expr:class='"loading" + data:blog.mobileClass'>

Sunday, June 24, 2018

At Last, Deschutes Opens a Pub at PDX

Thirty years after opening its doors in Bend, Deschutes Brewing marked the grand opening of a pub at Portland International Airport with snacks, toasts and a ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday.

The opening coincides with the 30th anniversary of the airport's Clocktower (located in the pre-security area). On Friday, there was a free beer tasting featuring some of the brews available at the airport. The tasting was part of a series of events planned this summer to honor the Clocktower.

Deschutes founder Gary Fish was on hand for the ribbon cutting. He spoke briefly to a small crowd of accidental tourists, media folks and officials connected to the brewery, the airport or the concessionaire company that operates essentially all of the businesses at PDX.

This is the second Deschutes location in Portland, following the opening of the brewpub in the Pearl District by 10 years. Fish highlighted the reasons why he and others at Deschutes Brewing have always regarded Portland as its most important market.

"Portland is the most important beer city in America," he said. "It has the largest craft beer market share of any city in the country, and it's our single largest, most important market. We focused on Portland almost from the beginning and the pubs here are a continuation of that effort."

The pub is a nice addition to the offerings at PDX. It's located in Concourse D in the space previously occupied by Rogue. In reimagining the look, they created a visually open and bright space. This is the kind of place travelers will appreciate. Success is likely to come pretty easy.

That was less the case back to 2008, when the Pearl District brewpub opened. It was a sketchy time. The Great Recession was in full force and the pub struggled initially. But it did well enough to survive and has flourished in a community that embraces the Deschutes brand.

To me, Deschutes is one of Oregon's most iconic brands, maybe the most iconic in beer terms. Most of the state's early craft breweries are no longer locally owned or they've jumped the track in other ways. Yet Deschutes stayed the course, always featuring quality beer, food and service. While remaining independent.

The story is nicely told in Jon Abernathy's fine book, Bend Beer: A History of Brewing in Central Oregon. In fact, Fish wound up in Bend more or less by accident. He wanted to open a brewery in Northern California. Competition and cost caused him to look elsewhere. His parents, fresh from a trip to Central Oregon, suggested he give the area a look. He liked what he saw.

You might think the rest is history, but there you'd be wrong. Despite the current size and reach of Deschutes Brewing, the operation in Bend was not a slam dunk success. There were growing pains early on and business was not always good.

"You could shoot a gun off in [the pub] a lot of nights and nobody would notice," Fish is quoted as saying in Abernathy's book. Some nights he sent employees home and ran the pub alone things were so slow. Fish chuckled and verified the accuracy of those comments on Friday.

Why did Deschutes finally open a pub at PDX? That's an interesting question. Fish described it as a long term project. Okay. As one of the most prominent craft beer brands in the state, I suspect Deschutes could and maybe should have established a presence at the airport long ago. Why now?

The answer is likely related to the overall state of craft beer. Large craft breweries like Deschutes are losing market share, particularly in distant markets. They helped create a demand that is today being increasingly filled by small, local breweries. Ironic turn of events, for sure.

As a result, larger breweries are turning inward and intensifying marketing efforts closer to home. We're seeing this in Portland with Widmer, Bridgeport and Portland Brewing, each of which is putting significant effort into reconnecting with local fans via specialty beers and events.

Deschutes situation is a bit different because they never really abandoned the specialty beers so many fans are chasing these days. For them, the airport pub will serve as a great marketing piece, a way to connect with and make an impression on travelers who are coming and going.

It seems like a smart move to me. I look forward to visiting the next time I'm in Concourse D.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Keep it civil, please.