By Pete Dunlop
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Belmont Station, Portland’s original bottle shop and beer bar, is hitting the ripe old age of 20. They’re celebrating with a 20/20 theme — 20 days of events for 20 years.
The party gets underway on Saturday, April 1 at the Horse Brass, where Belmont Station got its start in 1997. The Brass will have a collection of special beers on tap when it opens at 11 a.m. Some of those beers will have been made with help from Belmont Station staff.
At 1 p.m., guests will march up Southeast 45th Avenue to the current home of Belmont Station, where they will feature several bottle releases and more special beers on tap. The parade will include noisemakers, bubbles, signage and typical parade fare — though no floats.
“Twenty years is a nice milestone,” said Lisa Morrison, majority owner of Belmont Station. “Besides being a celebration for patrons, we’re honoring the contributions of people who made and continue to make Belmont Station what it is today. People like Joy Campbell, Don Younger and Carl Singmaster, not to mention our awesome staff, past and present.”
Another featured event, mini-Puckerfest, is set for April 7-9. They’ll be pouring at least eight sour beers at all times during the weekend. A number of special beers from well-known breweries will be released, including one from de Garde Brewing called, “The Station.”
“As part of Mini-Puckerfest, we’ll be doing another Battle of the Blends competition,” Morrison said. “Two teams made up of Belmont staff produced blends with Cascade Brewing. Patrons will vote on their favorite for the insufferable bragging rights.”
The weekend of April 14-16 will feature Bigger, Badder, Blacker drafts, featuring a Deschutes night with an Abyss variant, Black Butte 25-28 and a vintage bottle sale, plus other offerings through the weekend from Ninkasi, Fort George and more.
On Monday, April 17, the Besties celebration will bring together the folks behind the recent Oregon Beer Awards Small, Medium and Large Breweries of the Year: Baerlic Brewing Company, The Commons and Breakside Brewery.
Next up is the annual Samuel Smith's Salute on Tuesday, April 18. Tom Bowers of Merchant du Vin will showcase the iconic brewery and its place in modern craft beer culture. There will be bottles pouring at the bar and Bowers will lead the annual salute during the course of the evening.
The party finishes up on April 20, with Lagunitas tapping The Waldos’ Special Ale at 4:19 p.m. (so it can be in your glass at 4:20 p.m.). Sixpoint will contribute their Puff to the party (including Puff rolling papers) and Laurelwood will have a special 4/20-themed IPA.
Old-timers will recall that Belmont Station was the only place of its kind when it opened next to the Horse Brass. Campbell and Younger launched the small store because Horse Brass patrons were asking to purchase imported beers and other specialty items.
“We were just slightly more than an afterthought next to the Horse Brass,” said Chris Ormand, who spent a decade at Belmont before joining General Distributors last year. “We sold novelties, specialty food and offbeat videos, most of it imported from the U.K. And beer.”
The place stocked some 400 bottles in those days. It’s hard to fathom given present circumstances, but each bottle was displayed with a price tag. The actual beer was stored in walk-in coolers. Customers would make a list of what they wanted and give it to the clerk, who would round up the beers.
The beer selection has exploded, obviously. Modern Belmont Station carries some 1,500 beers, ciders and meads in bottles and cans, and also features 23 rotating taps pouring some of the best beer in the city. It’s a Cheers bar for many locals, as well as a destination for tourists.
“There truly was nothing like Belmont Station when Joy and Don launched it 20 years ago,” Morrison said. “It was a big deal when my business partner, Carl Singmaster, joined as co-owner, moved it to the current location and added the beer bar.”
Belmont Station is generally regarded as Portland’s premier bottleshop and beer bar. They were again recognized at the Oregon Beer Awards for just that: Best Beer Bar and Bottle Shop. But Morrison refuses to brag.
“I guess we are looked at as setting the standard for what a bottle shop and beer bar should be,” she said. “That’s something we strive for. I like to think we’re respected for our knowledgeable service, our friendly and cozy atmosphere and the fact that we've been consistent through the years.”
Stay tuned for information on next year’s big bash, when Belmont Station reaches drinking age.
