By Kirby Neumann-Rea
For the Oregon Beer Growler
An ancient beer style has found a perfect home in the Pacific Northwest thanks to the cherries that grow in Hood River County. The combination will be celebrated Saturday, July 9 in Parkdale with Kriekfest, the first known beer festival to honor the sour cherry tradition.
The event is a collaboration between Portland-based beer writer Brian Yaeger and Solera Brewery of Parkdale, owned by Jason Kahler and John Hitt. At least 30 diverse and well-aged krieks will be poured in a park setting with a spectacular view of a towering Mount Hood. The lineup is dominated by Oregon producers, but attendees have the chance to taste ales from around the U.S. and as far away as Belgium — including an entire keg by the renowned Cantillon Brewery. The all-ages event also features savory food, pastries and fresh fruit in a farmers market.
A kriek is, by definition, a lambic aged on cherries for one or more years — usually three. Kahler said, “Lambic is a pretty obscure style on its own, and we’re taking it down to another style, kriek.
“They’re expensive, time-consuming beers to make,” Kahler continued. “You’re dealing with fresh, perishable fruit and a lot of these were made with sour or pie cherries that are more acidic and not sweet, and those are getting harder and harder to find.”
Like krieks themselves, the festival is an idea that has been fermenting a while. Yaeger, visiting the upper Hood River Valley several years ago, suggested it to Kahler and Hitt, and broached the subject again in early 2015.
“I said, with your blessing and cooperation, we can make this happen,” Yaeger described. He put the word out on July 9, 2015, to give brewers with krieks aging in barrels plenty of notice. Yaeger added that while he could have planned Kriekfest in Portland and sold more tickets, it was critical to him to hold it in the heart of the Fruit Loop, with its abundant cherry, apple and pear crops.
“It’s really exciting to have all these beers in one location, especially the location that it is — in the middle of this fruit valley where there is a fair amount of cherries being produced,” said Kahler, who will present tastes of up to four of his own blended krieks made from Ballantine cherries grown in the Gorge.
“We are not aware of a festival like this happening anywhere, specifically krieks. Perhaps in Europe,” Kahler said.
Yaeger said kriek gatherings in Belgium feature ales from specific locales, and a Belgian brewery/restaurant in Maine holds an annual brewer’s dinner featuring krieks, but this is the first event he is aware of that’s amassing a large number of krieks, and only krieks, from around the U.S. and Belgium.
“Cantillon is considered among many to be one of the best breweries in the world, and I subscribe to that theory,” Kahler said. “They produce a very small amount of beer. It’s pretty expensive and hard to get your hands on. We have a keg, and I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a keg. To see any Cantillon beers on draft is kind of a treat, but having a kriek is really special.”
Yaeger said, “One of the very first calls I made was to the distributor (Massachusetts’ Shelton Brothers) and explained that this will not be your average request for this beer, that it would be a special festival. And they said, ‘We’ll make it happen.’ That call was another reason to plan this a year ahead, because it paid off.” He said he has not seen Cantillon in kegs anywhere in the U.S. in the past 10 years — ever since the style rose in popularity here.
Yaeger said he sees the festival not only as a chance for people to experience many kinds of krieks in a pastoral setting, but also as a way to profile what he regards as an emerging “Hood River-style kriek.” The Gorge will be well-represented: in addition to Solera, look for krieks from Double Mountain Brewery, Full Sail Brewing Company, Logsdon Farmhouse Ales, pFriem Family Brewers and Thunder Island Brewing Co., all from Hood River County. 54°40′ Brewing Company and Everybody’s Brewing will represent the Washington side of the Gorge.
The sourness spectrum ranges widely, and while Kriekfest isn’t providing specifics on where a beer falls in that spectrum this year, the brewers are open to questions.
“There will be a lot of interesting beers,” Kahler said, all imbued with one shade or another of cherry-delivered crimson.
