about opening a brewery and put together a plan. Then shit happens. Sometimes they can't get funding or other things get fouled up. Poof! The plan vanishes.

So the number that matters most is how many breweries opened during a given period of time. If you look at my graph, you'll note the dark blue bars appear to be taking fairly moderate steps up each year. We ended 2009 with 287 planned new breweries; 143 actually opened during 2010. We ended 2010 with 513 planned new breweries; 260 actually opened in 2011. We ended 2011 with 915 planned new breweries; as of June, 300 of those had actually opened.

If you like predictions, let me make one: We will see 455-460 new breweries in 2012. Why do I think so? Because the percentage of actual new breweries to planned new breweries since 2009 has been right around 50 percent each year. So about half of the 915 planned breweries at the end of 2011 will open this year. That's my guess. Watch what happens.

Honestly, I think it does get a little scary going forward. There were 1,252 planned new breweries as of the end of June. That number is sure to balloon by another 300-400 before the end of the year, at which point we could have something like 1600 breweries in planning. If the year-to-year percentages stay relatively constant, we'd be looking at another 800 new breweries in 2013. Seriously crazy!

Going back to the rhetorical question I asked at the outset: How long can this train keep on rolling? In my mind, a lot depends on where these new breweries are located. I did an analysis of planned new breweries last fall (it's here) and will do another one when the data becomes available (I've asked, but the Brewers Association hasn't yet delivered).

That analysis concluded that a majority of the new planned breweries (55 percent) were located in areas that are drastically underserved from a craft beer standpoint. See, it turns out there are still many parts of this country that have very limited exposure to craft beer. It's not hard to fathom sipping boutique beers in Oregon. Most of the South, big chunks of the Northeast and Midwest, and much of the Southwest are underserved. As long as the new breweries are bringing these areas up to speed, I think the craft beer train continues to roll.

Where might there be bubble trouble? I think we'll begin to see problems in places where there's big growth alongside high brewery counts. Oregon and Colorado both have a high number of breweries per million citizens with more in the works. How many is too many? Clearly, no one knows...or is willing to discuss it publicly. So we'll have to wait and see.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

First Vancouver Brewfest Lifts Off

The inaugural Vancouver Brewfest took flight this past weekend. Despite that fact that it was competing against several established events (Hopworks' Biketoberfest, The Bite of Oregon and the Humulus Maximus Festivus at Plew's Brews), the Vancouver gig appears to have gone well and attracted good crowds.

In my mind, the flood of August events is a result of the fact that brewers and promoters want to get this stuff out of the way before Labor Day. Moods tend to change once school starts and we enter the fall sports season. Plus, August weather is usually excellent. You get the picture, eh?

Beer was pouring smoothly at all stations
I really don't know how long the Vancouver event was in the works. Perhaps years. As I and others have said, the Couv has been very much underserved from a beer standpoint for a long time. Finally getting a marquee beer event of their own has to be a good thing. You suspect it may help stimulate additional activity. Hopefully.

Now, full disclosure. I traveled up there on Saturday afternoon strictly to observe and take photos. I spent about 20 minutes walking around Esther Short Park taking in the layout and watching the crowd. I consumed no beer...though there was plenty of good beer to be had. I just didn't have time to get partake. Next year will be different!

Tap layout in the tents helped serving efficiency
First, the venue. Esther Short Park has a lengthy and colorful history. Established in 1853, it is the oldest public park in the state of Washington. Skeptics might wonder how Vancouver could be home to the state's first park. Well, Vancouver (along with Portland) was a center of Northwest commerce in the 1850s. Goods moved up and down the Columbia River in those days. Seattle, a better seaport, didn't surpass its neighbors to the south until the railroads came in the 1880s.

I have to say the transformation of Esther Short Park and downtown Vancouver over the last 10-15 years is amazing. When I arrived here in 1989, most of downtown was a disaster. The park was inhabited primarily by transients and drug dealers. The area had a dreary, bombed out look. A massive revitalization project brought upscale residences and businesses to what was once a lost city. The Brewfest most certainly could not have happened if not for the revitalization of downtown. Kudos to the folks who made that happen!