Note: Many of the events happening during the 20/20 festival were still being finalized as this story went to press. Check the Belmont Station website for updated details.
4500 SE Stark St., Portland
By Andi Prewitt
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
“I always wanted a water tower.”
“You ever climb up there and hang out and drink some beers at the top?”
“Matter of fact that would be correct. Yes.”
That’s how my conversation with Craig Coleman began while touring the concrete remains of homes nearly swallowed by tall, yellow grass in an Eastern Oregon town that’s nearly gone but not quite forgotten. Ordnance, which is a mere 7 miles from a Walmart parking lot teeming with people in Hermiston, feels like its hundreds of miles away from civilization. But just several hundred feet from an exit off I-84 sits the ruins of a place that’s had several lives — first, as a home for men who worked at the Umatilla Army Depot and their families; second, as a farm where pigs were raised; and now, it’s become a ghost town where Coleman sometimes drinks beer from the prominent perch of a water tower that also serves as the logo for his brewery.
By now you’ve undoubtedly heard of Ordnance Brewing, which is named after the fallen down town just east of Boardman. And that’s an accomplishment on its own given that the business has only been open to the public for a year and the facility is located in a city most Oregonians never visit. Boardman is probably best known for the sprawling farm of perfectly aligned rows of poplar trees you whiz by on the freeway on your way to another destination. But as one of the managing partners who helped launch the brewery, Coleman has now given people a reason to stop.
In its first year of business, Ordnance has been defined by aggressive growth, despite its distance from the more populated side of the state. Already the brewery boasts a sales and marketing team of five people, a partnership with General Distributors and an upgrade from a 7-barrel to a 50-barrel system, which was scheduled to go into production in July. So how, exactly, has a modest onion shed on the edge of town become a major beer factory at such an accelerated pace? Turns out, it simply takes Coleman’s knowledge of cultivation that he’s applied to his farms for decades as well as the creativity and brewing experience of Logan Mayfield.
“Logan’s got a way with flavors that I don’t understand. I think it’s an intuitive thing. I’m not that guy. But he seems to make stuff that people don’t absolutely despise,” Coleman laughed.
And Mayfield certainly has to be mindful of the fact that he’s making beer for a variety of consumers based on region — a factor many Willamette Valley brewers don’t have to worry about. While Oregonians on the western side of the state might embrace hop bombs or funky sours, those types of beers aren’t necessarily what locals would immediately order when sitting at a table made of a repurposed wooden spool in the Ordnance taproom just feet away from where Mayfield works.
“We’re definitely a little behind compared to the Eugene-Portland area. But at the same time, not as behind as I expected when I got here,” Mayfield explained. “There’s probably the majority of people here are used to drinking Coors Light, Keystone Light, Bud. When I got here, I started making beers that would appeal to them.”
And that strategy has made his kolsch and honey golden ale best sellers in Boardman. The styles are so popular, he admits they’re hard to keep on tap. Easing reluctant drinkers into craft with lighter beers has proven effective. Customers take delight in sharing with Mayfield that the FMJ IPA is the first IPA they’ve ever tried and then finished. The head brewer believes it’s because he leans toward English styles, so his IPAs aren’t the IBU boundary-pushers that have dominated the taps in recent years.
Perhaps the person you’d least expect to be knocking back domestic, light lagers — the Saltine of beers — would be Ordnance’s co-founder. But even after Coleman helped open the Hermiston taphouse Neighbor Dudes in 2013, he said he and his friend/business partner Mark McLeod would order Keystone Light and Coors Light even though an array of other beers sat just a tap handle away. He’s not sure how his tastes eventually shifted, but figured “it was just time for something new.”
Change is certainly part of Coleman’s professional life. While a farmer by trade, he’s started a variety of different businesses, including the small chain of Neighbor Dudes taphouses. The conversation about opening the first shop began when the two actual neighbors, Coleman and McLeod, “had just enough beer to think this is a good idea,” which is a phrase that ended up on one of the business’s T-shirts. After starting the Hermiston Neighbor Dudes in the building with the cheapest rent they could find, the party expanded to Silverton and Wilsonville. And while Coleman never set out with the goal of founding a brewery, it eventually seemed like a natural next step.
