By Ezra Johnson-Greenough
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Great American Beer Festival Oregon Winners 2017
The Great American Beer Festival awards are some of the most coveted in the industry and Oregon continued to perform well in 2017. There are 96 style categories and the possibility of winning gold, silver or bronze in each. The following is a list of local recipients from this year’s competition, which were announced Oct. 7 in Denver:
BRONZE American-Style India Pale Ale: Breaskide Brewery & Taproom, Breakside IPA
SILVER American- or International-Style Pilsener: Full Sail Brewing Company, Sesion Cerveza
BRONZE American- or International-Style Pilsener: Elk Horn Brewery, Lemon Pils
GOLD American-Style Sour Ale: Flat Tail Brewing, DAM Wild Hops and Lemon Verbena
BRONZE American-Style Strong Pale Ale: Breakside Brewery + Beer Hall, Breakside Stay West
GOLD American-Style Wheat Beer: GoodLife Brewing Company, Sweet As Pacific Ale
GOLD American-Style Wheat Beer with Yeast: Sunriver Brewing Company, Fuzztail
SILVER Belgian-Style Fruit Beer: Logsdon Farmhouse Ales, ZuurPruim
BRONZE Brett Beer: Alesong Brewing & Blending, Touch of Brett Mosaic
SILVER Double Red Ale: ColdFire Brewing Company, St. James
BRONZE Fruited American-Style Sour Ale: Breakside Brewery & Taproom, Breakside Passionfruit Sour Ale
GOLD German-Style Pilsener: Zoiglhaus Brewing Company, Zoigl-Pils
GOLD Gluten-Free Beer: Ground Breaker Brewing, Dark Ale
GOLD Imperial Red Ale: Sunriver Brewing Company, Cinder Beast
BRONZE Rye Beer: Breakside Brewery, Breakside Rye Curious?
BRONZE Session Beer: Three Creeks Brewing Company, Stonefly Session Ale
GOLD Specialty Saison: Base Camp Brewing Company, Rye Saison
SMALL BREWING COMPANY AND SMALL BREWING COMPANY BREWER OF THE YEAR: Sunriver Brewing Company, Sunriver Brewing Team
North American Guild of Beer Writers Oregon Winners 2017
Brewers weren’t the only ones honored during the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. The North American Guild of Beer Writers recognized the best beer and brewing industry coverage in 11 categories, ranging from newspaper and magazine stories to podcasts. The following list is composed of Oregon award recipients:
FIRST PLACE Best Beer Book: Jeff Alworth, Secrets of Master Brewers
SECOND PLACE Best Beer Blog: Jeff Alworth, Beervana
THIRD PLACE Best Beer and Travel Writing: Brian Yaeger, Beer at the End of the World
SECOND PLACE Best Local Reporting: Andi Prewitt, Brewers Make Foray into New Areas of Fungi Kingdom
THIRD PLACE Best History Writing: Jeff Alworth, Bourbon County Brand Stout: The Original Bourbon-Barrel-Aged Beer
HONORABLE MENTION Best History Writing: Ezra Johnson-Greenough, An Oral History of the Horse Brass
SECOND PLACE Best Technical Writing: Brian Yaeger, Savoring Acidity: The Quest to Explain Sourness in Beer
By Ezra Johnson-Greenough
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The well-loved and highly acclaimed Portland brewery The Commons will close at the end of the year to become an outpost for San Diego-based Modern Times Beer. The Commons’ owner Mike Wright approached Modern Times founder Jacob McKean about taking over the building’s lease following financial problems that will keep the brewery on Southeast Belmont Street from continuing in its current form. Beer fans both locally and abroad were saddened to hear the news, as The Commons taproom had become a popular destination to visit as well as a business that produced award-winning beer.
Wright made the announcement: “After two years of lagging sales and battling cash flow, I have had to make some very uncomfortable decisions. At the end of this year we will shut down operations on Southeast Belmont and vacate the building.”
For many, news of the closure was met with shock given that The Commons had won numerous awards at the Great American Beer Festival and World Beer Cup. It’s hard to imagine how a seemingly successful 7-year-old brewery could shutter so suddenly. And the arrival of Modern Times, a well-respected brewery that will be new to the Portland market, may be met with mixed emotions.
