By Dan Haag
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Once upon a time, a sad, run-down former auto body shop sat on a dreary street corner in Astoria. Though its storied history could be traced back to some of the city’s prominent business founders, there was a time during the 1990s and early 2000s that no one paid it much attention.
It was just there, crumbling away under the winter rain and summer weeds, kept upright by the boards hammered across the broken out windows.
While it seems like a lifetime ago, it’s only been a little more than 10 years since business partners Jack Harris and Chris Nemlowill chose the spot as the future home for Fort George Brewery.
Time flies when you’re having fun and working feverishly, a combination that has Fort George primed for the next 10 years.
“We’re really proud of the work that went into the building and the hub it’s become,” Harris says.
Now, it’s hard to picture the corner at 1483 Duane St. without what has become known as the “Brewer’s Block.”
While so much has happened since 2007, Harris says Astoria’s welcoming embrace holds special meaning for him.
“We were immediately accepted by this community,” he says. “It evolved into kind of becoming a living room for the town.”
The official anniversary date landed on March 11, and in typical Fort George fashion, it was an all-day affair, complete with three bands, a cake-cutting ceremony and a beer release featuring a 10th Anniversary Pinot Barrel-Aged Barleywine brewed for the occasion.
“It was just a huge party all day long,” Harris says.
The cake — decorated with a U-Haul and tornado — was a nod to Fort George’s very stormy beginning.
In 2006, Harris and Nemlowill took a cross-country trip to secure brewing equipment from a brewery for sale in Virginia Beach, Va.
After taking the brewery apart, they loaded the large tanks onto a rented flat-bed truck and stored the smaller items inside a U-Haul, which Harris and Nemlowill drove.
When they hit Nebraska, they came face-to-face with a tornado that touched down just a few hundred yards off the interstate.
“We came close to losing all that stuff — we had no insurance or anything,” Harris says.
Safe and sound back on Oregon’s north Coast, the team decided to create an IPA to commemorate their adventure.
Harris, who’d already been brewing professionally for a number of years at that point, had never made an IPA.
“Chris being the business man, he knew we needed to make an IPA because he actually wanted to make money at this venture,” Harris says.
Thus, Vortex IPA was born — one of Fort George’s signature brews.
Harris gives credit to Nemlowill for Fort George’s evolution, who he calls “the visionary” of the team.
“I’m always focused on the task at hand, Chris is always looking ahead,” he says.
Speaking of looking ahead, Fort George has purchased a parcel of land in nearby Warrenton for the future construction of a distribution center.
Harris says the current warehouse has reached its limit and they want a spot to make it easier for customers to purchase larger orders and kegs.
Groundbreaking likely won’t occur until late 2017 or early 2018.
While brewing great beer is an essential component of their success, Harris says Fort George’s role in the community takes on a greater importance. Launching a weekly lecture series, participating in charity events and brewing special beers are just some of the ways Fort George gives back to Astoria.
Harris says they also encourage current and prospective employees to find a community cause they care about and become involved.
“I have no interest in running a business just to make money, there is no point in that,” he says. “Our hearts are with anything we can do to give back and make this a better place to live for the locals. It’s really the only reason to be in it for me.”
With hindsight always being perfect, Harris laughs when asked what he’d do differently if he could give his past self any words of advice.
“I’d probably go run and hide,” he says. “But it’s such a privilege to be in this industry and be in this town.”
Fort George Brewery
1483 Duane St., Astoria
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.