Eric Sterling, Andy Steinman and Lisa Marcus are the owners of DigitalPour, a digital beer board now installed in dozens of Oregon breweries, bars and this one, at Growlers Hawthorne in Portland.
Photo by Emma Browne
By Gail Oberst
You might mourn the old chalkboard that lists what’s on tap at your favorite bar, but not for long. Some taphouses and brewpubs are replacing the dusty bar feature with digital beer boards -- banks of flat screens that can enlighten you on everything from the color of the beer to the latest tweet about it.
DigitalPour – an Oregon company whose owners developed the software in 2011 – is not the only company providing these services. Although the San Diego-based TapHunter and other companies have some boards in Oregon, homegrown DigitalPour is elbowing its way onto the walls of your Oregon watering hole. Since the company opened, it has placed DigitalPour software in 120 locations – most in Oregon, but many across the U.S. and internationally.
Easy Beer Education
You don’t have to be a beer geek to appreciate the information DigitalPour’s software provides. Let’s say you are in the mood for a porter you haven’t tried before. On the screen, you would look for a dark brown glass or growler icon, read the info next to see if it’s a porter, and then ask for a taste to see if you like it. Viola! Pour power. Some drinkers don’t need much more than that little bit of help. Some digital feeds – especially those at brewery-based pubs – actually look like a chalkboard, listing just the beer, the international bittering units (IBUs) and the alcohol by volume (ABV) for visitors.
Want more? Of course you do. In addition to the basics listed above, your taphouse feed might include the name of the beer and brewery, the cost per unit, whether it’s on nitro or CO2, where it was brewed, and when the keg was tapped. If you need further info, you might watch the Twitter, Foursquare and Untappd feeds roll across the board as people check into the brew you are thinking of buying. Don’t want to stand around your local beer purveyor before you make your decision? Some of bars and growler filling station subscribers put their DigitalPour feeds right on their websites, including access to a mobile application.
Better Business Beer
Jim Hillman, owner of the relatively new 40-tap Growlers Hawthorne in Portland, said this sort of system was a logical choice for him. “First of all, we’re two Portland start-ups,” Hillman said. Second: “It’s easy to use.” Hillman can easily update his own tap information, which appears on the board, but his employees are also trained to do it as well. The software not only tells customers what’s on tap, but also inventories the back room – from beer levels in the kegs to suggesting price per pint or growler depending on mark-up rates. “I’m awestruck,” Hillman said. Analytics included in the software can track beer performance with up-to-the-minute profit reports on individual beers, breweries, styles and other trends.
Software subscriptions start at $99 per month with a $298 basic set-up fee. The downloadable software does not include the monitors, which are simply flat screen televisions hard-wired to a computer – all standard equipment that business owners can purchase on their own. Depending on the owner’s desires, equipment might cost around $1,800 for a bank of three monitors.
About the Owners
Lisa Marcus, CEO, Andy Steinman, COO, and Eric Sterling, CTO, at first glance, are unlikely partners. But as with all entrepreneurs, serendipity had a lot to do with their partnership. Lisa and Eric, for example, met on a dating website. “We quickly realized we were better at doing business together,” Lisa laughed. They both put some energy into WineSlingr software, a wine-based version of DigitalPour, but it was Eric’s favorite pub, Bailey’s, in Portland, that turned their attention to beer. Eric, a software developer who inherited the innovation bug from his dad, Jeff, was having a beer at Bailey’s, staring up at the pub’s hand-scribbled listings on the mirror, when the thought struck him. He could put the beer list on a television screen.
“I’d intended to put a one-off up for Bailey’s and that would be that,” Eric said. Instead, he took the idea to Lisa, who ran with it.
Andy Steinman, the company’s Chief Operations Officer, came into the business through Lisa’s wine and restaurant connections at Little Bird, a sister restaurant to LePigeon, and Walter Scott Wines. Steinman brings financial and business management experience to the mix. “This will always be a dynamic business,” Steinman said. Customers will decide the future of the business.
“I think it’s gonna get really weird,” said Lisa. New technology will be incorporated into the software. The bartender may be able to use his phone as a remote control, or expanding on menu items to answer customer questions.
Above, Ninkasi launched its yeast aboard an amateur rocket hoping to activate it in space. Due to faulty tracking devices, it was not retrieved from the Black Rock Desert in time to find the yeast viable. Mission One was a learning experience. Ninkasi is now planning Mission Two.
Photo courtesy of Ninkasi Brewing Co.
By Anthony St. Clair
On July 14, Eugene-based Ninkasi Brewing launched the Ninkasi Space Program (NSP). An amateur rocket packed with 16 strains of brewer’s yeast was launched high into the atmosphere. Ninkasi was hoping to later retrieve the yeast and brew a batch of “space beer.”
