USA: Craft beer of FIFCO USA in steady decline

After 34 years in business, Portland Brewing Company will forever cease operations on Feb. 5. The brewery, which is since 2012 part of FIFCO USA, is already the group’s third brewery to close or sell within one year. Just a few years ago, FIFCO USA used to be one of the top ten craft brewing groups in the United States.

In June 2020, FIFCO USA announced to sell the brewery and equipment of its Magic Hat Brewing Company in South Burlington, Vermont to Zero Gravity Craft Brewery. Production of the Magic Hat beer brands was transferred to Genesee Brewing Company, in Rochester, New York, where FIFCO USA is headquartered.

About one and a half months earlier, FIFCO USA already said, it was permanently closingits Pyramid Alehouse in Seattle, Washington, and was transferring production to Portland Brewing Co, the one which will now also close. (, 1.5.2020)

Pyramid used to operate several brewpub restaurants dubbed "Alehouses", which were all closed in recent years. The Alehouse in Sacramento, California closed its doors in March 2013, the Berkeley location closed in 2015, and the Walnut Creek location closed in early 2016.

The Seattle Alehouse which closed in 2020 relied “heavily on events that draw a significant number of people to Seattle’s SoDo neighborhood,” FIFCO USA's CEO Rich Andrews who took office in January 2020 explained last year. “Our Alehouse business has become increasingly difficult to operate,“ he added. “The current environment will make it even harder.”

However, the pandemic and the measures to contain the coronavirus were apparently only the tip of the iceberg. The underlying problems of Portland Brewing Co., like with the other breweries of FIFCO USA were much bigger.

"It just no longer made sense to sustain the operation given the brand footprint, competitive craft beer landscape, and capital investments needed to update the brewery," confirmed Andrews today. "We wish there were an alternative. The history of the Portland brewery and its brands made this a very difficult decision," he added.

Frequently changing owners, names and strategies were one of the main problems facing the brewery.

Founded in 1986, Portland Brewing Company was one of the pioneers of the craft beer movement in the United States. Malcolm "Mac" MacTarnahan was one of the main investors and in 1992 the brewery named a beer in his honor, MacTarnahan’s Amber Ale which quickly became their flagship brand. In 2000, Portland Brewing Company merged with Saxer Brewing Company of Lake Oswego. When Pyramid Breweries of Seattle bought the company in 2004, it was renamed to MacTarnahan's Brewing Company. In 2008, Pyramid itself was acquired by Magic Hat Brewing Company which was subsequently bought by North American Breweries of Rochester, New York in 2010 and by Costa Rican company Florida Ice & Farm Co. in 2012. In 2013 the brewery announced it would return to the Portland Brewing Company name.

In 2018, Portland Brewing already mothballed its Northwest Portland restaurant and taproom citing Portland’s challenging restaurant market as the primary reason for the closure. The company itself, like many of the early pioneers had been in trouble for years. When in the last years more and more local craft breweries popped up in every corner of the country, many older craft breweries which had already started a supra-regional distribution experienced problems. (, 18.12.2017)

“This is what happens when the no one that manages has a stake in the business…absentee owners with no connection to the city,” Art Larrance, founder and former owner of Portland Brewing commented on the closure.

After the closure, 27 employees of Portland Brewing will be let go with severance pay and production will be transferred to the Genesee production facility in Rochester, New York. The future use of the Portland brewing equipment, including the signature copper tanks is not yet decided.

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