Plenty of shade and sun made for comfortable mingling
Esther Short worked out nicely for this event. The park features a nice mix of shade and open areas. There were no large tents such as what you see at the Oregon Brewers Festival. People were drinking beer and moving about comfortably. Some chose sun, some shade. A band was belting out songs from the 80s in a shaded area. Very nice.

They did something very smart with the serving tents...and it was probably a necessity due to the size of the Brewfest area. Instead of serving from just one side, they served beer from several sides of most tents. This was an ingenious idea. The park was mildly busy, and I saw only a few very short lines going in different directions. Very efficient.

The brewing demo is a festival standard
As for the beers, they had a nice selection. When I first looked at the beer list a few weeks back, I saw quite a few of the usual suspects...Ninkasi, Oakshire, Hopworks, Firestone Walker, etc. Sometimes you need to look a little deeper. I didn't make a list, but there many interesting beers...some that you cannot get in Oregon.

As my friend Angelo Brewpublic was always quick to remind me when he was pouring beer at By the Bottle, there are a number of Washington beers that don't make it across the Columbia River. Beers from Heathen Brewing, Loowit Brewing and West Highland Brewing (all of Vancouver) are unknown to me and would have been interesting to try. Next time.

A fine time was had by all...
Another thing I salute these guys for is making this a 21 and over only event. I'm sure that pissed off a few people who wanted to drag their kids along. But it's the right call. I'm really not sold on the idea of kids at a beer festival. I've seen countless bad examples of parental behavior over the years at the OBF...where kids also do not belong. I know there are differing opinions out there, this is mine.

One thing I will quibble with is the cost of admission. There were some pre-event deals out there that saved you a few bucks, but a standard package was $21. That got you a mug (really a cup) and eight tickets. Additional tickets were $1 each. So you were essentially paying $13 for a plastic cup on the way in. That seems excessive. I understand the event benefits several charities...and they'll all do just fine if a lower entry fee encourages more people to attend. I hope organizers will rethink this for next year.

In the end, I suspect the future of this event is bright. It was a success in its first year and word will spread. They might even wind up with a space problem if the event gets huge. This isn't Waterfront Park and it won't hold OBF-like numbers. That won't be a problem in the short run, but you never know what might happen in time.

Friday, August 10, 2012

A Weekend Packed with Beer Events

It's been a busy week and I didn't have time to bust out an original blog post. I'm working on an analysis of the current state of brewery growth, but it will require a bit more thought and will have to wait for next week. Weekend blog traffic sucks, anyway.

In the meantime, we have come to the time of summer when everyone wants to get some sort of special event or festival in before the dreaded Labor Day partition. Attendance at weekend events gets a little dicey once school and football get rolling. The time is now.

Up North, the Vancouver Brewfest runs today and tomorrow. The beer list looks pretty good. More importantly, it's good to see movement on the craft beer front up in the Couv. As some of us were saying on Facebook yesterday, our friends on the other side of the Columbia are ripe for an explosion of great beer. That's not to say they have nothing at present; it's just that they will support much more. Angelo had a nice write-up on this event yesterday. Take it away.

A little closer to home, you can tap into the Humulus Maximus Festivus up at Plew's Brews in North Portland. It's just what it sounds like...a hops festival. They are pouring 22 single, double and imperial IPAs. The tasting glass apparently features a new Ninkasi design. It'll cost you $5. Tickets are $1...one ticket for a taste, four for a full glass. It's on Friday and Saturday.

Adding to the weekend insanity, Hopworks is holding their 4th Annual Biketobeerfest on Saturday at the Powell headquarters. They'll have live music, food, bike games and competitions and, oh yeah, 15 HUB beers. Being bike-friendly is a huge part of the Hopworks identity, so this event is right up their alley. Biketoberfest runs 2:00 to 10:00 p.m.

Also, The Bite of Oregon is happening this weekend at Waterfront Park. This event has been around for 40 years and has a solid following. To my way of thinking, The Bite is much more focused on food and wine than on beer. The beer list is decent, although this is largely a gateway festival from a craft beer angle. Still, it's a great chance to enjoy great food and your beverage of choice in sunny Waterfront Park.