The Commons began in a different space — Wright’s garage — under a different name — Beetje — with a nano system in 2010. Earning early fans and buzz, the brewery expanded to 7 barrels and found space with a tasting room, which is when it was rebranded. At that time, Wright brought on experienced industry personality Josh Grgas and new head brewer Sean Burke. The new team and fan base carried The Commons to its third and current location, a repurposed large brick-and-wood warehouse.
Both brewery owners are adamant in pointing out that The Commons has not been sold or forced out and Modern Times taking over the lease was, in some ways, a favor to the owners. But what went wrong for The Commons?
“Unfortunately, this is a classic small business cash flow story,” Wright said. “Sure, there is plenty of industry nuance and hindsight that can be evaluated, but this boiled down to simple debits and credits.”
Modern Times had previously collaborated with The Commons on beer releases and McKean shared his fondness for the Rose City: “I’ve loved the city of Portland for a long, long time. I’ve been visiting regularly for well over a decade, and I gave serious consideration to starting Modern Times in PDX.” So when it came time to expand, McKean had his eyes on Portland before Wright approached him about taking over the lease.
Modern Times is a 30-barrel production brewery and tasting room located in San Diego’s Point Loma neighborhood. Founded by former Stone Brewing Co. brewer Jacob McKean and a team of consultants in 2013, the business has become known for its aroma-forward tropical IPAs, fruit sours and coffee beer. And the San Diego culture that comes with Modern Times should actually fit in quite easily in Portland. It’s an all-vegan company that has also sourced and roasted its own coffee ingredients since day one. “We make beer and coffee for people who are deeply passionate and very nerdy about those things,” said McKean.
The transition from The Commons to Modern Times will happen after the beginning of the New Year. Expect a taproom with full restaurant and eventually a coffee roaster and cafe. Unfortunately, the Cheese Annex will vacate as well to make room for Modern Times’ kitchen. The new project will be called “The Belmont Fermentorium” with the capacity to produce up to 20,000 barrels a year. Modern Times has also leased the neighboring 10,000-square-foot building and plans to use it as a packaging hall and tank farm.
Don’t count out The Commons just yet though. After all, they have already had three different iterations, so an even more successful fourth life is not out of the question. Wright still owns the building on Southeast Belmont Street, so paying the mortgage should be easy now as he keeps the 7-barrel brewhouse as well as several 15-barrel tanks and leaves the newer 20-barrel vessels for Modern Times.
The Commons will continue to operate and release new beer until closing on Saturday, Nov. 11 with a final party. After the business of vacating and transitioning to Modern Times, Wright hopes to focus more on the next step for The Commons.
“I am motivated to find a pathway forward for The Commons, but that’s not yet clear and I don’t want to make any claims that I cannot follow through on,” said Wright. “I hope to offer another chapter sometime in the future.”
By Ezra Johnson-Greenough
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The internet was supposed to make life easier and solve humanity’s problems, so who figured it would take an online bookstore more than two decades just to get beer deliveries to your home right? When Amazon rolled out its Prime Now service in late 2014, home beer and wine deliveries were discussed, but it wasn’t until August of 2017 that the service launched in Oregon. Amazon is famous for helping kill off local and big-box book retailers, and some are now concerned they could do the same to grocery stores and bottle shops.
Prime Now is an app for your phone or device that lets you order items you’d normally find at large grocers: food, household supplies and gadgets. To use this service, you must be an Amazon Prime member, which for $99 a year is easily worth it if you do any other online shopping or video/music streaming. Products are shipped through the company’s regional partners, and based on my zip code that would be New Seasons Market, Whole Foods Market or Amazon’s local product center.
Ordering from each incurs a separate delivery fee (typically about $5) that’s waived when the purchase amount reaches a certain threshold. Amazon then adds a suggested $5 tip for the driver, which can be edited. Users choose a two-hour arrival window and it can be scheduled days in advance. If you’re in a hurry, one-hour delivery is available for a fee ranging from $4.99-7.99. Prices are comparable, if not exactly the same, as what’s in stores. Another benefit is the option to have your package left on a safe porch without signature (though you must be present with identification if purchasing alcohol).
