By Gail Oberst
Oregon has nearly 140 craft breweries. But Nov. 5, when officials from one of those breweries announced they are selling to international brewing giant Anheuser-Busch/InBev, Bend-based 10 Barrel Brewing Company set social and traditional media on fire. The sale will be final by the end of the year.
The announcement by owners and founders Chris and Jeremy Cox (twin brothers) and Garrett Wales was followed by “expert” opinions locally and nationally. Wall Street experts sought to advise investors on what A-B/InBev was up to. National statistic geeks tried to ferret out trends reflected in the sale. Fellow business owners suggested 10 Barrel’s owners were just being smart. Others felt betrayed.
The owners indicated 10 Barrel’s success since they began in 2006 exceeded their own expectations – and management abilities. In a video announcing the sale of 10 Barrel, Wales and the Cox brothers admit they are good at making and drinking beer. But they said they are not good at a lot of things that a growing brewery needs, some of which includes administrative functions from packaging and distribution to employee benefits and making quality videos.
Despite recent administrative struggles, 10 Barrel’s brewers continued to produce award-winning beers. Most recently, the brewery won three medals at the renowned Great American Beer Festival for its Cucumber Crush (gold) and bronze medals for both Amber Waves and P2P.
A-B/InBev officials have deferred to 10 Barrel’s former owners, who responded to questions about the impact of the purchase on brewery jobs in Oregon, on plans to expand to Portland, and on the quality of 10 Barrel beers that inspires passionate reaction from fans.
10 BARREL’S FUTURE
Portlanders have been anxiously watching construction of 10 Barrel Brewing’s new Portland brewery and pub in the Pearl District, but does the sale of the brewery put this on hold? Absolutely not, said Wales: “We're on track for a mid-winter opening for the Portland pub,” he said. The 6,229-square-foot space at 1411 N.W. Flanders St. will have seating for 150 people and will reportedly employ more than 80 people. Nov. 7, the brewery announced it was hiring Whitney Burnside to be the Portland location’s brewer. Burnside has been Pelican’s specialty brewer.
Jeremy Cox also said that there won’t be any personnel changes at the Bend or Boise facilities in the near future. “The team is staying the same,” he said.
Might there be an increase in production at any of the 10 Barrel facilities in the future? Jeremy Cox said that keeping up with current expansion plans is about all they can handle. "It's business as usual for us right now. We've been growing fast over the last few years and we're staying focused on continuing our growth while keeping our distribution focus here in the Pacific Northwest,” he said.
Meanwhile, the affiliation with the larger company will have its advantages for the brewers. "You tell Jimmy, Shawn and Tonya that they have access to unlimited hops and the best of the best malt and see their faces light up. We're really excited about the opportunities this partnership will provide for all our team,” said Garrett Wales.
Cox had a few words for those who fear that 10 Barrel will lose its Northwest quality and flavor. "We're still brewing our beer here in Bend, our families are here in Bend, our employees all live and work here in the community and we're not going anywhere. We definitely still consider ourselves a local Bend brewery,” he said.
A-B/InBev is a Belgian-Brazilian multinational brewing company headquartered in those two countries. Although it is most often affiliated with Budweiser products in the U.S., A-B/InBev’s international owners claim a brewing history back to 1366 through its Belgian merger with Artois, as in Stella Artois. A series of mergers created InBev, the world’s largest beer company in 2004. In 2008, InBev bought Anheuser-Busch, further expanding its holdings. Today, nearly half of all beer products sold in the U.S. are owned by A-B/InBev. Bud, Corona, Michelob and Beck’s are all part of the A-B/InBev family.
Despite the craft beer craze (which it has apparently joined), the company is doing well. According to New York Stock Exchange reports, as of mid-November, its stock was listed at $87 per share, up from $35 per share four years ago. For the quarter that ended in October this year, the company earned $12.24 billion – times that by four for an approximate annual income, and you’re talking real money.
Even with climbing profits, the company is not selling more beer, according to A-B/InBev’s October report to its shareholders. Volume had dropped last year throughout the company’s holdings by nearly 3 percent, and this quarter, volume sales were nearly flat worldwide. The biggest volume drops among company labels recently were in North America and Europe, where small craft brewery beer sales are climbing. But is a drop in volume a problem for the company that sells nearly a third of the world’s beer? Stock prices in November took a tiny dip, but in the long run, probably not.
