The Bigger Picture: Deschutes Brewery and the Deschutes River Recordings

Eric D. Johnson

“Welcome to the riverside high wire: live, unadorned, far from a studio safety net.”

“Brew, drink, repeat” has been our mantra for the past 8 years. It’s a simple, closed, beer-filled circle. It’s a very high level view of the craft brewing and drinking community, so we’re going to dig a little deeper. Beer is, at it’s core, a business. Simply stated, if a brewery can’t support itself through beer sales, it will inevitably cease to be a brewery. While the finer accounting may be a bit more complicated, it boils down to making more money than you spend. Once you get that aspect mastered, you’re potentially on your way to self-sustainability.

A business can solely exist within the walls of it’s building: brewing, cooking, serving, drinking, and bookkeeping. Stepping outside those walls and interacting with the community is purely an ethical decision. Recognizing that you’re part of a bigger picture and participating in your community is certainly not mandatory.

Gary Fish

Deschutes Brewery is a great example of what businesses should do. In fact, for every barrel of beer they sell, $1 is set aside for the following year for community projects. In 2011, Deschutes Brewery produced 220,000 barrels of beer. Despite not being a mathematician, I work that out to be $220,000 that returns to the community in some form or another. Each month, an internal team at the brewery gets together to decide how to allocate the money.

For his role in the leadership of Deschutes Brewery, last week founder Gary Fish was awarded the The Al and Pat Reser Civic Leadership Award. Fish’s commitment to his community not only drives him personally, but is reflected through his business by the choices it makes in tackling local issues and funding local programs.

From the press release: “…Deschutes Brewery founder and owner Gary Fish was awarded The Al and Pat Reser Civic Leadership Award at the 2012 Governors’ Gold Awards ceremony at the Oregon Convention Center. The award recognizes one individual each year who has shown a commitment to promoting quality of life in his or her community. Fish was chosen based on the recommendation of mayors from around the state who recognized his impactful support of local art, music, natural resources and more.”

“A strong proponent of community involvement, Gary has served on many local and regional boards, been recognized for community service and business operations by the Oregon Restaurant Association, and was previously named as Bend Chamber Citizen of the Year. Fish founded the popular Sagebrush Classic event, which has raised $3 million for Central Oregon children and family charities over the past two decades.”

This ethos pervades the entire company, creating an internal sense of community as well as fostering an inspirational environment, which is sadly absent at many companies. Does this translate directly into their brewing practices? While it’s hard to provide a direct linkage between the two, it’s hard to argue that happy, inspired, and charitable employees are a detriment to the final product. In fact, I would go much further and say that an inspired sense of community in the workplace does breed determination and experimentation, directly reflected in some of the great beer that Deschutes Brewery puts in our glasses.

The latest project, Deschutes River Recordings is a great example of taking these contributions a step further, reaching out beyond the local community to get support for the local community. This benefit is to raise money and awareness for the Deschutes River Conservancy. Starting in the late 1800s, the Deschutes river has been diverted from its natural path in order to sustain early settlers, livestock, and agriculture. Unfortunately, today this means that the river is not in a naturally healthy state, suffering from seasonal disruptions of streamfow which affects fish habitats, water quality, and contributes to erosion problems. One of the main goals is to restore a stable streamflow to the river for the course of the entire year: “The Deschutes River Conservancy is a non-profit organization with the mission to restore streamflow and improve water quality in the Deschutes River Basin.” This year, Deschutes Brewery donated enough money to the Deschutes River Conservancy to put one billion gallons of water back into the Deschutes River.

For the Deschutes River Recordings effort, the brewery teamed up with Pitchfork and Portland creative brand agency North (perpetrators of the fantastic Deschutes Landmarks video which was part of Deschutes Brewery’s rebranding effort last year). With Pitchfork and North on the job, the Deschutes River Recordings has access to a large audience, and the potential for great creative quality. Getting Northwest indie musicians on board isn’t a hard sell for an interesting project and a good cause. The first three musicians who have released songs under this project are Eric D, Johnson (Fruit Bats), Eric Earley (Blitzen Trapper), and Laura Gibson.

“In a unique partnership between musician and cause, we’ve lined up a roster of independent artists to perform river-themed songs from the banks of the waters so vital to our ecosystem, not to mention to our beer.”

Of course, the artist could release any track to benefit the cause, but the package we get through the Deschutes River Recordings is so much more. The recordings are all original, out in the field, and captured beautifully on audio and video. Even outside of the studio, the musician’s were able to be creative with their ideas and instrumentation, all while capturing the subtleties of the performance and dynamics of the open spaces, the river, and the natural habitat surrounding them. The investment in high quality production will hopefully pay off in the long run, reaching out well beyond the beer community. Rather than simply releasing a studio recording for the benefit, the Deschutes River Recordings creates an entire vivid, long lasting experience centered around the river itself, with the artists paying homage to the nature that surrounds them. From the press release: “Deschutes River Recordings is a unique collaboration between artist and cause. Deschutes Brewery put out the call for independent artists to sing river-themed songs, from the banks of the river, to benefit the vital work of the Deschutes River Conservancy. They’re musicians as committed to the cause as they are the craft. And fearless enough to tackle whatever covers Deschutes Brewery fans tossed their way. Welcome to the riverside high wire: live, unadorned, far from a studio safety net.”

There has been no discussion of any more artists joining the roster, but if this effort is a success, there’s no reason that this great program won’t continue. Of course, that depends on you. As the Deschutes River Recording page really sums up the effort nicely: “Enjoy the films. Download the music. Explore the cause.”  The videos and music downloads are free, but hopefully, you’ll be inspired to donate to this great cause. I was inspired, I donated, an I’d love to see this series continue.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>