By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Surrounded by fans of The Bier Stein taking in the game or beering up for their own football festivities, Troy Potter can hardly believe that a few months ago he wasn't the new owner of Eugene's The Bier Stein. Working in sales at Ninkasi Brewing Company, Potter was happy where he was.
“I didn’t have a desire to be a business owner,” says Potter, “unless the perfect situation came up.”
Then it did.
At the 2016 Oregon Country Fair, Potter was having a beer with his longtime friends Kristina and Chip Hardy, founders of The Bier Stein. “Around one in the morning, I happened to mention, ‘If you ever want to sell, please talk to me first,’” says Potter. “They stopped, they giggled and said they’d been considering selling the place.”
The Hardys felt ready to pursue non-business interests, but didn’t want to be absentee owners. For the next year, when Potter wasn’t working as part of Ninkasi’s national sales team and managing accounts on the East Coast, he quietly evaluated buying the business.
“I was happy, making good money at a good job,” says Potter, “but when this opportunity came up, my wife and I talked about it and realized it was an opportunity that I just couldn’t pass up.”
On Aug. 1, 2017, Potter and silent partner Jon Farah officially became owners of The Bier Stein.
A Long Way From Cleveland
Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Potter was 21 when in 1991 he grabbed his backpack and bought a one-way Amtrak ticket to Portland.
“I fell in love with craft beer, day one,” says Potter. “I spent six months drinking Widmer Hefeweizen with lemon, then Full Sail Amber, then Deschutes Black Butte Porter. But Bridgeport IPA was a game changer. I’ve been in love with IPAs ever since.”
After working as bar manager at an Italian restaurant and Kells Irish Pub, Potter’s interest in craft beer led him to jobs with McMenamins and Rogue. In 2007, his wife was about to graduate from Reed College, and they’d heard about a new brewery in Eugene. The day after graduation they moved south, where Potter became one of Ninkasi’s first employees. Fast-forward 10 years, Potter was learning how to be an owner.
Potter and Farah began working with a bank to navigate the “long, drawn-out process” of getting a Small Business Administration loan. Potter also worked side-by-side with the Hardys to understand day-to-day operations and get advice. Along with respecting the Hardy’s wishes to keep the sale quiet, Potter had signed a non-disclosure agreement and couldn’t say anything to his colleagues. Then, finally, “the bank put everything in writing, and I gave my 30-day notice,” says Potter. “It was a surprise at Ninkasi.”
Smooth Transition, Strong Future
Founded in 2005, The Bier Stein began as a 2,100-square-foot bottle shop and beer bar between downtown Eugene and the University of Oregon campus. In 2012, The Bier Stein moved to a 12,000-square-foot building. Now offering more than 1,000 beers in bottles and from 30-plus taps, The Bier Stein seats 185 and has 50 employees. And that, says Potter, is how he wants things to be.
“The staff and managers are amazing, and everyone was excited to stay on,” says Potter. “I didn’t change one thing. Not the menu, not the beer. That turnkey aspect was in its truest form. Why change something that’s working perfectly?”
Potter is at the shop each day, working with managers and on marketing, advertising and overall operations. “I’ve also been bussing tables, running food. I intend to work in the kitchen and the bar too — keep my finger on the pulse and connect with customers,” says Potter. “The Bier Stein is about the best beer and the best customer experience. That’s what will keep The Bier Stein strong.”
Plans include growing The Bier Stein’s reputation as a destination and craft beer institution. “About 35 percent of our customers come from outside of Eugene, based on word of mouth.”
Increased customer education is also a priority. Potter wants all staff — including himself — to have Level Two Cicerone Certifications. “New customers come in, and they might know a little about beer, but it can be hard to come up to those cooler doors and pick a beer,” says Potter. “Something we can make better is to be there with customers and help them make that bottle purchase.”
Overall, Potter sees his role not as a game changer, but as the next generation. “My goal coming into The Bier Stein is not to change anything,” he explains. “My goal is to grab that torch that Chip and Kristina created and carry it forward. We’re going to keep it about the beer.”
