By Andi Prewitt
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
It only took three sentences at the bottom of a press release to set off a frenzy of theories on Facebook.
When Thirsty Monk announced in late October that it would be purchasing a “well-known Portland beer bar,” seemingly every blogger, author and industry insider in town leapt to their social media accounts to pile onto the mound of ideas in this guessing game. Could it be Horse Brass? No way would a brewery fit in that basement. The ill-fated Tugboat? Maybe, but rehabilitating the fire-damaged building made it a longshot. Produce Row? APEX? Blitz Ladd? The debate eventually fizzled after a few weeks came and went without a leak, an official announcement or a correct answer.
“I was reading what everybody was speculating and it’s amazing how everybody always assumes that it’s the bar that’s not doing well, you know?” said Hilda Stevens, owner of Bazi Bierbrasserie, the well-known Portland beer bar in question that no one suspected was up for sale. “Where people should really think about, like, maybe there’s a bar that is doing really well but they have a business plan and they have some priorities.”
What few people knew was that Stevens’ priorities had shifted with time and that she actually never intended to remain at the helm of the business that’s become a Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard headquarters for Belgian-style ales and soccer-viewing parties.
“When I opened this place, I knew it wasn’t something that I was going to do the rest of my life,” Stevens explained, which might sound like a friend just broke it to you that they weren’t really in it for the long haul. It’s all too easy to get attached to our favorite bars, and Stevens admits she’s become synonymous with Bazi, another factor that likely contributed to the surprise surrounding the announcement Thirsty Monk would take over in mid-December.
“I didn’t realize that I had become as much of a brand of this place,” Stevens described. “It’s like, I’ll go to place and people might not remember my name, but they remember Bazi. They associate me with the brand.”
That’s due to six years of cultivating relationships across the bar and around the neighborhood through her involvement with the Hawthorne Boulevard Business Association. Bazi has become her home, its kitchen filled with kegs and living room overflowing with rowdy soccer fans watching a match on any given day, and her home is conveniently located just blocks from Bazi. The bar was a result of Stevens’ conservative planning, but even the most thorough proposal can sometimes benefit from a boost due to fortuitous circumstances. Those happened to take the form of a layoff from Stevens’ well-paying job in the tech industry, the arrival of Major League Soccer in Portland and the space Bazi opened in suddenly becoming available. Stevens also points out that the business ended up filling a need few realized existed at that point in the city’s beverage scene.
“I love the fact that we were the first Belgian beer bar to come into Portland in a time where people were like, ‘What is she thinking? A Belgian beer bar isn’t going to make it in hop-centric Portland,’” Stevens said. “It was all about catering to the right community and knowing our audience — knowing there’s a lot of people in this town who have traveled all over Europe and really appreciate Belgian beers.”
Stevens had a target: Bazi’s fifth anniversary. If she could build a clientele and become successful by that milestone, it would then be time to challenge herself once again by either expanding or selling. And when that five-year mark arrived, Stevens wasn’t ready to let go. The search for a second location was underway until, much like the founding of Bazi, unexpected factors intervened. Last March, the neighboring bicycle shop that shared storage space with the bar, which was primarily occupied by hundreds of empty boxes that once contained the two-wheeled rides, vacated the premises. Even before the clutter of cardboard was cleared, however, Stevens had envisioned the perfect purpose for that site.
“Nobody knows that there’s all that space unless you have worked here. And people who have worked here know that,” Stevens said. “And they know that I’ve always joked around and said if the bike shop ever moves out, a brewery needs to open up here.”
But the decision to look for someone else to acquire the business was solidified when Stevens realized it was simply time to go home. On Bazi’s fifth anniversary, her parents’ residence in Houston flooded, which would happen again when Hurricane Harvey pounded southern Texas with record-breaking rain, and Stevens couldn’t help. The distance during their crisis still pulls tears from her eyes; the ease with which she’d talked about Bazi suddenly halts as her voice grows unsteady and laden with sadness.
“And it was really hard, you know, not being able to be there. And … that’s, that’s the part — that’s the part that’s really hard to talk about,” Stevens said. “I can talk about the business side, no problem. But my family, it hurts. And watching how much they slow down, and you’re always missing out.”
