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Media Salon: The Business of Beer 

Bend's beer lovers talk economy, brewing and the beer bubble

There was a buzz in the room last Monday at the Source's "Business of Beer" Media Salon. And I'm not talking about the dizzy lightheadedness that comes after sipping a few locally made high alcohol-percentage craft brews. Broken Top Bottle Shop was shoulder to shoulder with brewers, beer aficionados and even city councilors proving that if you say "bikes" or "beer" in Bend, people will show up to your event.

The brewers were talking shop, checking their stock on the packed shelves of the bottle shop. One patron told a Source staffer that a crew of attendees were from a Craft Brewery Startup Workshop—a five-day class offered at OSU Cascades with the help of Eugene brewery, Ninkasi—that gives potential entrepreneurs the tools to design a business plan for their own brewery and brewpub. Beer education in the area is increasing along with our number of breweries. COCC's continuing education department is planning to offer education for brewing professionals to study for an international industry exam in the next year.

Could an upsurge in these educational programs mean more potential competition for the 21 craft breweries in Bend? What is the significance of beer in Bend's recovering economy? How much is too much, and when will the brewery bubble burst? Editor Phil Busse sat down with three experts, Roger Lee, director of Economic Development for Central Oregon; Dave Nissen, owner of Wanderlust Tours; and Dave Wilson, co-owner of Crux Fermentation Project to find out.

"This is serious stuff, it's driving the economy of the city," confirmed Lee. "Beer does well in bad times and good times. Just like everyone needs a haircut. The last recession will show not only in Central Oregon, but overall that the beer industry can power through."

Roger Lee, director of Economic Development for Central Oregon

PB: Are the breweries competitive?

RL: I don't see any fissures in Central Oregon. It's very collaborative. We haven't seen a limit to what people are willing to drink. The last five years this thing has exploded with the number of breweries going from handful to 21. It's catching on. It's a beer revolution, so to speak, and organizations like ours are out there to help make it happen. How many breweries have you seen start and fail? I can't think of one.

PB: Am I the only grown male in Bend who doesn't have his own brewery?

RL: There is a certain type of person that becomes a brewer. They're as different form each other from one neighbor to the next, but there is a common way of looking at crafting things. If you're putting out a quality product there is room for you in the marketplace. If you're going to slip by with your own easy formula, then it's probably not going to work for you.

Dave Nissen, owner Wanderlust Tours

PB: How did Wanderlust start doing beer tours?

DN: We thought, gosh, it would be awesome to go to the breweries and do a behind- -the-scenes trip. Wanderlust is all about natural and cultural history interpretation.

We said let's do a cultural gig here where we get behind the scenes. It's stunning how beer is made when you talk about all the stuff that goes into it. It's just dang interesting—and while you're talking about it, guests are sipping.

We have the ability to help market the breweries. You get 10 Barrel or Silver Moon or Boneyard and not everyone knows about them. If we can extend the knowledge that these guys exist and meet the folks of the brewing industry, that's building a bridge and those relationships are what makes Bend a solid community.

Dave Wilson, co-owner of Crux Fermentation Project

PB: Have you seen any trends in the craft brewing business?

DW: Better beer has won. We had a fallout about 12, 13, 14 years ago—craft was skyrocketing. There was no end in sight to how well it could do, and then it flat lined. The decline freaked some people out. I think it was because it was too early to have that kind of growth. The way you won is you just made good beer. There was a lot of bad beer out there. Now, that is not the case. There was a lot of really bad beer, and they couldn't sustain. They just lost.

PB: What about the beer bubble?

DW: There are 2,300 craft breweries in the country. That's less than 10 percent of the beer consumed. I think it's further than where we can reach. There's a camaraderie in the craft beer business because we haven't had to not get along. If I get a phone call from 10 Barrel or Boneyard I will answer any question I can, and they'll do the same for us. I hope 15 years from now we're still dong that. It's easy now because there is so much potential.

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