Oregon Brewers Guild grapples with the new reality

Oregon Brewers Guild logo

Tomorrow the Oregon Brewers Guild presents their Stay Home, Drink Beer virtual beer festival, right now co-directors Christina LaRue and Tony Roberts confront the new reality. Only a little more than a year into their terms as the guiding forces behind Oregon’s craft beer industry are grappling with the industry’s greatest challenge yet – Coronavirus.

New School Beer Fireside Chats ^ is a new video series featuring discussions with prominent beer industry players about the state of the industry. Follow along here or on our YouTube page and view the full discussion with Tony Roberts and Christina LaRue above. These are a few of the excerpts from the video discussion.

In late 2018 the Oregon Brewers Guild hired their first lobbyist and brought aboard Roberts and LaRue, replacing outgoing director Brian Butenschoen. The mandate was to modernize the guild, increase outreach,

“Oregon was the only guild of it’s size in the country not having someone advocating for them in the state capital,” says Roberts. “Just trying to establish a little bit of independence, and position ourselves a little bit better when big issues come up as they occasionally do. And obviously right now government affairs take up a huge part of my job and Christina’s to as we do a lot of advocacy for brewpubs right now.”

Roberts got to work on modernizing the organization for a new much more developed, but also much more competitive market. Updating the guild’s media presence, developing a new website, and collaborating with OBG board member Ben Parsons of Baerlic Brewing on a new logo.

LaRue resides in Bend, Oregon and part of her mission was to broaden the guild’s presence outside of Portland and produce more events around the state.

“All of our events happen in Portland, my goal in working with Tony is trying to figure out how we can spread the love around the state. Whether it’s large events or small events,” says LaRue, who previously worked with Worthy Brewing, Crux. LaRue’s other primary area of concern is industry education.

“Finding different avenues to help add education to our membership benefits.” that includes partnering with Oregon State University and offering quarterly education sessions. The guild held an educational event last October and was on track to hold another session in April before the pandemic hit.

“I can’t imagine being able to have a thousand people gathered together at any point during the summer,” says Roberts. “When does that happen? does that happen by your Oktoberfest season, I mean they have already canceled thee Oktoberfest. So I don’t like the immediate future of beer fests. I don’t like our chances in terms of having a traditional classic beer fest”

“I think it’s a wait and see right now, to see what the first steps are when the state does reopen. At this point I dont anticipate us being able to have our brewers dinner. I want to stay optimistic that it could potentially happen,” says LaRue, referring to the annual event held before the Oregon Brewers Festival in July.

If the limits on medium to large gatherings continues into the fall the guild’s largest event of the year, the Fresh Hop Fest, could be in jeopardy too.

“If that can’t happen, then we may have to look at getting this kind of creative for that festival as well. I mean it may….I don’t know….thing’s are so up in the air right now,” says LaRue, speculating that at the very least there would be an educational component or perhaps a new virtual edition.

Despite grim projections for beer events, Roberts remains optimistic about the future of bars and taprooms.

“The craft beer model is really built on the back of the brewpub concept, the community gathering place where folks hang out and have a pint,” says Roberts on the prospects that the taproom business model could be destroyed in favor of packaging and distribution. “I’m not saying that’s going to come back right away, but I don’t think we are at a point when that’s never coming back. It’s coming back, we just don’t know when.”

This is just a taste of the wide ranging conversation The New School had with LaRue and Roberts. Watch or listen to the full 30-ish video for more perspective on how the craft industry is evolving.

Stay Home, Drink Beer virtual festival is this Saturday, May 2nd 1-5pm and tickets are only $5 and it’s BYOB. Consider ordering an Oregon craft beer for home delivery from our statewide guide.

Samurai Artist
Samurai Artist

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