By Aaron Brussat
For the Oregon Beer Growler
In the high elevations of the Peruvian Andes, civilizations of men and women transformed the harsh mountain landscape into livable, arable terrain. By brute force and, perhaps, extraterrestrial engineering skills, the Inca constructed architectural wonders, including Machu Picchu. Lookout towers, temples and an intricate aqueduct system built into the nearly vertical mountainside reflect the importance of quality workmanship; one loose stone and the whole thing falls apart.
In the Sacred Valley, on the way to Machu Picchu from the city of Cusco, Peruvian native Juan Mayorga, along with Oregonian Joe Giammatteo and his wife Louisa de Heer, built a brewery from the ground up. Its construction was arduous, and introducing Peruvians to craft beer — especially craft beer on draft — proved to be a challenge that might rival the construction of the Inca citadel.
Founded on years of day-dreamy conversation brought to life by Mayorga’s initiative, Cerveceria del Valle Sagrado (Sacred Valley Brewery) began as an empty swath of land in Pachar along the Urubamba River, which draws water from southeastern Peru and winds through the valley northward to a junction that connects with the Amazon River and, eventually, the Atlantic Ocean. The nearby city of Ollantaytambo is a charming, stone-walled historic site — the only city to successfully fend off Spanish conquistadors — and is the last train stop before Machu Picchu. Incan ruins abound.
De Heer and Giammatteo developed a water treatment plan to keep runoff from the brewery out of the river. Using buried cisterns, pH management and a biodigester, the brewery’s wastewater is rendered neutral.
“We checked out plans from New Belgium and worked with an environmental engineer from Cusco,” said Giammatteo, who worked at Eugene’s Oakshire Brewing before moving south. “I looked at a couple Craft Brewers Conference talks related to wastewater treatment, and spoke with Ben [Tilley] at Agrarian Ales about their system. It’s nothing that hasn’t been done before. But we don’t have a lot of infrastructure.”
Adobe bricks, concrete, corrugated metal, plaster, stainless steel and a bit of wood comprise the brewery building. From a “combi,” which is kind of like a van-sized taxi for long-distance destinations, one sees the brewery as a pale beige structure with the logo (which has a distinct Oregon quality) and hops painted on the side. Once inside, you feel at home.
The taproom is modestly sized, colorful and (most importantly) has beer. Customers are greeted warmly and given a little dish of “choclo,” the national bar snack of giant corn kernels, fried and salted to a starchy crisp. The beer selection is not far from home — our home. While the regional fermented beverage is “chicha,” a partially malted corn brew, there is none of that here. It can be found through mysterious doorways along the narrow cobbled streets of Ollantaytambo, signified by a stick with a red handkerchief tied on the end that means “Chicha is ready.” IPA, red, witbier, saison and other familiar delights are a sight for certain sore eyes and a delight to all tongues, and with pint in hand, a wander around the property reveals a small garden with familiar vegetables, courtesy of de Heer’s green thumb. A sizable grass lawn and picnic table may host mountain bikers, local families with lively children, folks grabbing a beer after work or tourists, and affords a view down the valley to the northwest as well as of the cliffs that rise a thousand feet directly across the road.
Life in Peru is, obviously, different from our comfortable ways. The atmosphere is raw; the sun burns pale gringo skin in minutes. The infrastructure of the larger cities is not set up to support the current population. Floods trigger water outages; political maneuvers trigger road-blocking protests. These things are part of life; craft beer is a new thing. Craft beer is becoming increasingly visible in Peru, which has nearly 20 breweries to its landmass (larger than Texas). Most of them are in coastal Lima, though a few have cropped up in Cusco and Arequipa.
Exposing an unaware populace to an artisan food product is as challenging as it sounds. The concepts of beer freshness and refrigeration, let alone serving it on draft, are nearly nonexistent. In order to open new accounts, Giammatteo had to install kegerators, draft lines and faucets before putting anything on tap. They reached out to pubs and recently opened bars.