“And it’s one of those things where we figured, ‘Well, heck. If we can sell beer, why don’t we just make beer?’ And it just kind of went from there. You know, you try something new and we just kind of followed the path of least resistance and ended up with a brewery,” Coleman said. After seeing what they could do with a 7-barrel system he “decided, ‘Heck, if we can do a little bit, let’s do a whole bunch.’ And that’s kind of right now, we’re in the ramp-up stage of that.”
Ordnance also got off the ground thanks to a unique partnership with the Port of Morrow. Coleman knew general manager Gary Neal through his agriculture operations and when the brewery planning was underway, the Port offered assistance. A partnership formed and that’s where some of the brewery’s financing came from. Coleman said the Port continues to support Ordnance by encouraging visitors to stop by.
Once Coleman decided he wanted to make beer, he needed to find someone who could actually do that, so he turned to an online forum that’s sort of a digital classifieds space for brewers. Perhaps it was lucky for Mayfield that Coleman found the process of sifting through applicants rather dull because he decided to stop his search primarily out of fatigue once he got to the brewer who was located in Denver at the time.
“I got resumes and I phone interviewed probably four of ‘em and kinda got really bored with that,” Coleman described. “Logan just might’ve been the last guy on the list. I said, ‘Hey dude, come on out. If you’re not an absolute POS, you got a job.”
Mayfield sputtered into town in a beat-up Toyota on four different tires, as Coleman remembers it, along with a little U-Haul in tow. “And I don’t know how in the hell it got from Denver to here, but he made it. I figured, well I think he’s stuck here now because I don’t know if that thing would make it back,” said Coleman.
The move for Mayfield meant two things: he’s closer to family in his hometown of Ashland (“but far enough that I don’t have to go home for every holiday,” he laughed) and this is the most creative freedom he’s ever had in a brew house.
“You know, it’s actually kind of funny,” Mayfield said “because before I came here, I mean, I’d only brewed two of my own batches on other systems ever.”
“I’m not sure if you told me that or not…” Coleman responded.
“I don’t think I did!” Mayfield laughed.
Despite that little omission on the resume, experience at a number of Colorado breweries like Great Divide Brewing Company and Bull & Bush, which Mayfield said had the greatest influence on him because of its focus on English styles, prepared him for the role of head brewer at the new operation in Boardman. He found the experience a bit lonely at first since he was making beer solo in a cavernous building that wasn’t yet ready for customers. “But once we opened our doors I started to meet people and the community was pretty accepting,” Mayfield said. And you can see it in the taproom when he emerges from his shop in the back — customers are eager to shake his hand and praise his work. The brewery has also given the community a place to gather, celebrate and build an identity that isn’t just defined by the poplar farm, the Port or the bigger city next door.
As Mayfield prepared to transition to the 50-barrel system that came from Rogue in Newport, he was looking forward to improving his efficiencies as well as producing more beer. In early July, Ordnance was on track to surpass 630 barrels, which was the total amount that came out of the brewery last year. Mayfield wouldn’t be surprised if they brew 2,000 barrels in 2016 — possibly even more. Meanwhile, there are still plans for the 7-barrel equipment. Mayfield will use it to make sours and other specialty brews that will begin to fill a barrel-aging room that’s the size of an industrial kitchen. He’s working on his own version of a Flemish brown by brewing a batch every three months. The aged concoctions will then be blended together and released once or twice a year, if successful. Mayfield also acquired freshly dumped cabernet sauvignon barrels, which are currently filled with an imperial blonde ale infused with lemongrass. These collaborations will debut in bottles that are co-branded with the wineries.
While Ordnance has given its building in the Port of Morrow a new purpose, history is not scrubbed away. The walls inside actually serve as a historical record of the area. Colorfully labeled onion bags line a beam in the back, a reminder of the industry that used to occupy the space. In the taproom hang photos of the city of Ordnance that inspired the brewery’s name. One picture is simply of a patch of dirt covered with empty beer bottles. It’s a shot of the aftermath of workers at the Umatilla Army Depot celebrating a work milestone. A taproom server explained that the men were told they could have the drinks for free if they completed 100 storage mounds in one day. Turns out, the promise of beer was a powerful motivator.
