By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
It used to be that you just had to make good beer, but in today’s competitive industry good beer isn’t even a starting point. That’s why, in 2013, Oregon State University’s Professional and Continuing Education program (PACE) began offering their Craft Brewery Startup Workshop as a way to give fledgling brewers a boot camp-style overview of all the essentials of launching a brewery.
“There is so much more to the craft brewery business,” says Emily Henry, PACE program manager. “Our workshop covers all of those topics and ties together the business and production sides of the industry in a compact format.”
This year’s workshop was held in Eugene Feb. 25 through March 1, with the first three days at Lane Community College’s Center for Meeting and Learning, and the last two days at Ninkasi Brewing. Twenty people from Oregon and at least nine other states — including one student based in Central Asia’s Kazakhstan — came to learn from experts who had experience in everything brewing. Topics ranged from licensing and following regulations to ingredient and equipment sourcing as well as building a company culture.
“I attended the workshop to gain a three-dimensional insight into what it takes to operate, run and keep a brewery running successfully,” says Laura Dunn, who along with her fiance co-owns startup G Town Brewery in Greenville, Texas. “I am at the beginning stages of my brewery setup and wanted to gain as much knowledge as possible to know what I'm getting myself into!”
The first portion of the workshop highlighted the business and entrepreneurial aspects of planning and starting a craft brewing enterprise, including brewery case studies, with the goal of preparing students to draft or enhance their business plan. During the second portion, Ninkasi founders and key personnel offered their insights, along with stories of the good, the bad and the ugly of Ninkasi’s 10 years in the business. The course finished up with interactive sessions and a panel discussion. Course instructors were also available to review student business plans.
“You learn about ingredients, talk to real brewers. This is a good crash course for exposure to all those key areas,” says Ninkasi CFO Nigel Francisco, one of this year’s instructors. “It’s hands-on. They see the equipment, talk to the people who brew the beer and source the ingredients. They hear about our pitfalls and successes, and then can apply them to their own business.”
PACE and Ninkasi have collaborated on the workshop for four years. Henry credits the partnership’s success, in part, with Ninkasi’s willingness to pull back the curtain and give an in-depth look at the logistics of running a brewery, with sessions led by their CFO, COO, co-founder and Technical R&D and Quality team.
“Ninkasi has had tremendous growth over the last 10 years while also maintaining their core values and ethics as a business,” says Henry. “They stay true to themselves, both in their business and in their beer, and it is amazing for our upcoming craft brewery owners to see this success and the thoughtful management that is behind it.”
The workshop allows prospective brewers to “hear the challenges and opportunities in the industry as we see it in our position,” says Francisco. He credits co-founder Jamie Floyd’s background in brewing as helping Ninkasi weather startup challenges and growing pains, which may have been harder had there not been someone who was familiar with the ups and downs of the industry. “You have to think about strategy, legality, regulation, work force, how to run a brewery or pub,” says Francisco. “You might make a great beer, but when you take that next step you have to be able to make it all fit together.”
For Francisco, he knew that giving brewers insight into the financials would be a needed perspective. “You can’t grow 100 percent year-over-year for 10 years, so how do you plan for that?” he asks. “What’s a sustainable growth percentage, and what does that mean to you? Do you want to be small, big, boutique, have more locations? Pick what you want and match your strategy to the brewery you want to be.”
After all, sometimes people get into brewing simply because they want to make beer — but there is a world of difference between brewing beer and running a brewery. Many of this year’s students found the workshop eye-opening in regards to the business side of running a production brewery or brewpub.
“I gained the confidence to push forward with my business with more knowledge and expert advice,” says Texas startup co-owner Dunn. “Everything from legal information to how to design my brewhouse. I learned things I didn't even think of, such as having a ‘concept’ and the strategic planning to help organize and prepare my brewery.”
Perhaps even more important is understanding that while there are others in the industry who are willing to help, your operation ultimately is your operation — from compliance and sanitation to payroll and personnel. “Nobody is going to do these things for you,” says Francisco. “The buck stops with you.”
That’s one of the many things Laura Dunn is taking back to Texas. “It was brilliant and I would recommend anyone who is thinking of starting their own brewery business to take this course,” she says. “I came out feeling much more prepared.”
Other OSU PACE Beer and Cider Workshops:
Beer Quality and Analysis Series May 15 through June 19, online, June 19-23, Corvallis
Craft Cidery Startup Workshop June 11-15, Portland
Cider and Perry Production July 17-21, Corvallis
Origins of Beer Flavors and Styles — Check website for next year’s dates.
