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Breweries New and Old Continue Pouring as Oregon Craft Beer Month Arrives

By Matt Wastradowski

Craft beer is big business in Oregon: In 2019, the latest year for which statistics were available, the Beaver State was home to more than 300 breweries, produced more than 31 million gallons of suds, and boasted the sixth-highest number of breweries per capita in the United States-all according to the Brewers Association, a trade group for the brewing industry. And the Willamette Valley, with dozens of breweries producing popular ales and lagers, is a big part of what drives the state's craft beer boom.

Ordinarily, breweries throughout the region would take time in February to celebrate the industry with events tied to Oregon Craft Beer Month-but the annual celebration is heading online in 2021, replacing its popular in-person events (such as Zwickelmania) with a few virtual get-togethers. One such event, happening on Feb. 20, is a series of Zoom panels and beer tastings-a few of which include Rick and Lisa Allen of McMinnville's Heater Allen Brewing, as well as Bill Bartman of Lebanon-based Barsideous Brewing.

So with the annual celebration in full swing, even if virtually, we checked in with a pair of Willamette Valley breweries-one nearly a decade old, the other less than a year-to see what's new in Oregon Craft Beer Month (and beyond).

Jamie Howard, co-founder of Albany's Deluxe Brewing Company & Sinister Distilling Company, remembers her husband Howie starting his distilling journey when he went to the local library and checked out some books on home distilling more than a decade ago. As Jamie recalls, Howie would open the books and immediately read some variation of the same warning: "Home distilling is highly illegal and can be punishable by law," she recalls.

So Howie did the next best thing: He got into homebrewing, instead. Eventually, the husband-and-wife team opened their own brewery in Albany, where Jamie was born and raised, and paired it with a fully legal distillery to form one of Oregon's only "brewstilleries." Deluxe sold its first keg in 2013, opened its taproom shortly thereafter, and has been an Albany mainstay ever since.

Jamie chalks some of that success up to decisions about what to brew-and how to stand out in a crowded playing field. Deluxe made a name for itself with easy-drinking ales and lagers-no easy feat in a region where bitter IPAs have long reigned supreme. "Those are the beers that we like drinking," Jamie explains. (That said, Deluxe still counts a classic Northwest IPA among its flagships-but rounds out that selection with an amber lager, pre-Prohibition pilsner, chewy doppelbock, and smooth Mexican-style lager.)

More recently, Deluxe has leaned on its spacious outdoor patio in downtown Albany to continue serving patrons. And while Deluxe is currently considering a few ideas for an event to celebrate Oregon Craft Beer Month, Jamie hopes patrons find their own way to mark the occasion in 2021. "Even though you can't be in huge groups at festivals and big events, still having that connection is what people need," she says. "Some of those things, you just have to figure out a way to make it happen. It may be different, but it keeps the tradition going."

Throughout his brewing career, Sean Burke has amassed a resume that includes award-winning stints at The Commons Brewery and, most recently, Von Ebert Brewing-both in Portland. So as he considered the next steps, his attention turned south, toward the Willamette Valley.

McMinnville's Allegory Brewing had closed early in the COVID-19 pandemic, and Allegory owner David Sanginetti was looking for someone to take over the space and brewing operation when he and Burke connected about a new venture together. "The pandemic certainly opened up doors that I don't think would have been there before," Burke says. "If I was ever going to do it, now felt like the right time."

Burke officially announced the launch of the new venture, ForeLand Beer, in September-and canned his first two beers in November. To date, ForeLand has released (among other beers) a pilsner, an IPA, a Vienna lager, a pale ale, and a schwarzbier. Visitors can't enjoy ForeLand's beers on-site just yet, but Burke's offerings are available in grocery stores and beer shops throughout the Willamette Valley and Portland area. 

The pandemic wasn't the most obvious time to launch a brewery, but Burke is keeping an eye on the big picture-which includes taking full advantage of his location in the heart of the Willamette Valley.

As the brewery grows, Burke hopes to incorporate wine grapes and winemaking techniques into some of ForeLand's bottle-conditioned releases. "I think winemaking is one of the coolest things in the world, but how do we blur the lines between that and brewery?" he wonders.

Burke has already started making some of the base beers that will be used in those eventual releases and says he looks forward to consulting and collaborating with winemakers who can discuss fermentation, aging, techniques, and ingredients.

"It's kind of opened up a door of exploration for me that I didn't really think was going to exist," Burke says of the new venture. "But it's fun to make these beers. Being a tiny enough ship, we can make it work and do what we want."

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