The Bier Stein
1591 Willamette St., Eugene
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Whether a Eugene/Springfield local or visiting for a University of Oregon (Go Ducks!) home game at Autzen Stadium, it’s nice to have a pregame or postgame stroll … with beer, of course. The walking portion of this 1.5 mile route can be done in around 30 minutes. In addition to watering holes and restaurants, you’ll also take in an iconic cinema spot and go from near downtown Eugene to the heart of the UO campus.
Sam Bond’s Brewing Co.
540 E. Eighth Ave.
After parking your car in one of the city’s downtown garages (free on weekends), make your way east on foot, by taxi or by bus to our starting point. Nestled in between downtown and campus, Sam Bond’s is a natural evolution from its namesake, local favorite Sam Bond’s Garage. The iconic bar always has a good tap list, so it only made sense that the owners (also behind the scenes at both Plank Town locations and Cottage Grove’s The Axe & Fiddle) would want to dip their paddles in their own wort. You’ll start your tour with an excellent beer in a mellow setting: Think of it as the warmup stretch for the day’s stroll. Founded in 2013, Sam Bond’s Brewing supplies the Garage, and their 10-barrel brewhouse pumps out Northwest favorites, such as Sam I Am Beer (amber, get it?) and Crankshaft IPA, along with up-and-coming beers of interest: 50-Stone Scottish Wee Heavy, Accelerator ISA, Pre-Klassic Kolsch, and a stellar Filbert Brown made with hazelnuts. If your appetite needs food in addition to excellent beer, a full menu offers pizza, salads, paninis, pastas and more. Vegan and gluten-free options are available.
Beer Nut Mix: Mixed nuts slowly caramelized in butter, brown sugar, spices and Filbert Brown
Foundry Sampler: Seasonal assortment of cured meats, cheeses, tapenades and marinated vegetables with toasted bread
Elk Horn Brewery
686 E. Broadway St.
She’s from the Willamette Valley, he’s from Mississippi. When wife-and-husband team Colleen and Stephen Sheehan decided to step up from food cart to brewpub in 2014, it was only natural that they combine the Northwest’s food and drink sensibility with warm and welcoming Southern hospitality. The whiskey bar is well stocked, but the main event is Elk Horn’s 24 taps, pouring their own beers, ciders and sodas brewed by Rogue veteran Nate Sampson. (Lemon Pils just took home bronze for American- or International-Style Pilsener at the 2017 Great American Beer Festival.) The family-friendly space has racks for board games and plenty of big screens so you can catch the big game. If it’s nice, sit outside at least a little while: the comfortable, spacious screened patio quickly and surprisingly makes you forget that you’re near busy streets. The Northwest touch of Elk Horn’s food combines with a solid Southern pedigree, including hearty bowls, burgers, sandwiches, plus some salads and wraps to keep a few light touches.
Hushpuppies filled with jalapeno cheddar, served with chipotle aioli
Bayou Gumbo: chicken, shrimp, andouille sausage, okra, celery, bell pepper and onion, served with rice
Cafe Yumm! - On Broadway
730 E. Broadway
Just down from Elk Horn, our next stop brings us to a healthier, home-grown option. While waiting for your food, Ninkasi is on tap (with other wines and beers by the bottle). Raise a glass to Cafe Yumm! on Broadway, which recently celebrated its 10th birthday. Taking home The Register-Guard 2017 Readers' Choice awards for Lunch Bargain and Vegetarian (no easy feat in a former hippie town renowned for its veggie and vegan fare), Cafe Yumm! started in Eugene. Today, the Oregon benefit company has 20 locations in Oregon and Washington. Since you’re walking today, the six electric vehicle charging stations aren’t of use, but it’s good to know that you can charge your ride for free while you eat — and that this is the first restaurant in the country to offer solar-powered EV charging. Back to that food. Wraps, sandwiches and soups are available, but you are here for the Yumm! Bowl — and specifically, the magical, mysterious Yumm! Sauce. What’s in it? How does it get its savory yet tangy flavor? You will never know. You won’t care either, because this is the sort of vegetarian food that others aspire to (though chicken is available). Cafe Yumm! elevates humble rice and beans to satisfying, sumptuous fare, with organic ingredients, generous helpings of Yumm! Sauce, plus cheese, avocado, salsa, olives, sour cream and cilantro. It’ll fill both your body and your soul.