Owners are reassuring, but fears abide that small breweries bought up by large corporations often disappear. Macro Trend Investor writer Charles Sizemore, a self-described proponent of these kinds of buyouts, suggested 10 Barrel’s brand could go the way of George Killian’s Irish Red and Shiner Bock, both bought out by large beer companies before they disappeared.
“Could BUD and the rest of Big Beer take a page out of Warren Buffett’s playbook, buy a craft beer brewery outright but leave its management in place and maintain a low profile? Maybe. But it’s hard to see regional microbrews having much of an impact on the bottom lines of companies with tens of billions in annual sales,” said Sizemore.
Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association, sees the purchase as a sign of the times. “With middle-of-the-country Goose Island, Long Island’s Blue Point and now Bend and Boise’s 10 Barrel part of the portfolio, it looks like A-B is developing its own version of a regional-brand footprint strategy,” he said in a blog post. “I am thinking about why these deals don’t happen more often,” he said.
By Chris Jennings
In the brewing process, one of the most important ingredients that is often overlooked is the yeast. We always use yeast to create our tasty brews, so why not know more about what yeast has to offer? With the variety of yeast as expansive as beer styles, there are hundreds of different combinations just waiting to be tried.
Yeast is an organism related to mushrooms that, for the purposes of brewing, consumes sugars and, as a byproduct, creates carbon dioxide, alcohol, and flavor/aroma esters. The two largest groups are lager and ale yeasts. Lager yeast is bottom-fermenting and generally ferments at cooler temperatures. Ale yeast is top-fermenting and generally used at warmer temperatures.
Lager is a German term that actually means “cold storage,” so any beer can be lagered–but not all beers are lagers. Inside the larger yeast subset, there are varieties from all over Europe that would be used in Czech-style pilsners and German Schwarzbiers. There are also American varieties that are used in “steam” or warm lager beers and the now-popular India Pale Lager. Ale yeasts have a larger variety of subcategories; including English, West Coast American, East Coast American, Belgian and German. Of course, as with all aspects of homebrewing, these generalizations do not apply to every yeast and rules are supposed to be broken.
Deciding what yeast to use for a particular beer style is usually as simple as following a recipe. Unfortunately, it can be a bit boring if you use the same American ale yeast on everything you brew. Instead of going crazy and throwing a Bohemian Pilsner yeast into your IPA, a safer first experiment would be to use a British ale yeast instead of the American; thus allowing you to see the subtle differences between the two ales.
Another option is to read up on a bunch of different yeast strains. The yeast companies do a very good job of describing the different flavor profiles of the yeast in their inventory. You can find all of this information on the Internet or at your local homebrew shops. Reading what flavors a yeast can produce will help in the selection process, but you will never know if it works until you try.
The magic of fermentation creates the majority of the flavors and all of the alcohol in the beer styles we know and love. We as brewers only attempt to create an environment for the yeast that is healthy and ensures that they will be happy. With the beer industry trying new things and creating different styles, remember: As homebrewers, we have the ability to do more experimentation. Continuing to push the envelope can be risky and not every brew is going to be the greatest, but once the experiment comes out great, that is worth all of the effort.
Ex Novo Breaks Ground as First Nonprofit Brewery
By Anthony Roberts
North Portland’s Ex Novo is the first nonprofit brewery in the United States – perhaps the world – but you might not realize it when you walk in for a beer. And that’s how owner Joel Gregory wants it.
“We’re not really heavy-handed on that,” Gregory says, “We want people to love it here, love our beer, love our food, and then they find out we’re a nonprofit. It’s just kind of gravy. It’s another reason to love our place, not the only reason.”
He’s doing a good job so far. Ex Novo set up shop in a former lighting design warehouse at 2326 N. Flint Ave., just across from Lillis Albina City Park and two blocks off North Williams. Most seats in the pub offer a great view of the brewery, in particular the stools along the eye-catching live-edge wood bar. There’s also mezzanine seating for a bird’s-eye view of the beer-making process.
While Gregory is an avid homebrewer, he’s smart enough to know he isn’t a brewmaster; so he hired Ian Greene, who brewed at Stone and Boneyard before helping open a brewery in Norway. He also earned a degree in brewing and distilling in Scotland.
