The Class of ’88
Looking Back at a Quarter Century of Business, Beer and People
Fifty-six American breweries began operating in 1988. By necessity, 55 of them started small. That they all started 25 years ago was mostly coincidence. Noteworthy breweries opened in pretty much every one of the years before and after. But ultimately, as Goose Island Beer Co. founder John Hall put it, “It was a special year.”
One story about the 56th brewery that opened that year reveals how different the beer landscape was then. Anheuser-Busch announced it would build its 12th brewery in Fort Collins, CO, three years before it opened the $300 million plant in 1988. Plans called for a corporate tasting room that would face farmland to the east. That changed when company president August Busch III got a look at the blueprints. “He decided when he’s here tasting beer, he very much wanted to see the mountains,” said brewery manager Jack Carmichael. The tasting room was moved from a second-floor office to a room atop the building facing the Rocky Mountains.
Greg Noonan didn’t have that kind of money to start Vermont Pub & Brewery in Burlington. “It was mostly found items,” he said 10 years later, ticking off curious parts like a maple sap boiler, an ice cream maker, and a pig-lot feeder. Noonan’s was one of 44 brewpubs to open in 1988. Some, like his, remained small. Six of them grew into packaging breweries that ship their beer across the country and even around the world. Several others, again like Noonan’s, exerted outsize influence.
It was just the beginning for those breweries, of course. Now, a quarter-century later, drinkers across America have been treated to special 25th anniversary beers from the likes of Brooklyn Brewery, Rogue Ales, Deschutes Brewery, Great Lakes Brewing Co. and quite a few more.
Here now, All About Beer Magazine takes a look—often just a quick glance—at what happened to the class of 1988 in each of the years since. It turns out to be a story with equal parts business, beer and people.
By the numbers: At the end of 1987 there were 73 breweries operating that opened after Fritz Maytag bought Anchor Brewing in 1965, plus Anchor itself. Forty-four of the 55 small breweries that began selling beer in 1988 were brewpubs, compared with only 29 brewpubs total operating when the year started. A few of the startups did not even make it to 1989; others lasted as long as 20 years before closing. The two dozen small breweries that remain in business 25 years later will brew more than a million barrels of beer in 2013, while the A-B plant in Fort Collins makes 10 million.
Not long after Charlie and Ernie Otto founded Otto Brothers’ Brewing in western Wyoming, their father told them about growlers, the pails once used to haul beer home from taverns. Rather than use a similar open container to sell beer to go, Charlie added the brewery’s label to one-half gallon glass cider jugs, declaring it the first modern-day growler. Today liquor stores, grocery stores, even gas stations sell beer in glass-jug growlers. The Ottos moved the brewery to Idaho in 1998 and renamed it Grand Teton shortly after. Forgoing nostalgia, the brewery packaged its series of 25th anniversary beer in 750 mL bottles.
Wynkoop Brewing co-founder John Hickenlooper displayed his gift for promotion from the outset. To celebrate its second anniversary, Wynkoop hosted the first “Running of the Pigs,” prodding piglets borrowed from a local farmer to race around the block. The Denver tradition ended after 10 years and ongoing complaints from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
Rogue Ales moved into its third brewery, and its original name—Rogue River Brewing Co.—no longer seemed appropriate. The brewpub in Ashland, OR, at the headwaters of the Rogue River, made 200 barrels in 1988, and co-founder Jack Joyce and his partners wanted to sell more. They opened a brewpub in Newport in 1989, then moved the brewery into a former marine repair shop across Yaquina Bay. Rogue closed its Ashland pub after a flood in 1997 (now Caldera Brewing operates a taphouse in the location), but still operates 12 in all.
Brewmaster Mark Ruedrich and his partners discovered early on that they weren’t going to sell enough beer at a brewpub in an out-of-the-way town (North Coast Brewing in Fort Bragg, CA) to support themselves. Winning four medals at the 1992 Great American Beer Festival made Plan B, which included selling beer farther afield, easier to execute. They built a new brewery across the street from the original brewpub in 1994 with room to grow until production reached 50,000 barrels annually. That happened in 2012. So they figured out a way to make perhaps 90,000 barrels in the same space and began drawing plans for a new brewery, not at all sure if they’ll ever use them.
