Any piece that highlights the personalities behind the beers is a good piece, but I'm a little surprised by the choices. When you think of "redefining" a market, you think of breweries that are setting new courses either in terms of the beer they make or the way they affect the market. Gansberg is an obvious choice for redefining beer choices, and Ninkasi has demonstrated how to storm the market, Hopworks and Widmer--while they make fantastic beer--seem to be charting quite familiar courses. (To my great shame, I've never visited Bend Brewing, and the beers I've tried are the few that have made it west.)
If I were to offer a list, it would look something like this (as usual, I can't keep the list to five):
- Gansberg. The troubadour of sour is definitely trying to make inroads into hop central.
- Floyd. He's shown that you can build a 20,000-barrel brewery by dominating a local market and selling in 22s of uber-hopped ale.
- Alex Ganum, Upright. So far, this wee brewery is only making an impression among the beer geeks, but it has a chance to be the new millennium's Hair of the Dog--a brewery that challenges traditional views about what beer is, garners lots of press and awards, and slowly, slowly, begins to affect local tastes.
- Nick Azner, Block 15. Nick's beers aren't out of the mainstream like Ganum's and Gansberg's, but they raise the bar on what we consider good beer. He just recently completed a trip to Belgium, and it's likely that we'll see him charge out into new territory. I'll be watching to see if he creates Belgian-inspired beers that remain within the Northwest's palate or instead joins Alex and Ron.
- Jack Harris/Chris Nemlowill, Fort George. Much like Ninkasi, Fort George is trying to build a larger small brewery outside of Portland. They are expanding and adding a canning line, and it will be interesting to see if they build a regional power on the North Coast.
- Ted Sobel, Brewer's Union. At the moment, Ted sells almost all of his very small production to the good folks in remote Oakridge. But as the pied piper for cask ale, his influence could ultimately generate enough excitement to support a niche for authentic cask ale, something Oregon really hasn't embraced.