I was lucky to get a tour of where these men would’ve lived during World War II by Ordnance’s only dignitary and mayor, Coleman. He knows where the old mercantile used to be and pointed out the building that was the schoolhouse. We walked through the gymnasium that also doubled as a movie theater, the doors long gone and windows broken out, and Coleman described how he once found an ancient reel of “The Wizard of Oz” there. Streets that used to be named after explosives and artillery are lined with slumping, skinny houses — many just foundations at this point — but one survived and actually has a renter. Deer, owls and too many pigeons to count have taken up residence in what’s left of the other structures. Coleman explained that after the war, Ordnance emptied out as people moved to other cities. Eventually, two brothers bought the whole place and turned it into a pig farm around 1960, removing some of the buildings’ walls to allow the animals to move around more freely. And those living near Ordnance were highly aware of the town’s new purpose. “If I say ‘hog farm,’ everybody knows what that was because it was not the most pleasant thing to drive by,” Coleman said.
Ordnance was largely abandoned again when the closest livestock slaughtering facility moved to a state that was inefficient and costly to ship to. About a decade after the brothers stopped raising pigs, Coleman made his dream of owning a water tower come true and bought the property for $1. Sometimes he’ll get visitors— people who grew up there looking for any sign of their past, searching for whatever might be left. That might not be much these days, but just down the road there is a brewery that’s keeping the ghost town’s history alive while reinvigorating another city you might not otherwise have bothered to visit.
[a] 405 N. Olson Road, Boardman
A discussion on brewery distribution took place during Portland Beer Week in June. Panelists included (from left to right) Derek Hass from Columbia Distributing, Eric Banzer-Lausberg from Migration Brewing, Marty Ochs from E3 Craft Strategies and Bob Repp from General Distributors. Photo by Patty Mamula
By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Any brewer who’s considering distribution needs a solid plan, said Derek Hass, director of craft and import at Columbia Distributing. Hass was one of four panelists at the “Distribution: The Struggle is Real!” workshop, held at The Labrewatory in Portland during Portland Beer Week in June.
More than 40 people crowded into the brewery testing lab and bar to get the inside story on distribution. About half the brewers there were self-distributing, while others had a distributor or didn’t distribute at all. Several were in the planning stage of a brewery and four of them were anywhere from a few months to a year away from opening.
Panel moderator Marty Ochs was the vice president of sales at Ninkasi Brewing Company and now heads up E3 Craft Strategies to help startups with marketing and distribution.
Ochs works with 10-15 breweries a year. “Not one has an operating budget,” he said. “You can’t go to market if you don’t know what you’re going to spend when you go to market.” He emphasized that brewers should conduct a thorough market survey when considering entry into a new market. “Spend weeks, months figuring where you want to sell, what the competitions looks like, determining a budget.”
Bob Repp, vice president of craft/specialty beverage for General Distributors, also stressed the importance of planning. “What’s your budget? Capacity? How will you differentiate your brand? When looking at opening a new market, vet the distributor there. Go out and talk to buyers at bars and retailers,” he said.
Eric Banzer-Lausberg, co-owner of Migration Brewing, represented the small, independent brewer and self-distributor. “We opened in 2010 without a budget when the economy was shit. We did all the buildout ourselves. We knew we could succeed and our beer got better and better. After a year or so, we started to distribute kegs in an old 1983 Mercedes with a door that didn’t work. It was an exciting time because it was our own beer and our own investment in distribution,” he said.
Ochs asked Hass and Repp, “How do you walk new breweries through the process, step by step?”
They said there was no formula, no handbook.
Hass said, “Every brewery we talk to is a different situation. You might have good beer, but shitty packaging or vice versa. We help you navigate the waters of the beer business.”
Repp said, “Know what your distribution and volume goals are. Do you want to be mainstream or entry level? What does success look like for you?”