“A lot happens just by surviving. You have the opportunity to make good beer,” Ruedrich said. “Then you can try different things people haven’t done before.” That includes beers like Old Rasputin Imperial Stout and the Belgianesque PranQster that introduced drinkers, and often other brewers, to something different. Additionally, Brother Thelonious, first released in conjunction with the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, took craft beers to places such as jazz clubs and music festivals where it previously was not available.
An actual scene from the 12th Great American Beer Festival (GABF): A man collected a sample from Seabright Brewing, stepped back into a crowded aisle, took a drink, closing his eyes and smiling with obvious pleasure. A passerby in the aisle paused just long enough to comment, “Must be Seabright.” Seabright Brewing in Santa Cruz, CA, had won three medals the year before, and its Oatmeal Stout took gold in 1993. That beer has won five GABF medals itself, most recently in 2006. Seabright brewed about 1,000 barrels the year after it opened in 1988, and only six brewpubs in the country reported making more beer. Seabright brewed about 1,000 barrels in 2012, and 223 brewpubs made more.
Garrett Oliver went to work for Brooklyn Brewery.
Bend Brewing became the second brewery to open in the central Oregon city of the same name. By then Deschutes Brewery was making more than 30,000 barrels per year and had begun construction on a four-acre site less than 10 minutes from its original downtown brewpub. Deschutes brewed 255,000 barrels in 2012 and sells its beer in 22 states. There are now 20 breweries in the immediate region of Bend, which has grown from 12,000 residents in 1988 to more than 80,000 today.
“Once upon a time we thought we could just stop (growing),” said founder Gary Fish. Pouring Deschutes beer at GABF in 1993, Fish told more than one drinker, “Sorry, but we don’t have any plans to sell our beer in Colorado.” Deschutes gave its beers names like Mirror Pond, Black Butte and Obsidian, “for local landmarks which someone in Dallas or St. Louis probably can’t relate to very well,” Fish said. “So we’ve had to change the way we communicate and make part of our brand proposition about discovering this beautiful place in Oregon.”
Things were different in 1988. “Then you just wanted to get people to try the beer,” said John Harris, who wrote the recipes for, then brewed Black Butte, Mirror Pond and other beers Deschutes still makes today. His voice became absolutely plaintive, making his point. “Please try it, just try it.” Harris was brewing at McMenamins Hillsdale Brewery & Public House in Portland and writing a plan to start his own brewery before Fish offered him a job. He returned to Portland in 1992 to work for Full Sail Brewing, quitting 20 years later to finally open his own brewery, Ecliptic Brewing.
When the final tally is in, Ecliptic will be one of 450 or more breweries to open in 2013. Again, things were different in 1988, but Harris sees similarities as well. “There is so much out there now, a lot of people say you have to do something weird and wacky to get attention,” he said. “I think you still want to make a consistent, tasty beverage.”
Brewmaster Russell Schehrer, one of six original partners in Wynkoop Brewing, died on the eve of the Craft Brewers Conference (CBC) in Boston. Schehrer left active employment at Wynkoop in 1994 but remained a partner and consulted on multiple brewpub startups. He was living in Manhattan, advising Typhoon Brewery, when he suffered fatal injuries in a fall in his apartment.
The Association of Brewers (now the Brewers Association) presented John Maier of Rogue Ales with the first Russell Schehrer Award for Innovation in Brewing. It has honored a brewer at each CBC since. Maier is one of seven of them who worked, or still work, at breweries that opened in 1988. “Some day someone will win this award who didn’t know Russ,” John Harris accurately predicted a few years after he received the award himself. But chances are the newest honoree will have been influenced by more than one of the earlier recipients and the breweries they work for.
Firestone Walker brewmaster Matt Brynildson, the 2007 recipient, has traveled the world since he took his first brewing job at Goose Island, serving as a spokesman for American beer culture as well as hops. “I’m probably one of very few of Goose Island’s production brewers who can make the claim that (brewmaster) Greg Hall ‘taught me how to brew.’ And that experience then is about as valuable as it comes,” he said. “We literally were teaching ourselves how to brew based on Siebel (the brewing school next door to Goose Island) textbooks. We all learned together and stuck to the roots of brewing and took that knowledge to our respective places where we sit now in the brewing industry.”