“He’s worked for three or four very different-sized breweries under different styles of brewers,” Gregory says. “In a short amount of time, he’s put together a great knowledge base.”
For food, Gregory brought in Portland chef Berkeley Braden, who also runs his own catering business, to develop the menu. Braden eschews the typical pub menu (no burger!) for items like beer braised brisket, yam fry bread sandwiches, creamy Israeli couscous, and one of our favorites – a round of bacon for the table.
“I had no business starting a restaurant,” Gregory says, “so I just got the right people involved who knew what they were doing and who were good team players and let them do their thing.”
Ex Novo, which means “from scratch,” didn’t cook up the nonprofit idea on a lark. Gregory and the members of his board carefully selected four charities to work with, and have established an initial goal of raising $25,000 for each. Gregory said that when he spoke to friends in nonprofit leadership positions, their No. 1 concern centered on raising money, something that often eats up a hefty share of an executive director’s time.
“It just kind of clicked. What if there was a business or businesses – I think this idea will grow – that were fundraising mechanisms, full-time things that are sustainable in their own, that can generate not all of someone’s budget, but can help out in some way,” Gregory says. “That just made sense to me to try it out.”
After Ex Novo pays the bills, its net profits go to four charities: Mercy Corps, the International Justice Mission, Impact Northwest and Friends of the Children. While the brewery is breaking new ground, it certainly won’t be the last of its kind. Gregory estimates he’s been in touch with a dozen or more operations across the country that are somewhere in the planning stage.
“They Google nonprofit brewery and they come up with us and they email us and say, ‘Hey, I’ve been thinking about the same thing,’” Gregory says.
If Ex Novo’s early success is any indication, they’ve come to the right place to seek advice.
Ex Novo Brewery
[a] 2326 N. Flint Ave., Portland
Owner: Joel Gregory/Board of Directors
Brewer: Ian Greene
Chef: Berkeley Braden
Oregon Public House Turns Beer Into Donations
By Anthony Roberts
Many grand ideas have been hatched over backyard beers. The difference with Ryan Saari’s is that it actually worked.
Saari is one of the founders of the Oregon Public House in Northeast Portland. Better known as "the world's first non-profit pub," the pub gives all of its net profits to charity – emphasis on ALL. This summer, the pub celebrated its first anniversary, and is thriving at its location at Northeast 7th Avenue and Dekum Street, just around the corner from Breakside Brewing. Not bad for a pub run by bunch of volunteers with no restaurant experience.
“This has really been a community effort. This wouldn’t have happened without hundreds of people being involved and making it happen,” Saari says over beers at the pub, housed in a former Odd Fellows Hall built in 1909. “It’s a neat idea and it’s a unique idea and hopefully it’s a little bit of an inspirational idea, but that’s really where it ended for me. I don’t have many skills. I have the skills to do this, sit here and talk.”
With no money or business experience, Saari and friends relied upon the generosity and skills of the Woodlawn neighborhood. Saari recalled a carpenter walking into the pub, setting down his tool bag and asking what he could do, completely unsolicited.
The Oregon Public House board’s willingness to engage the neighborhood helped. The previous two tenants were a restaurant named Rumpspankers (it was as bad as it sounds, according to neighbors) and Cannabis Cafe, neither of which was willing to work with the neighborhood association. Saari, who lives in the area, held hundreds of meetings with neighbors in the three years it took to clean, renovate and open the pub.
How it Works
The idea of a nonprofit pub might seem radical, but if it’s going to work anywhere, it’s going to work in Portland. The city is home to more breweries than any other city in the world, and also hosts more non-profit organizations per capita than any other city in America.
The Oregon Public House has a rolling list of partner charities it works with. New charities are selected each spring; last year, 180 applied to be chosen. Right now, the net profits from your bar bill go to one of six charities: the Community Cycling Center, De La Salle North Catholic High School, Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods, United Cerebral Palsy, Red Sweater Project or Braking Cycles. Place an order, and your server will ask which charity your bill will support.
The pub has just one salaried employee, chef and manager Jon Field. And while they do have a paid staff, there is, as Saari says, “no ceiling to how much someone can volunteer.”