Finally, they're holding the Migration Logo Evolution party over at Migration Brewing. It kicks off Saturday at 2 p.m. If you aren't in the know, Migration decided to "evolve" their logo and brand identity due to a cease and desist order filed by the Multnomah Athletic Club. True enough...the old Migration logo looked similar to the MAC logo. I don't know how anyone could confuse the two entities, but Migration decided to skip the legal fees and simply change their look. They'll celebrate on Saturday.

Cheers to the weekend!

Monday, August 6, 2012

OBF XXV: A Final Look Back

The 25th Oregon Brewers Festival wrapped up a week ago. It was another big success for beer fans and for the economic well-being of the city, which I'll get to in due time. This is my look back at this year's OBF.

By the Numbers
The folks who track such things say attendance was 80,000. That number has stayed steady for the last few years and I suspect it is nothing more than an educated guess. Landing on an exact number would be nearly impossible since many of the same people pass through the gates on multiple days.

Saturday brought out the shades and the crowds
As mentioned earlier, Thursday is no longer a secret. The Thursday afternoon crowd was enormous by historical standards. Friday was less crowded than usual, I thought, probably having to do with the (sketchy) weather. Saturday was a disaster...packed to the gills early on. I didn't attend on Sunday, but I'm guessing it was a not all that busy.

I heard a lot of bitching about the Saturday crowds. Indeed, the lines were long by mid-afternoon and there was no getting around under the tents. Some people were complaining that there were fewer people pouring beer. Maybe so, I don't know. The main issue, I think, was that there were just too many people in the park. People who might have come on Friday came on Saturday because the weather report was better.

Look, the only way to alleviate the problem with lines is to limit the number of people in the park at any given time. They could do that by pre-selling tickets for specific drinking sessions. That's what they do at the Great American Beer Festival. The OBF could do this, but it would require extensive changes to the way they do things. I suspect it will only happen when people stop coming due to the crowds...which essentially means it isn't happening anytime soon.

The Beers
I did my best to taste as many beers as possible during my three stints in the park...my notes suggest I tasted in the neighborhood of 50 beers. I had a few favorites, which I'll get to, but the whole experience got me wondering how much beer is consumed during this event.

Would 1,500+ kegs fill it? 
Festival organizers don't give out specific details on beer consumption. What they will say is that each attending brewery supplies a minimum of 18 kegs. There were 84 different beers this year (82 breweries), so the total number of kegs was at least 1,512. Doing the math, that comes to 22,680 gallons of beer. By the way, this number excludes the Buzz Tent beers.

Where could you fit 22,000 gallons of beer? Well, it turns out 22,000 gallons would fill a medium-sized backyard swimming pool. Not that you would want to. Most of these beers were pretty good and they certainly don't belong in a pool. Still, that's one approximate volume equivalent.

It's a little late to talk about beer highlights, but these are a few that I liked (in no particular order): Occidental Kellerbier, Gigantic Dynomite, Redhook Peach Trippel, Epic Hop Syndrome Lager, Ram Berry White, HUB Imperial Sunshine, Dunedin Chronicle IPA, Ballast Point Sculpin IPA, McMenamin's Gilbert Grapefruit (Buzz), Cascade High Class Blond (Buzz). I have to admit some of the beers on my original tasting list didn't pan out.

Drinking the Raspberry Crush
Speaking of beers that didn't pan out, I ran into to some young ladies who were sipping a fruit beer Friday afternoon. I stopped to ask what they were drinking and it turned out they were all drinking 10 Barrel's Raspberry Crush. They weren't necessary lovin' it, they told me, but it was okay. Raspberry Crush was on my tasting list and failed to make my short list of favorites. You can connect the dots.

To-Do List
The biggest miss of this event in my mind was the handling of the beers in the Buzz Tent (which was also the Sour Tent, if you didn't know). There was no advance information on the Buzz Tent beers and there was little if any information in the tent. I don't get it. These were double token beers, typically high alcohol beers, many of them barrel-aged.

I can almost understand why you would want to keep the Buzz beers under wraps before the festival. But why would you not have information in the tent? One guy had gone to the web and gotten some info about the Buzz beer he was pouring...which he scribbled on a small piece of paper for patrons to see. He did it because he was embarrassed to give the patented Sgt. Schultz, "I know nothing, nothing!" response when asked about the beer he was pouring. Seriously? I hope this gets fixed next year.

