Production of some Henry Weinhard beers returns to Oregon this summer, when Full Sail Brewing begins production of Henry’s Hefeweizen, Northwest Blonde Lager and Amber Light at its Hood River brewery.
The Weinhard beers have been brewed in Tumwater, Wash., since Miller Brewing acquired the label from Pabst in 1999, and Portland’s Blitz-Weinhard brewery went dark.
Henry’s Private Reserve and Ale — which make up the bulk of Weinhard sales — will be produced in Miller breweries in Irwindale, Calif., and Fort Worth, Texas.
Full Sail will brew 30,000 barrels a year, about 12-14% of all the Henry Weinhard’s sold, said brand manager Chris Lierman. Miller sees the move as a way to reconnect the brand with its Pacific Northwest birthplace, she said, and is making capital improvements to the Full Sail brewery, although there are no plans for Hood River to be the only Henry Weinhard’s brewer.
Those 30,000 barrels combine with Full Sail’s annual output of 65,000 barrels to put the brewery comfortably near full capacity, said co-owner Irene Firmat. It’s Full Sail’s first contract brewing deal, though it’s turned down several previous requests. “We’re very proud to be selected by Miller as the Northwest brewery to brew Henry’s and we’re committed to keeping the brand in Oregon,” she said.
“It’s good for us because Miller’s quality levels are impeccable — they’ll just wow you with their technical abilities. It’s been like having a bunch of $1,000-an-hour consultants with the Miller senior brewers coming through the brewery and working on the pilot brews.”
Full Sail brewer John Harris said consumers won’t notice any changes. The beers will meet the same flavor profiles they always have, though brewed in smaller batches. He also made it clear that the deal does not affect Full Sail’s own beers or its independence. “They don’t own us or anything,” he said. “We’re just brewing Henry’s for them.”
Because the Private Reserve will no longer be brewed in the Northwest, Horse Brass Pub owner Don Younger says it won’t be served in his famous pub. He’s disappointed he can offer no lager that sells for a price similar to Budweiser or Coors. “We’re the hotbed of the beer world,” he said, “and we don’t even have a pale lager brewed in the region — that’s what most of the rest of the world drinks.”
The Horse Brass will serve the Weinhard beers made by Full Sail.
The Weinhard legacy in Oregon dates back to 1856, when Henry Weinhard, a 26-year old German immigrant, arrived in Portland from Cincinnati, Ohio. Six years later, Weinhard founded his new brewery on the same spot where the Blitz-Weinhard brewery operated until 1999. By the early 1880s, it was the largest brewery in the Northwest. As his business prospered, Weinhard spread the wealth, paying his workers an excellent wage and giving freely to various causes (the most famous of which was, of course, the failed bid in 1888 to run free beer through the newly dedicated Skidmore Fountain from the brewery).
After Weinhard’s death in 1904, the company continued to flourish, surviving Prohibition by brewing soft drinks and merging with a city competitor, Arnold Blitz, in 1928. By 1953, it was the only brewery in Oregon and an established fixture in the local consciousness.
As regional brewers began to give way to national brewers and consolidation squeezed the brewing industry, few breweries had as many owners at the Blitz-Weinhard plant. Henry’s was sold to Pabst in 1979, then to Heileman, then to Stroh and back to Pabst again before Miller acquired the brand and the brewery was shuttered.