The decision was easy at that point. It was time to pull out of the expansion plan and find Bazi a good owner so that Stevens could move back to Houston after nearly two decades in Portland. She put the business up for sale in July and quickly drew the interest of multiple companies. That included Thirsty Monk, an Asheville, N.C.-based brewery that uses Belgian yeast in all of its beers — from the more traditional tripels and wits to the somewhat unconventional combination of Northeast IPAs or chocolate stouts. CEO Barry Bialik said he put Bazi under contract nearly as soon as he heard it was available and without even seeing it, flying out a few weeks later to meet with Stevens and take a tour. That personal touch was impressive and helped her feel confident about entrusting what she’d built to Thirsty Monk.
“Definitely the fact that it was the CEO was the one out there looking for the location — that in itself says a lot about an organization,” Stevens added.
Bialik also wanted to be involved in making the announcement to the team at Bazi and remained tight lipped about the deal with media until they knew.
“We’re so sensitive to that and how we talk about news and how we share it to make sure we deliver it right,” he said. “There was no other way to even think about it. Of course I wanted to be there to share with the employees. I want everyone to feel comfortable that, yeah, their jobs are safe. They’re going to be part of the transition and we’re all going to help this grow together.”
The CEO had been scouting out possible sites in Portland earlier this summer, but found the perfect match for the company’s ethos in Bazi. The way he describes it, the two could’ve been set up on a beer bar dating app and there wouldn’t have been a more complementary partner out there.
“What was so great about walking into Bazi for the first time is it felt just like walking into a Thirsty Monk,” Bialik recounted. “It had the same kind of energy, it had the same kind of community, it had the same kind of family-pub feel. And they’re on the same top 100 beer bar lists we are. They specialize in Belgian beer just like we do. It just felt like such a natural fit.”
There won’t be many immediate changes—the Bazi name will stay in place until Thirsty Monk’s Denver brewery can supply the Portland spot with its beer. Even then, they’ll stay true to Stevens’ model of offering a wide variety of Belgian-style offerings, with about half of the taps reserved for a rotation of other producers. Bialik’s brother Opus is in the process of moving his family from Seattle to Portland to serve as the new general manager. And as for that storage space housing a brewery, it’s still too early to tell. Architects need to survey the room to determine if a small system could be installed. If not, Bialik said he will either purchase an existing brewery elsewhere in the city or contract brew with another business. Either way, Thirsty Monk will eventually make beer in Portland. Until that happens, Bialik is focused on the ownership change and grateful for Stevens’ assistance.
“I’m so happy that Hilda is going to have the time to stay around and help as long as she’s available to help Opus with the transition and to learn about the community she’s created there and how we can honor and continue that.”
It’s a legacy she hopes will be remembered each time a crowd gathers there to drink Belgian beer as a soccer match plays on the business’s big screen.
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 Don Scheidt
For the Oregon Beer Growler
“The difference between America and England is that Americans think 100 years is a long time, while the English think 100 miles is a long way.” - Earle Hitchner
Go back 40 years from the current day. What does 40 years ago mean in American terms? Jimmy Carter would win a presidential election over Gerald Ford in post-Watergate America. The year marked America’s Bicentennial — 200 years since the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. In a small way, 1976 also began to usher in some changes to American-made food and drink, industries that were dominated by large corporations at the time. Choice was the exception, not the rule; it was a big deal to have more than four or five beers on tap — an even bigger deal if there were imported beers among them.
It was against this backdrop that Don and Bill Younger became owners of the Horse Brass Pub in Southeast Portland. The takeover date of Nov. 1, 1976 comes with a nearly apocryphal story of a bill of sale, written on a cocktail napkin, found on Don's desk (or was it on top of his dresser?) after an evening of drinking. He broke the news to his brother after taking him into the business explaining he wanted to buy him a sign from the Scottish brewery with the same last name displayed on the wall, but wound up purchasing the whole establishment — a pub where you could choose from a half-dozen beers on tap.
Initially, selection was what was offered from the distributors: taste-alike American lagers, a few imports of dubious freshness, maybe some Anchor Steam from San Francisco. But when Cartwright Brewing Company opened in Portland in 1979, there was support from Horse Brass — an early sign that Don and company would be taking an interest in the burgeoning small-brewery scene, despite his fondness for Blitz.