Original Yumm! Bowl
751 E. 11th Ave.
By now you are likely ready to walk and digest — a great time for an odd detour. Strolling south down Alder Street, we’ll turn right onto East 11th Avenue for the sake of seeing something that doesn’t exist anymore. Really, we’re paying some respect. 751 E. 11th Ave. is where parts of the 1978 zany classic “Animal House” were filmed. Home of the Psi Deuteron chapter of Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity from 1959-1967, the house fell into disrepair and was demolished in 1986. Today, perhaps as a sign of fate or irony, the site is now home to the School of Education and Counseling for Northwest Christian University. Head to the parking entrance and look for a boulder: it has a plaque that commemorates the Delta House location. Next time you watch “Animal House,” keep an eye out for other Eugene spots: much of the film was shot around the UO campus, the parade and road trip took place in Cottage Grove (and the marching bands were from Eugene’s own Sheldon and Churchill High Schools), and it’s thought that Greg and Mandy’s scene in the MG was filmed on top of Skinner Butte. Much of the movie’s wardrobe is local too: since John Landis had such a small budget, his wife Deborah thrifted for costumes at area secondhand stores. Nearly 40 years later, please stop and take a moment to reflect: No more will anyone dump a whole truckload of fizzies into the varsity swim meet. No one will deliver the medical school cadavers to the alumni dinner. And no more will Halloween see the trees filled with underwear. Oh well. “Grab a brew. Don't cost nothin’.”
Mashed potatoes and cheap lager
1214 Kincaid St.
After stopping to reflect on what was and no longer is, it’s time to turn around and head back to Alder Street. We’ll continue south, going past a row of little shops and eateries that continues as we turn left and head east on East 13th Avenue. Turning left onto Kincaid Street, it’s time for a classic. Right across the street from the eastern edge of the UO campus and located in the historic John Rennie house (built in the 1920s), Rennie’s Landing is a favorite watering hole. “We love our Ducks,” they say at Rennie’s, “but opponent’s fans are welcome too.” Fair enough. Also open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, sports of all kinds are showing on six TVs throughout the interior (and one more on the upper deck). Nine craft and specialty beers, two domestics and 2 Towns hard cider are pouring, but also check out the trademark Rennie’s Lemonade. Locally made art is sprinkled throughout the second floor, including sculptor David Thompson’s metalwork of a McKenzie River boatman, and paintings by George Von Der Linden (who also carved a signature whale over the fireplace). Over the front door hangs a large aerial photograph, taken in the 1930s, to help plan the site for what is now the Knight Library.
Breakfast and a Bloody Mary until 1 p.m.: ‘nuff said
Falling Sky Pizzeria & Public House
1395 University St., Room 46
Now we cross into campus itself, walking amidst the old brick and stone buildings and towering trees that give UO the world-apart feel unique to college campuses. Our final destination is at the heart of campus in the newly renovated Erb Memorial Union. The Pizzeria & Public House is Falling Sky’s third location (and part of why they expanded their downtown brewery). No stranger to local acclaim, Falling Sky recently was named one of the Best Microbreweries in The Register-Guard 2017 Readers’ Choice awards. Pouring 11 house and guest beers and ciders, Falling Sky offers a mix of seasonal, limited-release and flagship Northwest, Belgian-style, British-style, and German-style ales and lagers. Be sure to try Polar Melt Pale Ale, made with Glacier hops and a new yeast strain they’re experimenting with. This third location builds Falling Sky’s pizza menu that consists of house doughs, cured meats and produce that you’d find at the pizzeria’s sibling sites. Calzones, Italian sandwiches, soups, salads, bowls, wings and a kids menu are also available.
Vegan & Loving It: Roasted vegetables, spinach, squash, garlic, vegan white bean and red pepper sauce
The Reubenator: House-cured turkey pastrami, sauerkraut, caraway seeds, Swiss cheese, Russian dressing
Now that you’ve reached the end of our walking tour, you still have options. If you want to venture some more, you are still a stroll, bus, or cab ride away from other restaurants, sports bars and more. Want to keep your walk going strong? Head to the nearby Ruth Bascom Riverbank Trail System. A riverside walk and one footbridge can have you at Autzen Stadium in minutes.
