Craft beer giant Deschutes considering Charleston for East Coast expansion

The Deschutes Brewery logo

The head of Oregon-based Deschutes Brewery will visit the Charleston region this month to scout sites for an East Coast expansion that could bring as many as 100 new jobs and help solidify this area’s spot on the nation’s craft beer map.

Michael LaLonde, president and chief operating officer for Deschutes, said the company also has visited Greenville and news reports also have Asheville, N.C., in the running for a brewery and packaging center that would let the company move into East Coast markets. Deschutes — the nation’s seventh-largest craft beer maker at nearly 340,000 barrels per year — distributes to 28 states mostly in the West and Midwest.

The East Coast site would brew about 200,000 barrels a year, according to company report, and might triple that output depending on demand.

LaLonde did not specify which sites he will preview in the Charleston area.

“I don’t know a lot about the Charleston beer scene, but we plan to learn much more during our visit,” he said Monday. “Quality of life, outdoor activities available, culture of the community, quality of the schools — both for our co-owners and their children — proximity to beer drinkers and major transportation routes are the biggest criteria, although we have many more.”

LaLonde said having additional craft breweries nearby “is a factor but not a critical one.”

There are eight craft breweries in the Charleston area, according to the industry trade group Brewers Association, with each brewery producing 15,000 or fewer barrels per year.

By contrast, Asheville has 18 craft breweries including big names such as Sierra Nevada, Oskar Blues and New Belgium.

LaLonde has said Deschutes wants to make a final decision on its East Coast site by the end of this year and pour its first pint by spring 2019.

Deschutes is like other major craft brewers who are looking for ways to keep up with growing demand, according to Brewers Association. Craft brewers sold 17.2 percent more volume in 2013 than in 2012, compared with a 1.9 percent drop in overall beer sales. And craft beer now accounts for 14.3 percent of the $100 billion United States beer market.

“Brewery after brewery is looking for ways to grow because when you talk to these companies, the biggest constraint is capacity,” Bart Watson, chief economist for the Brewers Association, told The New York Times. “They’re selling beer as fast as they can make it.”

Deschutes Brewery is a family-owned company that was founded in 1988 by Gary Fish as a small brewpub in Bend, Ore., according to the company’s website. Deschutes now employs more than 450 people and bottles 25 types of beer, including Inversion IPA, Black Butte Porter and Deschutes River Ale. It also brews seasonal beers that are available only at its brewpubs in Bend and Portland, Ore.

South Carolina’s fledgling craft beer industry contributed $254 million to the state’s economy in 2012, the most recent financial statistics available from the Brewers Association.

Reach David Wren at 937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_