Why did I blast and climb three long flights of stairs outside a huge building in the midst of industrial sadness on the edge of the Vancouver River, Washington? It was not for the certainly superb view of the scrap processing plant next door, nor for the satisfying clang of the stamp of my steel-toed boots on every step.
I was up there, hanging on the side of the Great Western malt – no, it'll be okay, give me a minute to catch my breath before I get in – to see first-hand how brewer and distiller has become huge these days. I blame you and I, I suppose, for making such drinks so successful. This huge factory, which is so big that we had to get around it in vans and golf carts, now sells almost all of its production to local brewers and distillers.
Westland Distillery invited me to Portland last summer to see his company and taste his single malt American whiskey (thank you for the trip, friends), but they also wanted me to see Great Western. Westland regards Great Western as its innovation partner. In general, I do not think of "innovation" when I go to a huge 80-year-old agricultural product factory, but that was before I saw it.
GW has a high tech pilot malting located right next to the small main lobby (they do not attract a lot of visitors) where they test new malt ideas. Malted barley is so much more than just the pale substance that is essential for light lagers and scotch whiskey. There are light malts, black malts, caramel malts, acid malts, Munich and Vienna malts, crystal malts, black malts … This plant produces 35 different types of malt and the most common malts. industry is constantly developing new ideas because it is from this art the brands thrive.
This is quite amazing, especially since Karl Ockert, the founding brewer of BridgePort Brewing, on the other side of the river in Portland, was coming back in the 80s to pick up malt in a cardboard box and pay it with a crate of beer. . At the time, GW was producing bulk malt for larger breweries and Ockert was exploiting the smallest yarn of this river. Today, this gigantic plant exists to serve breweries like BridgePort and distilleries like Westland. My how things have certainly changed.
When Ockert traded malt, there were about 60 breweries in America. Today, there are more than 7,000, according to the Brewers Association (BA). The growth was downright scorching. In June 2017, for example, just 19 months ago, there were 5,500. That's about three new breweries that have opened every day since.
You can now be depressed and say that this type of growth can not last. Of course it can not last. It will be moderate, as in the mid-90s. But it will be moderated to a much higher level than it was 20 years ago. In the meantime, consider the number of jobs that all these breweries represent: about 165,000 (again, BA figures). It spreads from there too, like wrinkles.
BA estimates there are 365,000 additional "indirect and induced" jobs in the craft beer industry: additional wholesaler representatives, graphic designers, drafting technicians, tap cleaners, equipment producers, advertisers, producers hops, microbiologists, lawyers, and, yes, maltsters. GW's plant was actually closing down in 2008, "but craft sales have increased," says Scott Garden, director of research and technical services for GW.
Of course, society is also benefiting from the boom in artisanal distillation. According to the American Craft Spirits Association, there are more than 1,800 artisanal distillers in the United States, up more than 15% from 2017.
It is a bit more difficult to try to determine the exact number of people employed by the spirits industry, but it is possible to extrapolate. There are 23 jobs per American brewery. However, there are no artisanal distillers the size of a place like Boston Beer, or Sierra Nevada, so let's say there are 15 jobs per distillery, which gives us a rough estimate of 27,000 jobs. We can double that number in terms of the number of indirect jobs created (54,000), giving a total estimate of 81,000 jobs. Artisanal distillation is also not showing much sign of slowing down, and I imagine that these statistics will only grow significantly over the next few years.
But wait! There is more!
Artisanal cider is also growing. Although I can not find any trace of this segment of beverages nationwide, I spoke to Emily Ritchie, executive director of the NorthWest Cider Association. She estimates that her group represents almost a quarter of all cider farmers in the country and nearly half of the total production of handicrafts. Its association has calculated that its members employ 2,629 jobs, which equates to about 10,000 jobs if you multiply by four. Its members, in 2016, achieved a turnover of $ 690 million, or $ 1.38 billion, if one doubles, for the entire sector.
Then there is mead, the honey-based strength drink, which has recently attracted more attention than I have ever seen. I've spent the last 30 years bumping into the idea that someone would never want to drink it, but suddenly there is an interest. I spoke to Greg Heller-Labelle, a manufacturer of pats I know, who runs Colony Meadery in Allentown, Pennsylvania. He oversees the industry in general. It's small, but it's not the case anymore.
"In 2013, there were maybe forty pastries," he said. "Now, there are about 400. They are small, between one and five employees, for the most part. A lot of retirees and part-timers have managed things in the past, but that is changing. It's a full-time business. He estimated that between 1,000 and 1,500 people are employed in the manufacture of mead. I almost fell off my stool hearing this statistic!
From the relatively large manufacturing of craft beer production to distillation, cider making and the still small world of mead, craft has become a real asset in the beverage sector in America. David may not be Goliath yet, but the battle is getting closer day by day. People want choice, local options and more flavor, and they have more each day.
So, excuse me, I'm going to relax with a big glass of beer from a small brewery that is part of a huge industry.