Widmer Brothers Brewing


Established: 1984
Founders: Rob and Kurt Widmer
Brewers: Joe Casey, Doug Rehberg, Ben Dobler, and Matt Licklider 
Location: 929 N Russell St., Portland, OR 97227
Specialty: Hefeweizen 
Fun Facts:

  • As the Widmers achieved exponential success, others in the industry took notice. Competitors tried to visit and videotape the process--one even hired a Widmer brewer to divulge his secrets!
  • Widmer was the first brewery in the US to offer a full, four-seasonal beer lineup.
  • The brothers sifted through a library copy of Oregon Names in search of a name for their brewery. They decided to incorporate their last name only after a friend suggested they “look around the world and see that most of the breweries with 100 years of heritage or more had family names on them.”

The now-legendary Widmer brothers, founders of one of the first post-Prohibition breweries in Portland, have maintained a legacy of innovation and success nearly unheard of among craft brewers. Their popular Hefeweizen is now a household name in the United States, often credited with popularizing the style among American beer drinkers. So great has been its growth, in fact, that Widmer has attracted hosts of local critics who argue against its status as a craft brewery. But it wasn’t always so.

Established in 1984 as Widmer Brewing Company, the brothers’ joint venture boasted a ten-barrel brewery hand-crafted from scraps. Located near fellow fledgling brewery BridgePort, Widmer Brewing was the result of nine months of hard labor and ingenuity from the brothers and their father, Ray. Their tanks came from a junkyard: remnants from a nuclear power plant that failed to get licensed. Mash tuns were hand-stirred, 100-pound bags of grain heaved about by the brothers themselves. Distribution was a labor-intensive affair. Without a forklift, the brothers loaded kegs onto a table, from which they would toss the containers into the truck. Often, Rob and Kurt made deliveries themselves, loading kegs into their dad’s vintage Datsun truck--a vehicle they still bring out for special occasions.

Despite having received pushback for some of its business decisions, Widmer has remained an active supporter of the craft brewing industry and its homebrewing roots. One of the original pillars of the Oregon Brewers Festival, Widmer still sends a special, for-OBF-only beer to the fest. In addition, its Collaborator series helps members of the Oregon Brew Crew see the fruits of their labors on a large scale, offering talented homebrewers the room to make large-scale batches of their creations.

After more than thirty years in the business, Widmer continues to find success in an increasingly-packed industry. Recent ventures like the Omission line of gluten free beers and sponsorship of the Portland Timbers have kept the business relevant and productive. And despite Kurt Widmer’s retirement from the Craft Brew Alliance board in 2015, CBA sales continue to thrive across the country. Widmer and its affiliates now produce three-quarters of a million barrels per year--a mighty jump from the mere 800 barrels produced its first year in business.