By Michael H. Kew
For the Oregon Beer Growler
“Bandon? Ain’t no brewery in Bandon!”
Leaning against the yellow cedar bar he made, sipping a pint of ale he made, Jonathan Hawkins laughed at the memory — a quip he heard at the 2017 Great American Beer Festival — one month after Hawkins first brought his Portland Kettle Works 5-barrel Hopmaster online.
“It’s a great little system,” he told me, gesturing at the shiny steel tanks behind him. “A Cadillac for its size.”
A lifelong beer lover, Hawkins, 43, spent much of his time between Gold Beach and Lake Quinault, Wash., where his mom ran a resort. In April 2013 he moved to the quaint seaside village of Bandon “chasing Nicole,” his wife and business partner who he originally knew from high school. Years later, they were reacquainted at a mutual friend’s party in Portland.
With his background in professional construction, Hawkins launched his own business. In 2015, he and his wife purchased the historic 9,500-square-foot McNair Building as a new home for Bandon Vision Center (Nicole has been a local optometrist for 13 years) that briefly shared walls with the pizzeria Hawkins ended up buying. In September 2016, his construction company started work on vision center on one side, brewery/pizzeria on the other.
“I told Nicole that if I was going to take on a restaurant and do pizzas, I wasn’t going to do conveyer pizzas. I was going to do wood-fired pizzas and I was going to make beer. She was gracious enough to agree with that, and away we went.”
His first taste of hands-on commercial brewing occurred via weekly trips to Labrewatory, run by Portland Kettle Works in Portland, where he tested and refined recipes before hopping headfirst into Oregon’s coastal craft beer scene. “It’s been a phenomenal experience,” he said. “Brewing has been the most collaborative industry I’ve been a part of. So many people have been encouraging and supportive, showing me their operations, offering advice and suggestions.”
Bandon Brewing’s grand opening was Sept. 8, which coincided with the 71st annual Bandon Cranberry Festival. The reception was “fantastic,” Hawkins said. “I feel fortunate I got to be the one to do this here. Residents and visitors have really embraced us.”
Near the mouth of the Coquille River, at the entrance to Old Town Bandon, near the nautical-themed we hope you are enjoying bandon sign arcing over the road, the cedar-shaked McNair Building was originally a hardware store. In recent years it was managed by Bill McNair of Gold Beach. “We called Bill and asked him if he’d be interested in talking about a sale,” Hawkins said. “Nicole and I met him at Redfish [a restaurant in Port Orford] with the intent of just discussing some possibilities, but three-and-a-half hours later, we walked out of there with an agreement. We wrote out the terms and everything right there in Redfish. It happened fast. Totally unexpected.”
On being one of the Oregon Coast’s newer breweries amid the nation’s craft beer boom, he viewed the building’s current ambiance as a natural progression. “There used to be churches and taverns,” he said, “and they competed and tried to put each other out of business, basically. You had the diabolically opposed on each side, and taverns kind of opened that space up. I call [brewpubs] the new churches, places where people from all walks of life can get together and discuss ideas, art, jokes — whatever. It’s a great environment. And I don’t know of a single town I visit where I’m thinking, ‘Damn, there are just too many breweries.’”
So far, Hawkins has made instant classics like One-Eyed Jacque IPA (named for his one-eyed schnauzer), Pacific Puffin Porter, Camp 7 Coffee Porter and Rogue River Red. From this year’s harvest, he has plans for a cranberry saison, a tribute to Bandon’s large cranberry industry. Ultimately, Hawkins aims to offer nine taps of in-house beer, plus five for guests. “Having guest taps is awesome camaraderie,” he said. “I’m not asking anybody else to carry my beers, but I’ll always be happy to carry other beers from Southern Oregon.”
To help with brewing and imminent expansion, Hawkins has hired James Petti, who, after five years at Karl Strauss Brewing Company in San Diego, launched Wavelength Brewing Company in Vista, Calif. “I’m gonna put him right to the fire when he gets here,” Hawkins said with a laugh.
