Ben Dobler is the and Manager for Brewing Innovation for all of the Craft Brew Alliance (Widmer, Kona Brewing, Red Hook, & O’mission) His job is to oversee product development and quality. Dobler has been in the brewing industry for over 21 years and has been with the Widmer since 1996.
Q: Being with Widmer as long as you have, how have you seen the craft brew industry in Oregon evolve?
A:The great thing about Oregon beer is that we are about 5-7 years ahead of what I would call the national curve. The majority of trends happen on the coasts and move either way, and craft beer started on the west coast and has moved itself east.
A: I look at the region we are in and that’s part of the reason Oregon beers are so on the forefront and forward thinking. It’s pretty amazing what we have around us. Starting first and foremost our water quality; we have amazing water to make beer with. Then we look at raw material proximity. The Willamette valley and the Yakima Valley combine for about 25% of the worlds hops and about 70% of hops in North America.
Q: What’s the perception of Oregon craft brew outside of Oregon?
A: The minute you say you are a brewer from Oregon, and more specifically, Portland, you get almost instant street cred, if you will. People definitely respect what Oregon brings to the table from the diversity and authenticity and originality of beer styles.
Q: Do you think those qualities reflect some of Oregon’s values?
A: I think so. Being born and raised, I look at what brings people to Oregon and there is kind of common thread in lifestyle, mentality, and to use a golf term, “pace of play.” People really are not a go-go-go, there’s kind of a calm mellowness and almost an artistic way of how we approach everyday life. There is a little more of an “eh” It is what it is. That doesn’t mean we’re apathetic, but if adversity hits us, we have a little more level-headed demeanor of how we deal with that.
Q: What do you think Craft beer is up against in the sense of competition with major domestic brewers in the U.S. ?
A: As a society, we desire consistency. I mean if you look at our society as a whole, if things are consistent, we are genuinely pretty happy, so say what your want about certain larger corporate brands that people might shun because they are “large corporation” but there is a reason why they are number one at what they do. It’s because you can go anywhere in the world, and for better or worse a McDonald’s hamburger tastes the same, a cup of Starbucks tastes the same, and that’s not an easy feat to overcome, especially when you are talking about beer. I could lay seven different beers from seven different Budweiser breweries and they taste all identical and that’s not because they are using some angel dust or GMO or magic potion that makes them taste the same, it’s just really skilled processes. When you look at these other up and coming brewers, that’s what they are striving to do.
Q: What is the brand spirit and identity of Widmer?
A: I’d probably say collaboration. The brothers created a culture of wanting to see everybody grow and be successful. We help out all of our Oregon brewery friends. We see beyond our walls. If there is a bad beer being brewed in Oregon that’s a black eye for all of us. So we want everyone’s beer experience in Oregon to be the best beer experience there is.