Innovation Not Just New Beer Recipes for CBA’s Bleigh

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Tom Bleigh says he has found his dream job.

Wearing multiple hats in the past at a brewpub and a production facility has led Bleigh to take on a new role with Craft Brew Alliance as its first Innovation Brewmaster.

“When you start in a brewpub, you are used to [many hats] and that’s the name of the game,” he said. “But here it’s like that, but with a very focused context. It makes it much more engaging and dynamic and ultimately fun for me just because I get to be a part of all these aspects.

“I get to be a part of quality and production, but at the end of the day I’m really mired in a team of really creative individuals trying to create and enjoy what we are doing and make quality beer all at the same time.”

Bleigh will look at best practices across the brewing timeline along with sustainability practices and execute those on a smaller scale before moving on to a large scale within the CBA portfolio, including Kona, Widmer Brothers, Redhook, Omission Beer and Square Mile Cider.

Over the past two years, CBA has made investments in enhancing its innovation breweries in Hawaii, Oregon, New Hampshire and Washington, including building a new 10-barrel pilot brewery adjacent to Widmer Brothers’ current 750,000-barrel brewery in Portland, Oregon.


“This is an amazing toy that most brewpubs don’t have at their disposal,” Bleigh said “There is a lot to say about manual systems and being actively engaged in the craft, but with replication and complete control, automation creates a very consistent product and it takes a lot of the variables out of day to day operations. I’m curious to see what we do with that. It’s going to be a non-stop job and exciting to see how many different ways we get in engaged in innovation and exercise our creative teeth.”

Bleigh and his team just got the system up and running since he got on board a few weeks ago.

“It hasn’t been without challenges but just watching the thing come to fruition and working out the kinks is great,” he said.

Overseeing multiple brands and being innovative for different styles can create quite the challenge, which Bleigh said was a reason he saw this opportunity as a dream job.

“I’m … part of a national and regional dialogue of what craft beer is in those areas,” he said. “There might be slight changes and deviation in variation but also a certain amount of terroir with ingredient usage and that is the amazing “geek out” fest that I am interested in.”

Bleigh said his accomplishments (helping Hopworks Urban create shelf-stable Radlers and Ciders) and failures (attempting to make a beer with Skittles) has helped him to this point and now with a full team and being actively engaged with a larger arm of craft beer, he sees potential for improvement among himself and making better beer.

“The CBA network has an amazing group of people at your disposal and this isn’t a ride along for me, this is going to be an active engaged collaboration with a lot of different departments and teams,” he said. “The QA team here is amazing. All the quality issues you want to see in play are actively in play.

“There is also continuous improvement teams that are helping to look for more efficiencies and better ways of doing things. All of those tools are at my disposal so it makes the job a whole lot easier instead of doing things by yourself. To have an entire team at your disposal is a pretty amazing thing.”

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