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
When they had to make a choice, Eugene-based Ninkasi Brewing decided to go for all three. Three nonprofits — Conscious Alliance, Team River Runner and Women Who Code — are receiving donations through the brewery’s Beer Is Love program.
Support is tied to sales of Ninkasi’s Believer Double Red Ale — a beer brought back due to popular demand. Ninkasi will donate $1 per case and $7 per keg of Believer sold, and will apportion donations based on votes by the public at beerislove.com.
Originally released as a winter seasonal in 2006, Believer truly came from the heart. Its label design was based on a tattoo on the arm of Ninkasi co-founder Jamie Floyd, and that heart design also became part of the Beer Is Love logo when the program launched in 2012. Believer was a way for Ninkasi to offer “a thank you to the people who believed in them from the very beginning,” says Emilie Hartvig, who heads up Beer Is Love. Supporting nonprofits that promote women, equality, recreation, the environment and arts and music, to-date Beer Is Love has worked with more than 800 organizations throughout the 14 states where Ninkasi beers are available.
However, the time had come to raise the program’s profile on a national level. “Believer has always been a fan favorite. When it was no longer a part of our lineup, we got consistent messages from followers that they missed it,” says Hartvig. “We thought, why not combine Beer Is Love and beer sales? The first beer that came to mind was Believer. From the start, it was brewed to give back.”
As Hartvig and the Ninkasi team began exploring ways to combine Beer Is Love and a Believer comeback, they knew the nonprofit missions had to matter to the beer-buying public, too. “People have different interests and care about different things,” says Hartvig. “We wanted to make sure that when someone bought Believer, money was going back to a cause that means something to them.”
As Ninkasi narrowed down organizations, the team realized that three had something in common — equality — but each also addressed the program’s other core concerns. Women Who Code works on female empowerment and education. Conscious Alliance uses art and music to encourage people to give back through food and money. And Team River Runner helps veterans keep in touch with the environment through kayaking.
“It was a very long process,” says Hartvig. “We reached out to team members across different departments to get suggestions and then we researched, researched, researched. When we finally pitched the idea to the nonprofits, we felt very fortunate that the nonprofits were just as excited about this opportunity as we were.”
For Women Who Code, the partnership was a perfect fit. Dedicated to inspiring women worldwide to excel in technology careers, the organization has more than 80,000 members and a presence in 20 countries. "Every industry is part of the tech industry,” explains Jennifer Tacheff, vice president of partnerships and business development. “Ninkasi understands that, and they approached us because they recognize the importance of empowering women to succeed in this field. With the support of partners like Ninkasi, Women Who Code will continue to work towards the goal of increasing diversity in technology so that we can all benefit from a more broad and dynamic perspective and the innovations that will come from it."
Voting in the Believer Beer Is Love campaign opened in January and closes April 30. Through Ninkasi’s Facebook page and the Beer Is Love website, the three nonprofits have been making their case for why they deserve each Believer fan’s vote. The votes will be tallied in May. Each organization will receive a minimum of $5,000, with final donations divided based on the number of votes and total Believer sales: first place receives 50 percent, second receives 30 percent and third receives 20 percent.
Supports U.S. communities in crisis through emergency food relief, empowerment programs for youth in impoverished regions, and nutrition, exercise and gardening education for youth in economically isolated Native American reservations.
Team River Runner
Offers wounded and disabled veterans an opportunity to regain independence with an adventurous, adaptive paddle sports program.
Women Who Code
Inspires women to excel in technology careers and become technical leaders, executives, founders, VCs, board members and software engineers.
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Breweries use and support the arts in different ways. For Eugene-based Ninkasi Brewing Company, support of the arts and collaboration with artists has been key to the 10-year-old brewery’s brand and growth.
“The forward-thinking use of artwork in our creative has been a significant factor in the success of our brand,” explains Jon Rogers, Ninkasi’s chief marketing officer.
In 2015 Ninkasi launched an Artist in Residence (AIR) Program, which celebrates its first anniversary this month. In addition to his work for bands such as The Black Keys and Dave Matthews Band, Eugene artist Neal Williams created art for Ground Control, an imperial stout fermented with yeast that survived a trip to space and back. He’s now been working with Ninkasi for a year as their current AIR, but plans are for him to continue working with the brewery’s in-house design and marketing teams.
