Vignette 16: Karl Ockert (BridgePort, Deschutes)

Karl Ockert was the founding brewer at BridgePort in 1984. In the mid-1990s, he left BridgePort briefly, working at a couple other breweries, before returning. In 2010 he left to join the Master Brewers Association of America as technical director, and in 2015 he became the director of brewery operations at Deschutes. I interviewed him for my Widmer biography last month. I'm also including a relevant quote from an earlier interview I did with Karl back in 2008.

“It wasn’t until later when Thomas Kemper did their Berry Weizen that wheat beers started coming in. And then I was working for Nor’Wester Brewery, and Jim Bernau was looking and going, ‘What’s the most popular style of beer? Wheat beer. That’s what we’re going to make.’ So we made our own Hefeweizen, and we did quite well with it. And then, because Berry Weizen was big, we made a Raspberry Weizen, and that did quite well. (It was awful beer, but it did quite well.)”

“What happens in the brewing business is we’re all follow-the-leader to a certain extent. So, for instance, BridgePort came out with IPA in ’96 and people looked at that and basically said, ‘Hmm, nice, niche beer. But hop-led beers will never become dominant because who’s going to drink anything that hop-loaded, you know?’ Fifty BUs? My god, you have to practically choke that down. And now look at it. Anyway, we’re herd-followers in the beer business, and every once in a while somebody ends up with the ball and they run with it for awhile, and they get to be leaders. Then the fad passes, and away we go.”

Every beer that comes along goes through a novelty curve, and ours is no different. All breweries go through that. If I left BridgePort now and went out and started a new brewery, I could do the same thing. I could take tap handles right and left and get a lot of sampling. But it’s that “stayability”—being able to develop loyalty. That’s the tough part.
— Karl Ockert, 2008