Interview: Chris Crabb – Meet the Woman Behind the Best Beer Region's Biggest Beer Events

Chris Crabb

Here in Portland, Oregon aka Beervana, we can attribute being at the pinnacle of the craft beer world thanks to a number of variables. The region’s climate goes unmatched for the growing of the choicest hop varietals (somewhere in the ballpark of 30% of all grown on the planet); betwixt the equator and the North Pole and how we are impacted by the Pacific currents, Cascadia’s cool and cloudy months might be a mainspring to our taste for a variety malty styles; the rich history of founding brewers such as Henry Saxer and Henry Weinhard. Whatever it is that instills this affinity for great beer, one thing is undeniable, and that is that the driving force behind our great beer and all its glory is an ever-growing community of dedicated and passionate human beings. Obviously, there’s the brewers making it and the pubs selling it, but we should not forget the people who have dedicated themselves and their lives to advocating of brew, people like Ms. Chris Crabb.

CrabChris Crabb, SNOB (Supporter of Native Oregon Beer) Photo from Facebookb is the humble force behind Portland and the nation’s greatest and most attended beer festivals. These include the Oregon Brewers Festival of which she has been the head of media relations for the past 16 years, and the Holiday Ale Fest, which has also been reoccurring for the past 16 years. In addition to running these, Crabb has recently assumed the responsibilities of promotion and organization of the popular North American Organic Brewers Festival. On top of helping to orchestrate some of the largest beer events on the West Coast, Crabb is also dedicated to promoting a few breweries around Portland, providing public relations and social media services to the likes of New Old Lompoc Brewing and Cascade Brewing.

Recently we had the pleasure of interviewing Chris Crabb, the woman you can thank for much of these exceptional events.

Where are you from? Are you a native Oregonian?

Chris Crabb: I’m a born and bred Portlandian. I grew up in NW Portland, went to Sunset High School, then traveled to UO (University of Oregon, Eugene) for college.

You are a prominent figure in Portland, Oregon’s craft beer scene with your work at Oregon Brewers Fest, Holiday Ale Fest, and more recently at the North American Organic Brewers Festival. Further you work with social media and PR for New Old Lompoc and Cascade Brewing (am I forgetting any fests or breweries?). How did you become involved with craft beer around town?

Cascade's Art Larrance (left) and Brewmaster Ron GansbergCC: I lucked into it. I was working for a PR firm in 1995 that subleased office space to Gill Campbell, who co-founded the Winter Ale Festival (now the Holiday Ale Festival) with Art Larrance. Gill hired the firm to do PR for both the Winter Ale Fest and the Oregon Brewers Festival, and I was the assigned account manager. When Gill found her own office space, she hired me away, and I continued to promote both events, as well as manage PR for BridgePort for eight years. Gill left Portland in 2002 and I went out on my own, maintaining both festivals and picking up the new accounts.

How would you define your relationship with beer aside from the professional side? What are your favorite beers or beer styles? Favorite breweries?

CC: I love beer for its social aspects, and I am fervently loyal to craft beer – you will never find a macro beer touch my lips. I’m a hophead and love the IPAs, but also love the sour beer movement that is taking place in the industry. As for favorite breweries, that is impossible to pick; we are so spoiled here in the Northwest with great beer. I love the fact that breweries continue to open and the community embraces and supports them.

The Holiday Ale Fest and Oregon Brewers Fest are two of the biggest and best festivals in the country (if not the world). Which is more challenging for you to coordinate?

CC: They both offer their own challenges. The OBF is bigger and I have a greater role, so I would say that one requires more attention.

Chris Crabb (right) with Oregonian beer writer John Foyston (photo from Facebook)

What kind of work goes into these festivals on your end?

CC: Off the top of my head, for the Oregon Brewers Festival I’m responsible for brewer communication, vendor & food vendor communication, all the PR & advertising, the program, coordinating the brunch & parade, signage, working with sponsors, managing social media, manning the Info Booth all four days, and basically assisting director Art Larrance with whatever he needs.

For the Holiday Ale Festival, my role is limited to brewery relations, public relations, creating the program, advertising assistance & social media.

What role do you see social media playing in promoting craft beer? Have you noticed a difference social media has played since sites like Twitter and Facebook have come into play?

CC: Social media is huge for promoting craft beer. It offers breweries an opportunity to directly interact with their fans and keep them up to date on a regular basis on all the news in the brewery. The key is keeping up with it. You can’t have a Facebook page or a Twitter account and not use it. Facebook is constantly changing, and if you aren’t posting, your fans will lose interest fast.

What are some of the most challenging aspects of what you do?

CC: Juggling! There is only one of me, and I tend to wear a lot of hats. Also, I like to please everybody, and I’ve had to learn that not everybody can be pleased. I’ve had to grow thicker skin over the years, because I take my job personally. Social media has also proven to be a challenge, because when people want to complain, they turn to that medium to gripe. If you are the one responding, it can wear you down.

What are some of the most rewarding aspects of what you do?

CC: My absolute favorite part of my job is working with the brewers, many of whom I’ve grown to call friends. And promoting their awesome products to the public! I also like being on social media – it goes back to my wanting to please people. When someone asks a question and you take the time to provide an answer, they are usually grateful that someone bothered to listen to them. I’m a pretty good listener.

With the proliferation of craft beer in America, what do you foresee for the future? Do you see a saturation point?

CC: It constantly amazes me how many breweries continue to open and thrive. You can have breweries side by side and they will both do well – I don’t think you will find that in many other industries. It seems there is a brewery for every type of personality, and people find the one that clicks for them, so it works. As long as breweries continue to create good beer, there will be an audience. I have also enjoyed watching the sour beer movement that is taking place, and I think Ron Gansberg deserves a huge amount of praise for the work he is doing at Cascade.

Bonus Question: Is Preston Weesner, who you work with tirelessly in the organization of these amazing events, man or machine?

CC: Hmmm, I have often pondered that question myself! During the festival, he seems like a well-run machine, and he never sleeps, which isn’t human. However, I happen to know he has a heart of gold. And that’s what made the tin man come to life in A Wizard of Oz, so I’m going to go with human!

Preston Weesner with Big Bottles at Saraveza (photo courtesy of Jonathan Carmean)