Ninkasi Drops Big One, Signs With Smaller Distributors

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Here’s an interesting little item that speaks to the image that a brewery can, and often strives, to create. While small in and of itself, given the changes we’re seeing in brewery ownership and other business dealings, an important one. This is especially true in the wake of another prominent up and coming Oregon brewery that witnessed a pretty severe backlash for selling an interest in the company to Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABI) last year. And witness how the tribe reacted to the lawsuit that Lagunitas initiated for trademark infringement against Sierra Nevada, despite it being a perfectly reasonable and understandable business decision. What those recent incidents have taught us, if anything, is that perception often matters more in the eyes of customers than following traditional business practices. Apparently, this really isn’t your father’s brewing company, and woe be to any brewery that doesn’t at least follow its own heart, if not the perceived heart of its fanbase.

Ninkasi Brewing, of Eugene, Oregon, announced that they were ending their relationship with their large beer distributor, owned by ABI, and signing with two smaller, locally owned distributors to cover the same territory — “Eugene-based Bigfoot Beverage Distributors and Bellevue, Washington-based Odom Corp.” Apparently, the only reason Nnkasi was with ABI distributors in the first place was because of a buyout a few years ago of the beer distributors that originally sold their beer to the larger ABI-owned one.

According to a story in the Register-Guard, CEO and co-founder Nikos Ridge remarked that this “arrangement did not fit well with Ninkasi’s world view” and added. “We are committed to being an independent and locally owned craft brewery, and feel we will be better aligned long term with independent and locally owned wholesalers.”

It’s interesting that Ninkasi wants to stay true to their roots, even as they expand into other markets, preferring local distributors over potentially more efficient and possibly more effective ones. Even at the expense of their business, they chose what they perceive to be the better fit with their company ethos. That’s a lesson many other brewers will have to learn as they navigate the landscape of the modern age of beer. These things matter to a lot of people, even if they rarely even understand how to run a business, what are the intricacies of trademark law, or what’s involved in signing with a distributor. Perception is your street cred in this day and age, and that’s likely to only intensify as a growing number of breweries are vying for your attention, your loyalty and most importantly, your business.

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The Ninkasi brewery during a quick visit to Eugene last summer.

Beer Birthday: Jamie Emmerson

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Today is the 52nd birthday of Jamie Emmerson, one of the founders, and the original brewmaster, of Full Sail Brewing. Now the Executive Brewmaster, Jamie steers the ship of Full Sail along with his wife and co-founder Irene. Jamie is a terrific person and active promoter of craft beer and the local beer community everywhere, but especially in Oregon. Join me in wishing Jamie a very happy birthday.

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Jamie with Art Larrance at the OBF Parade in 2009.

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Barney Brennan, me Jamie and Irene Fermat at SAVOR in Washington, DC a few years ago.

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With the ceremonial hammer at the opening of OBF in 2008.

Beer Birthday: Jeff Alworth

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Today is the 48th birthday of Jeff Alworth, blogger extraordinaire at Beervana. Despite annual trips to Portland, two years ago was the first time Jeff and I met, although we’d been corresponding with one another for many years. We sat down for a pint or three at one of my favorite Portland watering holes, Hair of the Dog. Jeff is one of the most thoughtful, engaging beer writers, and his new book, The Beer Bible should be published this spring. Join me in wishing Jeff a very happy birthday.

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Jeff and Alan Sprints at Hair of the Dog Brewery.

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Jeff and John Harris at Don Younger’s wake (photo by Lisa Morrison).

Beer Birthday: Kurt Widmer

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Today is Kurt Widmer’s 63rd birthday. Kurt is, of course, one of the bros in Widmer Brothers. He and his brother Rob helped found the Oregon Brewers Festival, created the style American Hefeweizen and are one of the few small brewers that have managed to retain their spirit and reputation as they’ve grown much larger. Join me in wishing Kurt a very happy birthday.

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Kurt (at left) and Rob Widmer with their wives at the Oregon Brewers Festival several years ago.

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Kurt and Rob after their win for Mid-Size Brewing Company of the Year at GABF in 2002.

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Gary Fish, Kurt and beer writer Fred Eckhardt at Don Younger’s memorial (photo by Tom Dalldorf).

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Rob and Kurt Widmer accepting the gavel in July 2007 from Jack Joyce and John Maier from Rogue, for 2008 when that next year they hosted OBF.

Beer Birthday: Jack Joyce

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The original rogue, Jack Joyce, who founded Oregon Brewing — better known today as Rogue — would have celebrated his 72nd birthday today. Sadly, he passed away earlier this year, in late May. Join me in drinking a toast to Jack’s memory today.

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Jack (on right) at the Oregon Brewers Festival with Fred Bowman, co-founder of Portland Brewing and Tom Dalldorf, Celebrator publisher.

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At the OBF Parade in 2007, Jack Joyce with festival organizer Chris Crabb await the arrival of the mayor.

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Brett and Jack Joyce from an interview by World Class Beverages in 2010.

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One of the best photos of Jack I’ve seen. This was taken by Leah Nash for a New York Times article entitled Food and Fuel Compete for Land.

