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Brotherly love (of beer!)

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One-half of the Widmer Brothers, Rob, shares what it’s like to start a business, brew and make a holiday with his brother.

You tend to field a lot of questions when you own a brewery, but when your business partner is your own brother, the questions are a little different.  Here are some of those I’m most frequently asked:

“What’s it like working with your brother!?”

Kurt (Widmer) and I get this question a lot. Our answer is always the same: “We love it!” At least I do. Honestly, I know it sounds cheesy, but I couldn’t have asked for a better work situation. It’s been an incredible experience so far, and the fact that we’ve been able to honor our family name is something that makes it even more special.

“Where did the idea of starting a brewery come from?”

That’s another question we get all the time, and I suppose the answer is a little more complicated. Neither Kurt nor I ever thought we’d become full-time beer brewers, but I guess looking back on it, it makes sense. We grew up in a beer-drinking family, and it rubbed off on us. Our uncle probably had the greatest impact: He was a homebrewer who loved everything about beer. He also gave Kurt and I our first “taste” (literally and figuratively) of the hoppy goodness we worship today. He’d let us sip on his latest creation and in return we’d help him carry his beer from the garage to the back of the truck. It wasn’t exactly the best beer in the world (frankly, I had a tough time keeping it down) but it was beer, and at that age, taste didn’t matter as much.

As Kurt and I grew older we learned to have more of a respect for the complexities that make beer great (I also came to realize that it was those same complexities that had our uncle yelling the occasional profanity from his “lab” in the middle of the night).  But it wasn’t until after we each graduated from college that we realized beer was in our future.

After graduation, we both moved back home to Portland, Ore. We bounced from job to job trying to find our place in the “real world,” but what we found out was that the “real world” wasn’t for us. We were knee-deep in the proverbial quarter-life crisis, and it was during that ensuing self-discovery phase that we started talking about brewing beer for a living. Kurt actually brought it up to me after a trip to Germany (his internal voice said, “see the world;” mine said, “go camping at the lake every weekend”) where he was introduced to European brews. I guess you could say he was inspired, and his excitement certainly rubbed off on me. When he asked me to quit my job to start a brewery with him, I didn’t hesitate. It was a risk, no doubt, but it presented everything I’d been longing for but couldn’t find; it just took my brother to open my eyes to it.

After that, we took out our lives’ savings, borrowed money from our closest friends and family, and with the help of our dad, started piecing together a brewery from old restaurant materials that we turned into brewing equipment. I’d be lying if I said we never argued during those early days; after all, we were together 18 hours a day, brewing in the morning and delivering kegs in the evening. But I think we’re lucky. I don’t know many people that can say they are as close to their siblings as I am to Kurt.

“What is Brother’s Day?”

The newest question to enter the fray. We started fielding this inquiry leading up to August 11 of this year, and we love it! It means the word is spreading. It’s not every day that you get to help establish a holiday (it’s kind of a lot of pressure!) but, honestly, we’re not entirely sure yet what it is. What I do know is that Kurt and I have been lucky enough to experience, firsthand, the power of brotherhood, and it’s something that we felt deserved acknowledgment. From now on, Brother’s Day is every August 11, and it’s meant to be a day to recognize and give thanks to brotherhood and everything it embodies. The Governor of Oregon actually made it an official holiday in our home state.

So, if you have a brother, whether you started a brewery with him or not, take the time to say thank you (cue violin music)…and then buy him a beer. •

 


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