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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Art Larrance at 70: Still Going Strong

In much the same way that you don't know what you're going to get in the NFL draft, we didn't know what we had when Art Larrance co-founded Portland Brewing in 1986. Nearly three decades later, his place in Oregon brewing history is more or less assured. He turns 70 today. Yet he carries on with gusto.

Larrance's was a player even before the advent of Portland Brewing via the Brewpub Bill. The bill, officially SB 813, was passed in 1985 and brought the emerging craft movement out of the shadows. Brewpubs were crucial because they provided a great place for early craft breweries to display their wares.

All of the founding brewers pushed for the Brewpub legislation, but it was Larrance (as legend has it) who introduced the idea to Rep. Tom Mason in the shower at Multnomah Athletic Club. Mason, a Portland Democrat, introduced the bill in the Oregon House and helped get it passed.

Then came the Oregon Brewers Festival. Larrance got involved when Portland Brewing was asked to provide beer for a blues festival in Waterfront Park in 1987. The success of that outing led to the inaugural OBF in 1988, supported by all of the four founding craft breweries. A few years later, Larrance assumed full control of the event.

The story might well have ended there had fate not intervened. Needing to expand their operation, Portland Brewing raised capital through the sale of common stock. As a result of those sales, they lost control of the business. This happened around the time they moved to the Northwest industrial area in 1993. Larrance was soon shown the door.

Never underestimate the power of, "I'll show you." Larrance soon incorporated as Cascade Brewing. He opened the Raccoon Lodge in 1998, one of the first breweries on Portland's underserved westside. While the Raccoon Lodge provided an option for craft beer fans "over there," it was slow to attract beer fans from the east side of the river. An Eastside location was needed.

After a long search, Larrance found the space on Southeast Belmont that today houses the Cascade Brewing Barrel House. The Barrel House, which opened in 2010, features blended sour beers pioneered by Larrance and collaborators Ron Gansberg and Preston Weesner as an alternative to the "hops arms race." The beers have been wildly successful.

As Larrance celebrates seven decades, the Tart Fruit Fest is happening at the Barrel House this week. It's just a coincidence, I'm told. The event runs through Sunday and features some of the beers Cascade has become famous for: Figaro, Blueberry, Bourbonic Plague, Kriek, Strawberry and more. Non-sour fans will have options, too, including Portland Ale and Cascade IPA.

With all he has going on, you might expect Larrance to relax and take it somewhat easy. Hardly. At a birthday gathering the other day, he told me he's letting some of his collectible beer memorabilia go at long last. His collection of labels, signs and related materials dating back more than 100 years is substantial. But he has other things on his mind these days.

Most prominently, he is building on the success of the sour movement with an expanded production facility off Highway 217. The climate-controlled space will quadruple the available room for blending and aging, from 5,000 to over 22,000 square feet. There will be no pub at the production facility. However, the Barrel House will eventually be renovated and expanded into a much larger pub.

Happy 70th, Art! Keep the new chapters coming.

1 comment:

Keep it civil, please.