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
Usually when a craft beer place draws in the public, they are attracting people who come primarily for the beer. But with Beergarden, the 1-year-old Eugene taphouse (and home to four food carts) gets just as many people who come first for their favorite grub — and then discover a pint of something special to go with it. Customers may start out more interested in the food than in the beer, but with 42 (soon to be 47) taps of craft beer, wine, cider, mead and more, they soon realize Beergarden is a unique blend of indoors and outdoors, craft beverages, and artisan food.
Founded in 2015 by Tap & Growler co-owners Colby Phillips and Patric Campbell, Beergarden is located in a renovated former service station at a nexus of major roads and neighborhoods. Decor was salvaged from a to-be-demolished local Marie Callender’s restaurant — look above the bar and you’ll find the old salad bar shield. Beergarden combines metal and wood in both a comfy indoor space and an airy, yet covered, outdoor space that’s filled with plants thanks to the garden center next door. Lunch and dinner crowds come for a variety of reasons, including live music, a food truck meal and the enclosed space where kids can play.
“It’s a beer garden with a true garden feel,” says Phillips. “People really seem to like it.” Local people’s choice awards would agree. During its first year, Beergarden garnered a number of honors: “Best Beers on Tap,” “Best New Restaurant” and “Best New Business.”
At the heart of Beergarden, of course, is the “beer” in the name. At the heart of the beer is beer steward Holly Emery-Walen, who has been with Beergarden since the beginning. The University of Oregon graduate has a resume that includes positions at a number of well-respected beer establishments, such as The Bier Stein, Hop Valley’s Tasting Room and Belmont Station. Managing the Portland beer cafe connected Emery-Walen with brewers, brewery owners and other figures in the industry. Around 2013, though, she was ready to return to Eugene, where she met Colby Phillips, who was conceptualizing the place that would become Beergarden.
“He approached me about something he and Patric were putting together,” explains Emery-Walen. “I wanted something full-time where I could have creative control with the tap list and bottle list. I get that autonomy.”
Now Emery-Walen is the general of the business’s taps and bottle selection. “I love drinking beer,” she says, “and I like to explore.” But developing the right beer selection wasn’t just a matter of pulling in every esoteric beer she could get her hands on. The onsite food carts pulled in lots of foodies and food cart fans. “They aren’t necessarily beer geeks or in the craft beer scene, which is different from a lot of beer places,” says Emery-Walen. “We’re at this confluence of North Eugene, South Eugene, Whiteaker. We’re near two highways, and that brings a big mix of demographics. People weren’t necessarily coming just for craft beer.”
With constantly rotating taps, however, Emery-Walen hit upon a simple solution for people whose taste in beer might be more on the stick-with-what-you-know end of the spectrum. She decided to keep Hop Valley’s Light Me Up Lager on Beergarden’s sole permanent tap, “for people who want something familiar in a place where all the beer is unfamiliar.”
That simple change puts people at ease, though, and more and more customers come in who “enjoy exploring.” That adventurous spirit, Emery-Walen observes, is a natural extension of food cart fans and foodies. “They’re already familiar with their palate, what they like. Usually foodies are pretty exploratory. You can have different tastes in food or beer, but still be able to find beer and food that suits whoever is coming with you.”
When curating Beergarden’s selection, Emery-Walen focuses on quality and freshness. As Beergarden celebrates entering its second year, she continues building relationships, expanding access to limited-release beers and keeping Beergarden’s selection a mix of the unique, the everyday, and overall, the well-crafted.
“I try to keep a diverse range of styles, and beers within styles. Diversity was our foundation at Belmont Station, and I brought that here too,” says Emery-Walen. “If you taste something and think it’s awesome, you want to share that with the world.”
(a) 777 W. Sixth Ave., Eugene
Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Friday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to Midnight
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
A decade of hindsight later, it must have been a sign.