“We said, ‘We’re going to offer a new product. It’s draft beer. It’s high quality. The beer you’re bringing in from England is oxidized and not particularly interesting.’ Most of the owners weren’t beer drinkers, so they were like ‘Eh, OK.’ Some people were hesitant about the draft but got over it. We gave our first accounts a significant amount of infrastructure; they knew it would be a good investment.”
A little more than two years in operation, Cerveceria del Valle Sagrado has earned numerous medals in national and international competitions, and has won favor with locals and tourists alike.
“Peru is unique in that food is so crucial to how the culture works,” said Giammatteo. “As a result, if a food writer gets excited about a beer, all of a sudden you have followers.” He added that they were fortunate to get attention early on. “We had a beer event in Lima. A lot of food writers were there and wrote us up, and we won best in show. From the press we got from that it was easy to get momentum going.”
Giammatteo has collaborated with other Peruvian breweries, and took quickly to using local vegetation, such as “ayrampo” (the pink, peppery seeds of a local cactus), wild cherries and locally grown peaches.
Giammatteo and de Heer returned to their home in Eugene this April, bringing along their 3-month-old son and an adopted dog named Rabbit. After three years, it was time. Giammatteo handed over the brewhouse to Ben Kent, who came from Colorado’s Breckenridge Brewery to a production brewery called Sierra Andina in the central part of the country. Soon, he’ll be joined at Cerveceria del Valle Sagrado by another brewer with experience at Uinta Brewing Co. Giammatteo plans to visit occasionally to keep tabs on things and help with his envisioned “brewer exchange” program.
Getting to the brewery takes some time, some haggling with taxi drivers and several pisco sours. At 9,000 feet elevation, the buzz sets in quick and can exacerbate altitude sickness, so staying a few days to get acclimated is recommended.
By Dan Haag
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The phrase “necessity is the mother of invention” could well have been coined with Oregon brewers in mind. How else can one explain decades of behind-the-scenes research and development that have carried the state’s brewmasters to the front of the line?
Case in point, the team at Pelican Brewing Company recently unveiled the “Hopinator,” an innovative system designed to create a more efficient, safer method for dry-hopping beer.
Made in collaboration with designers at Metalcraft Fabrication in Portland, the Hopinator streamlines how the agitator introduces hops to the fermenter. They also redesigned the method to move hops in and out of Pelican’s brews more efficiently and effectively.
Up and running at Pelican’s brewing facility in Tillamook, the Hopinator — also dubbed R2-D2 by the team — bears a slight resemblance to a certain “Star Wars” favorite.
Much like that beloved droid, the Hopinator helps things run more smoothly. Brewmaster Darron Welch has been impressed with the results.
“It overcomes a lot of the utilization problems with traditional dry hopping,” he says.
The new process introduces much less oxygen; the hop pellets go directly into the clean vessel, then the brewer seals the vessel and purges with carbon dioxide.
As a result, there is extremely low oxygen pickup compared to the traditional dry-hopping process, increasing flavor stability and quality.
Because the hops are incorporated into the liquid with an agitator and emulsified in the beer, then shot back into the main fermenter, the brewers are able to extract much more flavor and aroma from the hops than the traditional method of dry hopping. Welch says the benefit is that Pelican is now able to use around 30 percent fewer hops with better results.
Fans of Pelican’s brews will notice the difference.
“What this means for the beer drinker is enhanced taste and aromatics,” Welch says. “It introduces much less oxygen along with the dry hops in an anaerobic environment.” He adds that for beers where the dry hop charge stays exactly the same, there is a better, “punchier” dry hop aroma.
Beyond the science and increased efficiency, the Hopinator addresses many of the safety concerns associated with dry-hopping.
“There’s no more hauling 50 pound buckets of hops up high ladders,” Welch says. Hop infusions are done easily at ground level with the mixing element and agitation built in.
Installing the Hopinator wasn’t as simple as going to a supply store and hooking up a couple hoses. Welch admits that this project had been on his wish list for many years and that development took quite some time.