Indeed, color, along with flavor and aroma, combine to make krieks interesting. And Yaeger announced an exciting addition to the lineup on June 15: Jester King Brewery of Texas has collaborated on a kriek with Michigan’s Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales.
Then there is the featured Cantillon: here’s a tip — get there early. We’re talking one keg of the rare stuff, equating to about 170 four-ounce pours.
By Kris McDowell
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Whether choosing the life of a brewer or the life of a musician, it’s a choice that means committing to a challenging career that often requires long hours. Those who succeed are the ones who combine skill and commitment to crafting a product that they not only can be proud of, but their fans can consume.
John Harris, an icon in Oregon craft brewing, has managed to balance his primary career as a brewer with a love of music by sitting in as a guest for bands with both a local and national reach. As a kid, John said he was "always banging on stuff," which led to banging on things in a more musical manner — playing the drums in junior high band. Between band and private lessons, he learned to read music and keep rhythm, skills that he would draw upon years later. Attending a concert in 1985 he saw Billy Hults, a washboard player who, according to his posthumous induction into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame, "played with about everyone in Portland in the ‘70s and ‘80s." John thought what he was doing with the washboard looked fun and he proceeded to pick one up for himself at a thrift store.
When asked how he learned to play it, John replied "You just kind of do it." No doubt his background in playing the drums helped him figure it out, and for a couple of years he was officially part of a band called the Hardly Boys. Being a musician generally isn't a high-paying gig and since washboard players don't hold the cache that a lead guitarist or vocalist does, there’s a greater likelihood that they won't be paid often, so when he was kicked out of the band it wasn’t the blow it could have been. At the time, John was beginning a career in brewing, something that would be at least a bit more lucrative than playing the washboard.
In 1986, John had a roommate that saw a brewer position advertised in Willamette Week by McMenamins Hillsdale Brewery & Public House and encouraged him to apply for what he felt should be "his job." John had done some homebrewing and read up as much as he was able to on it, which didn’t amount to much formal literature at the time. Feeling light on qualifications, he was somewhat surprised when McMenamins offered him the position. His boss proclaimed his chances of success directly from the get-go: he would either get the flow of brewing or not. As it turned out, John got it.
Two years later, with some professional brewing experience under his belt, he once again saw an ad, this time with Deschutes Brewery in Bend. They were looking for someone with two years of experience, which was considered a lot at that time. John knew that this was his job to go after and he was in a position to be able to relocate to Bend, which is what he proceeded to do after accepting the job.
When he came on board at Deschutes, owner Gary Fish taught him to brew three year-round offerings: a golden ale, a bitter and a porter along with seasonal beers. John's first seasonal was a wheat, followed by what is now a Deschutes staple — Mirror Pond. Sales of it quickly outpaced the bitter 3-to-1. But even with numbers to prove its popularity, Gary resisted replacing the bitter with Mirror Pond. He finally gave in a bit by bringing it on as a nine-month seasonal.
While John and his beers were successful at Deschutes, he said living in Bend wasn't much fun for someone who was an outsider. After four years, an opportunity with Full Sail Brewing came along that would allow John (and his now-wife) to return to Portland. John had known the Full Sail guys before they started looking for someone to head up their Portland location and both parties were comfortable with the autonomy John would have to run Portland operations.
Compared to the amount of beer the Bend facility turned out, the Portland location’s annual maximum capacity of 5,000 barrels was small, but it allowed John to continue to develop new beers for the Full Sail Brewmasters Reserve series. It was there that he also got the chance to learn more about the business of having a brewery, which included traveling with distributors and selling what he was making. From the beginning, John had viewed Full Sail as a good place to work and it was a solid job for a guy with a wife and two young kids. John was loyal to his job and ended up spending 20 years at Full Sail.
Throughout his career as a brewer, John continued to nourish his love of music, attending concerts and getting to know bands. That interest garnered invitations to play a lot with local bands Crawdads of Pure Love (based in Eugene), Ed and The Boats, and The Buds of May. He has even played with national bands such as The Mother Truckers, Zero, and Kingfish, fitting in appearances around their touring schedules and his brewing schedule -- a brewing schedule that changed in 2012 when he left Full Sail.
