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
By Dan Haag
For the Oregon Beer Growler
If, as Ben Franklin is said to have opined, beer is indeed proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy, then Astoria is well on its way to becoming a beer-lover’s paradise.
Case-in-point: Reach Break Brewing, the sixth brewery to set up shop in the North Oregon Coast town. Officially opened in February, Reach Break is rapidly proving one town can never have too much of a good thing.
Owned and operated by brothers and Coos Bay natives Josh and Jared Allison, Reach Break is a labor of love for a pair of avid homebrewers who made a leap of faith after circumstances gave them a nudge.
Josh Allison, with a background as a biologist, has been homebrewing “religiously” for over a decade. An injury made him look at new avenues and brewing professionally seemed a logical fit.
The term “Reach Break” is a reflection of his biology experience as it describes the exact location where two rivers or streams merge — a point where everything comes together.
Josh says it fit the brewery perfectly. “At Reach Break, we are bringing everything together in one location: hoppy, juicy IPAs, farmhouse-inspired saisons, big flavorful stouts and long-term sours,” he says.
Astoria is even located adjacent to a reach break, where the Youngs and Columbia Rivers merge.
Reach Break is also the confluence of the Allisons’ aspirations.
“Opening a brewery has always been a dream for my wife and I,” he says. “Me, because I absolutely love it. And she really wanted her kitchen, garage and shed back.”
Josh dove into learning about the business side of brewing, enrolling in the online Business of Craft Brewing program at Portland State University, which is geared toward people who brew at home and want to take things to the next level.
All the while, he was hoping to find a spot for a coastal brewery and spent time scouting out possible locations that would fit his needs, which included facilities for long-term barrel aging.
Jared, likewise a devoted homebrewer, honed his craft in Eugene with the “Brew of O” homebrew club, soon working his way into a job at Ninkasi Brewing and then several other commercial breweries.
“That really took his game to another level and he developed quite a resume,” Josh says.
The two connected while Josh was preparing to open Reach Break in Astoria and Jared was living in Tillamook. Jared came on board as an owner/operator.
The downtown Astoria location at 13th and Duane Streets originally housed the Lovell’s Used Car Center. The parking lot is where autos were showcased and the repairs took place inside where the brewery and taproom are now located. Later, the location played host to several other businesses, including a bicycle shop and various retail operations. Turning the building into a brewery was no small task.
“We had to do a lot of cleaning and work on the facility to get it ready for beer production,” Josh says.
That included the installation of a large walk-in cooler, running a glycol system for their tanks, upgrading the main water and natural gas lines, and general utility work, such as plumbing and electrical.
Now up and running, the cozy space features a taproom with a bar, couch and table seating. Reach Break has licensed the former parking lot for beer consumption outside when the weather improves this summer. Rather than having a commercial kitchen, Reach Break will rely on food trucks, which will be located just outside the taproom.
“We really wanted to focus on making the best beer possible and to allow somebody else to focus on making the best food possible,” Josh says.
Creating the best beer possible is already well underway. Several stouts were on tap during Stout Month in February, for example.
“We also are going to be producing a lot of hoppy, juicy, hazy IPAs. Jared has been developing some recipes for a while,” Josh says.
Those include Amoeba Session IPA and Evolution Of An IPA Part 1, both of which Josh says ran out much quicker than expected. As the name implies, The Evolution Series will be an ever-changing line of IPAs. “They will always have a similar genetic backbone, but we will tweak something every batch, like hops, malt, yeast, water,” explains Josh.
Mykiss and Citrus Mykiss, two saisons, have also been popular with customers and the brothers are looking forward to doing more variations.
“We also have mixed-culture beer fermenting and aging in oak barrels downstairs in our barrel cellar. We are opting for a longer-term fermentation process, so those beers should begin to make their debut in the future,” he says.
Reach Break has a 7-barrel system that came from Stout Tanks and Kettles in Portland. That includes an oversized mash tun and boil kettle, allowing the team to do some fun things with higher-gravity brews.
“All of our ‘clean beer’ — IPAs, stouts — that are fermented with domesticated brewer's yeast are kept upstairs in one of our four stainless fermenters,” Josh says. “Our mixed-culture beers that we ferment in oak are stored downstairs in our barrel cellar. We have a very unique facility that allows us the opportunity to do a lot of fun varieties that you wouldn't typically see in just one brewery.”
Reach Break is also planning to use unique ingredients that are sourced from smaller-scale farms. For example, Cradle to Grave Farms in South Dakota has been cultivating hops that Josh is eager to use.
“They are also experimenting and developing some new packaging processes and farming techniques that will directly translate to a better finished product. We are very excited to be working with them,” he says.
