On this day 30 years ago, brothers Kurt and Rob Widmer founded Widmer Brewing Company in Portland, Oregon. In 1984, the two brothers began cobbling together their first brewery on NW Lovejoy using a mismatched variety of reclaimed equipment, including retired dairy tanks and vessels initially intended for use in a nuclear power plant that was never built. Though they didn’t know it at the time, opening their small, hand-built brewery would help shape craft brewing history.
To celebrate this major milestone, today Widmer Brothers Brewing announced the first three beers in the anticipated 30 Beers for 30 Years Series, the brewery’s most ambitious effort to date and one of the most elaborate series of beer releases from a brewery in the United States. The three releases – Altbier, Weizenbier, and Hefewiezen – were the first three beers that the brothers brewed, and each represents one of the first three years of Widmer Brothers’ existence: 1984, 1985, and 1986, respectively.
The three beers each hold a huge place in Widmer Brothers’ history. Altbier was the first beer brewed and sold by Widmer Brewing Company. While development of the beer began in 1984, Altbier wasn’t actually released to the public until 1985 after the brothers brewed and dumped the first twelve batches. It’s a testament to Kurt and Rob’s commitment to quality; they wanted the beer to be just right, a value that’s evident in every Widmer Brothers beer and one that has helped drive the brewery’s success since the beginning.
As Kurt and Rob recall, to the beer drinking public in the mid-80s, there were essentially two styles of beer: dark- and light-colored beers. At the time, Altbier was considered too bold, too hoppy and too dark by some, so Kurt and Rob decided that they needed a lighter beer to both satisfy consumer demand and help grow the brewery. With an eye toward their German heritage, in 1985, they decided to start brewing a filtered wheat beer, Weizenbier.
The two brothers sold Altbier and Weizenbier exclusively until 1986 when the late owner of The Dublin Pub, Carl Simpson, asked if they would brew a third beer. Since they had limited resources and space, the request put Kurt and Rob in a tough position. To meet the request, they improvised, took an innovative approach and decided to leave a portion of their Weizenbier unfiltered and sell it as a Hefeweizen. Thus The Original American Hefeweizen was born, creating a completely new beer style that would become the brewery’s flagship and reshape the craft beer landscape.. The rest is history.
“Looking back at these three releases puts our early days and growth of Widmer Brothers Brewing since then in perspective,” said Rob Widmer. “Like many young entrepreneurs, we were flying by the seat of our pants, and it’s truly surreal to revisit that time in our lives when Altbier, Weizenbier, and Hefeweizen were our only three offerings. I suppose it’s an understatement to say we’ve come a long way.”
Each re-release in the 30 Beers for 30 Years series is brewed in small batches to original specifications from archived recipes drawn up on notebook paper in the 80s. While Kurt and Rob were meticulous about keeping records, they didn’t necessarily take the most detailed notes.
“For these initial few releases, we were literally working from pieces of notebook paper, cross-referencing notes from various brews to figure out exactly how Kurt and Rob were brewing these beers 30 years ago,” said Ben Dobler, Widmer Brothers innovation brewer, who helped spearhead the series. “It’s a real challenge to replicate the recipes perfectly, especially when we consider the imperfections that likely made these beers great at the time. But we’re working hard to maintain the original character, intent and quality of these beers, which were extraordinary for their time.”