Widmer – One of the Original Innovators in the Micro-Brewery Business

June 16, 2013 — Leave a comment

I recently had the opportunity to visit Portland, Oregon on a job interview. Portland is a beautiful city that has a lot to offer. In certain circles, Portland is known as Beervana due to its high number of top-quality microbreweries. 31 breweries operate in Portland, that’s more than any city in the world. One of my favorites is Widmer Brothers that is famous for their Hefeweizen.

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Widmer Brewing was founded in 1984 by brothers Kurt and Rob Widmer. Kurt and Rob were tired of their day jobs and frustrated by having trouble finding beer in the United States that they liked to drink. They started by brewing Altbier, and Weizenbier their interpretation of a filtered wheat beer. They were among the early pioneers of the micro-beer movement in Portland and the United States. At the time they opened there were only 83 breweries in the country.

The early brewers faced a number of barriers: they were mostly uneducated about large-scale brewing; almost none of them had ever worked in a brewery before; they had to learn how to brew with makeshift equipment in makeshift buildings; they had to invent a market niche and create interest in a product customers didn’t know they wanted. They learned the beer business along the way.

They discovered success somewhat serendipitously. In 1986, the owner of the Dublin Pub Carl Simpson, which carried the Altbier and Weizenbier was eager to expand his offerings. He asked the Widmer Brother to make a third beer for him. The brewery only had two fermenters at the time. So to save space and time, they simply left the Weizenbier unfiltered and cloudy, thus creating the first American style Hefeweizen. When he added the lemon wedge, it took off. Widmer Hefewizen was the first “it” beer in Portland. Within a few years, it became the Merlot of beer–the cloudiness was a calling card for diners at upscale restaurants, and the flavor was very different. I discovered Widmer Hefewizen in 1995 on a trip to Seattle for the NCAA Final Four.

The Widmer’s have been very involved in promoting  Portland’s beer culture.  They were one of four breweries who helped start the Oregon Brewers Festival. Widmer always sends a special beer to the festival. They continue be active in the Portland beer scene. Hefewizen remains their biggest seller.

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The Widmer Brother have been in business for nearly thirty years. Along the way they have had their ups and down but they built a success story. It is a great example of how far passion, innovation and entrepreneurship can take you if you are willing to learn along the way. They have developed a unique culture that has helped them be successful. In 2008, they merged with Red Hook Brewery to form the Craft Beer Alliance an independent publicly traded brewing company. Today, they are the 9th largest brewery in the country.

Have you tried a Widmer Hefewizen? 

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