In the fall we sat down with Gary Fish, founder of Deschutes Brewery,
and asked him questions that were requested by his Twitter fans.
The Growler Guys is releasing this exclusive interview in two parts.
Read part 1 here and look for part 2 next week!
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to open a brewery?
I get asked a lot about this, as you might imagine. The first thing I usually ask them is, “You want to go into the beer business? There’re 3,500 breweries around the country; there’re 30 in tiny little Central Oregon. What kind of beers do you want to make?”
If they tell me “Oh, I want to make an IPA… and another IPA… and a double IPA…”. Really, how many [IPAs] does the market need? I mean, as much as it doesn’t seem to be, it’s still a market-based industry. We have to serve a customer.
It’s not supposed to be easy to go into business for yourself. My advice is to find an artistic perspective, find what you’re going to add to the market (that the market wants or needs), and try and find something that sets you apart.
I know everybody thinks they’re the best brewer, but trust me, there are a lot of really good brewers out there.
Second is if you’re not comfortable dumping beer… if you’re not well-funded enough to [dump beer], don’t start. Don’t go [into the market]. Be a homebrewer. You can give away beer to all your friends and you’ll never overcharge for anything.
If your beer isn’t able to hold up its end of the bargain, it’s not just between you and the consumer (who’s paying money for that), but you and the rest of the industry, on whose reputation you begin your business. Now your reputation is going to reflect on [the beer industry] as well. If you’re not truly up for that, no harm, no foul, do something else.
Why do you believe the Northwest is known as a beer mecca?
I think the Northwest has been [brewing beer] longer than anywhere [else in the United States]. There are probably a whole bunch of reasons for that.
Oregon has been more progressive with laws. It started out the other way around. Those who are old enough to remember, Coors couldn’t be sold in Oregon because it wasn’t pasteurized. All beer sold had to be pasteurized. That changed. Oregon was just an early adopter.
I think it was 1974 when Jimmy Carter nationally made home brewing legal. Oregon was one of the first states to adopt that [law]. The last state to adopt that [law], Alabama- it was just last year. If that gives you any indication of how far ahead of the curve Oregon might be.
Oregon has a very favorable excise tax rate; one of the lower excise rates in the country. Combine that with some entrepreneurial homebrewers. There was the earliest Cartwright brewing, Widmer Brothers, McMenamin brothers; you name it. There were a lot of early adopters who took a bold entrepreneurial step.
Of course nothing would have happened without an accepting, adventurous consumer. I think for anybody that knows anything about Oregon; we like doing things differently. I think that’s where we got a head start on most parts of the country.
If you look at [this issue] from a geographic standpoint, we consume more of our beer indoors than most places; versus grabbing a six pack and going to the beach. That is very expensive to produce.
We can go into a pub and drink beer on draft. We drink a larger portion of the beer we consume on draft in Oregon than most places. That made it easier for those early brew pubs primarily; but also breweries that could only afford the package in draft and kegs [as opposed to needing] a very expensive bottling line.
Easier access to that adventurous consumer. I think you add all that stuff up, and it’s easy to see how Oregon adopted [craft beer early].
Oregon benefited because the breweries that got into business did an incredible job, as opposed to a lot of areas where the first guys in [the beer industry] didn’t. In Oregon, they set the bar pretty high, right out of the shoot. [Brewers] continued to reinforce that [mentality of quality products] as they grew.
What is your favorite beer and second favorite brewery?
This is probably the question I get asked the most, and I honestly tell people, “I don’t have one”. If you look at our pubs, and you talk to the bartenders, they’ll tell you that I only order in small glasses, half pints. I rarely ever order the same beer; two beers in a row. I like the variety. I like what’s new. I like what’s interesting.
My second favorite breweries are places like Russian River Brewing and Crooked Stave in Denver. I tend to like the funkier, weirder stuff. What Paul Arney is doing with the Ale Apothecary is really, really cool. Those are the kinds of things. Every time I travel to Europe I find something new over there that is just awesome. It’s so unique and creative and typically a beautiful location that just makes the beer taste that much better.
There are a lot of really great breweries out there doing some creative stuff. I just encourage people to explore. I mean that’s the fun.
How do you maintain quality through growth? Is brewing still fun after all these years?
If you look at what breweries likes Sierra Nevada and New Belgium Brewing are doing, I think they have not just maintained, but enhanced, the quality of their product. Just by being able to produce consistently, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale or Fat Tire or something like that, the quality of the experience that they offer to the consumer in tasting rooms and pubs and at their breweries, and the new interesting creative beers that they’re producing.
We were just back east, and I had the opportunity to tour Sierra Nevada’s new brewery in North Carolina. Wow, what they have done there! The beers that they’re producing; I mean, the variety of beers that they had on tap at their pub was broad. Very cool stuff.
They’re in the process of installing a cool ship there. They see the need and the fun to continue to drive that growth.
As far as Deschutes Brewery is concerned, our beer is way better today than it has been… pretty much ever. We’ve really enjoyed experimenting. We now have over 3,000 barrels in our barrel program.
Read Part 2 of Gary Fish’s Interview Next Week!