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
When Alesong Brewing & Blending opened its 2,500-square-foot facility in an industrial area of west Eugene in 2016, it was just the beginning.
“The dream since we all came together to start Alesong has been to have a brewery in the country, somewhere we can brew beer that reflects this little piece of the Willamette Valley,” says Doug Coombs, who founded the brewery along with his brother Brian and former Oakshire brewmaster Matt Van Wyk. In its first year, Alesong has acquired accolades, including a 2016 Great American Beer Festival gold medal, and now distributes throughout Oregon and the San Francisco Bay Area.
In July, the founders’ dream became real. Alesong opened its newly constructed 3,500-square-foot hilltop tasting room and wild fermentation and aging facility, located on 5 acres next to King Estate Winery on Territorial Highway southwest of downtown Eugene. With eight taps, beer to go, and views of the surrounding valley — not to mention air filled with microbes influenced by the agricultural and winemaking areas surrounding Alesong — the new space serves both as the public face of Alesong, but also represents the brewery’s wild side.
At the core of Alesong’s brewing philosophy is a dedication to unique, limited-release beers — no flagships or regular offerings here. Focused on oak aging and Belgian-inspired techniques, Alesong brews both wild and non-wild beers, using locally grown fruits, herbs, special yeasts and other microbes. Since the brewery adopted techniques similar to those used by artisan winemakers and lambic blenders, the owners believe their products will appeal to wine lovers too.
“Our desire is to capture the terroir of our little piece of the world through a combination of local ingredients and microbes,” says Coombs. “We also believe in the parallels between what we're doing with barrel aging and blending and what our neighbors in the wine industry are doing. There's a good opportunity for crossover between customers, both those that love beer and those that may not yet love beer because they haven't been exposed to some of the more unique styles that we make that could be more approachable for someone who's more into wine than typical craft beer.”
Surrounding the tasting room are extensive grounds where Alesong plans to have lawn games, child activity areas, “nooks and crannies” for hanging out, and crop and orchard space to grow produce that will end up in Alesong beers. A patio with 10 picnic tables wraps around the front and one side of the building, with space at the back for a small stage for live music. Food carts and in-house small plates are available, but picnics are welcome too. Inside, a large, bright common area houses comfy chairs and a couch. Alesong also is planning on holding onsite educational sessions for the public, plus special events for people on the brewery’s mailing list.
Currently Alesong brews wort at Block 15 Brewing in Corvallis, then brings it to the Eugene location on Conger Street for fermentation and aging. Now the wort’s final destination will depend on whether it’s going clean or wild. Throughout the rest of 2017, Alesong is moving some of its fermentation tanks, barrels and other equipment to the new Territorial Highway location, which will serve as the wild fermentation counterpoint to the “clean” facility that Alesong retains at Conger Street. (Future plans may include an onsite brewhouse at the Conger Street site for access to municipal water and wastewater infrastructure.)
Beers bound for spirits barrels will be fermented, aged and blended at Conger Street. The goal, says Coombs, is to prevent exposure to “wild bugs” such as Brettanomyces. “The new facility will look a lot like the current in-town facility, with stainless fermenters and blending tanks, an open-top fermenter for some more wild experiments. The barrels and packaging equipment for our ‘wild’ beers will move out there as well,” explains Coombs. “Having the separate facilities helps us focus on and control our wild and sour program better, and the distance gives us peace of mind that our ‘clean’ beers won’t get contaminated.”
While Alesong says they haven’t had any cross-contamination issues so far, Coombs notes, “There's always a little more stress than we'd like that comes along with doing testing on all of our clean blends.”
After a fast-paced year that involved a lot of founder-aided construction, painting and other work related to getting the tasting room up and running, the team’s collaborative roles are solidifying. Each founder is blending his own expertise with the brewery’s operations. “Matt and Brian work pretty closely together to manage production, with Matt leading the charge on the hot side and Brian claiming responsibility for the cellar,” explains Coombs. “I’m the point on most of the sales, marketing and admin, but those are all team efforts as well.”
Two new employees manage the tasting room. However, Coombs says that he, Brian and Matt will be there regularly, “bartending, bussing and just hanging out and chatting with people. We love being out there and love sharing our process and story. It's a big part of why we're all doing this to begin with.”