From the copper-covered oven, my pizza emerged. Hawkins and I took seats in the airy dining area, warm with golden midday autumn sun that radiated off the brewpub walls, all coated with gorgeous reclaimed wood from Redmond’s Barnwood Industries. Out on the street, a horseman rode past. It was a lovely Bandon day for pizza and beer.
“The Bandon area has some phenomenal coastline,” Hawkins said, quaffing some Camp 7. “From Brookings to Florence is some of the prettiest coastline anywhere. Being in the Navy and also having sat on the back deck of a crab boat, I’ve seen the whole coast: from Cape Flattery all the way down to San Diego. And guess what? We’re right in the middle.”
Bandon Brewing Company
395 Second St. SE, Bandon
By Andi Prewitt
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
The names of 14 beers are scrawled in chalk across two blackboards hanging over the taps at the newly opened Running Dogs Brewery in St. Helens. And after a particularly busy weekend in mid-December, the Claytons were down to just one of their own. A smoked hefeweizen was the sole survivor of an onslaught of eager drinkers looking to try what the locals made. In a way, it was a good problem. But Jaron Clayton knew he needed to get back in the brewhouse — a challenging task to schedule while trying to launch the business and working in another profession all at the same time.
“The one thing I definitely didn’t want was to be that one brewery where you go in and there’s only one beer of their own and all these other guest taps,” Jaron said. “And I quickly found out how hard that was to do, especially when you have another job.”
But Jaron is now a full-time brewer — about a year earlier than he anticipated — after the first two months of sales proved to be strong, allowing him to leave his position as a licensed administrator for a skilled nursing facility in St. Helens. It’s not often you celebrate a retirement while kicking off a new career, but that’s exactly what happened to Jaron with a party celebrating both occasions Dec. 22 at the taproom. Since opening the last week of October, the changes have come quickly. The business seems to be accelerating faster than the Claytons’ Hungarian Vizslas, part of the inspiration for the brewery’s name, set loose in a dog park.
When applying for an Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau license in 2016, Jaron planned on distributing his beer, but not opening a venue where customers could actually hang out and drink. Maybe in the distant future there’d be time and money to grow. However, the plan was a slow approach at the beginning. Running Dogs would’ve been more like a hobby that brought in some money rather than an occupation. But it was actually Jaron’s wife who suggested they go big.
“I came home one day and Maggie said, ‘Let’s open a taproom,’” Jaron explained. The announcement hit him like a kid being told they were getting a Disneyland vacation. “I said, ‘You serious?! ‘Cause I always wanted to!’”
From there, they started the search for a location, which resulted in the discovery of a vacant storefront once home to a cafe/bakery in an old two-story brick building across from the county courthouse. Once again, though, a deliberate pace was hastened. While applying for loans following months of fine-tuning a plan with the assistance of the Small Business Association, Maggie got word that they weren’t the only ones eyeing that property. A friend who works for the City tipped her off that another party was going to make a move on it.
“I remember it quite clearly,” Maggie said. “I was on the way to the gym and got a phone call. I pulled into the gym and turned right back around and I went straight to Jaron’s work. I’m like, we need to get this done now.”
So Jaron scrapped his plans for the loan, immediately secured a personal line of credit and got the landlord on the phone that very day.
“We put in the notice right before the other people did,” Maggie said.
“And so we got it,” added Jaron.
Almost as soon as the lease was signed, news got around town that a brewery was in the works and anticipation began to build. It’s easy to forget that there are pockets around Portland that look nothing like Beervana. On the drive along Highway 30 to St. Helens, a billboard for Miller beer juts conspicuously into the sky. Sure, you can find a Widmer Hefe pretty easily in Columbia County, but not much more when it comes to craft. Based on the Claytons’ descriptions, many bars in those parts are about 20 years behind with Bud and Coors dominating menus and only a sliver of space for something like a Drop Top — if you’re lucky. Moreover, the only beer producer around, Columbia County Brewing, closed in 2017 due to the owner’s terminal health diagnosis. St. Helens was ready for Running Dogs and hopeful it would actually open.