Harris, Steve Parkes (British Brewing Co. in Maryland) and obviously Greg Noonan also brewed the first batches for 1988 breweries. Maier, Oliver, Brynildson, and Dick Cantwell (Big Time Brewing in Seattle) later worked at them.
The Oxford Brewing Co. brewed its last batch of beer, then sold the Oxford Class brand to Clipper City Brewing. Steve Parkes was brewing in his native England when he signed on as a partner in British Brewing. He put together the brewery equipment in England and had it shipped to the United States along with the ingredients to make beer for the next six months. “Nobody in America would sell us malt, sell us hops,” he said, a reminder of the challenges breweries faced in 1988. “Yeast was a nonstarter.” In fact, the first shipment of yeast arrived in personal luggage. “Even the littlest project could turn into a real kind of challenge,” Parkes said. He moved on to work for Humboldt Brews in California in 1992, and Oxford Brewing bought British Brewing shortly thereafter. Parkes later began teaching at American Brewers Guild, then eventually bought the guild. Although he worked as brewmaster at Otter Creek Brewing for eight years before opening his own brewery, Drop-In Brewing, in 2012, he said “my future is the school.”
In his television series, comedian Drew Carey made Buzz Beer in his garage, but occasionally featured Great Lakes Brewing products from his Cleveland hometown. When an episode of the show, usually filmed in California, was shot in Cleveland, Great Lakes co-founder Pat Conway bid for and won a walk-on part.
By the numbers: Deschutes Brewery produced 95,000 barrels, Gordon Biersch 60,237, Goose Island 41,270, Rogue 25,000, Great Lakes 17,878, and North Coast had not quite grown out of the “micro” category, which tops out at 15,000 barrels, by producing 14,825. Brooklyn Brewery, which began with an entirely different business model (more on that later), sold 29,100 barrels.
Pardon Pat Conway when he comes to the defense of his hometown Cleveland. He’ll point out the Cuyahoga River wasn’t the only large river in the world to catch fire, although that blaze on June 22, 1969, projected an entirely different image of the industrial city than its leaders wanted. The fire focused attention on a pollution problem far worse than previously acknowledged, and the publicity is credited with passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972 and even the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. Great Lakes Brewing started its Burning River Fest—which features music and educational presentations as well as beer—to raise money for the Burning River Foundation, which has donated more than $300,000 to cleaning up waterways.
Great Lakes, as well as Brooklyn Brewery, was at the center of a nationally syndicated article in July that brought attention to the role breweries have played in urban renewal. The story is not exactly new. Wynkoop received the 1997 National Preservation Honor Award from the National Trust not only for the role it played in reviving Denver’s LoDo neighborhood, but for turning historic building in five other cities into brewery restaurants as well. When brothers Dan and Pat and Conway opened their Great Lakes brewpub in the Ohio City Market District, the area was blighted and usually described as dangerous. Now it is the hottest neighborhood in Cleveland. “That didn’t happen in two years,” Pat Conway said. The revitalized West Side Market is right around the corner from the brewery, and in 2010 Great Lakes was among the partners that established the six-acre Ohio City Farm, one of the nation’s largest contiguous urban farms.
Planning began to renovate Colorado’s Durango Powerhouse into a children’s museum and Durango Discovery Museum, which eventually opened in 2011. Carver Brewing Co. raised donations of more than a half-million dollars for the project. Bill and Jim Carver were already running a bakery and café when they bought a defunct brewhouse out of Wisconsin in 1987, but they didn’t rush to get it up and running. Instead Wynkoop Brewing began serving beer two months before Carver and forever lays claim to being “Colorado’s first brewpub.”
Newspapers across the country ran the story when the Olympia brewery in Tumwater, WA, closed. The brewery was started in 1896 and still employed about 400 workers, with an annual payroll of $26 million. In contrast, it was strictly a local story when Bandersnatch Brewpub, home of the “Beer in Your Face” club, removed its brewing equipment after 15 years in operation.