Some might have considered a 26-year run as a brewer a good one, especially when taking into consideration that he created recipes for Mirror Pond, Black Butte, Jubelale and Obsidian, among other things. Perhaps this would be when John started to think about spending his time doing something else. In his own way, John was. He was brewing up a plan for opening his own place and applying what he’d learned on both the brewing and business sides at Full Sail. In 2013 he opened Ecliptic Brewing, a brewpub whose name and the names of the beer, along with its interior design, speak to another love of John's: astronomy. When you have your own place, you set the rules -- and at Ecliptic, John has also brought music into the mix with a regular schedule of live performances. One band in particular, Off the Cuff, plays often -- with John shifting from brewer/owner to washboard player when he can.
Beyond the regular schedule of live music at Ecliptic, John has put together an event that will take place there Thursday, June 16th. Brewers and Their Bands will feature five brewers and bands they play with: John and Off the Cuff, The Moonshine with Max Skewes of Burnside Brewing, Indiana Tex Mex with Matt Swihart of Double Mountain Brewery, and Left Coast Convicts with Shaun Kalis of Ruse Brewing. The music will start around 5:30 p.m. and it will surely be an evening filled with great music, great beer and great people whose talents go beyond the brew kettle.
By Kirby Neumann-Rea
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Community is the fifth element in brewing to go with water, yeast, barley and hops, according to Oregon brewing pioneer Dave Logsdon.
Logsdon Farmhouse Ales’ founder recently gave an insider’s detailed, and often funny, history of brewing in the Columbia River Gorge and the rest of Oregon. He recounted the roots that were established by Full Sail Brewing Company along with the past decade’s rapidly growing brewing culture in Hood River and nearby scenic towns about an hour east of Portland.
“It is really a story of people working together,” Logsdon said to a room of about 120 people in February. His speech was part of a Sense of Place Lecture held at Hood River’s Columbia Center for the Arts. With him was his wife Judith Bams-Logsdon, a native of Belgium and his muse for beer styles and Belgian menu at their downtown Hood River tasting room.
Logsdon has the authority to re-tell the area’s brewing saga because he was there from the start — first as a leader in the homebrewing revolution in the 1970s and later as co-founder of three anchors in Oregon fermentology: Full Sail, Wyeast Laboratories and Logsdon Farmhouse Ales.
“Full Sail was the gathering point for homebrewers and other like-minded folks, and people saw it was successful,” he said. “When I think of the sense of place, to me it’s mostly about the people. Yes, we have a beautiful valley and river and environment to live in, but it’s the people who have lived here and shared their community to make things possible and make the community what it is. And that’s what I have to say about the brewing community,” Logsdon described. He added, “Even before craft brewing and Brewers in the Gorge (BIG), the large professional brewers had a tradition of working together about science and innovation in order to brew the best beers possible.”
Logsdon’s experiences during the last 40 years span from garage brewing to being a leader in the 500-employee, $50 million Gorge beer economy.
“I left the Midwest in the early 1970s and there were still regional beers with flavor, but as soon as I reached the West Coast, I noticed a distinct difference in beer quality,” he said. “They were all pretty much light lager beers. Working my way through school, I didn’t have the resources to enjoy the beers I wanted to drink, so I started brewing beer.” In 1985, he opened Wyeast Laboratories, which was then a small operation.
“Wyeast was a big part of my life here in the Gorge and part of what I did to bring the fourth element of brewing to the neighborhood. We have abundant hops on both sides of us, acres of barley and the best brewing water in the world, and it was nice to work with my family to bring this fourth aspect of it to the Hood River Gorge.”
He later jumped at the chance to help get Full Sail off the ground with Irene Firmat and Jerome Chicvara. Logsdon remained at the brewery until the mid-1990s.