“So people saw that we were coming in and were like, ‘You’re kidding, right?’ They didn’t believe it,” Jaron described. “How many times have we heard that you guys could single-handedly change St. Helens into what it should be? Especially this downtown area.”
But the community wasn’t going to leave it to the Claytons and simply wait. People scrambled to help and that’s how Running Dogs became a brewery built by its village. For instance, a contractor just happened to be walking by the taproom and popped in to offer his labor for the bar. Maggie’s walking/running group called Sole Sisters gave the interior a fresh coat of paint. And a high school student built every single wood-topped table for a senior project. Even the folks behind the counter, besides the couple, are pouring pints and delivering food as volunteers — and some of them don’t even like beer. They do it to support the Claytons and what their taproom provides for the town. Even the original artist who created a mural of St. Helens along one wall returned to paint several dogs throughout the setting to better match the brewery’s theme. There’s now a sign challenging customers to find them all in a giant, Fido-themed take on “Where’s Waldo?”
For only being open a couple of months, Maggie has organized a slew of events — from cookie decorating to ugly sweater crafting. During a normal day, you’re likely to see people huddled over a high-stakes game of Monopoly or celebrating when they’re the first to Connect 4. There are games spilling out of a shelf near the front window thanks, in large part, to donations. Maggie put out a call for them one day on Facebook and the response was surprising.
“Before we knew it, people were bringing in board games like crazy,” Jaron said. “That’s become a thing in and of itself. People come here with their families, get off their phones, disconnect and play board games. There’s been times where every table is full of families playing and interacting.”
Games aren’t the only draw, of course. There’s a reason the taproom was almost out of Running Dogs beer in December. Jaron was looking forward to putting his 1-barrel garage-based system back to work to resupply. There will be an ever-changing lineup of classic styles with a twist like his kolsch that incorporated local blackberries and blueberries. Don’t expect a flagship since the couple likes to experiment with flavors.
Jaron’s introduction to brewing began as many do: with a well-intentioned gift of a Mr. Beer Kit that never results in anything you’d actually want to drink. But his motivation to continue to brew with proper equipment is different than most. The hobby found him at just the right time — Jaron had returned from a yearlong deployment to Iraq. Readjusting to civilian life while grappling with what was eventually diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder took a toll. But the hands-on task of learning to make beer helped him cope.
“I was in a funk. I was kind of depressed when I first got back home. And I didn’t really leave the house much. It was a bad place to be, mentally. And so our dog at the time helped because he was my comfort. But brewing gave me something physically to do,” Jaron said. “It was also something to keep my mind off of the struggle from being back home.”
Maggie also started brewing and, as the lone female competitor, recently won a homebrewing contest held by the St. Helens Booster Club. The two collaborate on recipes now for Running Dogs, but their approaches to the process couldn’t be any more different. Maggie is meticulous and well-researched while Jaron’s the kitchen sink-type of brewer.
“A lot like my cooking,” he explained. “I’ll throw in whatever and see if it works out.”
At that point, Maggie shook her head.
“We’re so opposite,” she said. “With his style, if it doesn’t work out, it REALLY doesn’t work out. But if it works out, it’s amazing!”
They’ve learned to combine their styles, with Maggie often acting as recipe writer and Jaron as the brew-tinkerer. Seven years of marriage has helped prepare the two to tackle the challenges that will come with the business, whether that’s a tossing bad batch or upgrading to a bigger brewhouse.
“I always reference the time I was in Iraq. I was there for a year. And that was probably the hardest time for our relationship. We were brand new and we worked through all of the initial struggles any relationship would have, but with great distance,” Jaron said. “And so we’ve obviously grown in the seven years together, grown as adults in a relationship and figured out that communication really well. With the business, it’s no different.”
Now they’re just getting used to their new roles.
“It still hasn’t fully hit me,” Jaron explained. “I mean, she’ll come home some days and say, ‘Jaron, we have a brewery. We actually have our own brewery.’ I’m like, ‘I know! What the heck?!’”
