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The Oregonian - DeFazio, Walden Lead Small Brewers Caucus

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Location: The Dalles, OR

The Oregonian - DeFazio, Walden Lead Small Brewers Caucus

Oregon congressmen say that beer is definitely a bipartisan issue.

The five Oregon members of the U.S. House dominate the newly formed 34-member House Small Brewers Caucus, co-chaired by Democrat Peter DeFazio and Republican Greg Walden.

In the world of House caucuses, having co-chairmen from the same state delegation is unusual, but, as Walden put it, "Yes, but if you have the best beer, you want the best co-chairs."

Oregon representatives are fiercely proud of Oregon's craft breweries . There are 1,300 small brewers nationally, with "small" defined as producing less than 2 million gallons a year.

"Oregon has been at the forefront of the movement," said Walden. "Our small breweries have about 11 percent of the market share in Oregon, which is the highest of any state."

Walden said about 38 percent of the beer made in Oregon is consumed within the state, which has four of the top 50 microbreweries in the country: Deschutes, Full Sail, Rogue and McMenamins.

"That's from an industry that didn't exist 25 years ago," Walden said.

U.S. Rep. David Wu, a Democrat, agreed.

"Craft breweries are very special to the Pacific Northwest," he said.

They also are considered a "value-added" agricultural product, turning hops, malt, yeast and water into a sizable variety of beer and ale varieties, from the palest pilsener to the stoutest stout.

U.S. Rep. Darlene Hooley, also a Democrat, has some firsthand experience with one of those key raw materials.

"When we first moved to Oregon from North Dakota," she said, "our entire family went out to pick hops."

But she said they gave up after just one long day that netted the family only $1.25. "I'm really glad they now pick them by machine," Hooley said.

DeFazio has an even stronger connection with the industry; he's a longtime home brewer himself.

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