By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
It’s hard to believe, but true. There are still a few places in Oregon where craft beer is NOT king. Albany, sandwiched between Corvallis and Salem, is one of those places. Not exactly a craft beer desert (Calapooia Brewing and Deluxe Brewing Company are both located in Albany) — but close when compared to other cities that boast at least half-a-dozen breweries.
Enter Vagabond Brewing from Salem. When the opportunity arose to take over a former growler fill station next to Albany’s Heritage Mall, Vagabond jumped on it. Vagabond Brewing Outpost, a cozy sports pub, held its grand opening March 31. Located at 14th Avenue SE in Albany, it’s in a prime spot right off the city’s busiest street. “We have all the business on this end of town,” said Vagabond co-founder Dean Howes.
Vagabond Brewery, on Salem’s north side, celebrated its three year anniversary in February. The founders are James Cardwell, Alvin Klausen and Howes — three Marines who served multiple tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq and traveled all over the globe once they completed their service. “We developed a passion for beer and wanted to figure out something to do together,” said Howes.
They decided to capitalize on that passion and start a brewery named Vagabond. “We zeroed in on Salem. There wasn’t much happening here for beer,” said Howes. They wrote a business plan and scraped together enough capital to qualify for and secure a Small Business Administration loan. “We brewed with anyone who would give us the time of day — Gigantic, Breakside, McMenamins in Salem and several others. This industry is incredibly accommodating, “he said.
Their beers will be featured front and center at the Vagabond Brewing Outpost. Ten of the taps will be Vagabond’s and the other 20 pour guest beer and cider, with an emphasis on local products. Vagabond’s lineup is American, mostly Northwest styles. Their best-selling beer is a hop-heavy IPA called Attack Owl. It’s named for some local birds that began attacking people in a Salem park. The owl attacks made the national news and so did the beer. Howes said, “At one point, people were buying it as fast as we could make it.” Naturally, when Rachel Maddow mentioned it on her show, they sent her some samples.
Vagabond, which made 50 different beers last year, also plans on adding a 20-barrel lagering tank in order to make larger batches. Some of that increased capacity will surely be due to the traffic in Albany. The Outpost, which seats 60 inside and offers outdoor accommodations, features a new bar that was built by the three partners. In fact, the three did much of the construction work on the new location. Although the pub has a kitchen, the focus for the immediate future will be on beer.
Klausen and Howes plan to manage the Outpost and work the bar so they can get a handle on it and work out any kinks as they come up. During that time, they’ll launch the search for a manager.
Growth has been steady for this trio of Marines turned brewery owners. Last year, Vagabond opened the Victory Club in downtown Salem. Located between Commercial and Liberty Streets NE, it has a retro, speakeasy feel. The brewery itself is undergoing a 2,000-square-foot expansion. In the fall, a new 10-barrel brewhouse from JV Northwest will replace the current 3.5-barrel system. Vagabond produced 700 barrels last year, and with the new system capacity will increase to 2,500.
2195 14th Ave. SE #103, Albany
By Sam Wheeler
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The fellas behind Vagabond Brewing have done it again. Their Victory Club opened June 3 in downtown Salem as the premier venue to experience a taste of Salem’s thriving craft beer scene.
The approximately 2,500-square-foot taphouse inside the Salem Arts Building has an adjoining event lounge, features 39 tap handles showcasing the area’s beers, ciders and spirits, serves a quality traditional pub menu, and it fits about 150 people.
As if running a successful and expanding commercial brewery wasn’t enough work, Vagabond Brewing co-owners Dean Howes, Alvin Klausen and James Cardwell adopted another project when they took over the space at 155 Liberty St. NE about nine months ago.
“The opportunity was too good to pass up and we are ambitious by nature so we decided to go for it,” said Howes.
The entrance to Victory Club is in an alleyway between Liberty and Commercial Streets NE, with plenty of nearby street parking. Doors are open 5–10 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 5 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday.
Hardwood floors and a 13-seat bar made of reclaimed timber will greet you from the left coming through the door. Private dining booths line the right wall, each enclosed on three sides. A pair of TVs hang above the bar, with another pair directly above a 29-handle tap wall. A double-wide sliding door opens into the event lounge, which includes a small corner stage, short bar, two TVs, table seating along one wall and a pair of couches and coffee tables.
A pair of rugs also help tie the room together.
“The look and feel is a lot different than the (Vagabond) brewery and is focused on a warmer, more intimate setting,” Howes said. “We were definitely going for the speakeasy vibe.”
The taproom emphasizes Salem-area beers and ciders, but some taps will feature breweries and cideries from around the Pacific Northwest and occasionally across the country.
“We are also excited to be serving unique craft cocktails in collaboration with Salem's Archive Coffee & Bar,” Howes said. "We genuinely hope that Victory Club is seen as a gathering and focal point for our local craft scene. We love our city and our community and want to show as many people as possible what it has to offer.”
To help keep the taps flowing at Victory Club, Howes said Salem-based Vagabond has increased production to about 50-70 barrels per month since adding a 15-barrel tank in January to accompany a pair of 12-barrel tanks.