With construction finished, Alesong is refocusing on what matters most: the beer. “We're looking forward to more experimentation with spontaneous fermentations,” says Coombs. “The native microbes out in the country are a lot more exciting than what we might've been able to pick up on West 11th [Avenue].”
Alesong Brewing & Blending
80848 Territorial Hwy, Eugene
Dogs, minors and picnics welcome
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
In 2014, fledgling soccer club Lane United FC was looking for sponsors. They soon connected with Oakshire Brewing, beginning a partnership that has helped each organization evolve.
“I thought Oakshire would come in as a minor sponsor,” says Lane United founder and managing director Dave Galas, recollecting his original pitch to Oakshire co-founder Jeff Althouse. “Jeff stopped me, pointed to the front of the jersey, and said ‘I want that. I want to be the title sponsor.’ They’ve been our main title sponsor ever since.”
For Althouse, it was another way a local craft brewery could be at the heart of community sports and outdoor activities, as Oakshire had also been with Playground Sports and Human Foosball League.
“I grew up playing soccer and always felt at home with my teammates, coaches and the soccer community,” says Althouse. “When the opportunity came up to partner with our local upstart club, Oakshire jumped at the opportunity. We often identify as an underdog in a market of large brewing companies, just as an upstart soccer club fights to exist as an organization, and on the field at every match. It's a natural fit.”
Based in Eugene and founded in 2013, Lane United plays in the Premier Development League’s Northwest Division, a stepping stone for many professional players and a source for Major League Soccer franchise reserve squads. Oakshire is Lane United’s official kit sponsor, and club jerseys are emblazoned with the 10-year-old brewery’s logo. Club events are also held at the Oakshire Public House, which is no stranger to fans of football — the globally beloved feet-only version, that is.
“The Public House had just opened when the sponsorship began,” says Galas, who is a fan of Oakshire’s Reclamation Lager, Overcast Espresso Stout, and Sun Made Raspberry Berliner Weisse. “We did a lot to drive business to the pub. That first year was also World Cup, and the Public House showed lots of games there, like the U.S.-Portugal game, when they got a special permit to open early. The building was so full, people were sitting outside.”
Like Althouse, Galas grew up with soccer in his life. Spending part of his childhood in Geneva, Galas would watch matches with Liverpool, St-Etienne and the Dutch national team. When he founded Lane United, Galas saw the club as integral to providing value to the community. Part of his original goal for the team was to have a regular soccer presence at then-vacant Civic Stadium (which burned down in 2015). The club currently plays at the Bob Keefer Center in Springfield, though Galas and others are working to establish a new stadium presence at the former Civic site, which upon completion will serve as the new permanent home for the club.
That new Civic site will also incorporate beer and pub areas on the grounds as part of the stadium’s infrastructure, says Galas. “Beer plays perfectly into the fan culture,” he explains. “The culture of soccer fandom is very social. There’s plenty of drinking, but it’s different from your traditional American sports. There isn’t a tailgating scene, but there’s a drink at the pub beforehand. Various groups get together at the pub during the game. Having a brewery as title sponsor plays in perfectly with that culture.”
Oakshire’s original commitment runs through the 2017 season, but Galas says he and Althouse will be discussing options on how to continue supporting each other. “We are very much a hometown, grassroots organization,” says Galas. “Oakshire’s approach to community outreach and the beers they brew go into that same mentality.”
Althouse also recognizes that sense of synergy with LUFC, as well as a shared purpose in the broader community. “Oakshire's partnership with Lane United Football Club allows us to connect with the most passionate local sports fans who share our values,” he explains. “We're thrilled to host LUFC events at our Public House in Eugene, and we love cheering for our home team at the pitch. Soccer and local beer just go together.”
Lane United Football Club
Official Lane United FC supporters’ group
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Effective May 1, Eugene-based Ninkasi Brewing Company has a new leader. In her five years at the company, though, chief executive officer Cheryl Collins has already been an integral force shaping the brewery’s culture. Now she’ll set the company’s overall course.