Calm seas in the Buzz Tent Saturday afternoon
Water has been an issue for many years and I think it still is. They had several mug rinsing stations under tents at both ends of the park. You could theoretically get water to drink out of those taps, but the reality was a little different. There were lines to rinse mugs or get drinks. The flow of water out of the faucets was painfully slow. Not the best scenario if you want to stay hydrated while you're drinking. I honestly think water needs to be more readily available...and I don't mean the bottled stuff the food vendors were selling for a nice profit.

Value Judgment
The OBF is Portland's original beer festival. When launched in 1988, its primary (arguably its sole) purpose was to promote craft beer. The festival has done its job so well over the years that it has spawned countless smaller festivals in Portland and around the region.

Not all beer events are created equal, of course. Many of the newer festivals were invented mainly to cash in on the popularity of craft beer. Some aren't even a good value...largely because they're more concerned with making money then with promoting good beer. If you aren't sure who these festivals are, no worries...you'll figure it out.

Connecting the dots of success
Don't get me wrong...the Oregon Brewers Festival long ago made the transition from promotional vehicle to money maker. If it truly does produce $23 million in economic benefits for the local economy annually (that's what organizers say), it's also true that a few people make a nice profit from this festival every year. Yet the beat goes on and the success seems to grow.

To me, the key to the OBF's ongoing success is that they've found a way to balance profit motive with reasonable value. People come to Waterfront Park to enjoy good beers, live music and the great ambiance for not a lot of money. The value of the package makes it the quintessential event of the year. And it will likely maintain that title until something significant changes.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Fremont Fest Suggests Growing Power of Craft

The  26th annual Fremont Fest is on tap this weekend. Sponsored by Beaumont Business Association, they'll close down the strip of NE Fremont between 42nd and 52nd Avenue and turn it into a pedestrian mall. There will be a parade, sidewalk vendors, arts and crafts, games and more. Craft beer is naturally involved, which I'll get to momentarily.

The original Fremont Street anchor
This festival does a nice job of promoting the business and human community in the Beaumont neighborhood. Businesses in the area include: Beaumont Hardware (old-school hardware store), Green Dog Pet Supply (new-age supply), Grand Central Bakery (just opened where Saluna and Fife used to be), Pizzacato, Jim and Patty's Coffee, The Alameda Cafe, Amalfi's Restaurant, Beaumont Village Market, Noho's Hawaiian Cafe and others.

I left out the beer-centric businesses on purpose. But don't underestimate their contribution to the Beaumont economy. Alameda Brewing has been a sort of anchor in the middle of that strip for years. Now you've got Bottles NW a short distance away. And don't laugh about the nearby taverns Fremont Ridge Inn and McPeet's Portland Pub, both of which are expanding their horizons under new ownership.

Rustic exterior betrays changes within
Of course, you're wondering how craft beer is connected to the Fremont Fest. Fair enough. They're putting together an evening Pub Crawl that will include stops at Alameda, Bar Wares, Bottles, McPeet's and others. The price of admission is $10, for which you'll receive an event mug (similar to the OBF mug) and 10 tokens you can use in a variety of ways. Pretty good value, it seems. Need more info? Contact organizer Brant Kunze here.

This Pub Crawl is significant. It serves as yet another reminder that craft beer occupies an increasingly important role in social events involving community. Once upon a time not so long ago, it would have been unfathomable for an event like the Fremont Fest to have a pub crawl. Now, it's almost mandatory. Craft beer is mainstream.

Solid beer performance guaranteed
I'll have more to say about McPeet's and Fremont Ridge in another post, but they are clearly part of a trend in which grubby taverns evolve into something better. The combined tap lists at these two places recently included beers from Boneyard, Double Mountain, Laurelwood, Fort George, Epic, Anderson Valley, Caldera, Good Life, Firestone Walker, Terminal Gravity and Upright. That's not your dad's tavern. Not by a longshot.

If you're one of the macro big boys watching this unfold, you have to be a little nervous. When they're pouring craft beers in places that formerly poured crap macro, it's a problem for Bud, Miller and Coors. We're probably seeing this trend more clearly in Portland than most places, but it is an emerging reality...and it helps explain the declining market share of the macro brands. Here's to dominoes!