Migration’s Banzer-Lausberg said, “Know who you are and where you want to go. Everyone was chasing IPA when we started. We decided to make pale ale our niche. That was our starting point. We focused internally and worked on the pub first and self-distribution second.”
Ochs said there’s a perception you’ll make tons of money self-distributing. There are, of course, advantages but also some disadvantages. Pros to self-distributing are close control of product and message, said Repp. “You can control all aspects, including when and where you will grow. And you retain your margins.” Cons are trucks, storage, cash, accounts receivable, liability, kegs and the labor to move them around. “When you’re brewing and distributing, you’re running two breweries. Still, if your goal is hyper-local, go for it,” he said.
Hass agreed and said that the mechanics, the delivery and the labor all cost money. With distribution you lose some — around 30 percent — but that’s the cost of doing business.
The watchword for the group was planning.
Ochs said, “Come to a distributor with a plan, a vision. Be honest about it. What support tools do you have? Ask what you might be missing? Tell me what you’re looking for in a brand.”
Repp said, “Know what your pricing will be. Know how much your beer costs to make. Take that pricing and build a calendar of brands with several seasonals and one-offs. Communicate to the distributor what the release calendar looks like. What incentives will you use to get the sales reps to sell your beer?”
“Know your business. We won’t be experts on your business,” said Columbia’s Hass.
Migration’s co-owner told participants the beer has to be good when building your brand. “Do not send out mediocre beer. Make sure you have ingredients. Hops. Everyone wants Northwest hops. You have to secure them now. We have ours contracted for five years. Yes, it’s scary to think this is what we’re going to make for the next five years. Cooler space is crucial. If we have a bad week of sales and don’t have cooler space, we’re in trouble. If we brew and keg it, we have to sell it.”
Sales and distribution is connected to everything, said Ochs. “Know what success is to you. Oakshire Brewing was going down a rabbit hole for eight years. Then they realized they didn’t want to be Ninkasi. Get to the level that’s right for you. Volume is not the metric. It’s about the gross profits that you bring in on the beer.”
The final tip, and maybe the best in keeping with the adage of saving the best for last, was to invest in your brand. Hass said, “Invest like you want your distributor to invest in you. Put some feet on the street.”
Ochs elaborated on this idea. “The brewery’s job is to create customers at two levels, the end consumer and the retailers.” He advised hiring someone to make marketing calls.
Hass described this as a partnership. “We need you, the brewer, to educate — to tell the story. That way you can tell the distributor that the bars want your beer. The customers want it.”
As the craft beer field becomes saturated with more and more choices, it’s increasingly important to find ways to stand out in a crowded field. Working with your distributor to market your beer will help you both sell more beer.
Q: As a brewer in Portland, why would I make another double IPA?
Migration: Because they sell. IPAs sell 4 to 1. That’s why we do it.
Columbia: Do we want more IPAs? Not necessarily. We don’t want to sell an IPA-only brewery. We can’t predict the future and it’s tricky to know. Not a lot of breweries have a flagship beer that’s an imperial expensive IPA.
General: Find your niche. Everybody comes to us with IPAs. We’re a small distributor. We work with 50 breweries now. Bar owners now are looking for sessionable beers.
Moderator: Don’t follow the market. If you’re following the market, you’re too late.
Q: Can you do some self-distribution if you have a distributor?
Moderator: Yes. Your agreement with a distributor might define an area that you want to self distribute and the area you want them to distribute. Ninkasi self-distributes in Eugene. You can have distribution by county.
By Pete Dunlop
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Chris Ormand got an offer he couldn’t refuse. And it didn’t come in the form of a severed horse head.
After more than a decade of formative fun at Belmont Station, Ormand is moving to General Distributors, where he will be craft brand manager. He’s been the purchasing manager at the Station, responsible for what makes it into the coolers and onto the floor, for many years.
“I’m moving on for a combination of reasons, definitely not just for money,” Ormand said. “I wasn’t unhappy. There have been many offers over the years. This was the first that was strictly craft-oriented. I’m delighted that I’ll be focused on what I know best, which is craft beer. Plus, I’ll be working alongside [VP of Craft/Specialty Beverage] Bob Repp, someone I’ve known and respected for years. ”
General is hoping to tap into Chris’s experience in inventory control and sales trends at the retail level. He’ll help them smooth the gap between distributor and retailers. His collection of industry contacts may also come in handy.
