Pyramid Breweries’ big announcement

I should preface this by saying that I assume everyone knows that Pyramid Breweries has not brewed beer at the location on First Avenue in Seattle since 2008. Right? That beautiful brewhouse behind glass is just for show. And now, on with it.

One of the very few things that annoys me about my fellow beer lovers is the level of snobbery that sometimes threatens to make us sound as pretentious and irrelevant as wine lovers. Example: Most beer lovers do not go there, but occasionally I run into someone who thinks they are better, smarter, or more civilized than other people because they love Smallville Brewing Company but cannot stand Largetown Brewing Company. Feet set in stone, they refuse to admit that a large craft brewery can actually make good beer. My opinion is that good beer is good beer. Period.

Is the product pumped out by Pyramid Breweries good beer? That’s a debate for a different day. My point is, Pyramid is not bad beer just because it is big.

Good Business is NOT Bad Beer

Part of this “bigger is not better” attitude stems from the inability for many beer lovers to appreciate the fact that their beloved breweries actually want to be successful businesses. It reminds me of the hardcore Metallica fans who immediately hated the band as soon as the eponymous “black album” went platinum in 1991. What? You didn’t think they were good enough for other people to like? As soon as the rest of the world discovers Pliny the Elder, Beer Advocate readers will no longer think it is “the best beer in the world.” You can bank on it.

Today, we have some news from Pyramid Breweries. No doubt, they are larger than most of the breweries we talk about on this blog. That said, for some time now I have been saddened by the fact that Pyramid no longer brews beer in Seattle and that they seem to have forgotten their roots. A string of business realities (mergers, acquisitions and such) drove the company’s production away from Washington, where it all began so many years ago. While some of my fellow beer lovers felt the need to bad mouth Pyramid through all of this, I was simply sad that one of the craft breweries that played such a big role in the whole craft beer revolution had slipped away.

I know the history of Pyramid inside and out. I understand the business realities of the deal. The Pyramid Brewing Company that exists today has nothing to do with the Hart Brewing Company of Kalama, WA. Haywire Hefe is equally distant from the Pyramid Wheaten Ale that was introduced in 1986. And I don’t want to bring the whole “Thomas Kemper Affair” into the conversation. That part of the story gives me a headache in my eye. It’s all yesterday’s sad news.

It’s been a long and bumpy road, but Pyramid is coming home.

A Sort of Homecoming

I know that many of today’s craft beer enthusiasts don’t know or care about the history. The only Pyramid they’ve ever know is the very large craft brewery that exists today. All you youngins out there need to know that… well, it hasn’t always been that way. In the beginning, Pyramid was just one of a small handful of microbreweries trying to get a toehold in the beer market. Hart Brewing Company’s Pyramid Wheaten Ale was the very first craft beer that many people my age ever drank. It was damn good. Like it or not, you young whippersnappers need to recognize that Pyramid’s roots go deep, deep into the soil of Washington’s craft beer history.

In addition to the news in the press release below, Seattle Beer News and Beer Blotter both report that Pyramid has plans to start brewing again (on some level at least) at the Pyramid Alehouse in Seattle.

I expect to get a lot of grief for saying this: Welcome home, Pyramid, welcome home.

Here’s the press release from Pyramid:

We Hefe’d Up!

SEATTLE, WA—In response to customer feedback—Pyramid Hefeweizen will return to its roots and original name—officially dropping the name “Haywire” from its packaging.

“Moving away from the tradition that made us great was a mistake,” said Ryan Daley, brand manager for Pyramid. “Our consumers connected with our Pacific Northwest heritage and craft beer brewing tradition. When we changed our Pyramid Hefeweizen packaging and name, they felt disconnected. Our beer no longer reflected our rich history.”

Pyramid Hefeweizen was first introduced in 1993 as an authentic, unfiltered American-style hefeweizen. Brewed with pale barley, wheat and caramel malts and nugget and liberty hops, Pyramid Hefeweizen has a 5.2 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) and rates 18 on the international bittering units (IBU) scale. In 2004 and 2009, Pyramid Hefeweizen won a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) and numerous international honors at the World Beer Cup.

In 2008, Pyramid Breweries added the name “Haywire” and changed its packaging to differentiate from other Hefeweizen brands and attract new beer drinkers. The beer remained the same.

“By moving away from our roots, people viewed us differently. It didn’t take us long to figure out that we needed to change,” added Daley. “Our consumers are at the heart of everything we do and we intend on listening moving forward.”

Pyramid Hefeweizen packaging also will get a facelift.

“We’ve made some minor packaging changes right away but we will be talking with beer drinkers and unveiling a new design later this year that is more reminiscent of the tradition and heritage of the Pyramid brand and the Pacific Northwest,” said Daley.

Pyramid Hefeweizen is available in six, 12 and 24-pack bottles, and 12-pack cans at grocery, convenience and drug stores throughout the country. In addition, it is also available in 22 ounce bottles, on draft and 12 ounce cans that hit store shelves this summer.

“Beer lovers have enjoyed the smooth flavor of Pyramid Hefeweizen since we first began brewing it in the early 90s,” said Ryan Pappe, lead brewer, Pyramid Breweries, Seattle. “The guys at the brewery are lifting their glasses as we return to our roots and honor the heritage of Hefe.”

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  1. Kendall, thanks for be brave because I imagine this post will ruffle a feather or two. I have been wanting to write a similar post about both the beer and wine industry (not all wine lovers are snobs BTW :-P) Big doesn’t necessarily equal bad and if you can’t make sound business decisions, you will not be staying in the brewery business long. I am sure we can both come up with examples of that as well.

