Ron Gansberg Departs Cascade Brewing

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A totally unexpected note appeared on the Cascade Brewing Facebook page yesterday morning:

We are incredibly sad to announce that Cascade brewmaster Ron Gansberg has moved on to pursue other opportunities. Ron has been in the beer business for 30+ years, and has been with Cascade Brewing since day one. His contributions to the company over the past two decades have been immeasurable, and his foresight in helping create the Northwest Sour Beer category was groundbreaking. Cascade Brewing owes a big thanks to Ron, and his presence and wizardry will be missed. We wish him all the best in his future endeavors. Servus!

This was a shocker. Brewers leave breweries all the time, and the news doesn’t generally warrant much comment. But rarely is a brewer’s personality so entwined with the beer as Gansberg’s is with Cascade—for all practical purposes, he is Cascade. 

I first visited Ron in 2008 to see the experiment he was running as the head brewer at Art Larrance’s Raccoon Lodge. He was a year into the project, which at that point was a quirky side gig. The Rac Lodge was at the time serving mostly uninteresting brewpub ales to westside Portlanders in a building that felt like an Appleby’s. Most of the brewery’s customers didn’t want experimental beer, and they certainly didn’t want anything sour. Nevertheless, Ron pushed his quixotic efforts forward, focusing on fruit-forward, all-lacto sours that he aged for months in barrels that increasingly crowded the brewhouse.

Ron is truly an original. He has a jokey manner and an impish smile and anyone familiar with his beer knows his love of puns. (A sampling that have made it onto labels: Vlad the Imp Aler, Bourbonic Plaugue, Pearpawsterous.) He might drop a dozen in the course of a conversation, seeming to take glee in proportion to the amount of groaning they elicit. But his light manner belies the care and attention he has always taken with his sour ales. On my first visit, he described to me how he made his Apricot Ale—then as now one of his best beers. He personally went down the Gorge to select the variety and lots of apricots, bringing them back the the brewery in flats. He didn’t immediately add all the fruit, but spent days pulling off batches as they hit peak ripeness. Later, he took the pits, cracked the shells, and added the meat inside to his almondy Noyaux. There was no process too intensive. After all that work preparing the beer for barrels, he and his team blended the beer in a dizzying combination of flavors.

No surprise—the beers were not an immediate success. Sour ales have never been a big part of the market, and Ron was well ahead of trends. Worse, the experimental, intensely-sour ales were a terrible fit for the suburban Raccoon Lodge, where Raspberry Wheat was a favorite. Nevertheless, Ron continued to hustle, and bit by bit, his vision started to connect with an audience. To his credit, Larrance came to recognize the potential in Ron’s vision and created the Cascade Barrel House to showcase the beers—in the much more beer-geek friendly terrain of Southeast Portland. 

Over the decade plus that followed, Cascade blossomed as Ron’s vision came into focus. The beers were so successful that the company invested in a large-scale brewery and barrel house offsite. They grew to be so popular that they even displaced the identity of the original brewery—out was the Raccoon Lodge and in was The Lodge at Cascade Brewing. Ron’s side project had become the main event.

I have no information about Ron’s departure. I do hope to sit down with him soon and hear what happened and what’s comes next. And I don’t expect Cascade’s beers to change much as a result of Ron’s departure; Cascade’s processes and approach have now become routine, and Kevin Martin has been the cellermaster and lead blender for the past four years. Breweries outlive their founders, and Cascade will carry on in Ron’s absence. 

Nevertheless, it’s still hard to imagine a Gansberg-less Cascade. It is such a reflection of his vision and personality. Even the announcement yesterday contained a bit of Ron. “Servus!” was his trademark salutation, punctuating every personal missive and brewery communication. To see that word was to hear his lilting, joyful voice. Thinking of Cascade without it is, well, unthinkable. 

Whatever comes next, Ron, best of luck— 

 

 A perfect evocation of what it was like to tour the brewery with Ron, as John Holl and I did back in 2016.

A perfect evocation of what it was like to tour the brewery with Ron, as John Holl and I did back in 2016.

Jeff Alworth1 Comment