Running Dogs Brewery
291 S. First St., St. Helens
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Buyouts. Closures. Startups. The roller coaster of Oregon’s brewing industry has seen more twists and turns than ever lately. As we start 2018, it’s time to take a good hard look at what this year and the next few might look like for craft beer in this state. And there’s no better person to talk with than Patrick Emerson. The Oregon State University economist also produces and co-hosts the “Beervana” podcast with Jeff Alworth, and his research focuses on development, labor economics, industrial organization and applied microeconomics. He offered his thoughts on where the industry is going — and whether or not there’s cause for alarm.
What is your outlook for 2018 through 2020, especially for Oregon’s craft beer industry?
The future is still very bright, but markets are now maturing — particularly Oregon — and in these markets competition is increasing and the pressure that this creates is starting to result in exits from the market. I expect this dynamic to increase in the next few years. There are still a lot of new breweries opening up, but not all will be successful and some more established breweries will exit as well. A good example is The Commons Brewery in Portland, an established brewery with an excellent reputation recently called it quits.
Why are new Oregon craft breweries growing more than more established ones?
In most industries, smaller businesses tend to have faster growth than bigger, more established ones. In craft beer there is definitely a novelty effect where new breweries have a certain buzz, which helps propel sales and growth. What we are seeing more and more nationally is the larger legacy craft brewers like Sierra Nevada, Widmer and Boston Beer Company are finding it harder to sustain sales, let alone continue to grow as they face intense local competition from newer brewers. The old model of growing through the focus on a flagship beer is starting to fade as the industry becomes more and more fad-driven.
What is driving craft beer’s current growth?
Innovation and novelty is a big part, but the artisanal nature of craft beer plays a big role, too. Consumers want some kind of personal connection to the beer. They want to know about who makes it, are proud of local beer and are interested in new and unique experiences. Macro brewers cannot offer any of that.
What does the merger-and-acquisition trend of the past few years portend?
The hurricane has subsided as the overall growth has slowed a little and as the macro brewers have grown fairly large portfolios of regional craft breweries. There is less of an incentive for venture capital and less of a need for companies like AB InBev to find more breweries to acquire.
How much do people care about who owns a brewery?
It has less to do with ownership and more to do with beer. Yes, there is a small percentage of consumers who really care a lot (and know enough about the industry to know who owns whom), but I don’t think this is very significant. More significant is great beer at a good price. If breweries with large corporate owners can maintain quality while leveraging the scale and distribution that corporate ownership can provide to keep prices low, I think the consumers will be there.
Are we reaching a point where there will be a brewery shakeout? What factors do you think will cause craft breweries to close up shop in the next couple of years?
I would not characterize it as a shakeout, but there will be a lot more breweries going out of business simply due to the maturation of the market. The breweries that are more likely to close are those with inconsistent quality, poor business acumen, are overly leveraged and/or fail to gain traction with their brand. All pretty standard factors, but the window for really gaining traction with a brand is becoming smaller and smaller as so many brands proliferate. It is going to become more and more important that brewers do the job of telling their stories and helping consumers connect with their brands.
How is increased shelf space competition forcing breweries to rethink distribution?
When there is a distributor in the middle, many breweries are relying on these folks to tell their stories and try to get shelf space and tap handles. But distributors represent many brands now. Breweries are really going to need to do more personal outreach to retailers and pubs. Distribution is tricky, but many breweries are doing self-distribution for this reason.
Should Oregon expect to see more growth in urban markets, such as Portland or Eugene/Springfield, or are we going to see more breweries opening in rural areas and small towns?
We will see both. Smaller towns have relatively untapped markets (pun intended). Bigger cities have established markets and are exciting places for brewers to be — not to mention all of the brewers currently getting on-the-job training whose dream is to have their own brewery someday.
How much attention will Oregon craft breweries give international markets?
This will continue to be a very minor market for most craft brewers, especially as transport costs are high and local craft beer is growing in those markets as well.
Is the industry healthy, and how should breweries steer the ship?
