What better way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day than with the announcement that this installment of Little Did I Know is the inaugural episode of an entire four-part series about the pioneers of craft beer in Central Oregon.
And there is really no other way to kick off a series about Central Oregon beer than with the man who started it all. He is Gary Fish, the founder of Deschutes Brewery.
Craft beer has changed the face of Central Oregon. Economically, culturally, its presence is deep in the fiber of all of our lives whether we’re fans of craft beer or not.
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Now, Deschutes was the first brewery in Bend, but they really helped put Central Oregon on the map as well and helped turn craft beer into a national and international phenomenon.
But the Bend Gary came to in the 1980s was not quite the same as the bend of today.
“Very different place. Bend, I think, they were right between changing the the sign as you drive into town from 12,000 people to 15,000 people,” said Gary.
While Gary definitely was a man with the plan, the plan never really was to create one of the largest craft breweries in the United States.
“At the very beginning, our business plan was basically a restaurant. It was the pub downtown. We were going to make our own beer, make some good food, have a nice, comfortable atmosphere and never really anticipated what was to come. I don’t think any rational person could have anticipated the the explosion of craft beer,” said Gary.
The restaurant and the brewery began to take hold. But one day, some pub owners from the big city who were in town on vacation discovered Deschutes and realized that they might be able to fill a craft beer void that existed in Portland. So they contacted at Portland beer distributor, who contacted them in turn.
“He called me, said, ‘Hey, you know, do you want to sell some more beer?’ We had beer. We needed money. So the answer was yes,” said Gary.
Gary said after that, their popularity began to skyrocket and suddenly they had a very good but very real problem on their hands.
“We bought the first piece of land up here on Colorado and started building a larger facility because apparently running an industrial operation out of the back of our pub downtown was not allowed in the city of Bend back then. And began to build a facility that we really didn’t understand how to run,” said Gary.
With the help of many talented brewers, Deschutes went on to become one of the largest craft breweries in the country. And many of those brewers went on to found some of their own artisan breweries.
“John Harris, our original brewmaster at the pub downtown, has been running his own brewery in Portland, Ecliptic Brewing Company,” said Gary. “Larry Sidor at Crux. Tony Lawrence at Boneyard. Paul Arney, that Aail Apothecary. And it goes on and on and on. And suffice it to say, we’ve we’ve populated many of the breweries in Bend with brewers, and I couldn’t be more proud,” said Gary.
So now the dispute has solidified its name in the history books of craft brewing, what is Gary Fish up to these days?
“I’m enjoying running the business from the position of board chair and founder, but the CEO position has moved on to others. And one of the things I’ve learned is we don’t need two CEOs, so I’m going to do my best to stay out of his way,” said Gary.
And while it’s fair to say he is one of the godfathers of craft beer not only in Central Oregon, but really in the world. Gary keeps it all in an amazing perspective that many other businesses could benefit from.
“I mean, I’ve said many times that I always consider myself a pretty good restaurant manager and I was completely unqualified for everything else that’s happened here. So that means that we’ve had to have people who could really manage that level of complexity and and keep this thing going for the last 35 years and hopefully the next 35 years,” said Gary.