After months of planning, construction and delays, on July 5, 2005, Chip Hardy was finally ready to open the doors of Eugene’s The Bier Stein to the public. Soon, people would be able to purchase bottled beers and specialty craft beverages from all over the world.
There was just one problem.
“Cases of beer were everywhere,” says Hardy. “We had received a very huge order from Columbia Distributing.” So Hardy did the only thing he could: got the taps open instead. “We sold a lot of draft beer that day.”
A Sign of Things to Come
Co-owners and founders Hardy and his wife Kristina Measells had different plans, though. “The Bier Stein was originally supposed to be a craft beer store that you could eat and drink in,” explains Hardy. “Now we are a craft beer bar and restaurant that sells beer to go. What we have become wasn't our original intention, but we went with what our customers wanted, and it has been very successful.”
Listening to what customers wanted became an overall theme for how Hardy and Measells steered their course. Originally opening in a 2,100-square-foot space at 11th Avenue and Mill Street near the University of Oregon campus, it wasn’t easy to cram in 10 beer coolers, a kitchen, the 10-tap bar (later expanded to 12 taps) and seating. The Bier Stein quickly filled up with bottles, customers — and complaints: there just wasn’t enough room. “We had customers that stopped coming because it was too hard to find a seat,” says Hardy.
On April 15, 2013, The Bier Stein moved to a new location at 1591 Willamette St. The fully remodeled 12,000-square-foot bottle shop and restaurant features a large central bar, 18 LED-lit bottle coolers, 30 taps (and social media updates on tap changes), one cask engine, a private function area (with a separate 6-tap bar), a larger kitchen, and, above all, seating for 150.
The expansion made for other big changes too. Originally opening with a staff of three, The Bier Stein now employs 55, which “makes for a lot of HR work,” Hardy says.
More Breweries, More Selection, More Customers
Today, The Bier Stein is one of the largest beer bars on the West Coast, with a selection of more than a thousand beers, ciders, meads and other craft beverages. Its large selection and ongoing evolution is a response to a local and national craft beer scene that changes at a rapid pace.
“In the past 10 years, there are more breweries, more beer styles and better selection,” says Hardy. “We are able to give those breweries a showplace.”
However, trying to carry everything has to be balanced with tapping only what you can empty. “My sense on taps was only to have enough that we could sell and keep fresh,” explains Hardy. “We constantly rotate. Staying relevant means having an always-changing tap and bottle list, and the beer community has become more educated on what beer is.”
Public regard for The Bier Stein has also translated into accolades. In local newspaper Eugene Weekly’s annual “Best of Eugene” people’s choice awards, The Bier Stein regularly takes top slots for categories such as “Best Beers on Tap.” Readers of CraftBeer.com, the Brewers Association (BA) website for beer lovers, have also twice awarded “Great American Beer Bar” status to The Bier Stein for the Pacific region, as well as “Overall Great American Beer Bar” status in 2014.
“Winning this has given our place a sense of legitimacy,” says Hardy. “We are doing the right thing in the craft beer community: teaching, educating and tasting.”
Staying the Course
As The Bier Stein heads into its next decade, it’s time to celebrate — but also to stay true to their mission and customers. “We like having one location and doing it to the best of our ability,” says Hardy. “We’ll continue to provide our area with some of the best craft beers we can get a hold of and continue being one of the best beer bars in the country.”
July 6 marked the anniversary. A special selection of beers was available, including collaboration beers brewed with Agrarian Ales and Hop Valley. Anniversary plans also include “a large outdoor event” to be held later this summer.
For Hardy, marking The Bier Stein’s first decade is a big step on a long path that winds along with the larger community. “We are very happy the local craft beer community has supported us over the past 10 years, and we are also happy that our employees are so awesome,” he says. “The Bier Stein wouldn't be what it is today without them.”
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
When 16 Tons Taphouse and Bottle Shop made its first sale on April 22, 2010, the Eugene craft beer scene was quite different from what it would be five years later. Home to only a handful of breweries and brewpubs, most of the area’s craft beer was coming from Portland, Bend or farther afield.
