Organizers of the Selfie Fest Road Show gathered with brewers at Untapped in Portland in June. The series of events is being held to highlight smaller breweries who self-distribute. Pictured, from left to right: Rik Hall, Baerlic Brewing; David Lederfine, Awesome Ales; Jim Parker, Selfie Fest organizer; Ben Parsons, Baerlic; Alex Kraft, Feckin Irish Brewing. Photo by Jim McLaren
By Jim McLaren
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Traffic on North Interstate Avenue in Portland was crawling through a light drizzle when a guy on a Vespa motor scooter jumped the curb and squeaked to a stop on the sidewalk in front of Untapped, a self-described “craft beer fill house.” Sliding off the scooter, he pried the helmet from his head and headed for the door. Once inside he stood back from the bar and began scanning the big board menu hovering over 38 tap handles. He wasn’t paying any attention to the two guys sitting at a high-top table talking to a writer. And he wasn’t there for the Selfie Fest either.
Ben Parsons and Rik Hall are both wearing short-billed, black bicycle caps with Baerlic Brewing Co. logos. They’re the owners and they know something most people ignore: Oregon’s craft beer explosion is not just about making beer. It’s also about DISTRIBUTING beer.
“It’s a really big story,” Hall says, “but it’s one people don’t really focus on. They see a beer, they like it, they drink it, regardless of who distributes it.” While Parsons nods in agreement, Hall continues, “to us, self-distributing is part of the craft of beer.”
Self-distributing? Part of the craft of beer? Get comfortable and let me explain. Once Oregon craft brewers learned how to make good beer, their next problem was how to get it to you. Under the old three-tier distribution system, beer went from brewery to distributor to retailer and then you. Like most economically productive systems, this one was efficient, but also stifling.
Distributors often tried to influence what a brewer made because, they claimed, they knew best what would sell. The brewers listened because the law did not allow them to go out and fight for the limited space on store shelves or in taverns with limited tap handles.
In 2001 things began to change with a strong lobbying push for a series of bills defining who could distribute beer. Jim Parker, former executive director of the Oregon Brewers Guild explains, “The first nod went to breweries with very small production, up 500 barrels a year. The next session the limit was pushed to 1,000 barrels. The law now allows self-distribution for breweries making up to 7,500 barrels per year.”
The self-distribution law has democratized the beer industry. Big distributors still sell the most beer, but smaller breweries with hustle can work their way into places like Untapped. Owner Lisa McArthur says the benefit is that “their beer doesn’t get lost in the portfolio of the big distributor reps. It’s nice that they [small brewers] come in and tell me about their beer. And it’s nice dealing directly with the breweries. You get to know them, you kind of get to know the brewery’s personality … so yeah I like getting to know them.”
This past March, the Imperial Bottle Shop & Taproom took a chance on something else coming from a small brewery — the Selfie Fest Road Show. It was Jim Parker’s idea to draw attention to small beermakers who build their business on a foundation of self-distribution. Parker works for Baerlic Brewing, a five-person operation.
“They make the beer, they sell the beer, they pick up the empties,” Parker says by way of explaining long hours and a weak social life, “in that way people will begin to think about the small, independent breweries doing everything by themselves.”
The Selfie Fest, which went to the Uptown Market in April but was canceled in May before resurfacing in June at Untapped, is designed as a tap takeover by several breweries at the same time. Alex Kraft of Feckin Irish Brewing Company favors the concept.
“It’s cool to have these beers together. It’s not the easiest way to go, but in the long run it can help small brewers who want to go their own way. In the long run it can help a brewery — being self-distributed, you don’t have to brew a specific thing because the distributors told you we want you to make this particular style. Half of the fun of brewing is just trying something out.” Kraft doubts a large distributor would have taken a chance on Feckin’s Top o’ the Feckin Mornin’ porter. Now it’s a mainstay of what the 3-year-old brewery sells.
About that point during the interview, a few people wandered into Untapped. They’d gotten off work, survived traffic jams and were looking to relax. But because this was not a standard meet-the-brewer event or tap takeover, they didn’t seem aware of what was going on — the Selfie Fest.
Ben Parsons says social media hasn’t caught up with a selfie that isn’t about taking a picture. “This is an uphill battle because most people just don’t understand distribution. It is a very complicated thing. But I would argue that the beer industry is more about distribution, about power and quantity. We’re trying to celebrate the revolution”.
“I listen to my customers” says Lisa McArthur. And while those customers might not be ready for a Selfie Fest or understand distribution systems, they unwittingly appreciate what it’s done for beer. Lisa continues, “Being a small neighborhood bar, we get a lot of repeat customers, so customer recommendations I take very seriously. I’ll throw a keg on and see how it goes.”
The sun has followed the afternoon drizzle and more people are stopping in on their way home from work. Walking away from the bar, the motor scooter jockey tucks a small growler into his messenger bag, pushes his way through the door, squeezes his head into his helmet, climbs onto his scooter and fires up the hidden engine that powers him down the street.
The next Selfie Fest stops will be at McMenamins 23rd Avenue Bottle Shop in Portland in July and then Oregon City Brewing Company in August.
