The term "beer bubble" gets tossed around a bunch—a concept that, like the housing boom that's affected Bend for the past several years, translates into the economic equation that the market here is filling up too quickly with hot air and promises, and will soon burst.
But really, the evidence is quite to the contrary.
The thoughtful beer drinker needs only to look at recent expansions, upgrades and new openings as proof: In the past year alone, at least eight new (and already successful) breweries have opened (or will soon) in Central Oregon. Additionally, Deschutes Brewery, the grandfather of Bend's brewing family and the patriarch of American craft brewing, is planning a nearly $50 million expansion—the biggest growth spurt in its 25-year history. And, over the last few months, Boneyard Beer also has expanded and should be on track to produce nearly double the amount of beer it made last year. Similarly, in the last two weeks, GoodLife Brewing Co. has added enough new brew tanks to potentially triple production in 2014. Nine months ago, 10 Barrel Brewing opened a brewpub in Boise, and after just one year, Worthy Brewing is investing heavily in experimental beers and its Willamette Valley-based hop-growing operation.
Beer bubble? Hardly.
Tony Lawrence, Boneyard co-owner and brewmaster, points out two reasons for Bend's continued brewing success: Firstly, "Beer from Bend has a great reputation," Lawrence says, which translates into a strong reputation and market, both locally and regionally.
The second reason for Bend's healthy brewing economy is the easy access.
"You know what's really exciting about this industry right now?" Lawrence asks. "All the growler filling stations. The more opportunities the consumer has to participate, the better."
Right again. Growler filling stations are popping up across the state in grocery stores, gas stations and even as stand-alone businesses. Lawrence also points out that with so much specialization—from Ale Apothecary's funky, artisanal brews, to Bend Brewing Company's locals-vibe restaurant pub, to Crux Fermentation Project's bold, often Belgian inspired beauties—Bend's beer market remains fairly diverse.
"There's a lot of different ways to do business," Lawrence says.
Whatever the reason, Bend's brewing community continues to expand at an intoxicating rate.
GoodLife, for one, planned for expansion from the start and thus had plenty of room for the two new 240-barrel tanks,* 130 barrel lagering tank and canning line—all of which were installed within recent weeks.
"A lot of breweries have been running into great growth but not having anywhere to go," says GoodLife sales manager Chris Nelson. For GoodLife and its cavernous brewery, however, space was hardly an issue.
Among the GoodLife upgrades is a new, in-house canning line that should be up and running this week (the brewery previously employed the services of a Portland-based mobile canner). The goal, according to Nelson, is to use two of the new tanks for canning and bottling, which would open up the remaining tanks for specialty batches and seasonals. And, for the first time, bottled seasonal releases. Nelson also reports that GoodLife is kicking off a barrel-aging program and that Mountain Rescue Pale Ale will soon join Sweet As and Descender IPA in cans.
"It'll be nice to showcase some different beers," Nelson says. "It's going to be a big year for us."
Previously, GoodLife had the capacity to brew 12,800 barrels per year. In 2012, the west side Bend brewery made just 3,100 barrels and last year it bumped up to 9,000 barrels. Nelson says the new equipment should allow GoodLife to make up to 27,000 barrels of beer in the coming years.
In an effort to keep up with its outrageous demand, Boneyard has been steadily and quietly expanding its brewing capabilities as well. In recent months the modest brewery, popular for its exceptional IPA and distinctive junkyard style, opened up a second production facility—a 15,000-square-foot space in the Empire Business Park area north of town. Lawrence says Boneyard is committed to making righteous beers and has no plans to open a pub or restaurant, though the brewmaster hopes to introduce his kegged beer into the Seattle market later this year.
Boneyard's expansion, which includes a lovely, old-world style copper kettle and equipment acquired from Yakima's Grant's Brewery Pub (founded by Bert Grant in 1982, the Washington brewery is considered to be the first in the U.S. since prohibition), will more than double Boneyard's brewing capacity. For reference, in 2013 Boneyard brewed 15,000 barrels. But in 2014 Lawrence hopes to produce 27,000 barrels. In the years to come, when the new facility is operating at full tilt, Boneyard's total brewing ability will approach the 40,000-barrel mark.
*A Note about Beer Barrels
One barrel=two kegs. One keg=15.5 gallons =124 pints
(That's nearly 250 pints per barrel.)
Oregon Breweries' Economic Impact
-Oregon's brewing companies employ 6,400 full and part-time employees—up 900 jobs over 2011.
-There are currently 137 brewing companies, operating 175 brewing facilities in 59 cities in Oregon.
-Total economic impact from the beer industry is $2.83 billion for Oregon's economy. It employs 29,000 people.
-Oregonians consumed 2.79 million barrels of beer in 2012
-Oregon's brewers made 1.29 million barrels of beer in 2012, up 11% over 2011
-It's estimated that 47% of all draft beer consumed in Oregon is brewed in Oregon
Source: Oregon Brewers Guild, oregoncraftbeer.org