Tony Roberts stepped into the role of the Co-Director of the Oregon Brewers Guild with Christina LaRue in early 2019. Roberts has been the Portland-based leader of the non-profit trade organization that represents small and independent brewers across the state. Today, Roberts announced to OBG members that he will be stepping down on July 30th while the Bend, OR based LaRue will continue in her role.
The financial strain of COVID-19 has impacted all areas of the craft beer business and the Oregon Brewers Guild is no exception. As a non-profit trade group, the guild is not eligible for a Payroll Protection Plan (PPP loan) and a significant portion of the operating revenue comes from events and festivals that can no longer be held. Though Roberts and LaRue pivoted into online events like the Stay Home, Drink Beer Virtual Beerfest, the combination of membership dues, merchandise and online tickets is not enough to sustain two full time directors.
“This year has been a bizarre ride, and it has been a privilege to work on your behalf as we navigated the unprecedented crisis caused by COVID,” wrote Roberts in a private announcement to OBG members.
Earlier this year Roberts and LaRue spearheaded the relaunch of Oregon Craft Beer Month to February and presented a trade show and industry awards. Another major accomplishment was to bring aboard the guild’s first ever lobbyist to advocate for Oregon craft brewers in DC and Salem.
“This wasn’t part of the plan, but the pandemic has caused disruption for all of our businesses, and the Guild is no different,” said Board President and Occidental Brewing Founder Dan Engler. “This highlights the unique needs of state guilds, and we hope the Senate will pass assistance for member organizations, help that was already approved by the U.S. House over two months ago.”
Roberts is leaving for a more financially stable job that will benefit his family as well as the Oregon Brewers Guild’s longterm health.
“It was still a gut-wrenching decision to leave. The upshot is that this will put the Guild on better financial footing moving forward, and I leave knowing the organization is in the excellent and capable hands of Christina, and a Board of Directors that works tirelessly to advocate for your interests,” says Roberts.
All director duties of the guild will shift into the capable hands of LaRue as Roberts spends his remaining time as a co-director insuring a seamless transition and supporting an upcoming fresh hop event.
“My time and focus will need to be adjusted, primarily with regards to our legislative work, which highly impacts our membership. There will be some areas that we intended to focus more energy on this year that will need move lower on the priority list for now,” says LaRue when reached for comment on the changes. “my primary goal hasn’t changed – ensuring that our work in protecting and promoting Oregon craft beer continues to move forward, especially with the continued uncertainty during the pandemic.”
Watch our interview with Tony Roberts and Christina LaRue from the earlier days of the pandemic ^ above.
Even as Roberts announced his exit from his Co-Director role, he used the opportunity to advocate for the guild’s important role in craft beer.
“Even as you deal with the COVID crisis, there are forces at play that want to increase beer taxes, restrict your right to deliver beer, carve into your retail shelf space, and make it harder to redeem and recycle your cans. You don’t have time to worry about all of those things. But rest assured, Christina and the board will be thinking about them and developing a strategy to address them every day. To do that, they need your support. Please, pay your dues. Trust me, it’s a helluva’ lot cheaper than dealing with the fallout from any of those items I mentioned,” says Roberts.
LaRue joined the Guild as co-executive director in January 2019, and has previously worked at Crux Fermentation Project, Deschutes Brewery and Worthy Brewing Co. She is based in Bend.
“It truly pains me to see Tony go, and I know that it was not an easy decision for him to make. Through his steadfastness and dedication over the past year and a half, we have been able to accomplish significant work toward our mission of protecting Oregon craft beer. He is passionate about our industry, which is why I know that he will continue to be an advocate for it,” LaRue said. “I wish only the best for Tony in his new journey – we may no longer be co-workers, but I feel that I have made a friend for life. I know that the road ahead will have its challenges, but if 2020 has taught me anything, it is to be resilient and that change is the only constant.”
The Oregon Brewers Guild was founded in 1992. Its mission is to protect and promote craft breweries in Oregon.
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.