“It was two trade shows ago at the Craft Brewer’s Conference where we were looking at some of the options that were on the market at that time,” he says, adding that Pelican was close to purchasing a more traditional “hop gun,” a piece of equipment designed in Germany. While there’s much to like about the hop gun, Welch wasn’t convinced it was the right fit for Pelican.
“American craft brewers use a lot more dry hops than any German brewer would rightly consider,” Welch says. “We started looking at ways to design a system that eliminated some of the challenges of that particular equipment.”
Those challenges included constant plugging and the infusion of hops taking a much longer time than desired.
After a series of back-and-forth conversations with Metalcraft about adapting the hop gun for Pelican’s needs, it became clear that a completely new design was in order.
“Metalcraft worked with us to achieve the design we wanted,” Welch says.
Another plus is mobility, as the Hopinator can be moved from vessel to vessel, depending on which batch is receiving dry-hopping. Welch says this eliminates the need for hoses strewn about the floor and streamlines the workload.
While Pelican will not be marketing or selling the Hopinator, Metalcraft will be offering the design to other customers. The Pelican team is thrilled with their creation and have reached the point where they can’t imagine dry-hopping any other way.
“It’s turned out to be a great benefit in terms of time, efficiency, cleanliness and safety,” Welch says.
By John Foyston
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The Commons recently celebrated its fourth year as a brewery, not especially young by Portland standards, but still one of my favorite success stories thanks to its beginnings as Beetje – a one-man nanobrewery in owner Mike Wright's Southeast Portland garage.
Nowadays, The Commons is one of Portland's favorite Good Beer Hangouts. It occupies a 10,000-square-foot space, a windows-on-the world corner of Southeast Belmont Street. The building comprises a handsome, woody taproom, the original Commons brew system up front for display, the Cheese Annex serving artisan cheese and charcuterie, a 15-barrel JV Northwest production brewery in back and a crew of a dozen or more brewers and pubsters. It's three times larger than the previous location – and about 50 times larger than the garage in which Wright started Beetje Brewing in 2009.
Yes, other breweries have traced similar or steeper trajectories – Ninkasi, of course, which became a national player in less than a decade; Breakside, which quickly outgrew its brewpub beginnings to add a big new production brewery; Fort George, which now inhabits an entire block of downtown Astoria; Cascade, which brought sour beer to national prominence; and others.
But The Commons is a story I know well, having followed it since the garage days, and Mike Wright's philosophy is one that describes why I – and a lot of you, I suspect – love craft beer: “The important thing is not the beer itself, but the interaction and socializing that happen around good beer,” he said when he made the considerable leap from garage to industrial space; from a cobbled-together, 1-barrel nanobrewery to a professional, 7-barrel brewhouse; and from a one-man show to being an employer with a cellarman and brewer Sean Burke.
It wasn't until September of 2012 that he quit his day job, perhaps thinking back to what he said at Beetje (Flemish for “little bit” and a tribute to his wife Kaatje, who was born in the Flemish town of Roeselare) – “I know I won’t be supporting my family with the amount of beer I can make in my garage,” he said in a 2010 interview, “but I'm having fun and making beers that I want to make.”
“At the risk of being too romantic,” he said back then, “imagine a small, rustic farmhouse brewery in the inner city. The beers are everyday-drinking beers, not super-complex, monster bombs. Plenty of breweries make those. I enjoy spending time with friends and good food, and drinking a sessionable beverage is the driving force behind the beers I make.”
That philosophy was at the heart of The Commons, with its motto of “Gather around beer,” and was the reason that its tasting room was one of Portland's favorites — an intimate, woody space tucked away in the corner of a handsomely revamped industrial space, which had high ceilings, brick walls, tall windows and barrel-aging racks. It was a one-of-kind space, where patrons could drink in the brewery. People loved it, but it wasn't ideal: “It was a little too integrated with the brewery,” Wright said in 2014. “We could either brew beer or have the tasting room open, but not both. I had brewers all the time who asked, 'How did you guys get away with having the tasting room in the brewery?' And the truth is, we got lucky – it’d never get approved again.”