  2. I heartily agree with Kendall. Whenever I stop in at 1st Avenue there is always something good on tap, whether it’s the yearlong hefe or a provocative seasonal. As beer entusiasts we need to see beyond packaging, marketing, and petty biases. Ultimately, the proof is in the pudding (ok, wort). Do they brew good beer or not? In the case of Pyramid, the answer is a resounding yes.

  3. Yay. I didn’t like the Haywire name. I could see myself buying a 6-pack of Pyramid Hefeweizen, but not Pyramid Haywire. The branding made it look like they were trying to dumb it down.

    > “It didn’t take us long to figure out that we needed to change,”
    They changed to Haywire in 2008. Close to 3 years seems like a pretty long time to me.

  4. Finally! I laughed out loud when they switched to the “XTREME!!!” branding in 08; what a mockery. You could just imagine the level of corporate newspeak going on in that marketing meeting. At least they didn’t rename Snow Cap.

    Packaging counts for a lot. There are plenty of beers that I’ve left on the shelf because I don’t like the label. Yes that’s judging a book by its cover, but in this case you drink the cover too. 🙂 A good label is part of the whole experience. As beer lovers our noses and tongues are certainly the most important to us, but like it or not, eyes matter. Change the label on a beer you love to something horrible and I challenge you to honestly say you feel the same way about that beer. And when you’re selling to less sophisticated customers, as Pyramid must to survive, the eyes matter as much, maybe even more, than the tongue. They can’t compete with Bud on price, and they don’t compete with the small guys in variety. Packaging is the only thing that average people have left to help them choose between those boxes of pale ale in the Safeway beer aisle.

    Seems a shame to waste that brewspace, but a marketing stunt doesn’t justify a full brewhouse operation. I wonder if it’s something like they get more tax credits if they’re brewing here as well as in OR and CA? Maybe they don’t want to give up the primo space next to the stadium but are tired of taking a bath on the unused brewery space. Or maybe they just need to up production again. When they merged with Magic Hat I was one of those hopeful that we’d see some of Magic Hat’s beers appear here, but that was not to be. Maybe that’s what they’re planning? Magic Hat’s big push into the West Coast. After that stunt they pulled with Georgetown though I’m unsure if I’d ever drink any of their beers again.

    Hmm well, glad they’re brewing there again. I remember the tour being interesting back in the day. Maybe we’ll see some nice brewhouse exclusives!

  5. Great post. It’s great that beer drinkers want to support up and coming breweries, but we can’t write off places just because they’ve become large. If it’s delicious..drink it.

  6. In the beer world it’s accepted that the consumer does not buy the beer in the store, the consumer buys the bottle in the store. If what’s in the bottle is good, then the consumer may come back for more. Packaging is equally important to brewing and cellar work. I’m glad that Pyramid is going back to original packaging. Now if only the rest of the brewing industry would take their consumers more seriously and stop putting dragons, gargoyles, demons and other cartoon characters on them! Just because it’s craft brewed doesn’t mean the only people drinking it are men with large stacks of comic books. (although with the way they trade beers, they might as well)

  7. I’m a big fan of these debates so I’ll chime in. I’m not afraid to admit that I’m that guy that stops liking bands (to use your Metallica reference, which was a good one) and breweries when they get huge. The fact of the matter is, when a “business” decides that it’s all about the money they have to change their approach. They have to cater to the masses because it’s all about the numbers. The more people’s homes they’re in the more money they should be making. How do you get in more homes? You makes something that *most* people want and like. That, unfortunately, within these industries, means dumming things down. Becoming “pop”. There may come a day when the palate of the masses is as refined and educated on music and beer as those like us that put a ton of time and effort into it, but that time is likely way off in the distance. Beer, more than music however, is probably a lot closer to mass evolution. When Budweiser released America Ale in ’08 it was becoming clear that the marketing teams were beginning to see that palates were indeed evolving, which I’d admit they are, albeit slowly. Breweries like Redhook and Pyramid are taking steps to cater to those evolving palates and that’s great. I’d imagine that they will have much more success than Budweiser since they are much closer to the ground, if you will. I’m excited to see how successful they are. If the beer industry can be more like the computer industry in that the highest innovation (coupled with quality of course) equates to the highest profit, the world will be a much better place. As always, I love you Kendall for actually being a writer and adding editorial. Try not to be so damn safe all the time though. There is no way that you actually, literally like all beer. 🙂

  8. As far as I am concerned the damage was done back in ’08 when they sold out to Magic Hat. They lost touch with Seattle, food & service went down hill at the restaurant and then the goofy marketing. Plenty of truly northwest brews and eateries to choose from and most all offer better beer and food. Pyramid lost a very avid customer with this ‘Hef up’.

  9. Now if they could just get back that that same original “apricot ale” I first fell in love with. Had one recently and it is a pale flavorless disappointment compared to the rich fruity flavor I first tasted so long ago. It was my first….fruit flavored beer that I actually enjoyed.

  10. As someone familiar with their original head brewer, Rande Reed, I have to point out that the changes made to their hefe in the late 90’s/early 00’s were not an improvement on his recipes. I also want to point out that their current ad for a head brewer also includes a lot of non-brewing tasks such as giving tours and traveling as an “alebassador”. I suspect they are firing up the kettle as a requirement to keeping their license as a WA state brewery rather than a shift of focus to small-batch values.

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