Who brewed these 25 beers over the last 10 years: Hallucinator, Snow Plow Milk Stout, English Brown, Belgian Dubbel, Belgian Wit, La Vie, Bermuda Schwartz, Pre-Prohibition Lager, Steel Bridge Porter, HB25, Hop Nation, Fearless Scotch Ale, Sled Crasher, Moore Fearless Maibock, Saul’s Stout, Saison Christophe, Alpenhorn Vienna Lager, Hopnosis, Zephyr, Lagerhead Pilsner, Big C Stout, Ember Ale, Continuum Brown, Rawkin Bock and Cascadian Dark Ale?
Homebrewers are still the cutting edge in much of today’s brewing accomplishments.
Give up? These are all “Collaborator” commercial beers, designed by Oregon Brew Crew homebrew club members here in Portland, OR. All were part of a 10-year program by Widmer Brewing Co. The Collaborator Project was started in the spring of 1997 by Widmer brothers Kurt and Rob, both Oregon Brew Crew members long before they formed their very successful craft brewing company in 1984. Now theirs is the 18th largest U.S. brewery, and one of America’s top five craft breweries.
The Oregon Brew Crew (the largest homebrew club in the Northwest) was formed in 1979, shortly before homebrewing was legalized that year under President Jimmy Carter, against strong Republican opposition.
In 1979, there were only 87 brewing establishments in all of our country and industry predictions were that by 1990, only 40 breweries would remain operating in the United States. The craft brewing industry was in its infancy. Only six tiny brewing enterprises called themselves “micro” brewers. The Federal beer tax had been reduced for those producing less than 10,000 barrels (310,000 gallons) annually.
Widmer was the 28th of these fledgling microbreweries to be established across the country (only 12 of that group are still in business today). Seventeen of those first 28 were founded by homebrewers! Homebrewers have been, and remain, a strong force in American brewing. We need only look to what the “macro” brewers were about to see how homebrewers saved them from their folly, and rescued the traditional European brewing countries from following in the footsteps of America’s brewing giants. We put taste back into beer and they’ve never even had the courtesy to thank us.
A Touch of History
At that time—the 1980s and 90s—the Bud-Coors-Millers group was busy dumbing down their products by brewing beers with ever lower taste-color profiles. The innovative beer of that era was so-called “light” beer: colorless and nearly tasteless, marketed to weight watchers to make them feel good about their drinking and help them lose weight, it never even came close to that noble aspiration. What it did do was remove taste, as well as calories, from the beer. One could drink several bottles of this stuff, and never take note of its impact on sobriety.
For the true drinking classes of that period, there was malt liquor with over five percent in alcohol content. That stuff was basically light beer on steroids. There was never enough taste to warn the drinker about the effect of this relatively strong alcohol content. One could get pretty drunk in a relatively short time, and never notice until it was too late and the drinker was face-down in the gutter; but he could take comfort in the fact that he hadn’t had to actually taste the stuff. (Yes, it was usually a “he,” since women were generally more careful of their intake, even of tasteless alcohol beverages. Their mothers had warned them, but of course, men seldom actually listened to their mothers’ warnings.)