How things have changed.
“We definitely started our business at a good time,” says founder and owner Mike Coplin, “and have been very fortunate to be a hub for the growth of the beer industry in Eugene.”
Coplin recognized that craft beer would only grow. Eugene/Springfield area breweries such as Ninkasi, Oakshire and Hop Valley were making leaps in distribution and offerings, and momentum was gaining locally for more breweries to fire up the brew pot. But what Eugene needed was a neighborhood hub where people could experience the best that craft beer had to offer, whether from a brewery across town or around the world.
When 16 Tons first opened its taphouse doors at East 13th Avenue and High Street in downtown Eugene, its 900-square-foot space was packed with beer, wine, sake and more. Beers from Oregon, California, New England, Germany, Belgium and beyond gleamed on shelves or waited in stacked cases on the floor.
By October the taphouse was selling draft beer, but Coplin knew more was needed. “Customers had told us that additional food options and outdoor seating were high priorities.”
In July 2011, Coplin added a second location, rebranding the former Supreme Bean Coffee Company in south Eugene’s Woodfield Station shopping area as 16 Tons Cafe. That move allowed Coplin to provide extensive outdoor seasonal seating plus a coffee and food menu. Today 16 Tons offers 31 rotating taps and approximately 700 bottles of beer, wine and cider. Each year both locations tap more than 500 different beers and stock 1,500 bottles, with a special focus on limited and seasonal releases.
“We frequently stock beers, ciders and wines that are scarcely available anywhere else,” says Coplin. “We always have barrel-aged sour ales and stouts on tap. Our cider selection is one of the largest in Oregon. We've been very fortunate over the last five years to be embraced by Eugene's beer community, and that has allowed us to build great relationships.”
Coplin also focused on the serving experience. “As far as I know, we were the first non-brewery in Eugene to make growlers popular,” Coplin says. 16 Tons also began serving all its drinks in measured glassware, “ensuring a proper pour.”
Additionally, 16 Tons has been strongly involved in the greater community. In-store events such as Cheese Wars (a beer/wine pair-off), the annual Week of Wild, and the Eugene Winter & Strong Ale Fest help the public approach esoteric beers and discover new ways to appreciate beer. Coplin also established Eugene Beer Week, a now annual celebration that brings together pubs, breweries and other craft beer destinations throughout the local area.
16 Tons continues to be involved in Eugene Beer Week, 2nd Saturday South Willamette Art Walk and other community fundraisers and events. In 2014, 16 Tons also expanded its brewery collaborations. “Each year we make a wild ale for our anniversary,” Coplin says. “In 2014, we also produced two versions of 16 Tons IPA with Vertigo Brewing and Upright Brewing.” Logsdon Farmhouse Ales is brewing this year’s anniversary beer, Sech 'n Brett, a saison fermented with Brettanomyces yeast and lightly infused with peppercorns.
The overall craft beer scene has changed too and 16 Tons is evolving with it, curating its selection as new breweries and beers become available. “We frequently buy beer, wine and cider from very small producers who do not have a distributor,” he explains. “Several new distributors in Oregon — including Bigfoot Beverage, Running Man and Alebriated — have increased the beers available. Many beers that we work hard to stock are extremely limited, so we are only able to source a few cases each year.”
As 16 Tons enters its next five years, Coplin expects craft beer to continue growing and gaining market share and for the Eugene/Springfield area to potentially double its number of breweries. But he will keep focused on what’s guided 16 Tons so far. “We love our customers and try our best to deliver what they want,” says Coplin. “We’ll continue to work toward having the most intriguing selection of beer anywhere.”
Taphouse & Bottle Shop
[a] 265 E. 13th Ave., Eugene
[a] 2864 Willamette St. #500 (in Woodfield Station), Eugene
By Erica Tiffany-Brown
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
As a server at a growler fill station, I thought I’d seen every type of growler: ceramic ones fancier than my serving dishes, collegiate ones that look like glow sticks, stainless ones that mimic kegs. One day, that all changed when a regular customer waltzed on in with a plastic — yep, plastic — growler.
