Full Sail's New Direction

With the arrival of 2007, Full Sail celebrates its 20th anniversary. Among extant, non-amalgamated breweries, its ride has been among the wildest. With age, apparently, does not come stasis. A few weeks ago, Full Sail released Limited Edition Lager, its second in as many years, making it the only Oregon brewery to seriously brew lagers. But before we talk about that, how about a trip down memory lane?
  • 1987 - Brewery founded in Hood River. In their first year, they brewed just 2,000 barrels of Golden Ale in what was a glorified home-brewery (they hand-capped and hand-labeled each bottle).
  • 1988 - Full Sail releases Amber Ale, which quickly becomes a much-imitated standard, eventually evolving into a recognized style (American Amber Ale).
  • 1988-1994 - Full Sail grows at an average rate of 40% per year and is brewing 80,000 barrels by the mid-90s, making it Oregon's largest brewery.
  • 1994-95 - To accommodate expected growth, Full Sail builds a 250,000-barrel brewery (a quarter the size of the old Henry's brewery on Burnside).
  • 1995-98 - Industry-wide collapse strands the brewery with a vast facility and shrinking production.
  • 1998 - Four of the original owners decide to sell their stock, and an Indian beer magnate tries to drive the company into near-bankruptcy so he can buy the brewery on the cheap.
  • 1999 - The brewery manages to weather the storm and the employees pick up the stock, making Full Sail the first employee-owned brewery in the US.
  • 2003 - Full Sail announces it will pick up some of the production of the Henry Weinhard's brand, bringing it back to Oregon.
  • 2005 - The brewery re-brands itself and releases "Session" to tap into the hipster Pabst market. It's a big success.
When it released Session in 2005, the brewery took an interesting risk. They decided to try to create a retro beer that recalled the Northwest's historic regional breweries and was not a challenge to the palate. An industrial lager that was a lot tastier and more expensive than Pabst, but which was cheaper than micro and in the family of Henry's. I recall reading a Foyston article in the Oregonian that quoted Jamie Emmerson, the founding brewer, saying he wanted a beer his neighbor could drink. They were going for a drinker that had been missed by micros--the guy who wanted to like good beer, but really didn't.

So now they have released Limited Edition Lager, part of their LTD series. It's also a lager (I've got a review in the hopper), and further explores the lager market. It is, however, very much unlike Session. Saxer has trod this ground before, discovering that Oregonians don't really like lagers, no matter how good they are (and Saxer's were really good). But that was ten years ago, so now maybe Oregonians have expanded their horizons. It's another interesting gamble, but one worth watching.