The new tasting room has a nearly identical feel thanks to lots of honest, unadorned wood, high ceilings, concrete floors, the original 7-barrel brewhouse up front and sightlines into the production brewery, but barriers now separate the spaces. “We wanted to recreate the aesthetic of our first tasting room on a bigger scale,” said Wright. “We want to keep people connected with the brewery, because there's nothing better than having people here enjoying your beer.”
Mission accomplished: the new brewery taproom opened in late March 2015, just in time for the thousands of professional brewers who trekked to Portland for the Craft Brewers Conference last April, and it has since become a favorite spot for townies and tourists alike looking for a pint of that brilliant Urban Farmhouse Ale, or Myrtle, or their beautiful Pils.
And those 13 taps are pouring a LOT of Commons beer these days. “We actually have walk-in customers now,” Wright says, “the old location was a true destination type place – only people who knew about us would visit. While that has a certain cachet for some, it wasn't a sustainable business model. We love the opportunity to introduce our beer to new people and the high-profile location offers us many more opportunities to do that. The new, purpose-built cellar and added storage have made a world of difference on the production side of the equation.”
The production side is well served. There was a day last February when the JV Northwest crew rolled up with a brewery on a truck and brewer Burke knew he could soon trade the tool belt he'd worn during months of build-out for his brewer rubber boots.
“They showed up at 7 a.m. with trucks and 12 hours later they had it mostly installed,” said Burke, who was excited as only a brewer can be about the versatility of the system. “I asked for a list of things and I got every one of them. We can do straight mashes, step mashes, decoction mashes, turbid mashes — the system is amazingly flexible. JV Northwest really delivered on the engineering, plus I think they wanted a showcase system on their home turf.”
Great beer, a coherent vision and the unassuming, homey feel of the tasting room make The Commons a true Portland gem: “Portland has a rich pub culture where consumers desire variety and a broad range of flavors,” Wright said. “That allows a niche brewery like The Commons to exist and thrive because we provide an alternative to Portland's many hop-forward beers. Could I have guessed we'd be here today when you and I met in the garage? No! No way. I had no idea the business would be where it is today. It's really amazing and gratifying to where we are. I'm very lucky.”
So is Portland, Mr. Wright, so is Portland.
Lawyers Anda Lincoln, left, with Lincoln Law Office in Fort Collins, Colo., and Melinda Sellers with Burr and Forman in Birmingham, Ala., presented information about selling beer, working with distributors and keeping things legal in their seminar at the Craft Brewers Conference, held in Portland in April. Photo by Patty Mamula
By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The 2015 Craft Brewers Conference, held in Portland in April, covered virtually every aspect of craft brewing and brought in people from every state, the District of Columbia and Guam, and 54 countries. The global reach and appeal of craft beer was evident. The numerous seminars were equally as diverse. Two presentations neatly bookended the spectrum of topics.
Steve Parkes, owner and lead instructor at the American Brewers Guild, presented a session entitled “Going Pro: Making the Transition From Home Brewing to Professional Brewing and the New Challenges That Await.”
Anda Lincoln and Melinda Sellers, lawyers from Fort Collins, Colo. and Birmingham, Ala., respectively, presented a session called “Can We Do That? Common Questions Facing Brewery Owners in Working With Retailers and Wholesalers.”
With an introductory disclaimer that he was NEVER a homebrewer, Parkes drew on his early brewing experience in the U.K. before coming to the U.S. to “join the revolution.”
“Homebrewing is a hobby. Craft brewing is a business,” he said.
He emphasized the importance of mastering the craft -- of taking the time to learn how to brew a style and become consistent at brewing high-quality beers. “John Coltrane took years to master his craft,” said Parkes, referring to the legendary saxophonist. “Don’t rush. Master a balanced, clean pale ale.”