By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
An ambitious startup craft brewery plans to open two locations in two different cities in March. Founder and brewer Jeremy Turner clearly aspires to live up to the mantra: “Go big or go home.”
Ancestry Brewing is a family business started by Turner and his father Gerald Turner with essential support from industry leader Al Triplett. The branding and marketing focus on a family tree of beers and the anchor logo recognizes the Turner family’s naval service.
The brewery and flagship location in Tualatin at 20585 SW 115th Ave., directly off Southwest Tualatin-Sherwood Road, is a 7,200-square-foot, brand new warehouse space. With most of the construction delays and speed bumps behind them, the founders anticipate opening in March.
For several years now, Turner and his father have been interested in starting a family business. Since Turner, an Oregon State University graduate in chemistry and biochemistry, has been homebrewing for more than 13 years, a brewery seemed like the logical business to get into. His day jobs at Hewlett-Packard and, most recently, the Portland Venture Group, combined with some brewing experience at Kulshan Brewing Co. in Washington, convinced him that a brewery was in the family’s future. But nothing was coming together until they met Al Triplett, a 24-year brewing veteran with Redhook.
“He blew the doors wide open for us,” said Turner. Triplett, now an equity member of the Ancestry team, helped secure hop contracts, which will be in place through 2020, and connected them with other essential suppliers and industry leaders.
“We identified this bare warehouse space in November of 2014. We wanted a suburban location and this Tualatin place was ideal,” explained Turner.
They went to work prepping the space — just a bare rectangle with a dirt floor. They even had to put in a wall dividing it from the adjoining auto business. With the usual paperwork and contract delays, it took until this June to complete the main infrastructure.
The 10-barrel, state-of-the-art system from JV Northwest — including six fermentation and two brite tanks with all the shiny bells and whistles, costing more than $500,000 — was installed in July.
“We finalized all our OLCC papers in October,” said Turner, “ and we’ve been brewing since then.”
Up until then, they had been testing and experimenting with the recipes. They worked with John I. Haas, Inc., the largest hop operation in the world, and used their innovation center in Yakima, Wash. to test out several of Turner’s homebrew recipes. They brewed up pilot batches and did blind tastings with 20-100 people, pairing Ancestry’s brews against industry-leading beers. Since then, they’ve also done guest tap tastings at Hop N Cork in Lake Oswego and the Platypus Pub in Bend.
“We built extra time into our business plan to test everything out,” said Turner.
They plan to have 12-14 of their beers on tap, plus cider and perhaps root beer and wine. To start, the beers will be identified by type — IPA, ale, ESB, stout and Belgians. They will be listed on Ancestry’s family tree of beers with three different pillars for American-style beers, British Isles beers and Continental European beers. “The actual names will come from our customer reviews and feedback,” said Turner.
He will be joined by brewer Trevor Lauman, who favors British-style beers, such as porters and stouts, which he describes as more balanced and malty. “I want to bring back a couple different styles,” he said, “including British mild.” He proudly served me a sample of the mild with its distinct hazelnut taste achieved without the use of hazelnut extract.
Lauman, also an accomplished homebrewer, returned to school several years ago to study computer science, but quickly switched to fermentation science at OSU. While completing that program, he gained experience at Ninkasi in Eugene and Feckin in Oregon City. He joined Ancestry in July and, like the entire team, looks forward to the official opening. But preparation for that day has meant working numerous 15-16 hour days.
The tentative brewing plans call for around 1,500 barrels of production the first year and 2,200 the second, with brewing happening two or three times a week and double brews every two weeks. Since one barrel of beer equals 31 gallons or 320, 12-ounce bottles — that’s a good amount of beer.
The crisp navy-and-white logo, created by Portland-based Nemo Design, is everywhere — on their growlers, on the lid of the tanks, on all the growler labels, the glasses, tasters and kegs. The brewery’s interior, while industrial, is airy and bright with plenty of natural light. The windows and outdoor space overlook a natural wetland. A rustic wood bar will offset the custom wallpaper of enlarged maps from Limerick, Ireland, a nod to the Turner family’s roots. The shiny, new brewhouse and cold storage facility are adjacent and open to the taproom, yet still separate from it.
Ancestry will sell traditional growlers and bottled beer to go along with prefilled, pressurized growlers in 16, 32 and 64 ounces. Their bottling machine can handle 12-ounce bottles and 750-milliliter barrel-aged bottles. PDX Sliders will be the food partner at both locations, and their staff will handle all the kitchen responsibilities. The award-winning food cart has come out on top at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry’s “Eat Mobile” competition two years in a row.
Ancestry’s second location in Portland’s Sellwood neighborhood is on the Springwater Corridor at 8268 SE 13th Ave., which is handy for bikers. Its outdoor service area will have a bike-up growler fill with two large sliding doors to the outside. The taproom and kitchen, on the ground floor of a new apartment complex, will be about 1,300 square feet.
Imran Haider, a longtime friend of Turner’s who teaches at OSU, will assist with management responsibilities, and Mel Long, who has extensive experience as a beer distributor, will be the cellar manager.
Turner said they had initially hoped to open both locations at the same time and then kept going back and forth about opening dates. As it stands now, they plan to open the Tualatin location first, followed by Sellwood a week or so later. Check the Ancestry website for updates.
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.