While Cartwright folded, others came online, slowly but surely: Widmer Brothers Brewing and BridgePort Brewing Company in 1984, Portland Brewing Company in 1986, as well as Rogue Ales and Deschutes Brewery in 1988. During this time, Don was a champion of these businesses and Horse Brass become a primary sales point and supportive meeting place for new brewing entrepreneurs, whether they set up shop in Portland or were located out of town.
There was this microbrewery thing emerging — small-scale commercial producers with flavorful beers similar to imports on tap. For Horse Brass, the choice was obvious: support these guys and their beers. Add taps. Introduce people to local beverages. Give the owners of these specialty breweries business advice, even a little cash if needed. For instance, when Rogue first sent kegs out to the general trade, Horse Brass was first in line. A relationship between the pub and brewery formed quickly and naturally, one that was cemented in 1989 when Rogue made a special bitter for Horse Brass as its house beer.
A time of celebration coincided with tragedy, when Bill had an untimely death. Don asked that the beer from Rogue be named as a memorial to his departed brother. And so it became Younger's Special Bitter — “YSB” to many, cask-conditioned “Billy” to the regulars. By this time, Don was thoroughly in the microbrewery camp, and the tap selection was in a state of near-constant expansion.
As Horse Brass emerged as one of Portland’s premier beer bars, it gained repute far beyond the city’s boundaries. But the business had its troubled times too. There were economic downturns when people had less money to spend on extras like beer. Though Don and crew kept at it, having transformed the ordinary tavern into an English-style pub, complete with a beer engine for dispensing cask-conditioned ales and fish and chips that some consider the best in town.
The big test came at the end of 2008 when changes in local laws meant that Horse Brass — long a haven for tobacco smokers — would be smoky no more. Don, a front-of-house fixture often perched at the end of the bar with a beer and a cigarette, didn’t conceal his anger about the change. Many say his mood shifted after that as he was no longer allowed to smoke with others in a place he considered an extension of his home. But the pub prospered anyway, something even Don grudgingly admitted.
Later in 2010, the end approached. Failing health and injuries from an accident led to Don’s passing on Jan. 31, 2011. Longtime business manager Joellen Piluso has taken up the mantle of ownership, carrying on the pub’s traditions. The 40th anniversary celebration, held during the first week of November 2016, was a time of special beers — not just from local brewers, but from those across the country. There are numerous beers served at Horse Brass that weren’t even around during Don’s heyday, but that’s the spirit of the place. New brewers are always welcome if the beer is good.
In a young culture like Portland’s, 40 years may as well seem like 100 and plenty of people will happily come from 40 miles away to meet friends at Horse Brass. It’s the kind of place with a life of its own and is still instrumental in fostering the beer culture in the Pacific Northwest. There are people alive today who may yet help Horse Brass celebrate its 50th anniversary, or even its 100th, as should be the case with one of Portland's most enduring beer institutions.
Horse Brass Pub
4534 SE Belmont St., Portland
By Peter Korchnak
For the Oregon Beer Growler
An unusual pub crawl in Southeast Portland on Oct. 10 proved that the ninth time can be a charm, too. After a series of eight walks that invited “brewers to go on nature hikes and make new beer inspired by edible and medicinal plants on the trail,” eager consumers burned a little more shoe leather as they made the trek from pub to pub during the Beers Made By Walking tapping. Oregon Beer Growler covered the original hikes in the August 2015 issue with the article “A Beer Walk in the Woods” and wanted to follow up on the process.
The Portland tapping featured 15 beers and one cider made by 11 commercial breweries, a homebrew club, and a cidery. All four participating pubs were within walking distance of each other. BMBW founder Eric Steen says that the beers “create a drinkable landscape portrait of Forest Park.” The bar hop, which transformed beers made by walking into beers consumed by walking, allowed people to literally drink in what Portland’s landscape has to offer.
While many people joined the informal walking tour, which started at Belmont Station at noon, members of the High Street Homebrew Club gathered at the last stop, Bazi Bierbrasserie, where their brew, Spruce Lee IPA packed a bright punch. Club member Bizzy Gross said the brew took some extra effort. “Spruce tips are out of season and distilleries buy them up to use in whiskey. But we finally found a supplier in Canada that sold us a pound for $50.” The inaugural tasting of the collaboration, made at Portland U-Brew, created a festive atmosphere. Club member Jax Zajdel spoke for many by saying, “It tastes like Christmas.”