Twenty-seven days after launch, the payload was retrieved from Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. Due to a lengthy search time, the result of the failure of tracking devices, the yeast was not viable for brewing.
“This was an opportunity that came about through a combination of relationships and timing,” says Ninkasi co-founder Nikos Ridge. “The mix of science, engineering, rockets, yeast, and space has been a really cool experience. Watching a rocket launch into space is actually cooler than you expect. We thought it would be fun, it turned out to be amazing. There is something pretty deep about reaching out beyond the earth. This was only the second amateur rocket ever launched into space, and set a host of new records for amateur space flight, such as speed, height, and first amateur picture taken in space.”
While the first launch did not result in viable yeast, Ninkasi already has plans for a second attempt. “We will have the opportunity to launch again in late October,” says Ridge. “After learning from some of the experiences from the first launch, we hope to get back viable yeast.”
Updates about the Ninkasi Space Program can be found at nsp.ninkasibrewing.com or on Ninkasi’s Facebook page.
Northwest Canning’s Justin Brandt displays his faster new Cime Careddu canning line.
Photo by Alethea Smartt LaRowe
By Alethea Smartt LaRowe
Opportunities for small breweries to distribute their beer have grown significantly over the past few years with the introduction of companies that specialize in mobile canning and bottling. Wild Goose Canning in Boulder, Colo. was the first U.S. firm to manufacture a canning line that was specifically designed to be hauled around to different breweries. In the Pacific Northwest, the first company to invest in one of their lines was Northwest Canning, started by Justin Brandt and a business partner in late 2011. A few months later, in June 2012, Owen Lingley debuted Craft Canning. Both are based in Portland.
An avid outdoorsman, Brandt had noticed the limited availability of canned craft beers while purchasing supplies for a day on the river. He quickly did some market research and put together a business plan, opening Northwest Canning less than a year later. With work experience as a financial advisor and with a degree in biology, Brandt said he “can really help the breweries we work with from a financial standpoint, but I also understand beer on a molecular level.” Now the sole owner of the company, Brandt has four other full time employees and hires part-time labor as needed while traveling into parts of Idaho and all over Oregon and Washington.
Owen Lingley’s work experience at Wyeast Laboratories, where he provided retail support by educating customers all about yeast, required extensive travel. As he visited brewers around the country, he saw the shift to cans coming. Anticipating the need of established breweries to increase volume, he saw an opportunity to use his knowledge of packaging and product handling to serve them in the fast-growing market of mobile canning and bottling. Operating within a three-hour radius of Portland, Craft Canning now has nine employees.
Northwest Canning started out with a small two-head filler, the Wild Goose MC-50, which could can about 20 cases per hour. As business increased, Brandt later purchased a three-head filler with a capacity of 40 cases per hour. Even that proved to be insufficient for his ever-growing list of clients and he recently invested almost $1 million in a fully-automated rotary system made by Cime Careddu of Italy that is capable of canning 160 cases per hour. The high-end line is installed in a custom-built 40-foot trailer, which also houses an on-board generator that supplies all of the power, a depalletizer, a filling unit, an inspection unit, and a packaging unit made by PakTech in Eugene.
Craft Canning currently operates a Wild Goose MC-250 canning line which Lingley hauls around in a 16-foot box truck. The system has to be offloaded and assembled then taken apart and reloaded after every job. Lingley estimates the line has produced three million cans of beer and is now averaging 1200-1500 barrels per month. The line is usually in operation for nine days in a row, then Lingley schedules one “spa day” for equipment maintenance. He also has a Meheen 6-head bottler capable of bottling eight barrels per hour.
One of the key benefits of working with mobile canning and bottling operations is cost. “For a brewery to purchase a modest canning system, you’re looking at around a $200,000 investment,” said Brandt. And that’s before paying the employees and allocating enough space to house the line and store the empty cans and bottles.
Both companies are working hard to keep up with demand. According to Brandt, “Northwest Canning has almost tripled our sales since opening. We’re doing 20,000-25,000 cases a month, so we’re busy. We’re just focused on hiring and training people right now.” Lingley said that Craft Canning has experienced 140% growth this year and is projecting 100% growth next year. “We just purchased a second bottling line and have our second canning line on order, and we’re already looking at a third of each.” Lingley also has plans to start a yeast lab, can their homebrew yeast, and do more QA testing for clients.
Owner: Justin Brandt
Craft Canning + Bottling
[a] 17252 NE Sacramento St., Portland
Owner: Owen Lingley
Jerry Miller is brewer for JD’s Sports Bar and Brewery in Grants Pass. He’s been brewing in the Rogue Valley since the early 1990s.