Amazon’s Prime Now store is the only outlet in my zip code to ship beer, cider and wine (none of the hard stuff). There is a “Cold Beer” section with subcategories for “Local and Craft Beer” along with domestics, imports and specific styles. At this point, your choices are limited to the lineup you might find at your local mini-mart, but I suspect that will change — especially if there’s demand.
Under “Local and Craft Beer,” some might quibble with listings for Not Your Father’s Root Beer, Blue Moon, Elysian, 10 Barrel and Hop Valley, but that’s neither here nor there. More important to most is the local beer selection, which includes new and classic — but safe — hits from Breakside, BridgePort, Crux, Full Sail, Deschutes, Ecliptic, Fort George, Ninkasi, Oakshire, Pyramid, Rogue, Widmer and Worthy. National/international players are even more basic, like Corona, Guinness, New Belgium, Pacifico, Stella and, interestingly, Schofferhofer Grapefruit Hefeweizen.
I have now ordered from Amazon’s Prime Now service five times, three of them specifically for beer, finding mostly good results. The delivery often arrives on the early side of the two-hour window, and they take care to put the beer in a thin, but still temperature-holding, Mylar bag along with an ice pack. I encountered one issue with my first purchase of two bottles of Breakside’s flagship IPA in 22-ounce bottles (well-priced at $4.29 each) and a six-pack of Pelican’s Beak Breaker Double IPA. Shortly after placing the order, I was notified via email that the Pelican beer wasn’t available. The rest of the items came as usual, and there was no charge for the six-pack — though it was still listed as being available more than a week later.
Polling the hive mind known as my social media connections, I came across one other interesting snag that I tested myself. When requesting a seasonal release, you may not end up with the beer you intend. For instance, one person discovered that an order placed for Fort George’s Suicide Squeeze IPA actually resulted in the brewery’s 3-Way IPA being delivered. I attempted to replicate this by ordering Suicide Squeeze along with Breakside’s Toro Red (the site actually pictured the brewery’s What Rough Beast beer). I ended up receiving the 3-Way as well and the India Golden Ale by Breakside. The lesson: beware of accuracy when it comes to ordering seasonals. On the plus-side, it’s nice to get a refund and still keep the beer by sending in a complaint. This, however, highlights areas where online beer delivery will most likely always fall short — in selection and depth of knowledge.
“Delivery works best for replenishing staples,” says Carl Singmaster, one of the proprietors of Belmont Station in Southeast Portland. “For the consumer that prefers to drink primarily one widely available brand consistently, it makes a lot of sense. But for those who are constantly exploring and learning, I think they'll prefer to shop at bricks and mortar.”
“When customers need friendly interaction, real opinions, industry gossip or tips, that's where we come in. There's nothing virtual about it,” says Sarah Pederson, owner of North Portland’s Saraveza tavern and bottle shop.
With Amazon’s recent acquisition of Whole Foods, there’s a lot of concern that the massive company could push out mom-and-pop grocery and beer retailers. While most bottle shop owners I talked to think that Prime Now is more of a threat to big-box stores, they are still considering the possible consequences.
“We may lose some sales,” says Sean Campbell (aka John Beermonger), owner of The BeerMongers bottle shop and bar in Southeast Portland, “but I feel that is always a threat either from grocery stores or big liquor stores. Knowledgeable staff, good prices and good atmosphere should help keep the little guys in business.”
Sarah Pederson agrees, “I think Amazon grocery will affect grocery stores in the beer departments more than small bottle shops such as Saraveza. I can't imagine that all the time, effort, devotion and education we put into our selection on a weekly basis could be mimicked by a ginormous online store.”
In addition to the selection and expert customer support, Prime Now doesn’t offer details consumers want, like where their beer is coming from.
“I have so many customers who are very conscientious of what brands they purchase in regards to the ownership of the brewery,” says Sarah Pederson. “I don't know if these people refuse to shop at Walmart or on Amazon, but I'm curious to hear from them.”