“When I came to Ninkasi, I got the chance to see the brewing process and learn more about the care and attention to detail that goes into the beer,” says Williams. “It's all about taking the time to produce something of quality. I feel exactly the same way about my illustration work.”
With the 10-year anniversary coming up, Williams, Ninkasi’s design teams and co-founder Jamie Floyd all decided it was time to refresh Ninkasi’s beer branding.
“Neal did our Dawn of the Red rebrand,” explains Floyd, “but the full rebrand is a team effort, including Neal. They worked together to create those new looks. The beers have character, and they have personalities. It’s good for us to be able to give some personalities to things and have it look right. The rest of our brand has shifted to more of a graphic style, and have more stories that make it look like a brand suite, that gives it all continuity.”
Ninkasi recently released the new looks as part of their first full rebrand. Part of the success of the new look, says Floyd, is that Ninkasi’s in-house design and marketing teams can work alongside brewing and sales teams. Through meetings with brewers, marketing and sales, designers and artists gain a better understanding of the stories and journeys that each beer has gone through, from development to customer feedback.
“Our art team has made some incredible strides,” says Floyd. “Having so many skills in-house is amazing, and it helps a lot to have it in-house. We can see things all the way through, and have creative ideas that are not borrowed. The brewing team shares research beers they’re doing and [they] get a chance to talk about the beers and why they’re doing them. If those beers become beers we produce commercially, then the marketing team knows what the brewers thought, and that really gets their creative juices going.”
Ninkasi’s interest in the arts also leads to some arts that you might not normally think of — such as running. Running is a large part of Ninkasi’s company culture, including an end-of-run pint (a Wednesday employee running club finishes at the tasting room). “We thought that a lot of times breweries tried to make beers for runners, it didn’t work,” says Floyd. “We are runners, and we know that when we’re done we don’t want a light lager — we want an IPA. And we just ran, so we don’t worry about the extra calories. ”
Creating the beer went beyond usual test brews and pilot batches. During March and April, initial batches were produced and distributed to runners at 25 Beer Run Test Batch events, held nationwide in partnership with local running communities. “It was great to get the input of what runners wanted and do test batches with them,” says Floyd. “Running clubs liked it too because they were involved, and felt involved. It was a lot of fun, and it worked.
Ninkasi is now partnering with local wholesale partner Bigfoot Beverages and TrackTown USA, the local organizing committee for the Olympic Trials, to bring Beer Run to the University of Oregon’s Hayward Field during the July 1–10 competition. Beer Run IPA will be on tap at four locations during the Trials, which are expected to attract over 172,000 fans.
For Floyd and Rogers, the arts are at the heart of Ninkasi. “We bring multiple artists with varied skills into our brewery,” states Rogers. “Our goal is to continue to enhance our brand, our workplace and the greater Ninkasi community.”
Ninkasi’s in-house metal fabrication shop regularly produces artistic, elaborate steel pieces, including tap handles, conference tables and fire pits. Recently, they added a project to that list: a gate to Sierra Nevada’s North Carolina brewery/taproom. The gate serves as a grand entrance to Sierra Nevada’s new facility in Mills River, N.C. Ninkasi fabricators worked with 672 barley kernels, affixed by 13,444 nuts, as well as 540 studs around the perimeter. Photo courtesy of Ninkasi Brewing
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
While collaboration is nothing new in the craft beer industry, projects typically aren’t 3,000 pounds of steel that travel 2,663 miles — from the Willamette Valley’s Eugene, Oregon to the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina. However, when Chico, Calif.-based Sierra Nevada Brewing needed a “grand entrance” for its new East Coast brewery in Mills River, N.C. (10 miles south of the region’s urban center, Asheville), they turned to Eugene’s Ninkasi Brewing.
Spanning the width of the 20-foot drive leading to the 350,000-barrel brewery and 400-seat/23-handle taproom and restaurant at 100 Sierra Nevada Way, the gate evokes sheaves of barley with the same shaping as Sierra Nevada’s logo banner. The two members of Ninkasi’s in-house fabrication department, Jazz Khalsa (design and fabrication specialist) and Pat “Phatty Fab” Evans (metal fabricator), worked with 672 individual barley kernels, affixed by 13,444 nuts, as well as 540 studs around the perimeter. Evans built the project with no tape measure or blueprint.
