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How the Pfriems Built a Real Family Brewery

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- Busch, Coors, Miller, Pabst, Yuengling, Schlitz, Hamm, Stroh, Ballantine, Schell, Wiedemann, Blatz, Schaefer, Bell, Widmer.

For decades, beer drinkers have seen those names and thought of the beers in the cans and bottles emblazoned with them. They are all key pieces of the U.S. brewing legacy, but they're also the foundation for legacy brewing in the United States.

Forgive us if we sound like the crotchety old beer drinker, but we're just speaking the truth: In the earliest days of American brewing, brewers followed European tradition and gave their breweries the family's name with the intention of passing on their skills and business to ensuing generations.

Communities got a brewery and brewers they knew by name, while brewers got a family heirloom with a name that wouldn't require them to go to court and fight a copyright battle. Occasionally, those brewers would even name their beer after the style they brewed. When they didn't, they paid the price by waging long, drawn-out international spitting contests that continue to this day.

With few exceptions -- Larry Bell at Bell's in Kalamazoo, Mich., and Kurt and Rob Widmer at Widmer Brothers in Portland, Ore., for example -- craft brewers have generally shunned the family names associated with the light lagers of the past. Instead, they tend to favor regionally or thematically specific names designed to play to the emotions and tastes of the people drinking their beers.

That just wasn't going to work for Josh and Annie Pfriem, who opened their Pfriem Family Brewers in Hood River, Ore., in 2012. This is a couple for whom names and the stories behind them take precedence over almost all else. Their daughter, Sahale, is named for the 8,700-foot mountain in the Northern Cascades that the couple ascended on their first climb together. Their son, Watou, is named for the Belgian village in West Flanders that the couple and Sahale used as the center of their visits to the St. Bernardus, Van Eecke and Westvleteren Trappist breweries that helped inspire them to build their own facility.

Watou now occasionally helps his parents on the floor of a brewery that's brewing the Belgian styles of his namesake city and undergoing its third expansion after existing for little more than a year. The Pfriem brewpub that had a wait for tables during our late-morning Friday visit this month now has a play area for children in one of its far corners and a full city-built playground along the Columbia River waterfront just across the street.

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