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Deschutes Brewery

Deschutes Brewery Turns Twenty-Five

Sasha Orman

On the eve of its twenty-fifth anniversary and in the midst of a craft beer boom, Deschutes Brewery stays true to its roots
Deschutes Brewery Turns Twenty-Five


2013 is destined to be a big year for Deschutes Brewery. Founded in June of 1988, the brewery is closing in on the twenty-five year mark – and what a quarter of a century it’s been. Ranked as the fifth largest craft brewery in the United States by the Brewers Association, Deschutes today is comprised of two brewpubs and a main production facility, and produces approximately 250,000 barrels of beer each year for distribution in twenty U.S. states and two provinces in Canada.
That’s a lot of growth for what started as a local brewpub in the small town of Bend, OR, and there’s still a lot of growing left to do. But despite all of it, Deschutes Brewery strives to maintain the ethics, ideals, and quality craft beer that have earned it the respect of fans and fellow brewers, year in and year out.
Dedication to the Community
“We started as a little restaurant concept, a little brewpub, and we began wholesaling the beer out of necessity and have grown that way,” says Gary Fish, Deschutes Brewery Founder and CEO. “Our original concept was designed around more of the classic European model – not the concept that evolved in the United States where you have dark, windowless places where old men are hunched over their cocktails. This was more where the tavern was the central meeting place in the village, a place where town meetings were held, where people got together and shared stories, where families could enjoy that environment as well, and where it really became the center of the community. When we first started, we wanted Deschutes Brewery to be thought of that way within the community of Bend – we didn’t think of ourselves beyond that boundary. In order to do that, we knew that we were going to be involved in the community. It’s been in our DNA from the very beginning.”
While the Deschutes Brewery of today is quite different to the Deschutes Brewery of 1988 in some respects, others never change – the brewery is still steadfastly dedicated to its ethos of community involvement. Through donating $1 per barrel sold to local and national charities and participating fundraisers through its cross-departmental community involvement committee, Deschutes has managed to contribute over $3 million to causes throughout its sphere of distribution. “With nearly 400 coworkers here, it’s really pretty cool that they all participate in these efforts as well,” says Fish. “It’s evolved far beyond the next level – it’s really multifaceted and has been part of our DNA from the beginning, and now it’s really gathering a lot of momentum moving into the future.”
Dedication to the Customer Experience
Of course, none of that community action could be possible without the foundation of a great product. Another part of Deschutes Brewery’s DNA that remains intact to this day is its willingness to experiment and offer craft beer fans a range of experiences.
“We’ve grown in really focusing on what’s in the bottle – it’s really about taste and the consumer experience when they drink the beer, rather than some kind of marketing spin,” says Fish. “We’ve worked very hard to make sure that the customers’ experience drinking the beer is really foremost in everything we do.”
That holds true for 2013 as well, with the brewery rolling out a host of seasonal and limited edition selections. Along with Fresh Squeezed IPA – a citra hop-filled addition to its Bond Street Series that’s been a brewpub favorite and is slated for wider release mid-year – Deschutes also has plans to launch new entries in its Reserve Series line and a series of collaborations with other craft breweries approaching the same milestone as Deschutes.
“We’ve got a whole series of projects around this Class of ‘88 concept,” says Fish. “There are a number of brewers that will all be turning twenty-five next year, and we’ve got four different collaborations that we’re working on there.” The Class of ’88 project kicks off with the release of a barleywine, the product of a collaboration with two other west coast craft breweries, fellow Oregonian Rogue Ales and North Coast Brewing Co. in Fort Bragg, CA. Beyond that lies further collaborative efforts with Chicago’s Goose Island , Cleveland’s Great Lakes Brewing Co., and Portland, ME-based brewpub Gritty McDuff’s, all due out this year.
Fish is also anticipating the launch of Black Butte XXV, the latest special edition imperial version of its flagship Black Butte Porter. “We’re still formulating what that beer is going to be,” says Fish. “But we’ve been producing it for five years, and have been using various special ingredients to help augment it, and aging it in whisky and wine barrels to really create a big time experience for consumers.”
A Place in a Growing Movement
It’s no secret that the craft brewing industry has exploded in recent years – but as a veteran for the better part of three decades, Fish is able to put it all in perspective. “You’ve got to remember, we now have 2,000 breweries that share only about six percent of the total market for beer – so we still have a long, long way to go.”
“I think what’s important is that this has not been about the breweries involved as much as it’s been about the consumer: no longer is it one-size-fits-all in consumer goods marketing, but now everybody is individualizing experiences to each consumer [and] the consumer is really directing their own individualized experiences,” says Fish, illuminating a movement not solely confined to the craft beer sector. “Where is the whole coffee thing going? How many coffee roasters are in your town? While Howard Schultz of Starbucks would probably beg to differ that there’s something remarkable going on here, I think the consumer is simply being presented with a better, more engaging, more interesting experience and they’re opting for that.”
“I think that’s a wonderful thing to say,” he adds. “I live in a small town – we operated here without a butcher shop for twenty-five years, and now we have two and a couple more underway. We’ve got seventeen small breweries and four wineries in an area that’s not known for growing grapes, and bakeries that never existed. We’ve got local cheesemakers. I think there’s a much larger movement going on here, and I couldn’t be more excited to be able to participate in that.”
Of course, any movement of this scale is bound to attract imitation and co-opting by larger forces, and the craft brewing scene is no different, but Fish isn’t too worried about what Deschutes Brewery needs to do to stand out against competition from the mainstream.  “Our ability to innovate and create new products that excite the customer and even, at times, challenge them is something that the large breweries aren’t really capable of,” he notes – in other words, sticking with the plan that has served Deschutes well so far. “I think what we can do is be ourselves.”
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