“We pooled all the resources we could from family and friends and worked for a year to get it financed,” Logsdon said. He said it would not have happened without longtime Parkdale residents Jack and Kate Mills. “They believed in us, invested in us and also helped us raise another large chunk of money through the Oregon Lottery,” he said. What emerged was first called Hood River Brewing Company.
A building that protruded halfway into Columbia Street and a chain-link fence were both in the way of constructing the Full Sail facility. “We knocked it out to get the brewery going,” he said. “Things have changed a lot, and it started with a huge amount of energy. And many of the brewing community members were very encouraging of Full Sail, which became two blocks of Hood River.”
Craft beer, he said, “is here to stay and it has had a huge impact on everything we consume and our approach to life and the values we have in what we create.”
He was part of the “’86 Club,” as he puts it — the brewers who were there when it became legal to brew beer and sell it in the same location. Logsdon pointed to fellow pioneers including Brian and Mike McMenamin, Kurt and Rob Widmer, Karl Ockert, Fred Eckhardt, Art Larrance, Fred Bauman and Jack Joyce.
Logsdon presented a “family tree” of Gorge brewers, with Full Sail brewers moving on to either work for, or found, all but one brewery in the Gorge (Backwoods Brewing Company in Carson, Wash.) Standouts include Double Mountain founder Matt Swihart, pFriem founder Josh Pfriem and Solera brewer and co-owner Jason Kahler.
“The brewing community itself has very deep roots and strengths going back to big breweries working together in sharing knowledge,” Logsdon said. ”Overall, besides of all these good things we have, it’s as much to the credit of the open-mindedness and the progressive thinking you find in Oregonians. It’s the people and the energy putting those things tighter — the willingness to create and take a chance and do what you think is right and work together.”
By Kirby Neumann-Rea
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Ed Wilder is fighting, and a little mad.
“I had a stroke,” Ed says, splaying the fingers on his left hand across his face and flashing a look of frustration.
Ed is the owner and founder of DaBrewshop/Hood River Brewers Supply, which quickly became a small slice of ale haven where folks in the Gorge could find Northwest one-offs and obscure Belgians. But DaBrewshop, where Ed held court at the bar with locals, has gone dark — for now. In November 2015, Ed suffered a stroke. He was actually found 30 hours later on the basement floor of his business. Fortunately, he survived. And despite the long road to recovery that lies ahead of him, he has the support of a slew of people. Brewers, restauranteurs and friends immediately began fundraising to help with Ed’s medical bills. A “Cheers to Ed” silent auction and dance took place in December 2015. The following month, a larger party called “EdStravaganza” was held on Ed’s birthday. Plenty of money has been raised, but Ed’s supporters declined to cite a figure.
“It’s remarkable — truly inspiring how generous this community has been,” said Matt Johnston of Boda’s Kitchen in Hood River, one of the people organizing Cheers to Ed benefits. “Ed’s needs are great and going to be great for some time to come.”
“It’s phenomenal how everyone has come together,” said Ed’s brother, Mike, of Grand Rapids, Mich. “Every time I thought things couldn’t become more pleasant, more things happened to show how generous the community is.” At the first Cheers to Ed event, Mike told the crowd of 500: “You are his family.”
Ed founded Hood River Brewers Supply in 1997 in Hood River’s Heights Business District. He then moved the business downtown to the corner of Cascade Avenue and Second Street in 2001. He’s sold tobacco and smoking supplies, motor scooters and other products for years, but focused on the taproom starting in 2013. Ed made the bar by hand and expanded the taps from eight to 16. The taproom is the sort of place where time spent talking about the hockey and car racing on TV is split between discussions on grain bills and kettle capacities. He runs the brewing supply shop from the building’s basement, where he also homebrews.
Ed’s regained enough of his motor skills to make limited outings to favorite Hood River pubs, but he spends most of his time doing the hard work of getting better. Much of January was spent in physical therapy at the Mid-Columbia Medical Center in The Dalles. Ed is proud of the progress he has made. When asked how his therapy has gone, he says “A-OK,” while giving the corresponding gesture with his left hand as the right is experiencing mobility issues.
