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PORTLAND, Ore. ( MainStreet) -- Craft beer is still a fairly young concept, but craft beer's old timers are savoring the growth of a sector they helped create.
When Rob Widmer and his brother Kurt founded
Widmer Brothers Brewery(HOOK) in 1984, craft beer was in its infancy and macros such as
Coors(TAP - Get Report) weren't just dominating the market, they
were the market.
Boston Beer's(SAM - Get Report) Jim Koch had just brewed his first batches of Samuel Adams Boston Lager in his kitchen. Ken Grossman and Paul Camusi were producing 25 to 30 barrels of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale a week using hand-me-down farm equipment. Fritz Maytag was producing just about 1,000 barrels of his Anchor Steam beer a year.
Rob Widmer helped create a whole sector as Widmer Brothers Brewery co-founder and Craft Beer Alliance stakeholder.
American beer offerings at the time were so limited that when the Widmer brothers brewed a hefeweizen for Portland's Dublin Pub in 1986, it was called the first hefeweizen brewed in the U.S. That same year, the brothers' brewery unwittingly became the first in America to offer seasonal beers when it added a fall Festbier -- somewhat akin to an Oktoberfest beer -- to their lineup of Altbier, Weizenbier filtered wheat beer and hefeweizen.
Two years later, the brothers hooked up with Bridgeport Ales and Portland Brewing to start the Oregon Brewer's Festival. Today it draws more than 80 breweries and 70,000 attendees a year as the largest outdoor brewing festival in the country and the Widmer Brothers produce more than dozen varieties each year, ranging from their original hefeweizen and Okto Festival Ale to a hopped barley wine and a rotating experimental IPA.
Widmer Brothers' production has fermented over the past 27 years to 277,200 barrels in 2010. Their overall business operations have expanded as well after merging with longtime East Coast distribution partner Red Hook Brewery to form the Craft Brewers Alliance in 2007. As part of the deal, Anheuser-Busch InBev took a 32.2% stake in the company in return for help with distribution; the Widmer brothers maintained an 18% stake.
This drove the craft beer geeks out of their hop heads and certainly wasn't helped when former Alliance partner Fulton Street Brewing, makers of the Goose Island brand that is still brewed at some Alliance facilities, outright sold A-B InBev a controlling stake in operations this year. Even before the sale, certain small-brewer organizations considered the Widmers and their Alliance partners tainted by the A-B connection and refused to identify them as "craft."
We had a chance to speak with Rob Widmer about his history in craft beer, the state of the industry he helped create and why he doesn't listen when craft-beer-come-latelies question his credibility: