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Home / Business / Widmer Brothers, one of the most famous breweries in Oregon, enters the bleak future: the Portland Breweries series

Widmer Brothers, one of the most famous breweries in Oregon, enters the bleak future: the Portland Breweries series

There are many questions in the big brewery on North Russell Street.

Why did Widmer Brothers Brew close the inn, its long-time brewpub, and then turn it into a bar?

Why did Widmer make a year later Do you close this taproom later and leave no place to pour your own beers?

Will Anheuser-Busch InBev, a minority owner of Widmer-Mother Craft Brew Alliance, make use of his option to buy the CBA in August? And if so, what about Widmer Brothers Brewing Co.? [19659005] Last year was a bumpy ride for one of Oregon's oldest and most famous breweries, and the mirror does not offer much clarity. With ownership issues, the creators of the legendary Hefeweizen have shrunk sales and status within the CBA and lost direct contact with their beer-drinking customers, and other long-sought-after Portland breweries have turned off the lights.

That Widmers flagship yeast is still the best-selling and best-known craft beer in Oregon. This Widmer is among the 50 best-selling breweries in the United States. And the young innovation brewery at Widmer creates delicious experimental beers and develops new beverage lines to resist the boring perceptions of the brand.

"We recently closed our pub and it was very difficult," said Kurt Widmer. who founded the brewery in 1

984 with his brother Rob. But "the brewery is good, it is constantly evolving. We now have several partners – it's not just Widmer Brothers. That was really fun.

Widmer and the Craft Brew Alliance

Widmer started in 1984 when the brothers of the brewery left their jobs and turned their passion into a career that brought together an old brewery and junkyard equipment. They opened in an industrial part of northwest Portland – before the 1990 expansion forced them to relocate to their present address – and in 1986 they founded Hefe, an American version of the German Heweweizen.

Yeast changed its fortune and made Widmer a household name with Portland Craft beer. In 2008 Widmer merged with the Redhook Brewery in Seattle to form the Craft Brewers Alliance. In 2013, CBA, which now includes Kona Brewing of Hawaii, sold a minority stake in Anheuser-Busch InBev.

The growth brought more investment and sales, but also some critics of the craft beer community Widmer was "sold out".

Turnover for the CBA, which now includes eight breweries and cideries, has remained relatively stable over the last decade, but Widmer is no longer the dominating brand in the group, handing it to Kona. 19659002] Kona's Longboard Island warehouse helped boost Hawaii's sales over 450,000 barrels last year. This success has led the CBA to begin building a $ 20 million brewery on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Meanwhile Widmer's turnover has steadily declined over the past decade, from nearly 300,000 barrels in 2010 to around 100,000 in 2018, a year in which it fell by 20 percent.

These figures led to a policy change in the CBA, which, according to the filing of the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2018, made Kona known as a national and global brand and focus the other breweries on their own regions. For Widmer and Redhook, that means strengthening their positions in the northwest.

"Understanding Widmer Brothers at this point is wrong," says Jeff Alworth, a Portland beer writer who plans to publish a book next week, "The Widmer Way," on the history of the brewery and the CBA. "It's the Craft Beer Alliance. CBA has this company and they have brands and they will look for brands that sell, not those that are not sold. Widmer goes back, so they do not get much attention.

"But they are not going anywhere. It would be crazy for the company to kill this brand.

New Initiatives

The Innovation Brewery in Widmer, North Portland is part of the plan to keep Widmer elated. The high-tech 10-barrel system was installed more than two years ago as part of a brewery-wide $ 10 million expansion. It's designed to replicate any recipe the crew dreams of in the experimental brewery across the street in the Grossbrauerei.

Of course, part of the plan was to put these experimental beers in the hands of customers. The tasting room for instant feedback. When the tasting room is closed, Widmer must work with local companies to bring the kegs to the taps for second-hand responses.

And that, says Alworth, is a problem.

"That's not going to get the feedback they need," he said in a recent interview. "No way will they place so much beer out there. There are 40 taps in the Widmer counter. It is clearly a demolition of the R & D model. That just brings up all kinds of red flags. "

Widmer closed the tasting room because he could not make a profit there, said Kevin Bland, Widmer's local marketing manager. The area is not very busy and with so many breweries and taps in Portland the competition is now tough.

"We see where there are opportunities and we see when there is a challenge," said Bland. "Widmer as a brand is fine. … But the future of the craft is that everyone can adapt. "

Widmer plans to use the room as the terminus for new public tours of his expanded brewery, where audiences can taste his innovation beers. It will also be available for charity events and community events, as well as for brewery employees.

The pH Experiment

The CBA has begun to develop new products in the Widmer Innovation Brewery. The pH experiment, an undertaking to create new drinks with a view to the new flavor, began in March and will launch its first product in the spring of this year: the Pre Aperitivo Spritz. The 6.6% alcohol volume beverage is described by the CBA as "a dry, botanical sparkling water with a herbaceous bitterness that remains unpleasantly faithful to a classic Italian aperitivo" (19659005), said Shannon Riggs, a PR representative for the CBA. Prepared with 1 gram of sugar and made from gluten-free cider, the drink represents a slightly less sweet version of a traditional Italian caffè cocktail.

The goal of pH Experiment is to reach $ 25 million by 2025 CBA achieved 2018 net sales of $ 206 million.

"Our goal is to sustainably and sustainably promote CBA," said Karmen Olson, general manager of pH Experiment. "We do this by combining the spirit and agility of an innovation startup with the muscles of a great craft brewer, working side-by-side with drinkers, retailers and wholesalers to bring products to market quickly, to hear feedback, iterations perform both and expand or fail quickly.

A date in August

Uncertainty in the brew is August 23, 2019, the deadline by which AB InBev has the opportunity to terminate its minority interest contract Buy the entire CBA.

What will happen is an open question.

"I suspect they will buy it," said author Alworth. "CBA has made decisions that would make AB InBev an attractive acquisition. The focus on Kona, the departure of Widmer and Redhook, the purchase of small regional breweries to give it regional diversity and potential growth, as well as investments in cider and pH make it a valuable asset as a company. "[19659005] And that could be bad for Widmer.

"If you are fully bought for Widmer, you are not 100,000 barrels from a 700,000-barrel brewery, but 100k from whatever," said Alworth, referring to AB InBev's Sales in 2017 were around 600 million barrels. "At this point, you're not a valuable asset in the business."

But AB InBev could also accept a passport. And that, Alworth said, would be invaluable to the city.

"People tend to focus on the Widmers becoming that big brewer associated with AB," said Alworth. "The truth was that the Widmers were always an integral part of the Portland beer scene.

" (Portland) started producing really good beer very early and had a lower tolerance for acceptable flavors in other cities, "continued Almer continued, "Widmer was responsible for this, and Widmer did free tests (lab tests) for the whole city … Their idea was that we would sell more beer in a more demanding city.

" When this brewery closes and the Lab closes and Kurt and Rob are no longer doing the partner project and somehow becoming invisible, you lose all that, "he said." There are a lot of things the Widmers have done to support Oregon Craft Beer, which is not so visible was, but is missing. "

Kurt Widmer is proud of this legacy – to make Portland a world-class beer city 19659005]" I hope the people he know that we have committed to brew high-quality beer, "he said. "And willing to experiment and dispose of things that we are not proud of. Over time, it pays off.

Andre Meunier

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