Best estimate is that various members of the Santa Fe Brewing staff sealed almost 2 million bottles with a hand-operated one-at-a-time “Super Colonna” tabletop capper during 16 years before it was finally retired. The record was 47 cases in one hour. Capping was easier than labeling, which was also done by hand. “I don’t miss those days at all,” said owner Brian Lock. Santa Fe still brewed barely 1,000 barrels a year in 2003, but he estimates production would top 20,000 in 2013.
Santa Fe began operations on a Galisteo, NM, horse ranch using the original brewhouse from Boulder Brewing in Colorado. Boulder Brewing, of course, was initially located in a goat shed near Longmont. “For Mike [Santa Fe founder Mike Levis] it was more of a hobby, about having fun,” Lock said. He and three partners moved the brewery into Santa Fe in 1996, and after he bought them out, he built a new facility in 2004. That may be too small by 2015, but he’s learned one thing from the company’s history: “25 years out is kind of hard to project.”
Brooklyn Brewery co-founders Steve Hindy and Tom Potter held nothing back in writing Beer School: Bottling Success at The Brooklyn Brewery. They laid out their very different business plan: selling beer made under contract and distributing beer from other breweries as well as their own. Theirs wasn’t the only brewery to do either, but few were as successful at both. Brooklyn built its own brewery in 1996, two years after hiring Garrett Oliver, allowing him to design it while overseeing growing contract production at F.X. Matt in upstate New York.
Brewer John Maier’s black lab, which grew up in Rogue Ales’ Newport, OR, brewery, died. Rogue began Brewer’s Memorial Ale Fest the next year, the “Largest Dog Beer Festival in the World.”
John Hickenlooper, who successfully ran for Denver mayor in 2003, sold his share of Wynkoop Holdings, which operated seven Denver restaurants, to his employees for $5.8 million. Hickenlooper became governor of Colorado in 2010, and profiles in publications such as The New York Times and The New Yorker magazine hint he could be bound for a still higher office.
One result of a short-term worldwide hop shortage in 2007 was that Rogue Ales got into the farming business. Rogue initially leased a 42-acre operating hop farm about 80 miles from its Newport brewery, then struck a deal to grow a portion of its own barley at a ranch to the north. “This is about the Rogue experience,” company president Brett Joyce said a few years later at the hop farm, by then a popular destination. He gestured toward a field where pumpkins were growing and talked about bees the company keeps. He is not afraid to use the word terroir, a term more often associated with wine, when discussing ingredients from Rogue’s farms. “We believe origin matters. I don’t think consumers view beer as an agricultural product,” he said.
In 2012 Rogue collected yeast samples from the farm, hoping to find a unique strain brewmaster John Maier might use in a beer. White Labs in San Diego determined none were suitable. On a lark, follicles from John Maier’s beard were also sent to San Diego, and this time White isolated a strain that Maier used in a Belgianesque golden ale appropriately named Beard Beer.
Because he chose to keep the fact he had cancer private, the news in October that Greg Noonan had died was nearly as shocking as Schehrer’s death 13 years before. His influence included almost every aspect of brewing. Brewing Lager Beer: The Most Comprehensive Book for Home—and Microbreweries was the first book from Brewers Publications and a guidebook for those opening small breweries in the 1980s and 1990s. He founded the Vermont Pub & Brewery in Burlington in 1988 with his then-wife, Nancy, after spending three years lobbying the Vermont legislature to legalize brewpubs. He brewed a Tibetan chang beer, and he smoked his own malt over local woods. He provided perspective few others could.
Ten years before the Brewers Association put a definition of “craft brewer” to a membership vote, Fred Eckhardt devoted a column in this magazine in 1977 to examining “what the ‘craft’ in craft beer means.” Vince Cottone used that term and related ones in an article for The New Brewer magazine in 1984, and later described it rather specifically in his Good Beer Guide: Breweries and Pubs of the Pacific Northwest. Eckhardt sought input from a range of industry members. He left the last words to Noonan.