There are numerous avenues to getting a job as a brewer, including formal brewing education, education in science or engineering, internships, volunteering (which he finds is all too common today) and moving up from assistant to brewmaster at a new pub. “Breweries are opening too fast for startups to find trained and educated brewers,” he said.
He recommended several ways to learn about brewing. Visit breweries to stay apprised of the latest developments and network, join the Master Brewers Association of Americas and state guild, read books and judge tasting contests.
Two of the biggest challenges when transitioning from homebrewing to professional brewing are ingredients and scale. “Going from a 5-gallon homebrew to 30,000 gallons is a 100-fold increase,” he said. “Current recipes use ingredients that may not be available in large quantities or economically.”
For example, the barley and malt market is global and a drought in Russia or a storm in Germany can affect a brewery in Wisconsin. The increased demand for aroma hops due to craft beer’s rise in popularity has created a tight market for some varieties, such as Cascade, Centennial and Simcoe.
Parkes hit on the importance of quality and mastery repeatedly, especially noting clarification and carbonation issues. Consistency and quality go hand in hand and are facilitated by record keeping, possessing the proper tools and instruments, accessing a working laboratory and acquiring education and training.
Once an experienced and dedicated homebrewer does go pro and has spent a solid amount of time in the beer trenches, perfecting and mastering his or her beer, it might be time to branch out and sell to retailers and wholesalers.
Anda Lincoln and Melinda Sellers said that any relationship with a distributor begins with “The Agreement.” They advised developing a complete, detailed and specific written agreement. “Build reports, delivery and payment into the agreement as well as quality standards in shipping, storage and delivery.”
The brewery needs to emphasize how the product is to be handled, Lincoln said. This is where it’s important to be very specific and detailed. List which product cannot be sold past a certain date. Put the rotation schedule in the agreement. Wholesalers don’t want to receive product that will be out of date within two weeks.
A question was asked about wholesalers not following the rotation schedule, even if the wholesalers claim they are trying to fix the problem by implementing a new system. The answer, said Sellers, is not black and white. “It’s a relationship, an ongoing relationship, like a marriage,” she said. Her advice was to check out state law and get a good lawyer. “Go to them early on and have them help you save the relationship.”
Instead of relying on email or even certified mail, she suggested the ideal route to communication was to get your brewery people into the warehouse and walk through it together. Another strategy she suggested was visiting accounts in tandem and detailing what you want to happen at events and tastings -- spell out all expectations to the distributor. For example, one of Sellers’s clients was starting business in a new area of the country. The brewery was afraid that the distributor might place them in an event they wouldn’t want to take part in, so they asked for prior approval.
In dealing with retailers and self-distributing, Lincoln asked, “What can you incentivize them with? What is legal and what isn’t?” Draft beer sales can involve equipment, tap handles, glassware, kegs and line cleaning. Check and see what is legal to provide, she said. Be aware of what your state allows and any other state you may be going into.
“Wholesalers, how many of you have been involved in contests by manufacturers where top sales won a trip?” she asked the crowd. It turns out, that’s usually illegal. Some states allow you to give T-shirts and caps and others say you have to charge for them. There are also rules on signage. Certain point-of-sale merchandise and materials are not allowed, such as coupons.
The best defense, to steal a sports analogy, is to have a good offense. Know the legal restrictions in your state and/or region and record keeping requirements.
Elysian Brewing in Seattle, Wash. throws a Great Pumpkin Beer Festival, which in 2014 featured 92 pumpkin brews, a costume contest and 1,200-pound pumpkins filled with beer. Dick Cantwell, formerly of Elysian, said it’s important to have unique ideas for festivals. Photo courtesy of Elysian Brewing Company
By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
“Staging a Kickass Beer Event” takes planning, planning and more planning, according to the four presenters of the “DIY Beer Fest” at the 2015 Craft Brewers Conference, held in Portland in April.
Dick Cantwell, former head brewer and co-founder of Elysian Brewing Company in Seattle, said it’s important to differentiate the event and make it special. “If you don’t have a unique idea, it’s not worth doing,” he said.