The rest of the lineup at Bazi featured Belgian-style beers: Base Camp’s barrel-aged saison made with wild yeast harvested from an old-growth ancient forest preserve; The Commons’ saison featuring redwood and cedar bows and pine-smoked tea; Hopworks’ Belgian pale with licorice fern, wild ginger and maple syrup; and 10 Barrel’s sweet cherry beer with Belgian yeast.
The owners of Likewise, artists Adam Moser and Nancy Prior, also hosted one of the tappings thanks to a personal connection to Steen, who was Moser’s classmate at Portland State University. They also share a philosophy regarding support for fellow artists and a love of beer. “Art formalizes conversations in many different ways,” Moser said. “And beer is all about conversation.”
The lineup at Likewise included an IPA with cedar by Ecliptic, a strong ale with tips from four different trees by Hopworks and a German pilsner with wild red huckleberries by Widmer Brothers. Michael and Meredith Westafer, visiting Portland from Chapel Hill, N.C., said the event encapsulates what they think of the city. “The event brings two Portland institutions — beer and Forest Park — into public life,” said Meredith over a pint of Hopworks’ ale with vanilla leaf.
The Horse Brass Pub offered a grape root gruit by Burnside and Coalition, a saison with Hawthorn berries and lemon balm tea by Humble. While finishing an ESB by Hopworks, Carl Singmaster said he not only appreciated the fresh take on brewing that BMBW offers, but also the fact the event outgrew Belmont Station, which he co-owns and where the tapping exclusively took place from 2012 to 2014. “Local beer doesn’t get any better than this,” he said. Belmont Station’s offering included a red ale with cedar tips by Hopworks, a strawberry gose by Laurelwood, and a Reverend Nat’s cider with Hawthorn berries, dandelion and burdock root as well as a bagged garnish of Western red cedar wood chips.
Proceeds from the event benefited Forest Park Conservancy. Cody Chambers, who serves as the organization’s trails and restoration coordinator, led several of the walks. The program has not only brought people into the park; Chambers said, “it’s intriguing to see the brewers’ creativity bring the beers from inception to consumption.”
Because foraging in Forest Park is not permitted, brewers had to find ingredients they identified on their walks elsewhere. Brewers at Hopworks, where Steen works a day job as a communications coordinator, foraged for ingredients on trails along the Sandy River. The challenge for him this year, as the organizer of the tapping event, was identifying the right tapping locations. “Walking from bar to bar was a satisfying fulfilment of all those negotiations.”
This year, BMBW events were held in eight cities across five states. The Eugene tapping takes place Nov. 5 at The Bier Stein, with eight beers and ciders inspired by three walks in the area. Learn more at www.beersmadebywalking.com.
By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Lisa Morrison, aka “The Beer Goddess,” loves a challenge, especially when it comes to beer. She jumps heart first into all her ventures and success follows this passionate trailblazer.
Her newest challenge is Belmont Station, the premier bottle shop in Portland with more than 1,300 varieties of beer and 23 different taps, including cider, in the Biercafé. Two years ago Morrison became a co-owner of Belmont Station, a 51 percent owner to be exact, with Carl Singmaster.
Morrison said she often jokingly asked her friend Carl if he wanted to sell. One day he said yes.
“It was around the time that my husband Mark and I were talking about ideas for retirement. We threw out the idea of owning a bottle shop, and then it happened,” said Morrison.
It was, and still is, a whole new experience, learning about the retail and bar side of beer. She manages daily operations, orders beer, receives beer, supervises 14 staff members and keeps her eye on the entire shop, including the inviting outside patio area and adjacent Italian food cart.
“Keeping all the balls in the air is the hardest part of the job,” she said, “but I like wearing a lot of different hats.”
Morrison traces her interest in beer to a college friend at Colorado State who introduced her to flavorful German beers and her husband Mark Campbell who introduced her to homebrewing.
Fast forward through a successful journalism career in television and radio to a burnout time in Portland where she was doing freelance video work and considering her next move. She envied well-known beer writer Fred Eckhardt, taking notes and tasting brews at festivals.