Noonan put the matter of size in a different context, telling Eckhardt, “Craft brewed (should) mean pure, natural beer brewed in a nonautomated brewery of less than 50-barrel brew length, using traditional methods and premium, whole, natural ingredients, and no flavor-lessening adjuncts or extracts, additives or preservatives.” Noonan never chose to expand Vermont Pub & Brewery. He helped start two other brewpubs, but stepped away from them rather than give up hands-on, day-to-day brewing. Several months before he died, he talked about the simple joy of feeling free to experiment. Size, or lack of it, allowed him that. Asked if, considering advances in modern technology, he still thought a 50-barrel brew length represented the high end of an ideal range, he did not hesitate. “Some friends and I have been talking about that,” he said, inserting a dramatic pause. “We decided it should be 35.”
Columbus Brewing Co., which shares a name and a building in the city’s historic Brewery District with a separately owned restaurant, grew into a 2,000-barrel brewery much more quickly than Santa Fe, but little at all for almost 15 years. Since brewer Eric Bean completed negotiations to buy the business, sales have more than tripled, to about 10,000 barrels in 2013. Not surprisingly, the numbers of breweries in the region has also grown threefold, to 15.
Anheuser-Busch bought Goose Island Beer Co. in a deal worth about $38 million. Founder John Hall remained as chief executive, although he since retired, and his son and brewmaster, Greg, stepped down, later announcing he would start Virtue Cider in Michigan. Goose Island brewed about 127,000 barrels of beer in 2010. A-B soon began to make the most popular Goose Island brands—such as 312 Urban Wheat Ale, Honker’s Ale and India Pale Ale—at other A-B breweries, while increasing production of most esoteric brands in Chicago. Goose Island sold 208,000 barrels in 2012, and midway through 2013 sales of brands like 312 and Honker’s were up 40 to 60 percent over the previous year.
In February, Hopmonk Tavern founder Dean Biersch hosted a brewer’s dinner in Sonoma, CA, that featured beers from North Coast Brewing. It was the first time he and Mark Ruedrich had gotten together since the 1986 Craft Brewers Conference in Portland, when both knew they wanted to start a brewery and neither could be sure they would. Biersch met Dan Gordon the next year, and they gave their soon-to-be-brewpubs (and later a packaging brewery) a name that forever had people asking, “Who is Gordon Biersch?” The packaging brewery opened in 1997, and they sold their interest in the still-expanding restaurant group in 1999. Gordon continues to oversee the brewery in San Jose. Biersch moved to Sonoma, opening his first Hopmonk Tavern in Sebastopol then two more nearby. Each offers an expansive beer list, but of course the Hopmonk house beers are brewed by Gordon Biersch.
At the beginning of the year Brooklyn Brewery announced it would build a brewery in Sweden in partnership with D. Carnegie & Co. and Carlsberg Sweden. It turns out that Sweden is Brooklyn’s second-biggest market, behind only hometown New York. A brewery in Sweden was not in the original business plan. But then neither did North Coast Brewing expect to become the official beer sponsor of the Monterey Jazz Festival nor did Rogue Ales anticipate selling beer in all 50 states and 32 countries.
Garrett Oliver still brewed beer at home in 1988, the year before he began his professional career at Manhattan Brewing in New York. He spoke candidly in his keynote speech at the European Beer Bloggers Conference in July about “fronting”—when a new brewery, or brewer, presents itself as something it may expect to be, but isn’t yet. There is no substitute for time. “But you haven’t got it, you haven’t got it yet, not five years in, not 10 years in, let me tell you, not 15 years in,” Oliver said. “Only now, after 20-some-odd years am I getting anywhere near being the brewer that I’ve wanted to be, that I said I was.”
The breweries that began operating in 1988 enjoyed different successes at different times since, but in retrospect it turns out they were, again in Oliver’s words, “becoming what it is they wanted to be.”
Stan Hieronymus, a contributor to All About Beer Magazine for 20 years, is the author of several books on beer and brewing. The most recent, For the Love of Hops (Brewers Publications), deals with all aspects of one of beer’s essential ingredients.