And things aren’t slowing down, he said.
“We are in the process of planning for a full brewhouse upgrade sometime in the first half of 2017.”
[a] 155 Liberty St. NE, Salem
By Andi Prewitt
If the founders of Salem’s Vagabond Brewing ever offer to buy you a one-way plane ticket to any place in the world, better take them up on it. You’d be the first to do so. The four marines-turned-brewery-operators used to issue this challenge to people who expressed awe about their ability to drop everything and travel. But their experience wasn’t out-of-reach. It just required abandoning any sort of comfort zone. In order to get others to step outside their secure lifestyle, the Vagabond owners would ask individuals whether they’d like the airfare. The catch: the flight would have to leave the following week. Perhaps not surprisingly, no one ever accepted the proposal.
Risk-taking isn’t for everybody, but it’s pretty much defined the lives of James Cardwell, Ryan Fineran, Dean Howes, and Alvin Klausen. Not only have they served 12 combined tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq; each also traveled extensively after getting out of the military. Now that the group has a brewery, they’re honoring fellow adventurers this month by holding celebrations for Veterans Day.
The brewery will be running specials for veterans on Friday, November 7th through Veterans Day on Tuesday, November 11th. There are also plans for Vagabond tap takeovers at two locations in north and south Salem. And that’s not the only occasion the brewery will mark this month. Most people are familiar with Veterans Day, but not all have heard of the Marine Corps Birthday, which takes place Monday, November 10th. Units are known to celebrate the event no matter where they may be stationed. Vagabond is featuring a catered dinner for local Marines to honor the Corps’ 239th birthday and including many of the long-established practices associated with the event. For example, the oldest Marine and youngest Marine present participate in a cake cutting ceremony. There will also be a reading of a message from the Commandant of the Marine Corps. And to add a bit of Vagabond flavor to the observance, the brewery is making a special Semper Fi IPA to pour that day. The brewery’s business manager Dean Howes says the birthday helps service members maintain a bond:
“It’s very rooted in tradition. A lot of Marines get out and you kind of lose that camaraderie and your connection to that sort of thing, so having an event on the birthday is important to a lot of the guys.”
Losing that daily interaction with other Marines can be a jarring, if not downright-traumatic, experience. Upon leaving the service, which is a life filled with built-in structure, purpose, and community, some individuals find themselves adrift. Howes and Vagabond’s marketing and distribution manager Alvin Klausen dealt with that shift after three back-to-back deployments.
“You basically go from a very regimented, regulated life and then it’s like, ‘All right, bye! Have a nice life!’ And literally the next morning no one’s telling you where to be. You don’t have any responsibility to anything,” explains Howes. “But you just have the weight of the world on your shoulders and you were in charge of people and their lives and making decisions that affect people forever. And you’re doing this thing that hopefully you felt was important and worthwhile and then suddenly now what do you do?”
Of course they did the most obvious, logical thing possible at the time: buy a van off of Craigslist and start driving south. Howes admits it may sound drastic or dire. However, the journey ended up being anything but that. Their travels took them through Central and South America, which provided some much-needed perspective after they spent their adult lives in the service. The friends saw there was much more out there to experience. And it was an opportunity to simply unwind. During this trip the two also developed the idea of starting a brewery.
Given the founders’ experiences, it’s easy to see how they came up with Vagabond’s motto: “Beer. Love. Adventure.” But starting the brewery proved to be quite a challenge. The group decided to use the crowdfunding resource Kickstarter to raise money even though their research showed them that the site’s failure rate for breweries was quite high. They set a target--$25,000 in about 30 days, kicking off one of the busiest months they’ve ever experienced. To the surprise of some users, you don’t just sit around and wait for free money to pour in. It takes a lot of public campaigning and stifling your shame. The group recalls they struggled with the uncertainty of it all.
“Keep pushing—like not knowing if it’s going to pay off. Because if it fails you fail real publicly. It’s like all or nothing the way Kickstarter is. So you either make it or you get nothing. And you basically fail in front of everybody,” says Howes. “And in order to try and make it work you literally present it to everybody that matters in your life and everyone that you care about.”
Vagabond ended up surpassing its goal by more than $3,000, which then helped secure traditional lenders. But more importantly it provided a much-needed boost of confidence by showing that others had faith in their project. The brewery eventually opened in February 2014 and much of what the friends learned in the service—discipline and always having the other Marine’s back—helped get things up and running.
“For a while there we were working 100 hour weeks for months straight, seven days a week—just going,” recalls Howes. “And I think a lot of that too was probably cathartic. And you put everything into something because that’s what you used to do. And you do it for each other, which is why most guys will tell you they serve or why they fight.”
It might be human nature, but the wandering periods of life seem to come and go. The kinds of risks that are taken tend to change and most strive for some sense of permanence in. The four vagabonds who started the brewery have built a home for themselves, their growing families, veterans, and beer lovers. Ultimately, they still embrace the ethos of the wanderer—so don’t be surprised if one of them offers to buy you that one-way plane ticket.
[a] 2195 Hyacinth St NE #172, Salem
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.