The area where Amazon really could hurt small businesses is pricing. “The biggest concern is that a company of the scale and with the cash on hand of an Amazon can subsidize their service to undercut other retailers. The other concern would be if producers and distributors give them outsized allocations of limited-release beers,” comments Singmaster.
Beermonger is more concerned about the beer itself. “I know not all beer is stored properly. I see it in big stores, but also specialty stores. If people get inferior product that was stored and shipped under less-than-ideal conditions, they may blame the brewery for making bad beer. This is a problem that often comes up and I see this new delivery system increasing the likelihood of beer that is ‘off.’”
Overall, these craft-centric retailers were interested in following this new wave of beer delivery, but didn’t seem overly worried about competition. In some cases, they were even encouraging.
“I am all for consumers having as many options and choices available to them as possible,” says Singmaster. “For those that prefer to have their groceries delivered rather than visiting stores in person, there is no reason they shouldn't be able to put beer and wine into the mix.”
“Convenience sells. This move by Amazon and Whole Foods is a sign of the times, and we shouldn't be surprised by it. In fact, we should be prepared for more of it. People are very emotional, and often fearful, about big business and how it takes over. It's not necessarily a bad thing for the craft beer movement, but it sure is an interesting twist in this ever-changing industry.”
One thing is for sure, now that there are more ways to get beer delivered, Amazon won’t be the only one to get into the business. Additional specialty retailers are likely on the way. We already have draft growler beer subscription services in companies like Hopsy and bottle subscription through Tavour, among others.
By Ezra Johnson-Greenough
For the Oregon Beer Growler
It would be difficult to overstate the importance of the Oregon Brewers Festival. It’s not just a festival, but THE festival of the Pacific Northwest and the largest of its kind in the country. So large does the OBF loom that when you mention “Portland” and “beer festival,” most assume you’re talking about OBF. It’s become the measuring stick for all other beer events, and in 2017 OBF will set the bar even higher by working to end intoxicated driving by launching a Safe Ride Home program.
This July 26-30th marks the 30th anniversary of OBF, held at Portland’s Tom McCall Waterfront Park. It’s the largest beer fest in the U.S. by attendees, claiming 80,000 or so visitors annually and in 2016 it contributed an estimated $29.3 million to the local economy. Other impressive stats it boasts: 44.2 percent of last year’s attendees were women and 20.2 percent of out-of-town visitors stayed in rental lodging.
Art Larrance, now of Cascade Brewing, founded OBF in 1988 after being inspired by Oktoberfest in Munich and the first Waterfront Blues Festival in Portland. At the time, Larrance and Fred Bowman had founded Portland Brewing — the city’s fourth brewery — and were asked to provide beer for a new event. The two Hillsboro High alums launched the Papa Aldo’s Pizza Blues Festival during the last weekend of July at Waterfront Park. The inaugural celebration was a hit, with kegs kicking as quickly as they could tap them. Surprisingly, then, the event sponsors sold the Blues Festival to the Cascade Blues Association and the date was moved to the Fourth of July weekend. That left an opportunity to purchase the park rental space during the last weekend of July, which Larrance did for $500. He reached out to Widmer Brothers Brewing, BridgePort Brewing Company and McMenamins for help starting a beer festival that no one expected to succeed.
“One of the big questions we got were, ‘How much alcohol do you get out of the hops?’ People did not have a clue what the hops were. Now, people are going ‘I want to try that Citra hop!’ We are all becoming hop experts,” Larrance said.
The first OBF in ‘88 created a template for the token-based, low-cost outdoor beer event that has become perhaps the most popular model. The Great American Beer Festival was founded in 1987 and took place indoors with a session-based entry fee featuring unlimited (but small) pours. Larrance did almost everything differently. OBF, with an outdoor setting, was free to enter and attendees could purchase a plastic mug and $1 drink tickets. The only major change in the last 30 years is a switch from paper tickets to reusable wooden that also double as free advertisement for the fest. That first event featured 22 breweries from six states. With an expected attendance of around 5,000, approximately 15,000 showed up, which had brewers scrambling to keep up with beer sales. These days, the festival takes up twice the length of Waterfront Park that it used to and has stretched from two days to five.