For example, Elysian certainly brings plenty of unique elements to its two-day Great Pumpkin Beer Festival, which features pumpkin beers front and center, a costume contest and giant 1,200-pound pumpkins filled with beer.
“We try to retain the Christmas-morning effect,” he said. “Last year we had 92 pumpkin beers and 18 were ours. We have beers people have never tasted before or heard of before.”
Cantwell helps guest brewers with beer ideas for the event with only one restriction — they have to contain pumpkin. The brewer from Allagash Brewing in Portland, Maine, named last year’s contribution Drunken Promise in reference to his promise to Cantwell to make a pumpkin brew.
Barnaby Struve, co-founder of 3 Floyds Brewing Co. in Munster, Ind., said to, “plan ahead to manage the crowds. Our Dark Lord Day is the only time to buy Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout.” He recommended coding tickets with different groups, such as A, B and C, to control times and lines for pickup “if you have a special beer release at your festival.”
Other considerations: “Know what is legal in your municipality. Check for permit requirements and get the necessary ones. Go to events as a consumer and take notes. From the customers’ perspective, they are experiencing what you’re all about,” said Struve. “Make sure that your customers leave happy. It’s important to have this goodwill experience.”
Just the opposite happened last year at the Cigar City Brewing Hunahpu’s Day Festival in Tampa Bay, Fla., said director of marketing Geiger Powell. Named for a Mayan myth, the festival is a release party of Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout. In 2014, they tried something different. “We wanted to streamline the event and shrink the population. The $50 ticket included all the beer from the festival and the opportunity to buy beer bottles,” said Powell.
Originally, the attendees name was required to be on the ticket. “We changed our mind because so many people complained,” said Powell. “We should NOT have changed our mind.”
They had many fraudulent tickets and ran out of bottles. People were unhappy. “Riots broke out and yes, you can watch it all on YouTube,” he said.
The next day, Cigar City offered full refunds, free beer in the tasting room and paid out $200,000. “Ultimately it was positive with lots of press, and the next month we had our best sales ever,” said Powell.
This year was a different story. The tickets cost $200 and included food and four bottles of stout, plus access to more than 200 beers from 60 different breweries. “We insisted the name on the ticket match the ID of the attendee. We treated our brewers in town right. That’s essential because brewers will tell everyone,” he said.
Beau’s All Natural Brewing in Vankleek Hill, eastern Ontario, Canada holds an authentic Oktoberfest for two days in early October that swells the population of the small town. CEO and co-founder Steve Beauchesne said, “We have 8,000 people and 2,000 cows in town. Last year we had 20,000 attendees.”
They also had a big problem last year with their shuttle service. Since Beau’s is 50 minutes east of Ottawa, they offer a shuttle option as an add-on to the base ticket price.
“Last year it poured rain all day, creating a real mud fest,” said Beauchesne. “At the end of the day, everyone wanted to get on the bus at the same time and go home. But we had people waiting in line for more than an hour. We had mistakenly decided to go with less buses because we could loop them.”
He said they have a full-time person now in charge of Oktoberfest. “When we did our first one, we pulled it off in six weeks. Last year was our worst because it was the latest in the year that we started planning for it.”
Cantwell said planning for the Great Pumpkin Festival begins the minute the current one is done. “We have to pick a date and people want to plan,” he said.
He also recommends a thorough, detailed checklist, before and after. “We always underestimate the peak,” he said. To keep lines short, they split the beer into 25 serving stations, each with three or four beers. They also have a roving special beer.
Struve said they begin planning in December for the Dark Lord Day in April.
The group had different opinions on volunteer help. Powell said Cigar City has all their staff work the festival as well as volunteers from homebrew clubs. But Struve said that 3 Floyds does not use volunteers, only paid staff because of liability issues, regulations and required licenses. And Cantwell said Elysian does use volunteers, but they have to be licensed pourers. However, all agreed on the importance of paying participating breweries for their beer.
The takeaway? Diversify with food, music and other breweries, so it’s good for the whole industry.
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.