Ninkasi co-founder Jamie Floyd met Sierra Nevada founder Ken Grossman at Beer Camp Across America. During a BCAA cross-country bus trip, Floyd and Grossman began talking metal. Conversation soon turned to Ninkasi’s in-house metal fabrication shop. With Ninkasi’s two-man team producing artistic, elaborate steel pieces — from tap handles to conference tables, bottle openers to fire pits — Grossman and Floyd realized they might be able to work together on the gate for the Mills River facility.
Concept and design began at the end of 2014 and fabrication began in March. “There was only really one design, but it went through several iterations,” says Khalsa. “I channeled the aesthetic of Sierra Nevada, highlighting the barley and brass features. I felt pretty good about the concept, so I only proposed the one to the Sierra team. The Grossmans approved it very quickly.”
“I’m really pleased with the design [Ninkasi] gave us,” says Grossman, “They understand what we’re trying to do here, and I think it’s because we’re both brewers and both share a lot of the same ideals.” The Mills River facility is now brewing beer and serving customers.
For Ninkasi it’s a new type of collaboration that highlights how even in a competitive industry, there is room to work together. “It’s exciting and humbling to be a literal piece of such a remarkable building,” says Floyd. “It gives us all something to strive for.”
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
“The smallest amount of hops.”
Known for big, hoppy beers, that’s not something you normally hear from Eugene’s Ninkasi Brewing Company. But balance and minimal hopping are part of the profile of Lux, a Munich-style helles — or craft lager. It’s been brewed not as a limited release from the primarily ale brewery, but as a year-round lager in Ninkasi’s six-beer 2015 Flagship Series.
What could seem like a strange move for Oregon’s fourth-largest brewery is actually part of the long game for Jamie Floyd, Ninkasi co-founder: “I have always wanted to have a lager out year round. It’s taken us eight years to get there.”
Floyd got his first taste of Bavarian-style lagers during his homebrewing days. “Not many craft breweries were bottling in the U.S. yet, so I tasted a lot of imported beer and fell in love with lagers. They epitomize balance and nuance, as their delicate flavors leave nothing for a brewer to hide behind.”
After founding Ninkasi in 2006 with Nikos Ridge, Floyd always kept working toward adding lagers. The fledgling brewery’s ninth and 10th batches were a Munchner-style helles and a Munchner-style dunkel. Ninkasi began developing limited lager releases, including Lux in 2011, under their now-discontinued Prismatic series. Their journey toward the right lager paid off at the 2013 Great American Beer Festival (GABF), when Ninkasi’s Pravda won gold in the “Bohemian-Style Pilsner” category.
In order to step up lager production, Ninkasi needed dedicated space — no easy thing when a brewery can make four batches of ale in the time it takes to prepare one lager.
“Part of why we did our recent expansion was to build capacity large enough to allow us to have properly aged lager beer,” Floyd explains. “We also purchased our GEA brewhouse that is U.S. made and German designed by folks who have made breweries for lager makers for decades.”
Ninkasi’s expanded capacity, including nine 550-barrel combination brite/fermentation tanks, came online last year. Expanded lab space also made it possible to cultivate the multiple yeast strains needed to produce their ales and lagers.
Market realities and distribution logistics also prompted a decrease from four craft lagers to one. “We heard back from our wholesale and retail partners that switching out lagers every four months was tricky for them,” says Floyd. “A lot of work goes into resetting new beers on shelves, especially chain stores. We needed to look at what was best for the beer. Also, because these beers take six weeks to make, it can be hard to forecast how much to make.”
Ninkasi also understood that the dominance of pilsners in the market gave them an opportunity to do something different.
“We chose Lux for a few reasons,” Floyd says. “Helles is the Bavarian national beer, made originally in response to the relatively hoppier pilsners of Northern Germany and the Czech Republic. Helles defines balance and drinkability. Also, the ingredients for this beer are more reliable than some other styles.”
Contrary to what a certain Super Bowl ad might have insinuated, Floyd believes that “consumer tastes have become a lot more sophisticated.” He sees today’s craft beer drinker as wanting more diversity and nuance. “I love me some hoppy beers but I also love lagers too. A helles sits really well next to an IPA in a cooler at a barbecue in the park with friends.”
Now that Floyd’s lager dream is a reality, he’s not stopping at Lux. “We have some other draft lager surprises coming up too.”
(a) 272 Van Buren St., Eugene
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.