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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Cascade Builds on Success of its NW Sour Beers

Big things are happening at Cascade Brewing. The purveyors of Northwest-style sour beers have been growing like crazy since opening the "House of Sour" Barrel House on Southeast Belmont. Today, they are building on that success.

Plans for the immediate future include moving production to a significantly larger, climate-controlled facility in Beaverton. Most blending and aging will happen there. Meanwhile, the Barrel House, freed of production demands, will be transformed with additional seating and a substantially expanded kitchen.

A little background. Before Larrance opened the Barrel House in 2010, Cascade's sour beers, which had won GABF medals, were sequestered at the Raccoon Lodge on Portland's westside. The Lodge never attracted much of a following, victimized by the fact that people from the city's core generally don't go west for beer.

In fact, Larrance had coveted a spot in Southeast Portland for many years. It turned out the feeling was mutual on the part of core residents. Almost as soon as the Barrel House opened, it was pretty clear that the space was too small. Of the 7,000 sq ft of space there, 5,000 was dedicated to production...much of it barrels. That meant limited seating and a tiny kitchen
Blending house
"Opening of the Barrel House built on our success in a big way," Larrance recently told me. "People who were curious came in to taste the beers. Many liked them. The Barrel House exceeded expectations. The renovation will make the place more user-friendly. We've needed more seating and a fully functional kitchen since the beginning and now we'll have the space to do that."

Of course, the ability to do these things is fueled by the success of Cascade's sour beers. They did not invent sour beers. What they did do is take the sour concept and develop a unique approach to it by leaning on Northwest produce, typically added during the aging process.

Gansberg speaks
Cascades's sour program is largely the creation of Ron Gansberg, who worked at Bridgeport and Portland Brewing before joining forces with Larrance during construction of the Raccoon Lodge in 1997-98. He was then tasked with finding a "magic elixir."

Larrance and Gansberg knew they would not survive selling a commodity product. They had no intention of competing with the likes of Widmer and Deschutes. Instead, they wanted a specialty product, a "magic elixir," that would be produced in limited quantities and sold at a premium price. Sour beers are the result and the solution to that challenge.

There's more than just expansion going on at Cascade. Larrance is working on several pieces of legislation that will enhance Cascade's ability to produce and sell its beer. Gansberg is actively working on building relationships, determined to be as sharing and collaborative as possible.

"Because of the success we've had with these beers, I find myself in a unique position," Gansberg says. "I have an opportunity to work with others and share the expertise and experience I've acquired. That's a big priority within our organization, but I'm also developing collaborative relationships with brewers outside Cascade and Portland."

You look at what these guys have done and you have to be impressed. When they started Cascade Brewing, they had an outline of where they wanted to go and how they hoped to get there, but it was rough. Their success is largely the result of determination and creativity. Now they get to to enjoy the accolades and share what they know. Good times.

In case you're wondering, Cascade will be hosting a a series of events in conjunction with the upcoming Craft Brewers Conference, April 14-17. They expect to feature a hoard of sour and wild beers at two bars. It's going to be packed much of the time. Watch their social media feed for details.

Update: I just found out my article on Cascade Brewing is featured on the cover of BeerAdvocate's April issue. I can't provide a link because there's no online version as of today.

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