Photo by Gail Oberst
By Gail Oberst
Jerry Miller was convinced when he started commercial brewing in 1993 that there couldn’t possibly be room left in the local market for more craft beer. Wild River was already operating in Grants Pass, and then Caldera came to Ashland (1997). “I thought this was the last cresting wave,” said Miller of the ’90s flourish.
He was wrong. New breweries have continued to thrive in the past 20 years in the Rogue Valley, leading to the latest small brewery boom including Griess Family, Chinook Brewing, Conner Fields, Opposition, Portal, JD’s Sports Bar and Brewery and others. Miller has been JD’s brewer for more than a year.
Miller claims he started one of Grants Pass’ first post-prohibition brew pubs. From 1993 to 2001, Miller worked at the Blue Pine Brew Pub, a favorite haunt of many in the Rogue Valley, some of whom are commercial and home-brewing today.
Miller was a machinist who in 1990 had just moved back to Grants Pass when he decided to take a homebrew class at Rogue Community College. After winning homebrew competitions, Miller was inspired to brew for Blue Pine Brew Pub.
“I loved the sound of fermenting beer,” Miller said. “It’s music to my ears.”
After Blue Pine’s owner passed away, Miller joined up with Ross Linton, the owner of Walkabout Brewery in Medford, where he brewed until last year.
A few years ago, Jack DiMatteo, owner of JD’s Sports Bar and a former Blue Pine customer, began making plans to brew at his place. Last year, Miller took him up on the challenge.
Miller said JD’s is closer to his home than Walkabout. The man with kids and grandkids at home said he needed to stay close, and DiMatteo’s offer made that possible. Today, the 8-barrel system puts at least 10 beers on tap at the bar: three are rotating seasonals.
At JD’s, Miller and crew are brewing up a surprising variety of beers, all offered on tap at the bar and at a few other locations in the Rogue Valley. This fall look for an Oktoberfest beer, MidSommar Ale, Paisan Porter and Knock Out Stout, to name a few.
JD’s Sports Pub & Brewery
[a] 690 Redwood Highway, Grants Pass
[h] Open: 7 days a week
Owner: Jack DiMatteo
Brewer: Jerry Miller
Paul Long is an engineer who has designed his own steam brewing system, in operation at his brewery near Newberg.
Photo by Gail Oberst
By John Locanthi
Tucked away in the fertile wine country of Yamhill County, a brewer tinkers away in his nondescript brewing shed. Paul Long, winner of the 2005 Ninkasi Award for homebrewers and founder of Long Brewing, has a well-earned reputation as not only one of the state’s best brewers, but as a maker of some of the finest commercial beers in the state.
The electrical engineer-turned-brewer has a secret up his sleeve: a brewing system of his own design.
“I had to have it custom made because there wasn’t any system out there that could do what I wanted to do,” says Long, who spent 40 years as a wine drinker before going all-in with beer brewing.
The three-and-a-half barrel, all-steam system is perfectly suited for the Newberg brewer’s needs.
“I like to make delicate beers,” says Long, who is currently working on a north German-style pilsner. “Clean beers with defined layers.”
Steam allows for a soft boil, gently succoring out the softer notes of the malts and hops. Even on his heavier beers, such as the aptly named Wee Heavy, you’ll taste each of the 12 malts in a succession through the finish. You’ll find no acid bombs or oily ales in Long’s oeuvre. He believes his beer is best served in a wine glass.
It’s all a part of Long’s “no compromise” motto.
“I make beers without compromise,” says Long as he rubs one of his frozen cascade hops from Yakima between his hands and takes a long whiff. “I use only the best hops from two farms—never pellets—only the best malts and the perfect yeast for every one of my beers.”
Long approaches brewing with the meticulous attention to detail you’d expect from a former engineer for Hewlett-Packard.
The still is equipped with four separate clusters of five temperature sensors. The entire system is hooked up to the Wi-Fi, allowing him to monitor it from his phone when he’s judging beer miles away.
“A single degree off and the beer changes entirely” says Long.
Every step of the process is as closely monitored, from the soft boiling to the pumping—”We learned with wine that you need to crush the grapes gently, I use the same approach with pumping” says Long. The whole brewing process is designed to mitigate oxidation, tannins and diacetyls to create clean beer.
And Long is always looking for new techniques to improve his beer.
“I freeze my hops in a vacuum-sealed bag to dry them but I’m always looking for better ways to preserve my hops,” says Long as he swirls his Vienna lager in a wine glass. “This is an exciting time in brewing. My hop-growing friend employs a chemist now. There are ways to locate the sulfur compounds in a hop down to the quadrillionth—the quadrillionth!”
“We are just now getting into the real science of brewing.”
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.