The History of Deschutes Brewery

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BEND, Ore. (WSLS 10) – By now most of you know that, after a long courtship, Roanoke was able to attract Deschutes Brewery to the Star City.

We know they are one of the biggest craft brewers in the country, that they are planning to employ more than 100 people when they open in 2018 and many of you may even know the taste of their beer.

But what else do we know about this company the city worked so hard to get?

WSLS 10’s John Carlin recently traveled across the country to Bend, Oregon, to find out.

Bend is a growing, prosperous city of 80,000.

Hip, outdoorsy, and home to Deschutes Brewery, which is settled in on a tract of land along its namesake the Deschutes River.

The company started in 1988 at the Deschutes Public House. In the beginning, the beer was both brewed and served at the public house and at the time, it seemed like a risky venture.

“I think the only reason people came out to see us, was to watch us fail. Kind a like a car wreck you can’t take your eyes off it. It’s horrible but you can’t take your eyes off it,” joked Founder and CEO Gary Fish.

Fish started his business at one of the lowest points in Bend’s history. The lumber mills that had driven the city’s economy for decades were on the way out and the city was decades from its new-found prosperity.

“There were a lot of boarded-up storefronts in downtown back then. The good news for us was property was inexpensive. The bad news was there were no people to come in to be customers,” he recalled.

Yet today, the original brew pub has undergone significant expansion. Most nights, it’s hard to get a table.

And business is booming at the nearby brewery as well. Tourists flock in to see how Deschutes creates its popular line of beers. And new equipment is being added to keep up with demand.

Michael LaLonde, the company’s president, described the growth that continues to this day. “We continue to grow. We are adding tanks on the backside of the building right now and then we doubled the size of our warehouse this year as well.” he said.

At Deschutes, they produce about 360,000 barrels of beer a year. That may sound like a lot, but it’s only about 0.7% of the entire US beer market. It makes them big enough to produce a good-quality product that they can reliably supply to their customers, but not so big that they’ve lost sight of who they are.

Gary Fish said the corporate culture at Deschutes is as much a part of their success as their brewing methods, which include fresh hops, while many other companies use hops that are processed into pellets.

“Being able to be creative and innovative and make something that people would enjoy has always been exciting to me. The business part of the business, that’s a necessity,” said Fish.

That culture and growth are tied directly to the success of Bend, Oregon today. In fact, it’s hard to say if Bend made Deschutes or if Deschutes made Bend.

“The Deshutes Brewery has clearly played a critical role in our development here in Central Oregon,” said Roger Lee, whose job it is to attract businesses to Bend as executive director of EDCO – the economic development organization for central Oregon.

“I think for a number of years people were identifying Deshutes Brewery more than they were identifying Bend,” he said with a chuckle. “So it had a better brand name perhaps then Bend did.”

If Deschutes has had that impact on Bend, what might it have on Roanoke? There seems little doubt that the company is hoping to help move Roanoke along with its own outdoor branding and marketing efforts.

“As I mentioned, part of the reason that we ended up in Roanoke is because we could see that (the similarities). And we could be a bigger part of the solution there,” said Fish.

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