The news hit craft beer drinkers late last year almost without warning: 10 Barrel brewing, a Bend, Oregon craft brewery gaining national acclaim after bringing home medals at the Great American Beer Festival for several years, tucked itself neatly under the umbrella of the world’s largest beer company. Anheuser-Busch/InBev bought 10 Barrel and while it was not the first craft acquisition by the beer giant, it may have been a tipping point in an accelerating trend—AB/InBev acquisitions this year include Seattle's Elysian and LA’s Golden Road. Not be left out, Constellation (makers of Corona) bought San Diego’s Ballast Point just this week. And while outrage over the 10 Barrel sale in the beer geek community was swift (there must be a video on a Beer Advocate message board of the Budweiser Clydesdale’s pulling a beer wagon with the Star Wars Imperial March playing in the background) FWx wanted to see what was actually happening on the brewing floor at 10 Barrel a year after the sale.
First, it’s worth noting the humble origins of 10 Barrel. Just under 10 years ago, twin brothers Chris and Jeremy Cox dropped everything to start brewing beer and sell it from the back of their pickup trucks. And the Coxes certainly didn’t pick an easy place to do it. Bend, Oregon is (wonderfully) saturated with beer. The city of 80,000 people has 21 breweries; New York City (8.5 million people) has 26. Demand is high, but competition is higher. But with that competition, Chris and Jeremy say, comes camaraderie. “All brewers are friends,” says Chris. “We help each other out.” If the Coxes were short on hops, they could ask for some from Deschutes or Cascade Lakes. Or Crux or Bend or Boneyard. The brother-/sisterhood of brewing industry helped them survive. So did tirelessly brewing and selling beer to local Bend bars and restaurants. But what helped even more was good beer.
The Apocalypse IPA gave 10 Barrel the momentum it needed. The brewery used hops from nearby farms in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, and the freshness of (relatively) local ingredients shone through in the beer’s taste. Drinkers noticed, and Apocalypse helped Chris, Jeremy, and business partner Garrett Wales—who had poured everything they had into their enterprise—finally break even after three years. They also offered the dark Sinistør Black Ale, which took home its first Great American Beer Fest medal in 2009.