In 1994, Larrance left Portland Brewing. “They said, ‘You’re kind of a starter, but we need more of a finisher. We need more nationally known people … MacTarnahan’s had bought more stock and they didn’t want me around.” Portland Brewing gave Larrance their interest in OBF and he went on to purchase the rest of the shares of ownership from the Widmers and the Ponzis (founders of BridgePort).
A major misconception about OBF is that it does not or should feature more Oregon brewers, but from the beginning that was not the goal. “We wanted to showcase Oregon beer, but not to say we were the best. We want to get out-of-staters ... to stand the local beers up against all the others so that people would say ‘Oh, that Oregon beer is pretty darned good.’ We wanted people to make up their own mind.” A lottery system is used to choose participants, though breweries that have been longtime supporters are grandfathered in. Larrance says narrowing down contributors is the most difficult aspect of the event.
In 2013 the festival attempted a switch to real glassware instead of the much-maligned plastic mugs. Unfortunately, the Boston Marathon bombing put an end to that two years later with law enforcement insisting upon no glass in the park. “The police said glass can be a weapon and I know it can ever since I was chased around a strawberry patch by a girl with a broken beer bottle because I hit her with a strawberry 60-some years ago” says Larrance.
Another aspect that sets OBF apart from other beer events is Larrance’s insistence on keeping it family friendly. He fought the Oregon Liquor Control Commission when a contingent tried to prohibit children. Larrance strongly believes in keeping the family unit together and said “We really had to work hard to show them [OLCC] we were aware of the minors and we really want them there with their parents.” As a compromise, event organizers created a permission slip for parents to sign in order to bring their kids.
In 2012, OBF introduced the International Tent that featured beers from the Netherlands. “It all started with Mark Strooker,” recalls Larrance. “He started it by contacting Travel Portland and saying ‘I want to try to get the Oregon Brewers Festival to the Netherlands.’ Well, I thought, I haven’t been to the Netherlands since 1976. So I went over there to a festival at De Molen Brewery called the Borefts Beer Festival.” Larrance asked Strooker to invite 10 or so Netherlands brewers to OBF. The festival would pay for travel and the featured beers.
Larrance soon found out that the brewers actually did not know each other that well and the trip to Portland strengthened their bond. Since then, Larrance has traveled back to the Netherlands to explore setting up OBF there but doubts remain about the cost and attendance. Still, Larrance says, “I fell in love with the country, the people, the attitude. It’s kind of like us 20 years ago.”
Since the first International Tent, OBF has brought brewers from other countries. However, import costs have skyrocketed, so the feature will take some time off this year. To beat escalating shipping costs, Larrance wants to fly beer makers here to make a special batch at an Oregon brewery. While that may mark the end of the International Tent, it also relaunches a Specialty Tent (formerly called the Buzz Tent), which will serve smaller kegs not available at the regular pouring stations.
The Safe Ride Home Program is a new update to this year’s festival and was still in the works as of press time. Working with the Portland Bureau of Transportation, Larrance and OBF want to eliminate any post-festival intoxicated driving. “We want to have zero loss from the festival. We want people to get rides home safely.”
The program has a few initiatives, some of which they are still figuring out how to implement. One is a deal with SmartPark Garages. Drivers who come to the festival will be given a receipt that provides a $5 discount for anyone who decides to leave the vehicle overnight and pick it up the next day between 9 a.m. and noon. Another option is an expanded deal with Radio Cab. A little-known OBF benefit is that two taxis are available at the event to transport intoxicated patrons. This year, $20,000 has been raised to fund a fleet of cabs that will be located across the street from the park and discounts will be given to festival goers.
“We are working with Portland Police. We have the same motive to get people home safely. We want them to come back next year.” says Larrance.
Art also hopes the program will go beyond OBF and extend to all the states’ beer fests. “It’s not going to be just for us. We are trying to set up for all beer festivals and working with the guild so they can implement the same thing to work it out this year and figure out how it works best. So you know if you come to Oregon and go to our festivals, there won’t be any issues and you will come back. We will get you home safe.”
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.