The Oregon Public House’s best legacy may be that it’s breaking ground for others. Nonprofit beer businesses are about to become a thing. Portland’s first nonprofit brewery, Ex Novo Brewing Company, just opened its doors on North Flint Avenue. Other projects are popping up in the U.S. and abroad, and The New York Times recently wrote a piece weighing in on the proliferation of nonprofit pubs and breweries.
Charity and beer seem like a marriage that’s built to last.
“We wanted to create a model that can be replicated or stolen; other people can run with this,” Saari says. “ I think we can create a new way of giving back just by using capitalism.”
Of course, in order to give away money, Oregon Public House has to make some, and they haven’t been open for more than a year just because they’re a nonprofit. They have 14 rotating microbrew taps that are heavy on Northwest breweries, great pub grub, and a big, open building with century-old charm. Keeping with the neighborhood vibe, the pub is family friendly. A 200-capacity ballroom upstairs serves as a community gathering place. They also started brewing on contract with downtown Portland’s Pints, releasing an OPH IPA and saison.
Want to get involved? There are plenty of ways, from volunteering, to becoming a “founder” donor (free beer for life), to buying a round for the house (and for a good cause).
Oregon Public House
[a] 700 N.E. Dekum St., Portland
Director: Ryan Saari and board members
Chef: Jon Field
By Anthony St. Clair
“When we started operation, it was all about the beer,” says Ben Tilley, who along with his brother Nathan founded Agrarian Ales near Coburg in December 2012. “We quickly learned how food and family are important, collaborative features that were needed to realize what Agrarian could offer the community.”
Two years later, that focus on food, drink and family continues to guide Agrarian Ales.
The Tilley brothers were kids when their parents moved from California to Oregon in 1984 and set up Crossroads Farm. After leaving the farm for college, the brothers did something unusual: they came back. In addition to an appreciation of the region’s agricultural history, they understood the Willamette Valley’s hop-growing history and its growing craft beer industry. Working with their parents to shape the farm’s future, the Tilleys began planting hops, converting a 1941 dairy building into a modern 6-barrel brewery, and planning beers and brewing styles that would truly be farm-to-glass.
Tilley soon realized they had created more than just another brewery. “We had no idea how much people would enjoy our location, how they would feel by coming out to the farm on a sunny day and truly being able to relax and let life slow down,” he explains. “We offer a unique atmosphere that isn't always possible at other breweries or brewpubs. Kids and their parents really like it out here, and we try to foster that as much as possible.”
Improving the tasting room and other public space at the brewery is among future plans, Tilley adds, as is creating more space for families and large gatherings. Farm production constrains how much beer Agrarian brews, so they are looking at ways to increase farm yields and brewing capacity. The team is also doing a “small amount of bottling,” and plans to age beers in wine and whiskey barrels. Because, after all, it does all come back to the beer.
“Not every brewer out there gets to choose what beer they are going to make every day,” says Tilley. “The love and passion that Tobias Schock, our head brewer, puts into every drop is very apparent.”
Instead of the modern practice of maintaining an unchanging flagship lineup, Agrarian returned to the traditional farm and brewing practice of seasonal-based availability. What’s pouring depends on time of year, ingredient availability, and what the farm is producing. “Figuring out how to use excess chile peppers or winter squash results in sometimes creating a new or modifying an existing, known process to produce farm-fresh beer,” says Tilley, but “since every beer we make is ‘seasonal,’ we build and maintain a yearning for one's favorite beer to come back around.”
Favorite Agrarian beers have included the BelGene series, a hop-forward Eugene take on Belgian pale ales, and seasonal beers such as the Poblamo! winter chile beer. But if there’s a standout, Tilly notes, then “Dandy Porter has been the favorite so far. A mild, brown porter with roasted dandelion roots from our hops fields are added. The dandy roots smell like chocolate cake when you roast them.”
After two years of welcoming people seeking fresh beer and fresh air, Tilley knows that some things will always change, but focusing on home and community won’t be one of them. Neither will Agrarian’s focus on keeping it local. “Distribution will stay in Oregon for as far as we can see,” he says. “You have to have a personal connection to Agrarian to really understand how unique your experiences with our beer are. Our beers won't resonate with someone living 500 miles away.”
