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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

File Under "Things Have Changed"

I spent a couple hours with founding BridgePort brewer Karl Ockert yesterday afternoon talking about his first 25 years in the business. Although BridgePort already celebrated its 25th Anniversary, it is really just coming up--they sold their first beer in Novermber 1984. That anniversary is significant not only for BridgePort, but also for Oregon craft brewing. We have come to the top of a mountain, and it's a nice opportunity to look back and see how high we've come.

In service of this theme, here's a teaser from the interview. It goes to show how things have changed. Karl has just returned from a trip to Europe, and when we were talking about America's status, he offered this insight.
"[T]he brewing world used to completely dismiss American hops—and now those American aromatic hops are highly sought after by brewers from all over the UK. The ones in Europe are a little bit stuck because they’ve really painted themselves into a corner—this is what pilsner tastes like. This is the problem with lager beers; they’re so well-defined. When you make a pilsner, everyone knows exactly what it should taste like. When you start putting Cascades and Amarillos and Simcoes in there, it’s not a pilsner anymore—it’s something weird. You better call it an ale at that point, because nobody’s going to know what it is.

"I went to Schneider Brewery a couple weeks ago and the lab guy was showing us through, and he absolutely loves this kind of stuff. I sent him a case of our IPA, our Hop Harvest, and our Hop Czar. I just got an email back from him and he said, “Oh my God, this stuff is just great—it’s like nectar. Right now we’re all sipping your Hop Czar, and it’s like nectar.” They can’t get that [kind of beer].

"[In 1984] we were copying their beers. I think the future of craft brewing in America is that we’re in the driver’s seat. We’re not in the back seat trying to copy someone else. It’s fun to see."
It's a little mind-boggling to think of the men at Scheider tippling a Northwest beer. I have had a similar reaction to Schneider Weisse, but I never expected the reverse to be true. Goes to show the importance of local culture in producing beer. Twenty five years and they're enjoying BridgePort in Bavaria!

1 comment:

Mark said...

Any of us who have been around long enough, drinking Bridgeport and some of the other founding brewery's output, can take some warm pride in what Karl has experienced. He should be proud. And, I'm glad the old world is enjoying some new world brew.
While there is a dizzying amount of experimentation going on here and elsewhere in the states with all kinds of brewing, I think it's worth remembering that it's not just the variety that's important. It's how well a brewery does over time. It's all relative. Bridgeport, whom I admire on so many levels, has a fine history. But, no brewery, Schneider or any other, can be disappointed about having a product that's been enjoyed for centuries. There's something in that firm establishment of a style and its popularity over a very long time.

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