Craft Brew Founder Widmer Savors Results
How much does Portland itself help your brewing? Does being in a town that's already a great incubator for craft beer and breweries aid the creative process?
Widmer: It's fun to just do a little bit of a pub crawl here in Portland and be exposed to all kinds of unusual brewing techniques, styles and ingredients. We [recently] had the Fresh Hop Tastival and we're kind of uniquely positioned here where, within eight hours of getting our hops from the field, we are using them and all of our other Portland breweries are doing the same.
You've lived and brewed so close to a source of great hops for so long. Is it difficult to step outside the comfort zone and brew with perhaps not-so-fresh hops from other sources?
Widmer: We work with a fourth-generation hop grower and others here in the Willamette Valley, but we have no problem working with hop varieties from New Zealand and Europe.One of the [advantages] we have, because we've been doing it so long, is that we're usually first in line when there's a new variety. Something that's not widely known -- and I'll put a plug in for my old alma mater, Oregon State University -- is that a lot of the really famous aroma hops like Cascade came out of OSU, and we work real closely with their ag department and their brewing department. We've had a lot of fun with different projects over the years. They've made our X-114 and X-369. It's got that Cascady, citrusy character, and I just love the pine and the grapefruit and the tangerine flavor, but there are these interesting hops like the Nelson hops we got out of New Zealand that are melony and berrylike. Hop growers are excited to go down that path after there wasn't demand for those distinctive flavors for a while. Seasonal beer wasn't a tool for the industry until your brewery came along. Now that we've hit fall and the Oktoberfest and pumpkin beers, what has it been like for you to watch that seasonal approach evolve? Widmer: We like to remind people that we were the first U.S. brewery to offer four seasonal beers a year. Some of our beers we won't change, like our Oktoberfest has been basically the same since we started brewing it and that season has been very easy for people to get. You don't have to do too much explaining. When you say "Oktoberfest," people picture beer halls and boots of beer and pretzels and things. Our winter seasonal has changed a couple of times over the years and that's our most popular season. There's a joke that the winter beers start popping up here in August.
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