It’s no secret, craft brewing is a staple of life in the Pacific Northwest. It’s also no secret that great beer is the perfect complement to great music. As in turns out, we happen to really love both. Therefore, we’ve decided to launch a new project, one that involves extraordinary beer.
Ninkasi Brewing Company has become an influential organization in terms of its ability to develop artistic brews and its dedication to the Eugene community. I had the opportunity to sit down with James Book, the marketing director at Ninkasi, in order to ask him a few questions about beer, the Pacific Northwest, and the Eugene community.
How long have you been here for?
I’m in my fourth year. I had a small start up previous to this and we were getting some of our ingredients co-op with Jamie, one of the founding brewers and a co-owner of ours here, and I just got pulled into it all, gratefully.
As one of, if not the premiere brewers in Eugene or Oregon for that matter, what are some of the trends that you’ve noticed in the craft brew business?
When we started the IPA was not the premiere category that it has become in the Northwest today. So that is probably the biggest trend, people love hops. It used to be an acquired taste but now IPA is one of the biggest categories. Total Domination was our first beer we ever made just because we liked it. So now, we’re grateful that it has caught on because it’s almost half of our business.
Why was it an IPA at first?
It’s what we like. That’s my go to beer everyday and it’s my pint after work. Again, we just make beer that we like and we’ve been lucky enough that what we like happens to be a good cross section of people’s lifestyles here in the Northwest. It has worked out for everybody.
Ninkasi, from my understanding, has become more than a microbrewery. According to the Brewer’s Association it is considered a regional brewery. What does that allow you to do?
It has caused us to expand greatly. Last year, my department only had two events people. This year we have ten people. So we’ve put people in outlying areas and it has allowed us to localize. Rather than coming from Eugene to work in Seattle or San Francisco, we’ve hired people in those areas that have the same cultural alignment as we do here. It’s allowed us to expand our brand message in those markets in ways that are more easily understood. It has allowed us a wider reach.
When you first came to Ninkasi, what was the craft brew climate like in Eugene?
It still is very rebellious. I was in the music business previous and I toured for 20 years, so I like to do things the way I like to do them. I think I was pulled into craft brewing because it is essentially the new punk rock band. We just do what we like and right now that seems to be in alignment with the general population’s tastes, so that is a good thing. Craft brewing is very rebel spirited.
Where do you see the Eugene beer culture headed in the next few years?
I’m not sure. There is such an incredible bubble right now with craft beer in general. It’s blowing up all over the country. Here in the Northwest, in Portland and Eugene, we’ve sort of been at the head of the curve on that. So wherever it’s headed I’m sure the Northwest will get there before the rest of the country does.
There might be a little fear, or more like butterflies, of the unknown but who knows where it will go. What I do know is that there are more and more breweries, everyone is expanding their capacities, and people keep drinking it.
So what are Ninkasi’s plans for the future?
We’re breaking ground this month and expanding our brewery for the fourth time. We’re just going to keep making the best beer that we can. One of our core values is quality at any cost. In example, we use the amount of hops equivalent to some breweries 6 times our size. We’re very art driven, we make beers we like. We don’t look at ingredients and say, ‘Oh, we’ll get a better margin if we use less ingredients or worse ingredients.’ We’re going to expand, but we’re going to do it framed in quality. We will not compromise at all.
Ninkasi is in the middle of Whitaker, in a quiet neighborhood, how does the brewery fit into this community?
Well Jamie has always been the village brewer. He was the brew master at Steelhead. He wanted a little more freedom so he sort of carried that village brewer mentality into how we structure our business. We’re very much of the community and part of this neighborhood. We do everything we can to give back to it, whether it’s the Whitaker Block Party sponsorship or even in the expanded community. We sponsor Northwest String Summit and a lot of music and cultural things.
What is the core objective of Ninkasi?
We do have a core purpose that we’ve worked on. Believe it or not, the entire management team went out to a yurt once a week for about a year. We figured out, ‘hey, why are we here and what are we trying to do?’ To perpetuate better living is our core purpose. It’s the singular reason why we are in business. Our core values support that.
Really, it’s about making our immediate community and outward better than we found it. So hopefully we can do that with beer. Nothing too complicated there.
If you’re local to Eugene or just passing through this weekend, then make sure you stop by the 6th annual Whiteaker Block Party this Saturday, sponsored in part by Ninkasi. The event features music, art, beer, and food.Tweet