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Sunday, April 22, 2018

At pFriem, Reasoned Priorities Drive Success

Since it opened in August 2012, pFriem Family Brewers has built a reputation as one of Oregon's most prolific breweries. Whether you're talking about the best specialty beers, best mainstream beers or best brewpub experience, pFriem seems always to be in the conversation.

Friday evening, pFriem invited a group of media geeks out to the Hood River pub to provide a sort of progress report and hint of what's to come. We enjoyed beers, food and toured the brewery and barrel room. Later, we listened to Josh Pfriem and his associates discuss what they're up to.

Opportunities to casually mingle with industry stars like this don't come crop up all that often. When they do, you almost always expect some kind of major announcement. In this case, some of us wondered if maybe they would announce plans to open a pub in Portland. Or maybe they were launching a few of their beers in cans, the hottest industry trend at the moment, next to hazy IPA. Inquiring minds.

It turns out there are no immediate plans to open a pub in Portland. There isn't any rush because pFriem's Hood River location is already quite popular with Portland consumers. According to Josh Pfriem, something like 70 percent of their Hood River clientele comes from Portland. That's a fascinating statistic, frankly speaking. It means pFriem is a destination.

Think about that for a second. If pFriem were to open at pub in Portland, which would present a number of challenges and risks, the business in Hood River would take a hit. If people from the city are happy coming to you, why should you assume the risk of coming to them? At this point, given the state of the industry, it just doesn't make sense.

The question about cans yielded a similar response. Although they're seriously looking at getting some of their beers in cans, that's not the top priority. We see a number of breweries aggressively moving to cans, yet pFriem is hanging back, content to invest in other areas. My guess is we'll see two or three pFriem beers in cans within a year or so. Time will tell.

One of the most interesting factoids we collected Friday evening is what's driving pFriem's priorities. Josh revealed that their best selling beer is...the Pilsner. Close behind is the IPA. Those two beers account for about 70 percent of their sales. Keeping those pipelines full is a top priority. As such they are expanding fermentation capacity and improving other efficiencies in the brewery. Makes sense.

Of course, pFriem's specialty beer program is well known. It includes a list of mostly spectacular beers. They had just released barrel-aged Nectarine Golden Ale on draft in the pub and we tasted it from bottles after dinner. The beer is a major home run, I think, and will be released to the public this week. Don't miss it.

To advance their barrel and specialty program, pFriem will soon install a Coolship. That will allow them to tap the local, airborne fauna, such as De Garde does in Tillamook and Logsdon has done in Hood River. This is a significant step and I look forward to seeing the results. Just keep in mind that these beers take several years to curate. Patience recommended.

If all goes as planned, pFriem will increase its annual production from 15K barrels in 2017 to 19K barrels this year. Those numbers mean sustained growth in an industry that's getting more competitive virtually by the minute. Staying in that kind of growth mode is becoming increasingly elusive and requires meticulous attention to detail, to say nothing of expertise.

The big story here, it seems to me, is that pFriem has somehow managed to reach and satisfy casual craft beer fans and beer geeks. There aren't many breweries in Oregon or elsewhere that have successfully walked that tightrope. It isn't easy. Pfriem has done it with smarts, integrity and, yeah, probably a little luck. Sometimes, you make you own luck, my dad always said.

These next few years are going to be challenging and interesting at the same time. The cowboy era in craft beer is coming to a close. Success from here on out is going to require the kind of deliberate, well-reasoned approach pFriem has taken and is taking.

I suspect it's going to work out for them. We shall see.

Note: Special thanks to Josh Pfriem, Rudy Kellner, head brewer Gavin Lord, marketing guru Michelle Humphrey, and the other amazing staff who contributed to a splendid evening.

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