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Brewery parties pay off in publicity

More craft ale makers stage festivals despite the red ink involved

Portland Brewing Co.'s line for this weekend's Uncle Otto's Oktoberfest is that it's 'where lederhosen meets Led Zeppelin.'

It's also where craft brewers, who generally employ word-of-mouth marketing, meet the world of cross-promotion and value-added special events.

Uncle Otto's Oktoberfest is the Portland brewing world's biggest special event. But lately several other companies have taken the plunge, too.

The Alameda Brewing Co., 4765 N.E. Fremont St., recently sponsored the Big Little Guy Brewers Festival, for example. The Lucky Labrador Brewing Co., 915 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd., is planning its ever-growing 'Dogtoberfest' Ñ featuring the popular charity dog wash Ñ for Oct. 12.

Bashes such as these have become trademark events for Portland's brewers. The Oktoberfest, now in its 10th year, attracts more than 10,000 revelers as well as such nationally known musical acts as Brave Combo and New Orleans legends the Radiators.

'From a business standpoint, it makes sense for several reasons,' said Eric Starr, Portland Brewing's marketing manager. 'For one, it lets people come right here to the brewery and experience it.'

Portland Brewing has raised the Oktoberfest profile by enlisting sponsors (including the Portland Tribune) to help offset the costs. But even with sponsors, the event, like most pub-held offerings, falls just short of breaking even.

'We offset about 90 percent of the costs,' Starr said. 'But the publicity exposure we get is worth way more than what we pay for with the other 10 percent.'

Similarly, the Alameda Big Little Guy Brewers Festival has landed in the red each of the last four years. One reason, said pub co-owner Matt Schumacher, is that Alameda now pours its profits into entertainment and toward attracting an exotic array of exhibiting brewers.

'The publicity we gave ourselves is our profit,' Schumacher said. 'Heading toward the winter months, our business slows down a little bit. This will help us pick up that business. The festival helps put our names in people's minds.'

'These events rarely do make money,' said Jim Parker, executive director of the Oregon Brewers Guild. 'It's like a party you throw at your house for your best friends. You don't need to spend a lot of money to make it real nice, and you don't want to gouge anyone. It's a good way to try out stuff you may not normally.'

On the other hand, Lucky Lab's Dogtoberfest earns it supplementary sales while steering proceeds toward the Dove Lewis Emergency Animal Hospital. Last year, the event raised more than $40,000 for the hospital.

The fest has become a huge happening among Portland pooch owners: Gary Geist, a Lucky Lab co-owner, expects to soap up more than 600 hounds this year.

'The past couple of years, we've broken even on it, maybe even did a little better,' Geist reports.

Still, Dogtoberfest has grown enough that Geist must use Lucky Lab's entire back parking lot to accommodate all of the dirty dogs. Likewise, Starr said Oktoberfest could be close to outgrowing the Portland Brewing Co.'s space at 2730 N.W. 31st Ave.

'If it gets much bigger, we'll have to move it,' he said.