People should not view brewery closings as a sign of a market in trouble, but the sign that the market has matured. This is good for consumers: it will result in higher average quality and consistency and lower prices. For breweries, however, the market is going to demand a high degree of discipline: good and consistent beer, good brand management, good business acumen and tighter margins.
By Pete Dunlop
For the Oregon Beer Growler
There will be another "new" brewery in Portland early next year. Fat Head’s Brewery, launched in 2014, is slated to close in January. Look for it to be replaced sometime in the first quarter of 2018 by Von Ebert Brewing, which will be operated by current Fat Head’s franchisee, Tom Cook.
News of Fat Head’s closure initially caused a stir in beer circles and on social media. A lot of fans wondered why the apparently successful brewpub would close. In fact, the closure has nothing at all to do with the wellbeing of the business here.
What's actually at work is that corporate Fat Head’s, based in Ohio, has a lot going on in its home market. Rather than continue to focus on the remote Portland outpost, the company and Cook mutually decided to end the franchise arrangement.
“We were unable to agree on a vision for the future,” said Fat Head’s founder Glenn Benigni, “As a result, we’ve mutually decided to close the Fat Head’s location in Portland, pouring our last beer in early 2018. We’d like to say thanks to the beautiful city of Portland and all of the customers who joined us there over the years. It has been a pleasure serving you.”
Cook offered similar thoughts.
“I know it sounds like spin," he said via email. "But this is exactly what happened. They wanted to focus their energies on the Midwest, where they have a lot going on with a new production brewery and the new Canton brewpub. I wanted to focus on Portland. We decided it's probably best for them to pursue their plans in the Midwest and for me to do my own thing out there."
He admits it wasn't an easy decision. The franchise has been highly successful here. Indeed, the success of Fat Head’s surprised more than a few in the beer geek crowd. Many thought an out-of-state chain would quickly collapse in beer-wacky Beervana. It didn't happen.
"I think we succeeded here because we built a talented team and gave it the right tools," wrote Cook, who added current employees will have the opportunity to continue on. "There's no way I would be doing what I'm doing with Von Ebert if my team here wasn’t staying and fully behind me. This wasn’t an easy decision, but I think it's the right decision for everyone."
Von Ebert, when it opens, will specialize in hoppy brews from head brewer, Eric Van Tassel. Sean Burke, formerly of The Commons, is also part of the Von Ebert Brewing team. Burke's talent for making uniquely interesting beers is well known. Cook expects the team to release 100 or so unique beers a year, including American, German, Belgian and barrel-aged varieties.
"Von Ebert Brewing is a new concept, where Northwest family traditions meet innovative ideas in craft brewing,” said Cook in a press release. "We’re excited to unveil a completely new experience for customers, blending our brewing expertise with the adventurous flavors Portland has come to love."
The pub will feature what he refers to as "elevated American pub food." That includes items like traditional German pretzels with beer cheese, stone oven-baked pizzas, cheeseburgers stacked high with locally sourced meats, decadent sandwiches and smoked wings.
"True to our character, our menu will combine classic pub fares with the kind of top-tier quality local ingredients you can only find in Portland," Cook said.
Many in and around the craft beer industry are aware that Cook had quietly planned to open a brewpub in the vacated RingSide Grill space adjacent to Glendoveer Golf Course in Northeast Portland. Evidently, those plans will be more or less on hold until he clears some regulatory hurdles.
"There's more to come on this," he wrote. "I don’t want to comment or give a timeline until I finish with the City of Portland. I would hate to promise something and then learn we can’t do it."
Many wonder about the Von Ebert name and logo. It’s obviously a strong departure from Fat Heads and has no apparent connection to Portland. What’s it all about?
"My great grandmother came to the United States from Germany and her last name was Ebert," Cook wrote. "She gave up quite a bit in Germany to bring my family here, so I wanted to pay some respect to my immigrant family. ‘Eber’ in German means boar, thus the boar in the logo."
Von Ebert Brewing will open sometime in early 2018. Watch for updates on social media or check the company website at vonebertbrewing.com.
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.