The Oregon Brewers Guild honored six titans of the state’s brewing industry with Lifetime Achievement Awards during its inaugural Awards Ceremony at the Crystal Ballroom last week. The award recipients pioneered craft beer in Oregon in the early 1980s and include Fred Bowman of Portland Brewing Co., Art Larrance of Portland Brewing Co. and Cascade Brewing, Brian and Mike McMenamin, founders of McMenamins, and Kurt and Rob Widmer, founders of Widmer Bros. Brewing.
“We’re here today, doing the jobs we love, because of them,” said OBG board member Graham Brogan, who is head of brewery operations at McMenamins. All six of the brewers honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award were active in lobbying the Oregon legislature to pass the state’s brewpub law in 1984, allowing beer to be made and sold on the same property, thus launching Oregon’s world-renowned beer scene. All nominees were selected by Oregon brewers. Winners were selected by the Oregon Brewers Guild Board of Directors.
Bowman started homebrewing with guidance from a how-to book in his Hillboro basement with friends Jim Goodwin and Art Larrance in the late 1970s. They eventually agreed to a consulting contract with Bert Grant of Grant’s Brewery Pub in Yakima, Wash. Grant taught them how to make beer and licensed the rights to make his beer in Oregon. Portland Brewing opened its doors in 1984, and Bowman worked for the company for more than 20 years before entering into a role as an industry consultant. Bowman is also responsible for the Fred Bowman Papers, a collection of photos and documents chronicling Oregon’s brewing history between 1983-2010.
After starting Portland Brewing Co. with Bowman and Goodwin, Larrance made another enduring mark on the Oregon beer scene when he launched the Oregon Brewers Festival (OBF) in 1988. OBF is Oregon’s biggest beer fest and has become a mainstay on Portland’s waterfront every July, bringing in brewers and tourists from around the world.
In 1998, Larrance opened the Racoon Lodge in southwest Portland. While searching for new ways to compete with Oregon’s larger breweries, Larrance and Brewmaster Ron Gansberg launched Cascade Brewery, starting a sour beer revolution that altered the American craft beer industry with its innovative beers.
Brian and Mike McMenamin
In 1985, Brian and Mike McMenamin opened Oregon’s first brewpub in Hillsdale. Over the past 35 years, they’ve built an eclectic and beloved empire of breweries — 27 and counting — hotels and venues across the Pacific Northwest. While they’ll always be known for their beer, the brothers have also made a lasting impact with the commitment to preserving Northwest history. Several of their locations are on the National Register of Historic places, and each highlights the history of the local community.
Kurt and Rob Widmer
In 1984, Kurt and Rob Widmer quit their corporate jobs, converted a dairy tank into a mash tun and a shrimp cooker into a whirlpool and started making beer in Portland, delivering it in their father’s 1970s era Datsun pickup truck. Their pioneering brewery was one of the first to offer rotating seasonal beers, now a beer industry staple, and their iconic hefeweizen served as a launching point for craft beer drinkers across the Pacific Northwest. Before bottling their beer in 1996, they had become the largest draft-only brewery in the Western Hemisphere. They have also been tireless supporters of Oregon craft beer, often helping new brewers find their way in the industry.
“There are so many Oregon brewing legends deserving of the Lifetime Achievement Award, but these six were truly foundational to the Oregon — and American — craft beer scene,” said Oregon Brewers Guild Executive Director Tony Roberts.
Other award winners included: Baerlic Brewing Co. for Best Branding; Von Ebert for Innovator of the Year; Christian Ettinger of Hopworks Urban Brewery for Sustainability Hero; and Widmer Bros. Brewing for Community Hero. The awards ceremony was held during the Brewers Guild’s Annual Meeting at the Crystal Ballroom.