As the volume of craft breweries grows to historic levels, it’s harder and harder to stand out in a meaningful way. In 2015 Deschutes Brewery decided to bring their own local flavor into some of their top markets via the Street Pub, a 402-foot bar built to replicate one of their brewpubs back home in Bend and Portland. Taking the portable pub on the road, they shut down seven downtown blocks to raise funds of almost $400,000 for local charities along the way.
While they knew the pop-up bar would be popular, the results were beyond expectations for Deschutes, from the magically perfect weather they encountered to the game of one-upping the previous city. “It’s an expensive thing to do,” says Joey Pleich, Deschutes’ Field Marketing Manager who led the endeavor. “Street Pub has been a big risk.” But in the end it was also a big success.
Pleich gives us the behind the scenes action of Street Pub 2015 and tells us what 2016 will bring. Deschutes recently released vintage 2015 barrel-aged versions of The Abyss Imperial Stout, aged on both cognac and rye whiskey barrels from Willett Distillery and will be announcing a new east coast facility within the coming month.
Paste: How did the first year of Street Pub go?
Pleich: It started in Philly and exponentially grew from there. It was really cool, a challenge going city to city where our non-profit partner and the community would get involved and share numbers from the previous city. They were all excited to try and top those previous numbers and that’s pretty much what happened across the board.
We started with 6,000 in Philly, where we raised about $40,000 for charity, and at the end of the year we had 14,000 people raising $100,000 for charity. It’s been way bigger than we thought or planned. We thought it would be something where we’d shut down a city block and throw an awesome beer party for a day and raise $15,000-20,000 and celebrate the culture of our pub. That has spiraled into one of the bigger programs in the country.
Paste: What are the 2016 plans?
Pleich: There will be a mix of going back to the same places and new places. We want to spread the love but, at the same time, there are certain communities that really embrace the concept and we want to go back.
Paste: What’s it like bringing the pub on the road? The dates are spread apart. Is it a total disassembly before the next city each time?
Pleich: They were spread out because it’s been me doing all the planning and execution. I’ve got an awesome team that works with me, but there’s a lot to be done on the front end.
We usually close down a street at midnight, build all night, set up at about 8am and the rest of the team comes together. Then as soon as we’re done, we start tearing down. We’re there until about 5am on Sunday, it goes back into the truck and onto the next city where we park it with our distributor until we’re ready to do it all over again.
It’s a lot of work and manpower and planning for an eight-hour event but when an eight-hour event can generate that kind of fundraising for a local non-profit, it’s totally worth it.
Paste: Why did you work with local charities vs. a single national one?
Pleich: Street Pub is meant to emulate our pub and our culture. A big part of our brewery getting off the ground in the first place was the local support we got. We were doing something very different in Bend, where there wasn’t a large population, but the local community came together to help us get off the ground. Ever since then we’ve been very thankful and we wanted to give back.
We want to have a sense of local pride wherever our beer is sold. With that, instead of a national brand we find other local organizations that are likeminded to ourselves, whether that’s based off a food bank system or water and land preservation or working with families and better food or whatever it may be. It’s awesome to align with local stuff like that. Not just local non-profits, but in some of the cities we’ve worked with other local breweries to elevate them. It was cool to partner with local bands, breweries, restaurants, and non-profits and give them a platform. That’s what Street Pub was about: sharing that sense that good beer brings people together.
Street Pub is a way to showcase all things local, not just us. We’re just the means that makes it happen. It’s cool to sit back and see Street Pub as the vehicle bringing everything together but to see it as helping a community celebrate itself is cool in its own merit, with or without our involvement.
Paste: Do you think working with other breweries is something you’ll expand on?
Pleich: I think so. We’ve been basing it off breweries that are in close to where we’re doing the event. In Chicago, we worked with Revolution Brewing. It was their neighborhood and we wanted to make sure we were paying respect. They were awesome partners who donated beer and helped raise money. It’s cool to have that brothers-in-arms kind of thing that can get lost at times in the beer industry. We’re all in this together, let’s do something for the community.
Paste: Through one year, did you get the vibe that you transferred Deschutes culture into the various streets?
Pleich: I think people really saw that we were there to partner up and celebrate and leave something behind that would last instead of some crazy event trying to jam a message down people’s throat. All the money is staying in each community, it’s awesome. It was out in front of everybody and people really embraced it. They can connect that positive experience for their city with Deschutes and that’s what we were going for.
Check out the video about Deschutes’ pop up street pub.