[a] 31115 Crossroads Ln W, Eugene
By Kris McDowell
You may have seen a few Ambacht Brewing beers on tap or in the cooler at your favorite bottle shop, but those offerings are just the tip of the iceberg. For the full picture, and an exploration of all they have to offer, it's worth paying a visit to their brewery and (soon to be expanded) taproom in Hillsboro where co-owners Tom Kramer and Brandy Grobart have set up shop.
Both Tom and Brandy hail from the Midwest, Minneapolis and Chicago, respectively. Brandy had been calling the Portland area home since the early 1980s after traveling the country with a friend and deciding Portland was an appealing place to live. Tom's move to Portland was career-based for his wife, who is Brandy's cousin; the company she worked for merged with another and they found themselves relocating.
Each had embarked on homebrewing as a hobby independently, utilizing extracts, but it wasn't until Tom upped the game and purchased an all-grain setup that talk about starting a commercial operation began. During that time Tom was also volunteering at the now defunct Tuck’s Brewery in Southwest Portland. He took the next step forward by purchasing their brewing equipment—equipment that would spend a year in storage while the pair refined their homebrewing recipes.
To start a brewery, one must have a name and deciding they wanted one starting with an "a," settled upon "Ambacht," the Flemish/Dutch word for "craft." With a name in place, the next major decision was to determine a location. During their scouting phase Brandy and Tom made the conscious choice to settle outside of Portland. Brandy explained that while Portland was attractive, "because it's become a neighborhood area," the downside is that there is tremendous competition. Hillsboro offered a setting more in alignment with their plans and they secured space just west of the Hillsboro Airport.
In Ambacht's first two years they worked on fine-tuning their recipes before hitting a significant speed bump in year three. That year the pair admits they were, "making really bad beer." They suspected the source was in their system, not that the recipes or process were off. Something likely settled in during the year the equipment spent in storage. To remedy the problem, they immediately discontinued all beer sales–followed by a thorough cleaning of the system–until they were satisfied the problem had been eradicated.
Not long after resuming brewing, another issue reared its head: they had outgrown the existing space. Unable to acquire more space in the building, they were fortunate to find a larger space just across Northeast 25th Avenue. The change of physical location meant brewing was put on hold for months, after which they worked diligently to increase their production. Since then they have been doubling their production every year. This year–their sixth–the brewery is on track to produce 70 barrels on the 5-barrel system.
Ambacht's beers are not your typical Northwest brews, which is another conscious decision Tom and Brandy made at the outset. Both prefer non-hoppy, "clean Belgian" beers, resisting the general trend in the Pacific Northwest to produce an IPA. Nearly all the beers use the same yeast and the same organic hops and clock in close to 6.5% ABV. Using wine bottling equipment, they bottle condition the beer with Pacific Northwest honey. Blackberry honey, sourced from Vancouver, Wash., is most commonly used, although their Honey Triple uses either honey from Tom's backyard beekeeping operation or from Tualatin Valley Beekeepers Association.
Perhaps Ambacht's most unique beer is one that Tom will tell you is, "the most famous beer you've never heard of." That beer is Matzobraü, the only beer made with real matza, the unleavened bread traditionally eaten during the week-long Jewish Passover holiday. Brandy and Tom are Jewish and brew this beer every year after Passover when the market for matza drops out, leaving plenty of "passed over matza" to supply their needs. Fifty pounds of matza go into the mash along with two-row, Munich and chocolate malts.
In addition to producing unique beers, they've also garnered some recognition; having their Golden Farmhouse Ale named by Portland Monthly as a 2013 Best Beer and their Golden Rose Farmhouse Ale, infused with rose hips during secondary fermentation, won the Monaco Cup. The latter's earthy astringency is what Tom and Brandy have found tends to appeal most to diehard IPA drinkers. And while the Pacific Northwest is full of hop heads, it's their Ginger Farmhouse Ale that is possibly their most successful, simply "flying off the shelves."
As they look forward, the biggest excitement is a build out that will provide a more spacious taproom as well as additional storage. The expansion was one that came sooner than planned, but when the adjacent space in their building was vacated, it was a situation that was too good to pass up. It's a street-facing entrance, something that should give them greater visibility than they currently have with the side entrance. If all goes according to plan it will be completed before the end of the year, ready to reward those who seek them out.
[a] 1060 N.E. 25th Ave., Hillsboro
[p] (503) 828-1400
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.