“Chris understands ordering and forecasting,” said Tiny Irwin, general manager at General Distributors. “He’ll help us manage inventory more efficiently and ensure that the freshest product reaches shelves. I also think his relationships will help drive sales for current partners and attract new ones to our portfolio.”
Ormand’s time at Belmont Station dates to 2005, when it was just slightly more than an afterthought next to Horse Brass Pub. They sold novelties, specialty food and off-beat videos, most of it imported from the U.K. There was beer, as well. The Station stocked some 400 beers in those days.
“We displayed a bottle of each beer with a price tag,” Ormand recalls. “All the actual beer was stored in giant walk-ins. Customers would make a list of what they wanted and we would gather it for them. It was horribly inefficient. But you couldn't ask for better product storage conditions.”
Serendipity landed Ormand at Belmont Station. He had moved to Portland from the Midwest in June 2004 and was living in an apartment near the business. Shortly after losing his coffee shop job at the end of the year, he ventured across the street to grab some bottles to celebrate his unemployment.
“Alex Ganum (who went on to found Upright Brewing) was working behind the counter. I mentioned that I was unexpectedly out of work. It turned out he had just accepted a brewing position at BJ's and was giving notice. He told owner Joy Campbell she should hire me. That led to several hours of chatting with Don Younger, who was a partner in the business, over pints. I agreed to start the next day, Jan. 5, 2005.”
He spent his first six months working in the bottle shop. When the buyer left to pursue another opportunity, there was little interest in the position. So it fell into Chris’s lap. Serendipity had struck again.
There have been a lot of changes over the years and Ormand has seen them all.
“Probably the biggest change was the relocation,” he says. “We were a small store with 400 beers and a bunch of novelties. In early 2007, we moved to the current space on Stark Street and became a true bottleshop, with more than 1,300 bottles and an attached beer bar. That was enormous.”
The best part of that story is that Belmont Station’s growth occurred slowly and organically, allowing them to build a customer base and beer selection while maintaining high standards of freshness and quality.
“I see new places opening nowadays with 1,000 beers right off the bat,” Ormand says. “I just shake my head because I know half of those beers will be stale before they sell. Our inventory here was built over time, which allowed us to mostly avoid that issue.”
Things have obviously changed a lot in recent years, during which the local brewery count and number of available beers has exploded.
“Demand for most imports has plummeted in recent years,” Ormand says. “That’s probably because we have local breweries producing great beers that are fresher and less expensive than their imported counterparts. Most people like local.”
The big exception to the import decline is sour and wild beers, which have gotten increasingly popular in recent years. Beers that were once “shelf turds” are now all the rage.
“I loved sour beers when I arrived at the Station,” says Ormand, “But we could hardly give the stuff away for years. We’d get Cantillon or Fantome and cases would sit for months. That flipped around 2011. All of a sudden, everyone was looking for those beers and cases would fly out to door.”
Portland being what it is, another big change is that consumers have gotten more sophisticated.
“Especially as it relates to freshness,” Ormand says. “I see more people checking bottled-on dates than I used to a couple of years ago. People have figured out that freshness matters. They won’t buy old beer, unless it’s something that’s going to be cellared.”
Belmont Station will carry on. With Ormand’s help, it has established itself as a world-class bottleshop and beer bar. Replacing him won’t be easy.
“There’s no way to fill Chris' shoes,” said Lisa Morrison, majority owner. “We aren’t just losing our purchasing manager. We’re losing our institutional memory, our historian, graphic designer, web designer and IT guy. He also has one of the best palates I've known. Fortunately, we have a great staff and we’ll get through this. But we’ll never be quite the same.”
Ormand looks forward to the excitement and challenges of his new role. He’ll be working with fewer products in higher volumes, shaping Portland’s craft beer landscape.
“Being able to choose what goes on the floor at Belmont Station has been awesome,” he says. “Being able to choose what potentially ends up in stores and on tap around the city is a step up. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.