Ed’s goal is to return to his own home and reopen the shop. The details are still being worked out according to his brother Mike.
“There are plenty of options; we just have to find the best one,” Mike said. “There are a lot of pieces that need to come together. For him to stay at his existing home, it will take some time — possibly it would be some intermediate facility until this is complete or another residence is secured,” he said. “Wherever it is, it will be the best possible one for making him comfortable and to meet his rehabilitative needs.”
As for DaBrewshop, Mike said, “My goal has been to get that place open and serving beer as quickly as possible.” He is in contact with the Oregon Liquor Control Commission licensing specialist, but said “it’s a lot harder than we originally hoped,” to maintain the license since Ed is legally accountable.
Even though Ed isn’t physically at DaBrewshop, he’s not far from the business he loves. An administrator named Lisa at The Dalles medical center reintroduced herself to Ed in his recovery room. It turns out they’d met before.
“I came to your shop. You taught me to make currant wine and beer, and I’m working on my meadery,” she tells him.
Ed remembered helping her, and thanked her.
He indicated he had enjoyed his recent pub outings to Double Mountain Brewery in Hood River and Solera Brewery in Parkdale.
He’s asked: “Were you able to try some beer? Is that part of your diet?”
He gives a thumbs up and puts two fingers close together.
Donations for Ed Wilder can be sent to attorney Teunis G. Wyers, 216 Columbia St., Hood River. Funds beyond Ed’s needs will be used for another local cause, at Mike’s request.
By Ezra Johnson-Greenough
For the Oregon Beer Growler
It’s the end of an era. Full Sail Brewing’s employees and founders voted in March to sell to Oregon Craft Brewers Co., which is a local investment group formed by Encore Consumer Capital, a San Francisco-based private equity firm. “The votes were returned confidentially to our ESOP attorney. It passed nearly unanimously,” said Full Sail founder and CEO Irene Firmat.
While this news is sure to not make as big a splash as the recent sales of 10 Barrel Brewing and Elysian Brewing Company, it is in many ways more important. Full Sail has been one of the industry’s pioneers and produced more beer (115,000 barrels) in 2014 than 10 Barrel (40,000 barrels) and Elysian (50,000 barrels) combined, making it the 25th largest craft brewer in the country.
Both 10 Barrel and Elysian are also examples of quick growth in a very short period of time, which may have been one of the reasons 10 Barrel was in a difficult financial position and willing to sell. Full Sail has experienced its ups and downs, but has largely avoided pitfalls and continued on a steady stream of growth by going its own direction. Ignoring trends like barrel aging, fresh hops, double IPAs and sour beers (for the most part, though the brewery certainly has dabbled); Full Sail instead focused its energy on recreating the craft lager and session beers, a move that was way ahead of its time. Full Sail’s location in Hood River is also undoubtedly responsible for the explosion in the number of breweries in the town and the entire Columbia River Gorge. Former Full Sail brewers have opened favorites like Double Mountain, Logsdon Farmhouse Ales, pFriem Family Brewers and Everybody’s Brewing.
Full Sail’s growth has not always been smooth. In 1999 the company transitioned into an ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan) rather than be put up for sale. That model has worked well, with other breweries -- most notably New Belgium -- following in Full Sail’s footsteps. Then in 2012, Full Sail lost its Henry Weinhard’s beer contract, which it had held for 10 years with SABMiller. That investment allowed Full Sail to reinvest in its brewery, keep debt low and sustain growth. Full Sail was making so much Weinhard’s beer that the Weinhard’s brand alone was ranked as the seventh largest in Oregon. At that time I worried for the future of Full Sail, but the company re-upped its No. 1 in-house brand, Session.
