5 Stupid Questions with the Widmer Brothers, Kurt and Rob

Kurt and Rob Widmer at Portland's Horse Brass Pub.

With the annual Craft Brewers Conference getting cranked up today in Portland – one of the country’s great incubators for what is now a sprawling national craft beer scene, it only seemed natural to pick the brains of the two guys who’ve had as big an impact on the industry as anyone else. Kurt and Rob Widmer have built a diverse brand of artisanal brews and guided Widmer Brothers Brewing to profound success for over 30 years now, including the creation of the Craft Brew Alliance.

We have no idea how busy they must be at this time of the year, especially heading into this crazy week at CBC, so we’re thankful they could make time for us.

And we repaid their graciousness by wasting their time with… 5 STUPID QUESTIONS.

1) America now knows Widmer Brothers Brewing as one of the most innovative and historic craft breweries in the world. And as its founders you could be talking with any number of “credible” journalists. So, why in the world did you ever agree to be profiled by us? You’re smart guys…What were you thinking?

KW: We’ve been called many things, but smart guys… that’s a first. Thanks!  To answer your question, we think we’re ideally suited to “un-credible” journalists. Plus, we’ll basically talk to ANYONE about beer. 

2) Our country made a pivotal decision in 1979 to let the genie out of the bottle by legalizing home brewing. Was there ever a time when you guys “illegally” (wink, wink) crafted your own brews? How was your father Ray involved in getting the brewery started in the early 80’s?

RW: Breaking the home brew law was the least of our worries. (wink, wink)

KW: Ray was an old farm boy, extremely resourceful and hands down the world’s best backyard mechanic.  When we were getting started, we’d go out, collect a bunch of junk, and bring it back to Ray. Somehow he’d make it work. Even better, we didn’t have to pay him anything. 

RW: And we stole his truck. 

KW: Initially, Ray thought we were nuts. But after 25 years, he conceded that we might have been on to something. 

3) Today’s craft beer industry really thrives off the concept of seasonal releases. As the first brewers to release a new beer for each of the four seasons in 1986, how has this concept impacted your business model and what have you learned from doing so?

RW: We think it’s great that you guys know we were the first to do that! Seasonals continue to be a big part of our business, primarily because beer drinkers have become accustomed to the release of their favorite ones throughout the year. Craft beer drinkers are promiscuous, always looking for variety – and Widmer Brothers seasonals play right into that.

4) The creation of the Craft Brew Alliance in 2008 solidified the legacy of Widmer Brothers Brewing by merging with Redhook Ale Brewery, then Kona Brewing and launching your own gluten-free line of beers, Omission. In light of all the purchases and mergers over the past few years, is it reassuring to know you’ve gotten ahead of the curve? Tell us more about the thought process behind CBA.

KW: We are proud of the portfolio we helped create with Craft Brew Alliance. With three of the earliest pioneering brewing companies in craft, CBA has the most distinctive and authentic portfolio of independent brands of any beer company in the world. 

5) You guys aren’t shy about taking on unique spins on classic styles as well as progressive experimentations. You both just finished celebrating your 30th year of existence as a brewery with a barrage of 30 collaborations and rebirths of previously retired beers. What’s coming up next for the Widmer Brothers? 

RW: People thought we were out of our minds (not the first time that’s happened) when we announced the 30 Beers for 30 Years series, along with the six collaboration beers with Oregon brewers. It’s been an amazing year. What’s coming up next? A beer. 

KW: And then a nap! 

Bonus Question:  Everyone has a “house beer” – a beer that’s a staple a home. What are each of yours?

RW: Widmer Hefe… with a lemon (but only on the rim!)

KW: Widmer Alt

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