“Our core purpose has been, and will always be, to perpetuate better living,” says Collins. “My chief role in guiding and molding Ninkasi will be to continue our pursuit of perpetuating better living by building an effective team that aims to create an exceptional customer experience by producing quality craft beers.”
Co-founder Nikos Ridge stepped down as CEO to take the role of president and will continue to serve on the board. “The first 10 years of Ninkasi were about inventing ourselves as a company,” says Ridge in a press release. “The next chapter of Ninkasi is about taking the capabilities and teams we’ve built and aligning them even more to better serve our customers and craft beer fans.”
Since its founding in 2006, the 11-year-old brewery has grown to 103 employees in Eugene and other states. In 2016 Ninkasi produced approximately 100,000 barrels of beer and had sales of $30 million, and the Brewers Association ranked Ninkasi the 33rd largest U.S. craft brewery, up from 36th in 2015.
With more than 10 years of organizational leadership and development experience, Collins began at Ninkasi in 2012. A recipient of the Recruiter of the Year award from the University of Oregon, Collins has also been recognized as Manager of the Year by the Willamette Chapter Credit Union Association, and she holds two national awards from the Credit Union National Association for development and execution of training programs. Industry publications look to her leadership on small business best practices, and in 2016 Collins was the keynote speaker at the Oregon Manufacturers’ Summit.
Her time at Ninkasi, though, awakened Collins to the joy underlying craft beer. “It started with Ninkasi, the first time I heard a brewer describe what they had made,” she explains. “You could feel the passion that went into it; they talked about it similar to an artist talking about a painting. It was contagious. As I expanded my palate and began visiting other breweries, I noticed this trend throughout the industry. There is such great passion we all have in craft beer, how could you not enjoy it?”
In her role as chief people officer, Collins shook up the company — and the industry — with a radical proposal: get rid of performance reviews. The company agreed, leading to an ongoing evolution in how Ninkasi employees and management collaborate on professional improvement. The change was just one of many ways Collins modified company policy and practices to ensure that they built and maintained a cohesive, mutually supportive company culture — instead of being mere tools of employee compliance.
“My background and education is rooted in understanding and building organizational cultures,” says Collins. “Above all else, if leaders do not understand the importance of impact of culture, then everything else becomes more challenging. By being able to lead the organization with respect to culture and how we operate as a business, we will be able to position ourselves in an even more viable position in the future.”
As vice president of organizational development and chief operations officer, Collins spearheaded implementation of both cultural and operational initiatives. She instituted programs for employee recruitment, training and onboarding programs; continuous improvement strategies and best practices across brewery operations; team-building activities to nurture organizational culture; safety protocols and initiatives; leadership development programs; employer branding; and overarching company strategies.
“Cheryl has worked closely with every department across Ninkasi and is a pivotal force in pushing our teams to their full potential,” says Ridge. “Her leadership, coaching and strategic focus make this transition an obvious step forward.”
Now Collins expands her role to direct and lead the company both in its day-to-day operations and to guide long-term strategy. “I look forward to continuing our commitment to our core purpose — perpetuate better living — and working with our teams to develop innovative approaches to how we do business,” says Collins. “The door is open for new and innovative methods for how we operate as a business. We a have a team of creative and dedicated people who have made Ninkasi what it is today, and I’m excited to continue to help us improve and remain leaders in the industry.”
The craft beer industry is experiencing upheavals. Some independent brewers have been acquired, others have closed. And Collins knows she’ll encounter hurdles during her tenure as CEO. “Of the many challenges we face in the industry, the ones prevalent right now are the increasing number of breweries in the market and the impact of localization, both of which present growth challenges for most breweries,” says Collins. “As the industry continues to shift and change we will navigate these challenges through staying true to who we are at Ninkasi and listening to what our customers are saying.”
Whatever challenges come, she knows she can rely on Ninkasi’s collaborative culture. “People — both women and men — are passionate about craft beer, and all of us strive to make the industry better.”
As she takes up her duties as CEO, Collins will continue to lead with a belief that operations and culture are interdependent, and that the success, growth and health of one depends on the other. “It’s inspiring to be a part of a community with the level of commitment and engagement we see here at Ninkasi,” explains Collins. “You feel, believe and know you are part of something bigger than yourself; that level of inspiration is what we strive for every day.”
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.