The Session beer brand by Full Sail may have been the smartest and most successful product launch of any Oregon brewery since the start of the craft beer revolution. Short, stubby, highly-recognizable bottles of cheap (but still craft) tasty, light lager were a huge seller. And the brand has sustained with spin-offs Session Black, Session Fest and recently Session IPA. When growth started to go flat, Full Sail launched the beer into new markets and took Session beer to bar taps for the first time in a move the company said would never happen.
The pessimist might suspect the recent huge expansion of the Session brand was in anticipation of putting the brewery up for sale, driving up production numbers and the value of the company. Though Full Sail Chairman Irene Firmat says that the brewery was approached unsolicited last September, that doesn’t mean the brewery was not preparing for a buyer. Anheuser-Busch paid an estimated $400 per barrel times the annual 60,000 barrel production of Blue Point Brewing when it purchased that company in February of 2014. Given those figures, Full Sail’s estimated value would be $46 million.
As I mentioned before, a pessimist might also suspect that the Full Sail employee vote on approval of the sale was a formality and the sale was a foregone conclusion. Leaving the decision to the employees who own an estimated 58 percent of the company makes for a terrific PR move. Though that is a solid majority, founders Jamie Emmerson and Irene Firmat own 42 percent and would only need a small percentage of employees to agree to the sale. But according to Firmat, “The employee vote was not a sure deal. Jamie and I don’t have a majority position, so even though we felt that this was a very good offer for all our shareholders, it was not a sure thing until the votes were counted. We did an early reveal because once notices went out to 78 employees, we thought confidentiality would be difficult to maintain and it would be better to have the facts out to minimize speculation.”
Still, it would seem the deal was done since Firmat and Emmerson could reverse any “no” decision by the employees as they are the two sole trustees of the ESOP. Not that the deal is a bad thing for the employees who, based on their time at the company, will likely earn four to five figures in the buyout as well as keep their jobs. The other good news is that Full Sail would still be counted among the “craft” brewers as defined by the Brewers Association by selling to an equity firm rather than a macro brewer like Anheuser-Busch.
The bad news is that brewery sales to private equity firms might have a worse track record than those sold to SABMiller and Anheuser-Busch. While the previously mentioned companies’ business is at least making and selling beer, both are only concerned with making money. However, an equity firm will quickly sell off companies to make a buck and has no interest in continuing the products. That seems to be the case here. The formation of a new company called Oregon Craft Brewers Co. distracts from the fact that the real owners are Encore Consumer Capital, a group that holds no other breweries or beverage companies. Oregon Craft Brewers Co. is a brand new formation that also has no history in the industry. While Full Sail posits that its buyer’s lack of experience guarantees the current employees jobs (which may be true), it also underscores a potential turn toward primarily profit-driven endeavors. That could mean cutting costs and raising profit margins on products and perhaps launching into more states or countries.
After raising the value further, Full Sail could be sold off again, following the path of Portland Brewing/MacTarnahan’s, which has been bought and sold a few times and is now owned by a Costa Rican conglomerate. Encore Consumer Capital has an established track record of buying and selling companies a few years later. It has been alternately reported that Emmerson and Firmat would either plan their immediate exit or stay with the company. Firmat clarified this: “We have committed to stay a year to insure that this transition goes smoothly. After that we will see.” After seeing Full Sail through the transition, I think we can expect little substantial change immediately, but I worry what will happen in a few years after they continue to develop the Session brand. Will we see a day in the future where a craft brewery on the East Coast is contract brewing Full Sail beer as it becomes a version of the formerly-prestigious Henry Weinhard’s?
Firmat admits, “It is what they do, but they have a track record of holding on to companies for a longer period of time and, in the meantime, they invest to grow it. Our distributor alignments make a purchase by a big brewer very difficult and more expensive and they are very aware of that.”
Let’s hope she is right. At the very least, Firmat and Emmerson have followed through with their commitment to employee owners, giving them a nice bonus to their 401Ks while making a happy exit for themselves. That is much better than what Anheuser-Busch is offering to the casualties of its acquisitions.
This article originally appeared in The New School.
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.