Fresh out of graduating from Grant High School back in 2008 Cameron Murphy took his first paying job bussing tables at Laurelwood Brewing. A year later he decided that a potential career in brewing might be his calling. Just as many others that start their brewing career he began cleaning kegs in the brewhouse. Now seven years Cameron has been promoted to Brewmaster at Laurelwood Brewing as Ben Dobler steps down as Head of Brewing Operations.
We had the opportunity to sit down with Cameron on Wednesday to learn more about his background what to expect from him and his fellow Laurelwood brewers. Cameron has a great brew team that consists of Noah Palmer (Head Brewer), Eric Ebel (Assistant to the Head Brewer), Calvin Popp (Brewer), Jon Boerner (Lead Cellarmen), Travis Robinson (Assistant to the Lead Cellarmen), and Max Pintar (Keg Washer).
A third generation Portlander, Cameron grew up in Northeast Portland and graduated from Grant High School. Upon graduation he wasn’t quite sure what he wanted to do so he took an entry-level position at Laurelwood Brewing and worked bussing tables. He then became enamored about what went on in the brewery and decided to give it a shot at the most monotonous job in brewing, washing kegs.
“This is the only job that I have ever had,” said Cameron. “2008 is when I graduated high school and I have not received a paycheck from any other business.”
Cameron got the brewing bug early on while working at Laurelwood. “Chad Kennedy gave me a Hooligan Brown Ale and I just fell in love with this beer. That’s when I decided to learn about brewing,” stated Cameron.
Through the years he learned from a strong line of great Brewmasters at Laurelwood that includes the previously mentioned Chad Kennedy, Vasilios Gletsos, Shane Watterson and Ben Dobler.
He then took this hands-on knowledge and applied it towards his diploma. In June 2016 Cameron graduated from the American Brewers Guild and was promoted to Head Brewer shortly thereafter. “Laurelwood has always been a great opportunity for me,” said Cameron. “Every time I get restless I have had a new opportunity come my way or opportunity for schooling so it’s been constant growth for me.”
Cameron will face some uphill battles as Laurelwood recently severed its relationship with Full Sail Brewing where it brewed a lot of its packaged products such as Workhorse IPA and Free Range Red. When asked what hurdles this may create Cameron replied, “So there is definitely that big challenge on reorganizing the business as we come away from contract brewing at Full Sail. There’s a big adjustment on what kind of footprint we can have in terms of cans and bottles versus what kind of footprint we want to have when it comes to one off beers and seasonal beers to keep people interested in coming into out pub.”
But he also sees a vast amount of opportunity ahead when it comes to his younger team of brewers. “The other thing that is kind of a two sided coin is that I have a pretty young team here so getting them all trained up and focused will be key,” stated Cameron. “But at the same time these guys are all really passionate about being creative. I’m excited to curate all of their ideas.”
There is definitely a shift happening in brewing industry in general as the younger generation takes over. What I really like about my team is that they have no preconceived notions of what beer should be or what you can or cannot put in beer. – Cameron Murphy
“We had a beer called Muffin Man on that were made in SABCO half barrels. There’s a 4-inch port on top so we can add any crazy ingredient. So we took the Berliner Weisse and but into the SABCO keg and then Eric made a simple syrup out of cream cheese frosting and added lemon zest and peel to it. And I thought you’re putting cream cheese frosting into this beer, this is super weird. But we are only making a keg of it so go for it and figure it out. The beer was a success as people have come back in asking when Muffin Man is coming back.”
Since the switch to producing all of its beers in house at Laurelwood it has made the brewery adjust at how it looks at one off and seasonal beers. From producing much more Workhorse IPA and Free Range Red its tanks are less open for doing as much creative beers.
So this news begs the question, are there any talks on contract brewing anywhere else? Cameron responded, “No not currently. Who knows what the future will hold.”
Cameron goes on to mention, “You probably noticed that we have a couple of guest taps on. (During our visit there was a beer from pFriem Family Brewers and Boneyard Beer on tap.) I think its just part of this transition period. We wanted to push hard on the cans to get them into the marketplace along with the entire brand refresh. But we will get it dialed in here to make sure we have our fair share of one offs and seasonals. I want to focus on these SABCO projects and our cask program.”
Since fresh hop season is approaching we inquired with Cameron on which beers Laurelwood Brewing will be brewing using fresh hops. For 2017 the brewery will brew two beers, Fresh Hop Free Range Red using freshly picked Cascade hops and a collaboration beer with Seattle based Lowercase Brewing. Cameron told us that this upcoming collaboration came about from when he was pouring Laurelwood’s beers at this summers Sierra Nevada Beer Camp on Tour Festival in Seattle. The collaboration beer will be a unique one, as this beer will use all regionally grown ingredients including Skagit Valley Malt from Burlington, Washington and yet to be determined hops.
Also coming up is the Great American Beer Festival and for 2017 Laurelwood Brewing will be sending four beers to be entered. “Since we just went through the whole brand refresh will enter Free Range Red, The Wood Lager and Workhorse IPA along with Bourbon Barrel-Aged Porter from some Heaven Hill barrels,” stated Cameron.
We will close out with this look into the Laurelwood time machine when Cameron and Kevin Konstad (now in sales at pFriem Family Brewers) were featured in its Brew News 15 from March 18, 2012.
D.J. is a Portland, Oregon based writer that spent his formative years in the Midwest. With over 20 years under his belt of drinking beer at festivals across America and the world, he has developed a strong appreciation and understanding of craft beer and the industry that surrounds it. He can be found in any of the great breweries or beer bars that make Portland the best beer city in the world. His writing can also be found in Northwest Brewing News and can be followed on Twitter at @hopapalooza.