The Wisconsin State Journal has a nice article on contract brewing in Wisconsin (something that goes on a lot there). What I find particularly interesting is the contrast of the culture of craft brewing there versus here in Oregon where contract brewing is essentially a non-starter. The ethos here is if you didn't brew it yourself, it isn't legit. This of course makes the whole endeavor a lot riskier. I watched as a couple of friends in Ithaca, NY start a brewery by first contract brewing from Chicago. Once the brand was established they leased some space and built a brewery and were able to stop contract brewing in a short span of time. In many ways this seems like a better business model, and it allows for scale efficiencies, so why don't we see more of this in Oregon?
Anyway here is an excerpt from the article:
BLACK RIVER FALLS — Aran Madden hopes to someday make his beer in Spring Green.
He has plans for a brewery. But for now, he's quite happy with his Furthermore products being made here, 120 miles away in Jackson County, within the 154-year-old stone and red brick walls of what is now the Sand Creek Brewing Co.
The arrangement, called contract brewing, allowed Madden's company to begin production in 2006 within months of its inception, fulfill an agreement to make beer for American Players Theatre and avoid going $1 million in debt to build a brewery.
"We had shallow pockets," Madden said. "As soon as we walked in the door to Sand Creek, we said, 'This is silly not to utilize this facility. They're hungry and we're hungry.'"
Contract brewing is big business in Wisconsin, home to some of the biggest contract brewing facilities in the nation. The players include City Brewing Co. in La Crosse with a capacity of about 7 million barrels a year; Stevens Point Brewery in Stevens Point; and Minhas Craft Brewery in Monroe, where about 10 percent of the 280,000 barrels made this year will be for other brewing companies.
The relationships have helped the rapid expansion of the domestic craft brewing industry that grew to 9.1 million barrels in 2009 from 5.9 million barrels in 2000, according to the Brewers Association in Boulder, Colo. In the first half of this year, craft brewing was up 9 percent by volume.
Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association, said there are about 350 alcoholic beverage companies in the country that have their products made by other brewers. Between 150 and 200 of them are beer companies. Some do not have their own facilities, while others with breweries lack the capacity to meet the demand for their products.
"There's such a long brewing tradition (in Wisconsin) and, for efficiency's sake, they want to fill that capacity," Gatza said of contract brewers. "It's an inexpensive way (for brewing companies) to get into the market."