The Class of ’88
Looking Back at a Quarter Century of Business, Beer and People
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.