By Scott Mechura EBS FOOD COLUMNIST
There have been periods in history that seem to produce a concentration of business prowess that isn’t easily explained. Groups of visionaries and leaders that seem to feed off of each other in order to succeed, or at least raise the bar in a short amount of time.
There was a very specific period in the 1800s when if you were in the right place at the right time, and you had the finances and pioneering entrepreneurial spirit, you became a railroad baron.
Similarly, the late 1960s and early 1970s gave birth to the likes of Steve Jobs of Apple, Bill Gates of Microsoft, and a host of other electronic and computer companies such as IBM that would stand the test of time.
You can even isolate single years in which great things happened.
Take the 1983 NFL draft, the year of the quarterback, as it has been named.
That draft produced six quarterbacks, all in the first round. Three of which were John Elway, Dan Marino and Jim Kelly. And four of the six reached the Super Bowl during their careers.
But if the brewing industry had a draft, pun intended, and a hall of fame, the class to beat would be 1988. It was the year of the craft brewery that would endure two of the industries renaissances.
1986 saw, among others, two breweries that have also stood the test of time. Summit Brewing in St. Paul, Minnesota, which is a pillar in the upper Midwest brewing world, and Sierra Nevada Brewing in Chico, California once craft brewery that the industry used to redefine what a microbrewery was specifically based on their growth.
But 1988 saw quality, quantity and longevity.
Fifty-six breweries began brewing beer in 1988. Hardly a large number to get anyone’s attention today. But as of the year before, there were only 73 breweries in the entire U.S. that had opened since 1965. To put it in perspective, today America has over 8000 breweries, according to the Brewers Association. If 2019 saw the same 77 percent increase in breweries in one year, it would bring the total to over 15,000. Anecdotally, it would still only be the same volume as the number of Starbucks.
But in keeping with the railroad baron and computer innovators anomaly, this year sprouted a handful of breweries that would influence thousands of brewers after them.
Great Lakes Brewing in Cleveland, Ohio
Wynkoop Brewing Co. in Denver, Colorado.
Brooklyn Brewery in Brooklyn, New York.
Rogue Ales & Spirits in Newport, Oregon
Goose Island Beer Company in Chicago, Illinois
Deschutes Brewery in Bend, Oregon.
If you’ll notice, this list of six spans all four time zones. These visionaries collectively had a profound impact on those around them in a systematic way so as to naturally play a major role in both of America’s beer rushes.
Of this list of pioneers, some have expanded into spirits, some have expanded to multiple units, and some have simply increased production tenfold. Either way, the next time you enjoy a pint or snifter around our valley from the several quality breweries we call our own, remember the pioneers here.
1988 was a very good year.
Scott Mechura has spent a life in the hospitality industry. He is a former certified beer judge and currently the executive chef at Buck’s T-4 Lodge in Big Sky.