Beer Birthday: Christian DeBenedetti

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Today is the 41st birthday of fellow beer writer and aspiring brewery owner Christian DeBenedetti. In 2011, he wrote The Great American Ale Trail and you can check out a lot of his other work online. His latest project is building a brewery on his family’s property, Springbrook Farm, to be called the Wolves & People Farmhouse Brewery. In fact, through CrowdBrewed, the dedicated beer crowd funding site, he’s in the process of raising funds to finish building the brewery, the majority of which is already in place. He’s getting close to reaching the necessary amount, around 80% there, with just one day to go. So perhaps everyone can give Christian an early birthday gift today so he can get the brewery finished and the beer flowing. There are all sorts of levels for donations and you can read all about the project and what the funds will be used for at CrowdBrewed. Join me in wishing Christian a very happy birthday.

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Christian with Stephen Beaumont at the Denver Rare Beer Tasting in 2013.

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With Vinnie Cilurzo in the barrel room during a visit to Russian River Brewing.

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With Charlie Papazian at GABF.

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With Jim Koch at Ale House at Amato’s for the book release party for the Great American Ale Trail, during GABF in 2011.

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In front of the brewhouse at Wolves & People Farmhouse Brewery, his brewery under construction.

Beer Birthday: Darron Welch

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Today is the 47th birthday of Darron Welch, brewmaster at Pelican Pub & Brewery in Pacific City, Oregon. Darron has something like a gazillion awards for his beers, including “Brewer of the Year” four times (at GABF in 2000 and 2005 for small brewpub and in 2006 for large brewpub; and at the World Beer Cup in 2008 for large brewpub). In addition to being a great brewer, Darron is also a terrific person, as well. Join me in wishing him a very happy birthday.

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At a beer dinner at the Cathedral Hill Hotel in San Francisco several Januarys back, Pelican Pub brewmaster Darron Welch with the Beer Chef Bruce Paton.

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Darron and the gang (including Ben Love at far left) from Pelican Pub & Brewery winning Gold for their Kiwanda Cream Ale at GABF in 2006.

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Darron, again with the Peilcan Crew, this time at GABF in 2009.

Beer Birthday: Brett Joyce

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Today is the 42nd birthday of Brett Joyce, President of Rogue. Joyce grew up in the brewery, which his father Jack founded when Brett was sixteen. Having gone off to college and made a name for himself working with Adidas, building their international golf shoe business from the ground up, he returned to work for the brewery a number of years ago. I’ve gotten to know Brett much better since his return, beginning with when I interviewed him a few years ago for an article profiling him. Join me in wishing Brett a very happy birthday.

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Brett at the Full Sail Smoker during OBF, after a quick interview I did with him for Beer Advocate magazine.

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At Dave & Jen’s wedding during GABF a few years ago: Vinnie, Dave, Jennifer, Natalie, minister Brett Joyce and me.

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Brett, me and Brian Dunn, from Great Divide, at SAVOR a few years ago in Washington, DC.

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Me, Brett and Rogue’s maltster at their floor malting facility in Portland.

Beer Birthday: Gary Fish

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Today is the 58th birthday of Gary Fish, founder of Deschutes Brewing in Bend, Oregon. Gary grew up in Northern California wine country, but relocated to Bend to start the brewery in 1987, opening the original brewpub the following year. Since then, they built a production brewery and have gone on to open two additional brewpub locations, one in Bend and one in Portland. As of last year, they were the 5th largest craft brewery and the 11th largest brewery in America. Not bad for a brewery with a Porter as its flagship. Plus, Gary is a great person to discuss politics with, preferably over a beer. Join me in wishing Gary a very happy birthday.

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Larry Sidor, former brewmaster at Deschutes (and now at his Crux Fermentation Project), with Alan Sprints (from Hair of the Dog) and Gary at their downtown Bend brewpub when we visited there last summer on a family vacation.

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Gary Fish, Kurt Widmer (from Widmer Brothers) and beer writer Fred Eckhardt at Don Younger’s memorial (photo by Tom Dalldorf).

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Gary accepting the OBF hammer after the parade in 2009.

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U.S. Representative Peter DeFazio, Gary, and Representative Greg Walden — all from Oregon — enjoying craft beer at a Capitol Hill reception when the Small Brewers Conference held their first meeting.

Beer Birthday: Rob Widmer

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Today is Rob Widmer’s 58th birthday. Rob is, of course, one of the bros in Widmer Brothers. He and his brother Kurt helped found the Oregon Brewers Festival, created the style American Hefeweizen and are one of the few small brewers that have managed to retain their spirit and reputation as they’ve grown much larger. Join me in wishing Rob a very happy birthday.

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Kurt and Rob Widmer with ther wives at the Oregon Brewers Festival several years ago.

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Kurt and Rob after their win for Mid-Size Brewing Company of the Year at GABF in 2002.


Rob with the Ralph’s (Olson and Woodall) from HopUnion at the 15th Anniversary Party for the Celebrator Beer News.

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Rob with the late, great Don Younger at Wynkoop during GABF in 2009.