Before you start thinking he tried to bring in an old gallon jug that once held 2 percent milk, I can assure you it was a genuine, 64-ounce amber-colored growler begging to be filled with delicious beer.
The particular growler in question came from Growler University in Eugene — the only place in Oregon I’ve seen that carries them so far — but I wouldn’t be surprised if they start popping up all over the state within the next few months.
What I am stunned by, however, is the fact that with about a dozen plastics manufacturers in Oregon, these PET growlers have yet to actually be made in the state, as far as I know. With Oregon having such a huge growler scene, I’m hoping this story will inspire a local plastics manufacturer to get busy so that us beer lovers can continue to support our local economy.
Plastic is cheaper. Growler University — which has been carrying these growlers since August 2014 — usually sells them for $5 each, but often runs promotions which allow them to be sold for only $1 a piece with a fill. Since Growler University’s standard glass growlers sell for $6 (with some fill stations or breweries charging more than that), plastic takes the award for most budget friendly.
A cool — literally — feature of some plastic growlers is the temporary “deformation” that occurs to make more room for pressure that builds up if the beer becomes too warm. Some manufacturers have created patented side gripper areas that will actually bulge out if the beer warms up to 50 degrees or more, letting you know it’s time to put the beer back in the fridge. The bottle will then return to its original shape when cooled back down again.
Plastic growlers can be taken anywhere glass is neither allowed nor desired: pools, rivers, beaches and parks, to name a few. Because, guess what? They don’t break when you drop them. I’ve had my fair share of customers, with an intense look of despair on their faces, hand over a dozen pieces of what used to be one glass growler after it fell out of the back of their truck on their way in to come get a refill.
With Oregon being such a “green” state, the mixed concerns about plastic’s effects on the environment or leaching chemicals are worth noting. I consider myself to be a bit of a tree hugger, so I’ve always been somewhat skeptical about plastic, but I’m pleased to note that if you choose a PET growler, it is not only BPA-free, but also fully recyclable. Additionally, plastic growlers weigh less than their glass counterparts, which can translate to fewer environmental impacts.
Plastic is more susceptible to scratches than glass. When it comes to bottling their latest homebrew, most brewers have no complaints about using plastic as long as it’s amber-colored and kept cool. However, when the plastic on the inside begins to get scratched or worn, that’s when dreaded bacteria can begin to thrive. It’s a big no-no for brewers and for you as a growler consumer; it will break down the quality of your beer and cause the container to hold on to flavors.
Plastic is not ideal for long-term storage because it is permeable to oxygen. If you’re planning on stashing that limited-release bourbon-barrel-aged stout in your fridge for longer than a week, a glass growler is going to be your best bet.
Conclusion & Tips
When I asked my customer about some common concerns beer drinkers seem to have about switching to plastic, I was only met with positive feedback. He said he wasn’t worried about any plastic taste passing on to his beer because, for some strange reason, the lovely liquid inside never seems to stay in the growler long enough for any “off” taste to transfer over.
My tips for plastic growler care are simple. Rinse them out with plain hot water and air-dry with the cap off, keep them out of direct sunlight, and don’t keep the same beer in there for more than a week. You can reuse plastic growlers just as you would a glass growler, but if it starts to get worn or scratched, don’t forget to recycle it. My final and most important tip for you: Enjoy what’s inside!
I’m not much of a betting woman, but if I were, I’d say plastic growlers are here to stay. I’ll admit: I was unsure at first about these new guys on the block. To be honest, they kind of reminded me of an industrial-sized cough syrup bottle or an iced tea jug. But, I’m really becoming a fan. From a server’s standpoint, they’re easier to handle, so I don’t have to worry about being klutzy. And from a consumer’s standpoint, as long as my pints of pumpkin peach ale still taste wonderful, that’s all I really care about at the end of the day.
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.