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Craft Brew Founder Widmer Savors Results

You served as a judge at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver a few weeks back. What did you see there that impressed you?

Widmer: This year there were 4,000 beers entered and just walking the hall, there was an incredible variety of beer. There's certainly a lot of beers that are really hot, but I would just walk up to random tables and the quality of the beer is really amazing, and that's one of the things that struck me. I've participated as a judge for 10 years now and way back you'd go through and there might be some clinkers, but now, my god, the level of the beer and the quality of the beer is so incredible.

Kurt and I have always been really focused on the quality of our beer, but it's about trying to do our interpretation of beer style. It started with hefeweizen back in '86 and we continue to work with experimental hops. We've used a lot of unconventional ingredients: prickly pear, rose hips, one of our latest beers uses muscat grape juice. I just see a lot of other brewers doing that.

Looking at beers such as your Rotator IPA and Brew Masters series, the creative spark is still there. How do you maintain it over the decades?

Widmer: I think it's kind of inherent. Kurt and I started out as homebrewers. We loved beer and brewing, and that's just part of the DNA of someone who picks up that hobby.

You're not quite satisfied with what's available so you go down the path of doing your own thing. The hallmark of craft brewing has been to break the rules and push the envelope, and that's just who we are.

Is it odd to walk around, see other brewers' take on the American hefeweizen and know you and your brother started that variety?

Widmer: We always talk about the serendipity of our early years, and being born Portlanders was a great thing. Portland was a great place to start a brewery in the mid-'80s, and then doing our interpretation of German-style hefeweizen kind of put us on the map. That was the first cloudy beer that beer drinkers had seen, and it was probably the first cloudy beer in more than 100 years in the U.S. I never forget how special that beer is.

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