Cascade Brewing Company was established in 1998 by Art Larrance, who has been involved in Oregon's craft beer industry since its inception. Art co-founded one of the state's first microbreweries, Portland Brewing, as well as the Oregon Brewers Festival, which today is one of the world's preeminent craft beer festivals.
Cascade Brewmaster Ron Gansberg got his start in the Northwest wine industry. He crossed over in 1986 and began an eight-year career at BridgePort Brewing Co., where he honed his brewing skills, then moved on to the equipment and engineering side of the industry. As Engineering Manager at BridgePort, Ron directed the design and installation of the 80 bbl brewhouse that is still in operation.
Together, Art and Ron put their 40 years of beer experience to work, designing and installing Cascade's state-of-the-art 10 bbl brewing system in SW Portland, then creating and distributing well-balanced market-priced ales ranging from Pale Ale to Copper to Blond Bock. As the quality of the beer improved, they began to sell through distributors, increasing production to satisfy the wholesale market.
Cascade Brewery is situated in the Pacific Northwest, a region renowned for its craft beers - the Portland metropolitan area has 42 breweries, more than any other metro area in the US, and is the nation's largest craft brewing market. Even though there are an abundance of breweries in this area, it's highly competitive. To stand out amongst this group, you need to push the envelope and be out there to get to your niche and magic elixir.
Sour beers really came by default. Art & Ron had followed the trends of traditional ales. Somebody already got to the IPA, Weizen, Red, Organic, Porter. There weren't many categories left.
They were also growing tired of the "hops arms race" of ever-hoppier beers, especially in the Northwest. They desired to instead make beers that offered an intense sensory experience other than hops.
They asked themselves, what in our area can we draw upon? There was an abundant supply of wine barrels from the wine region. And they had access to great local fruit. So they worked with the raw materials and supplies available in the region.
Also, as a small brewer, to stand out in the crowd, they figured out what they could do without investing heavily in stainless steel equipment. Used barrels suited that; they found a way to expand without heavy capital expenditures.
The pair did their research, and discovered that when it comes to appreciation for locally produced ales, the Northwest's European counter region is Belgium. Art and Ron chose to create sour style beers, though they purposefully stayed away from trying to recreate Belgian Style sour ales. For this reason, they used only Lactobacillus, an acid bacteria that produces moderate levels of acidity and sour flavors. According to Ron, they'd had very little exposure to Brett beers, but enough to know that their beers should have some residual body and sweetness that the Brett beers don't traditionally offer.
Art and Ron began their journey with several oak barrels in 2005. By 2006, they were producing the "base beer" that would then be aged for up to a year in wine, port, or in some cases, former whiskey oak barrels.
In 2007, they traveled to the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colorado to sample versions of wood barrel aged sour ales similar to what they intended to brew. They were convinced they had a product style that would be very competitive with medal winning ales.
The Pacific Northwest is a region rich in fruits and hops. Art and Ron took full advantage of this, putting regional hops in all their beers and expanding their use of local fruits.
In 2008, the brewery developed three ultra-premium, oak barrel-aged, lactic-fermented Northwest Sour-style beers under the Cascade Brewing label: Kriek, Apricot and Cuvee du Jongleur. Each was hand bottled in 750 ml champagne bottles with a cork and wire basket. The market for this first bottling was at the on-site restaurant, the Raccoon Lodge & Brew Pub, at a price point of $15.95. Soon, additional sales were gained in Washington, California and various Portland retail outlets.
In October of 2008, Cascade entered three of its beers into the Great American Beer Festival in the Wood- and Barrel-Aged Sour Beer category. Their first entry proved fruitful: a total of 22 beers were entered in the class, and Cascade Kriek took the Bronze.
By this time, there were 60 or so oak barrels in the brewery's aging inventory, all selling through retail and wholesale accounts. Fueled by the GABF success, the inventory grew to 150 oak barrels in 2009.
In 2009, they brought in 4,500 lbs of Bing and sour pie cherries straight from the orchards for making Kriek, Sang Royale and Sang Noir specialty ales. They personally drove to Yakima, Wash. to pick up 2,500 lbs of apricots for their Apricot Ale. One ton of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes were brought in for a yet to be named beer (going through extensive aging), and 2,500 lbs of white wine grapes were brought in for The Vine.
In September of 2009, Art and Ron again traveled to the Great American Beer Festival, submitting three of their beers in the Wood- and Barrel-Aged Sour Beer category. Out of 45 entries, Cascade Brewing was awarded the Gold Medal for its Bourbonic Plague and the Silver for Vlad the Imp Aler. This win propelled the obscure brewery into the forefront nationally for wood barrel aged sour ales.
Today, Cascade's inventory has swelled to more than 400 oak barrels with another 100 awaiting filling. Once filled, these barrels will age and condition – along with bottles - in the new Cascade Brewing Barrel House, a 7,100 sq. ft. former produce warehouse in Southeast Portland. Of the 7,100 sq. ft., the pub takes up 2,100 sq. ft. On the aging side – not open to the public - we can house up to 600 wine, whiskey or port barrels as well as bottles for filling and aging. The barrel room is specially designed to keep the sour beers at a proper temperature for aging, specifically the cultivation of bacteria that give these brews their distinctive tang. Eventually, we will fill, label and ship all bottled products from here.
On the pub side, we have two sour barrels dispensing from the full barrel coming right through the cooler wall. Every week we tap one new barrel at 6pm on Tuesday's. There are18 taps, featuring all of Cascade's beers, plus 4 special " Blender" taps. There's seating for 90 inside and 90 outside.
The limited menu will feature small plates, nuts, salads and sandwiches featuring meats smoked onsite daily, all foods that complement sour beers.
Cascade Brewing currently distributes its bottled sour beers in Oregon, Washington, California, Florida, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and New York. If you're lucky enough to live in Portland, you can get them on draft. It's been a wild ride, but the little brewery that could is getting much deserved national attention from brewers, writers, distributors and sour beer lovers alike.
Thanks for joining the Sour Beer Movement. Prost!