With the doors open, it’s time for Reach Break to dream big in the form of an expanded barrel program and fermentation capacity. However, perfecting their signature brews remains the No. 1 priority.
“We are blessed with a unique location where we are able to brew a lot of different styles of beer,” Josh says. “We always want to have a variety of styles and to make the best beer that we can possibly create. Ultimately, we will always focus on making great beer that we are proud to serve. That should be the primary goal of any brewery.”
Reach Break Brewing
1343 Duane St., Astoria
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 Dan Haag
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Walking into Public Coast Brewing in Cannon Beach immediately gives you the sense that you are sharing another persons' labor of love: gleaming new brew tanks, handwritten tap lists, warm, inviting seating areas, and large windows that invite onlookers to watch the brewing process. Above it all, taking up most of one wall reads: “Beaches Forever, Beer For Everyone.”
It's a statement, a motto, a rule for the beer revolution unfolding on the Oregon Coast. Located at 234 E. Third Street – the site of former Cannon Beach eatery and watering hole The Lumberyard – Public Coast was the longtime dream of owner Ryan Snyder. Snyder, president of Martin Hospitality, purchased The Lumberyard in 2004 with the goal of one day turning it into a thriving, convivial brewery.
“It was my dream all along,” he says. Though that dream had to be put on hold several times over the ensuing decade, Snyder's patience has paid off: Public Coast welcomed its first customers the first week of June, turning an idea into the physical hustle and bustle inside one of the Oregon Coast's newest breweries. That's not to say the transition from daydream to reality wasn't without its complications. Delays in the federal approval process pushed the proposed February opening to June.
“Never in a million years would I have planned on opening a new restaurant in June,” Snyder says. “But at the end of the day, we're ready to make a product that stands out in the crowd.”
Snyder is no neophyte to the ins and outs of the brewing industry; his experience dates back to the early ‘90s with Big Dogs Brewing Company in Las Vegas. Snyder says his vision for Public Coast is the pairing of the freshest possible ingredients for both food and beer, a destination where both things combine to create a story.
“It's not just a 'beer place' or a 'burger place,'” he says. “We want both to be the story. Not one or the other, but how did it all work together."
To capture the best of both those worlds, Snyder brought his longtime head chef Will Leroux on board as head brewer. While it may seem like a giant, uncharted leap to make from the dining room to the brewing room, Snyder says Leroux was the first and only name that came to his mind as Public Coast began to take shape. Utilizing his contacts at Big Dogs, Snyder sent Leroux to Las Vegas for a month-long tutorial on brewing. Leroux returned and hit the ground running, using his experience as a chef to get the balance in Public Coast's beers just right.
“Brewing is not unlike baking; both involve a certain amount of science,” Leroux says. Snyder adds that Leroux's culinary touch is the perfect fit for what he's hoping to achieve. “What's really cool is that Will has created this great balance, which you would expect from a guy who is so methodical in his processes. He's the ultimate craftsman”
Public Coast boasts five tanks and all of their beers are brewed onsite. Additionally, every Friday the brewery taps a limited-edition keg. Recent offerings have included Jalapeno Bitter Pale Ale, Bumble Berry Blonde and Dried Cherry Stout. Playing with flavors has allowed Snyder and Leroux to find some happy mediums for patrons.
“The Bitter Pale, for example, has a pale ale finish that has a bittering on the palate like an IPA,” Snyder says. The response from people who normally don't care for IPAs has been overwhelmingly positive. For younger palates, there are non-alcohol beverages, including house-made root beer. Snyder also took care to provide 10 guest taps, in order to show some love to all of the breweries that supported his undertaking.
The food menu has been simplified in order to place focus on quality and offers three core items: burgers, fish tacos, and halibut and salmon fish and chips. There are also gluten-free options – all locally sourced. Additionally, Public Coast stands ready for the dark coastal days of Oregon Coast power outages with a complete power generation system. “In the event of a power outage, this place is set to be a refuge, a place where people can gather. Food and beer will always be ready,” Snyder says, adding that making the community feel welcome was an extremely important element of the new undertaking.
Keeping that sense of coastal community at the forefront is reflected in the brewery's name. Public Coast is a nod to the landmark 1967 Beach Bill, signed into law by Gov. Tom McCall, which forever kept Oregon beaches free and public. Being just a few blocks from the beach only helps enforce that notion. Looking ahead, Snyder has plans for a tasting room, a barrel-aging room and regular live music. In the here and now, however, Snyder couldn't be happier with how Public Coast is unfolding. “We want to serve the absolute highest quality,” he says. “We're following up on a dream.”
Public Coast Brewing
[a] 264 E. Third St., Cannon Beach
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.