Citysearch was just starting up in Portland and Morrison wrote a few restaurant reviews for them, often mentioning the beer lists. Her editor then asked her to write a beer column.
She only wrote one before she was approached by her former employer KOIN-TV to develop the broadcaster’s first website. If she accepted, the beer column was dead. So she took the job on condition that she could write a beer column. That’s how “First Draft” started.
It was one of the first beer columns online and definitely the first written by a woman. More important, it was Morrison’s beginning as a professional beer author. “I was learning about beer as I went along. At first, I didn’t know what I was doing,” she explained.
Although the broadcast website was groundbreaking, exciting work with only three stations across the country in Portland, Los Angeles and Minneapolis developing guidelines at the time for significant ethical issues, Morrison’s future was in the craft beer world. Her column eventually caught the attention of national beer publications. By 2008 she had so many assignments she was writing full time.
Writing led to her first radio gig as a co-host on a show called “The Libation Station.” It didn’t last. “But Don Younger, of the Horse Brass, thought Portland, of all places, should have a beer radio show. So, he pitched it to KXL that I would buy the airtime and sell advertising to breweries, bars and other places to pay myself back.” “Beer O’Clock” launched and Morrison entertained and educated listeners with interviews and conversation for more than six years. During that time she was also working on “Craft Beers of the Pacific Northwest,” which was released March 30, 2011. She wanted to create a book that would be a companion for beer lovers when traveling, touring or living in the Pacific Northwest.
“I didn’t want to write a guide book that listed every brewery with a short blurb because it would be outdated as soon as it was in print. Instead, I made it a collection with stories from each location and I visited all of the ones in the book. What you will find in the pages are places to source good beer and a good vibe with friendly, helpful passionate people in all corners of Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. And you get some insider knowledge about each spot,” said Morrison.
Another opportunity came her way when Fred Bowman from Portland Brewing mentioned there wasn’t any marketing or advertising to women about beer. She quickly decided to change that and began presenting classes to women about beer. The first sessions were held once a month at Portland Brewing with a small group that tasted and tested different styles of beer. She gave them cheat sheets to take home and later gave them key words to use when selecting beers.
Morrison would intentionally challenge preconceived ideas about taste and serve a dark, chocolaty stout beer first. Her ground rule was that all participants had to taste everything and often women who thought they didn’t like dark beers would change their minds. “It was fun to be able to open people’s eyes,” said Morrison. She has offered classes at breweries, at a beer festival in Quebec, at a Women Chefs and Restaurateurs Convention in Seattle, using all different brands of beers.
“The beer community is so cooperative, so unique and friendly,” said Morrison. In appreciation for the support and generosity, Morrison, in turn, has founded several fundraisers for the beer community.
The day we met, Belmont Station was hosting a fundraiser that evening for a brewery in Belgium. Three generations of family farmers in 2008 opened a sustainable brewery using their own grain, hops, barley, water and yeast. Morrison had an opportunity to visit it last year. Unfortunately, it caught fire in January. At the fundraiser, they were serving the Belgium brewery’s beer.
Ten years ago Morrison started FredFest to honor the Dean of American Beer Writers, Fred Eckhardt, who began writing about beer in the 1960s. On his 80th birthday, Morrison and friends held a birthday celebration at Hair of the Dog Brewing with beer tasting, cake, candles and fun. His birthday is May 10, but the festival is held the Sunday before to avoid conflict with Mother’s Day. Every year Fred chooses the charity.
Morrison also organizes Sasquatch Brew Am, a golfing event at McMenamins Edgefield, held annually on the Friday of the Oregon Brewers Festival in July. The fundraiser is for the Glen Hay Falconer Foundation. Glen was a well-loved and highly-respected brewer in Eugene who died tragically in 2002 while working on a car. The money goes to Northwest brewers for education to improve their craft. “I love being able to do good through good beer,” said Morrison.
Right now, she loves the chance at Belmont Station to “talk beer” one-on-one. “Maybe it’s just chatting with a regular about the new beer on tap, turning a customer on to a new style or just helping an out-of-towner looking for great Oregon IPAs, but I get to really talk with people and see those ‘aha’ moments.”
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.