Laurelwood Brewing to Contract Out Production for 12oz Bottles

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UPDATED 6/18 12:01pm with comments from owner Mike DeKalb at the bottom.

Portland-based Laurelwood Brewing has long been a popular family brewpub staple, but owner Mike DeKalb is finally realizing a dream to put the brewery’s beer into many more mouths by contracting brews out to Craft Brew Alliance, makers of Widmer, Kona, RedHook, and Omission brands. With the new deal many of the brewery’s staples will see regular production in 12oz bottles. The small Laurewlwood brewpub chain has experienced its ups and downs, like the closure of both the NW location and the Laurelwood Pizza Co. Recently, though, the brewery has been experiencing a renaissance of beers with the addition Brewmaster Vasilios Gletsos to the team. Will these new changes affect consumers’ feelings on the brand?




“We were looking to expand on our terms,” says De Kalb. “We didn’t want to change our line-up or the fact we are a Portland business by selling shares to outside interests. Instead, we found a way to increase our production and keep Laurelwood a locally-owned, independent company.”

Contracting with Craft Brew Alliance, Laurelwood is set to increase its production by as many as 15,000 barrels a year, making it finally possible to package Laurelwood beers in 12 ounce glass bottles. With the rise of production, there will be a few change,s but we have been  assured the quality will be the same. Among those changes is the once-flagship Free Range Red, Laurelwood’s first organic beer, will now no longer be organic. Unconfirmed rumors also suggest that the current best-selling Workhorse IPA’s recipe will change due to hop availability and CBA’s existing hop contracts not accounting for specific varieties key to Workhorse. That change alone, I am sure, will stir some controversy, as the last time the beer was temporarily discontinued and returned, some claimed it had changed for the worse.



One thing is for sure–CBA has high standards and I am sure the quality of Laurelwood’s beers will, if anything, go up due to even better equipment and access to Widmer’s laboratory. Also, consumers will certainly be overjoyed to finally be able to purchase their favorite Laurelwood beer in a 12oz bottle or six-pack for home. Moreso, we may see larger production runs and bottling of popular one-offs like the recent Megafauna Imperial IPA

The question I am left asking is why Laurelwood did not simply open its own larger production brewery rather than contract out. It makes sense to contract out if you’re trying to expand distribution to further reaches, i.e. some of New Belgium beers produced at Elysian in Seattle and vice versa to cut shipping costs and increase freshness. CBA’s breweries are all largely in the Pacific Northwest, though.

Stay tuned for a follow-up with more info from Laurelwood owner Mike DeKalb.

UPDATE:

I followed up with Mike DeKalb via email with a couple questions. First among them was why Laurelwood is not opening up it’s own production brewery as others like Amnesia, Breakside and Alameda have done recently. His explanation is they don’t have the cash and don’t want to take on an investor who would want to change the brand. All relevant but then it makes you wonder how the previously mentioned breweries did it. I think the answer is that Laurelwood wants to go even bigger than they have.

As you can see from the release we wanted to do this on our terms. We’ve had offers from investors, but they all came with that lack of control thing. We also didn’t want someone from out of state trying to tell us how to brew beer. Who better to work with than people I’ve know for 20 years. Yes I managed the. Widmer pub at the Portland Airport years ago,” said mr. Dekalb.

On Workhorse recipe changing the answer is yes but it appears they have been gearing up for this for awhile:

 Not sure if you get out brews letter updates, but we’ve actually been brewing different versions of Workhorse in the pubs for several weeks. We feel they with all the new hops coming into the brewing scene that we need to be on the cutting edge. Workhorse Galaxy and Workhorse Eldorado were both well received. We threw some Citra hops in both I believe. Vasili is a wizard in the brewing world. Many positive comments from the customers on being innovative.”

What beers will CBA be brewing?

initially we will brew Free Range Red and Workhorse. In the spring we’ll come out with Portlandia Pils. These will be available in 6 packs and cases as well. ” 

On expanding distribution:

“We are going to penetrate deeper into the Oregon- Washington market, expand to Idaho and then see where it takes us after that.”
 

Founder of The New School and most frequent contributor Ezra Johnson-Greenough has worked in the craft beer industry for almost 10 years, doing everything from illustrating beer labels to bartending at renowned beer bars and breweries like Belmont Station, Apex, Laurelwood and Upright Brewing. He has also had a hand in creating events like the Portland Fruit Beer Festival, Portland Beer Week, and the Brewing up Cocktails series. He is available for freelance consultation in marketing, events, graphic design and branding. Contact: SamuraiArtist@NewSchoolBeer.com

5 Comments

  1. Bill Night

    June 18, 2013 at 4:19 pm

    As a dyed-in-the-wool cheapskate, I applaud the move to six-packs.

    But I’m not sure I can abide a change to Free Range Red. I love that stuff, and while I had kind of forgotten that it was “organic”, it makes me nervous to think of changing the ingredients. Guess I better drink up the current revision while I can.

  2. Anonymous

    June 19, 2013 at 7:51 pm

    Will the six-packs come with a toy?

  3. Anonymous

    July 26, 2013 at 10:38 pm

    I first had Workhorse on draft at the Boiler Room in the summer of 2010 while on vacation in Portland. I was blown away and it immediately went straight to the top three on my list of favorite beers. My friend that lives in the area even shipped me a case of bombers a few months later. I was in heaven! Over two gallons of this incredible beer only a few steps to the fridge away.

    Fast-forward to fall of 2012. I’d known Workhorse had been on extended hiatus (Simcoe shortage, I believe), but had been recently reintroduced. Just in time for my trip! I made it a point to get to the Sandy pub post-haste as they weren’t bottling it again yet. I was completely deflated after a few sips – my beloved Workhorse was a shell of its former self. Gone was the massive piney flavor and beautiful floral aroma. Honestly, the entire flavor profile was different. Fortunately, I was able to console myself with the seriously amazing fresh-hop Portlandia Pils.

    A couple months later, Workhorse was available through (the now defunct) Beer Jobber. In bitter denial, I ordered a mixed Laurelwood case that included four bottles of Workhorse. I wish I could say my palate was just malfunctioning that day in the pub, but alas, the experience was essentially the same. Womp. The Portland Roast Espresso Stout was excellent, so it wasn’t a total loss.

    I’ll be back in Portland in a couple months, and I’ll certainly give it another shot. Hopefully the six-packs will make their way to California, I’d love to see what the CBA version is all about.

    TL;DR: Post-Kennedy Workhorse is NOT the same. It’s not a bad beer, but it certainly isn’t the mind-blowing, palate-warping beer it once was.

  4. Aaron

    October 6, 2013 at 6:36 pm

    It might be interesting to do a follow up to this story now that the 6 packs are on store shelves. Perhaps Vasili or Mike would be willing to talk about the process of recreating their well known and loved recipes using slightly different ingredients and a new brew system. And in general how are things working out with the contract brewing?

    I’ve tried the Free Range Red and Workhorse and enjoyed both, but it’s been awhile since I’d had the original versions. I’d be curious to hear what someone like Bill Night thinks of the new versions compared to the originals.

    • Bill Night

      March 3, 2014 at 11:04 pm

      Bought a six-pack of the Red the other day. Only had one bottle so far but it was spot on. I was very pleased with it. I had forgotten this whole thing about it going non-organic — I wonder if remembering would have biased me more against it.

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