Pioneering American Wild Ale Producer Cascade Brewing Has Shut Down for Good

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Pioneering American Wild Ale Producer Cascade Brewing Has Shut Down for Good

Today, the craft beer world is mourning the loss of yet another iconic, deeply influential brewery, with the news that Portland, Oregon wild ale specialists Cascade Brewing have shut their doors for the last time. The 25-year-old company has already ceased operations and closed its East Portland taproom.

Cascade was founded by a legend of the Oregon craft beer scene, Art Larrance, in 1998. Along with brewmaster Ron Gansberg, they created what they referred to as the “Northwest Sour,” a house style that effectively became the template for many breweries to emulate in bringing traditional European sour beer styles to the U.S. The Northwest Sour had elements of lambic, but was also decidedly its own beast, often bracingly tart and unlike anything that the vast majority of drinkers had experienced before. For many drinkers, a fruited Cascade sour ale was the first exposure to genuinely tart beer they had ever encountered.

Larrance himself, who passed away earlier this year at the age of 80, was an almost mythic figure in the local beer scene. The prior founder of Portland Brewing, he was also behind the Oregon Brewers Festival and had been one of the driving forces behind the 1985 craft brewery/brewpub bill that first legalized on-premise consumption of beer at breweries in the state. He ultimately founded Cascade in 1998 as a brewpub then called “The Raccoon Lodge,” but with the development of their Northwest Sour style, the brewery became lauded throughout the country and ultimately the world. Known for their 750 ml bottles of styles such as Kriek and other various fruited sours, Cascade Brewing beers collected every conceivable variety of award and medal.

Larrance ultimately sold the company to a group of local investors in 2020, but things get confusing here, as there are reports that this deal essentially never became official, and that the new management was continuing to pay Larrance and never actually assumed legal control of the business. Ultimately, the liquor license and business officially remained in his name, which only complicated matters after his unexpected passing in May of 2024.

At the same time, it can’t be ignored that Cascade Brewing also struggled to retain its prior relevance with drinkers in recent years, as the growth of the craft beer industry first ebbed and then ultimately reversed in the 2020s and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Large format, expensive sours and wild ales like Cascade’s flagships have been among the hardest hit, particularly because a younger generation of brewers were able to undercut companies like Cascade on price, if not necessarily on quality. Regardless, it became increasingly untenable to wait a year or two in producing a $25 bottle of oak-aged, fruited wile ale when the dozen breweries down the block were all producing their own inexpensive kettle sours to roughly replicate the same experience. Cascade was by no means the only widely praised and awarded brewery in this mold to find itself in this situation in the last few years: Just look at Denver’s lauded Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales, which also closed up shop in 2023, citing the changing demographics and consumer taste of the craft beer market.

In its heyday, Cascade Brewing produced some of the most influential sour beer and wild ales in the history of the American craft brewing movement. They were instrumental in inspiring an entire generation of brewers interested in wild ales and spontaneous fermentation, but sadly that same generation is one now facing some of the biggest challenges in keeping their doors open. If you have a wild ale specialist in your city, you may want to go out of your way to patronize that business while you still can.

Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident beer and spirits geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.

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