By Ezra Johnson-Greenough
For the Oregon Beer Growler
By Jim McLaren
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The sparkling idea old Joe Priestley had back in 1767 didn't reach its most useful purpose until 2014.
It was 247 years ago when the chemist, who lived next to a brewery and began experimenting with their gas in Leeds, England, made carbonated water. But he stopped there. Making draft beer portable would have to wait.
As you know, beer naturally carbonates during fermentation; yeast eats sugar, making alcohol and carbon dioxide. Problem is that when you take the beer out of the barrel, air gets in and spoils the brew. So to take Joe’s discovery a step further, someone would need to fill that empty space in a barrel with what was called “fixed air” and preserve the freshness. Eventually this would lead to kegs — big kegs for taverns and pubs, pony kegs, Cornelius kegs, none of which are very portable. They are heavy and require attached external devices to get the beer out. But jump ahead to modern times at a bar in Portland and you’ll find another option.
“To keep good beer from going bad.” That’s what I told the guy on the stool next to me when he asked why I paid $149 for the stainless steel uKeg the ponytailed bartender at the Widmer Pub in North Portland was filling with Altbier. When I went on to explain that the uKeg is easy to use and keeps beer fresh for up to two weeks, he chuckled and said, “Who keeps beer around that long?” So, I asked him, “Haven't you ever had a beer you wanted to enjoy a little at a time, a seasonal release or, maybe, after you fill a growler you don’t feel like drinking it all in a couple of days?” “Well,” he said, “how do they keep beer fresh in that big can?”
This is where a trip to an Oregon beach comes in.
“I brought a glass growler and a cooler.” Standing in the front office of GrowlerWerks in Southeast Portland, Shawn Huff recalls how inspiration for the uKeg came from the good beer he’d put in his glass growler. “It was a Boneyard RPM IPA. I drank it one day, put it down, didn't drink the second day and then pulled it back out on the third day. It was flat. It was oxidized. All the work the brewer put into that IPA was ruined.”
So, I was thinking — pressurized growler,” Shawn Huff explains. “I saw some other people were doing it, but no one really from an engineering design perspective.”
Engineers! Brewers get a lot of attention. But who knows the engineers? Meet three you should know: Huff, Brian Sonnichsen and Evan Rege. (Evan was at a manufacturing plant in China when I visited the GrowlerWerks research-and-development warehouse.) Brian explains they met while working for ClearEdge Power, an alternative-energy company. He says Shawn’s idea for a pressurized growler came at just the right time.
“ClearEdge Power went out of business as we were working on this as an after-hours hobby, trying to figure out how to make it work.” Brian has a degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and 13 patents to his credit. Evan has a UC Berkeley degree in mechanical design and knows how to build fuel cells. Shawn owns four patents and is a chemical engineer; but, just as important, he won a business plan competition in college. All of that schooling and experience set them up for a dive into entrepreneurship. Brian says they figured, “What the heck? Let’s try this for six months because we can. There’s a program in Oregon that will let you start a business and you don’t have to look for a job for six months. It worked out fantastically.”
Some of the technology involved in making the uKeg is confidential and now being patented in both the U.S. and overseas. But when Brian and Shawn share what they can about how the uKeg works, it sounds simple.
“This is a double-walled, insulated vessel, so it keeps beer cold.” Shawn points out the first thing you’ll probably notice about the uKeg is a brass pipe climbing from the bottom of the vessel to a mini-tap at the top. “We go through the vessel so the beer exits from the bottom.”
Putting the tap on top means they can store a CO2 cartridge inside the variable pressure-regulation cap. “What that allows is you can put the top on, and once it is on you can set this dial and it automatically maintains your carbonation level. So all you have to do is pour.”
Thumbing through the owner’s manual that comes with the uKeg, Brian points out various carbonation settings, from 6 pounds per square inch (PSI) for stout, porter and cream ale to 12 PSI for lager, pilsner or even kombucha. A window on what they call the “sight tube” shows how much beer is in the uKeg. You can check it before you grab the brass handle provided for making your fresh draft beer portable.
“Our brand,” Brian reminds us, “is keeping beer fresh and being able to take it with you.”
Joe Priestley would be proud.
The GrowlerWerks trio has encountered some interesting liquor laws as they’ve moved into new markets. In Florida, there was a law allowing for gallon-sized growler fills, but not half-gallon sizes. In another state, the tap on a freshly filled growler had to be shrink-wrapped to prevent customers from pouring while driving. And when beer drinkers in Japan received the growlers they were due as part of the Kickstarter campaign, they found that Japanese law does not allow for growler fills.
For more information on the uKeg, go to growlerwerks.com.
By Dustin Gouker
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The craft beer industry in Central Oregon has shown no signs of slowing down.
Neither has the growler industry that has grown up alongside it.
Just three years ago, DrinkTanks was an idea on Kickstarter. Now, the Bend-based growler company is a rapidly growing and recently expanded business by partnering with one of the largest outdoor retailers in the country.
“I didn’t think the growth would happen this quickly,” DrinkTanks founder Nicholas Hill said, sitting in his company’s new office on the east side of Bend. “It’s something I envisioned, but we’re definitely growing at a fast pace. You have to be careful because growing at a rapid pace can be just as dangerous as not growing at all.”
The idea behind DrinkTanks — and other similar products on the market — is no longer new to the beer world. High-end growlers that keep beer cold, carbonated and fresh are available at pretty much any brewery and growler fill station around.
DrinkTanks’ double-walled, vacuum-insulated growlers have become a staple of the craft beer industry following an unassuming start as a Kickstarter campaign. But things haven’t slowed down much since the beginning for DrinkTanks — in less than a year, the company has nearly doubled in size.
This summer DrinkTanks moved into a new facility, with 18,000 square feet of production and office space. It also employs 35 people, nearly double the number working there a year ago.
“This should sustain us for a while,” Hill said, smiling, noting that an adjacent lot could provide room for additional growth.
The biggest change, however, is that the company is more than just a hit in the world of beer. That’s not to say that sales in the world of beer have slowed. Hill noted that the company was up 170 percent year over year and is on pace for similar growth in 2016. Now, however, the business has revenue coming from an entirely different source.
“When we started, the low-hanging fruit was craft beer, growlers — it was an easy to enter into the craft industry,” Hill said. “And we’ve done a really good job transforming over into the outdoor industry, because it’s a natural fit.
“A lot of people that like to do outdoors activities — hiking, biking, skiing, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding — all associate, at some level, with some sort of beverage, whether it’s beer, or margaritas or water,” Hill continued. “So our vessel does very well crossing over to that channel.”
Getting into that world was facilitated by outdoor gear and clothing co-op REI. What began as a planned five-minute meeting at the Outdoor Retailer trade show in Salt Lake City turned into a full-blown relationship with REI. Starting in July of this year, DrinkTanks is now in all of REI’s stores and also sold on its website.
But much of the core of the company remains the same. While the vessels themselves are manufactured overseas, the rest of the business — from powder coating, to custom engraving, to assembly and shipping — all happens in Bend.
New this year for DrinkTanks will be the Kegulator, an auto-regulating keg cap that turns a DrinkTanks growler into a mini-kegerator. It uses a CO2 cartridge and purge valve to keep beer fresh.
The product was actually supposed to go to market earlier this year, but Hill said he wanted to wait.
“We refused to compromise on the quality and the functionality of the product,” he said, noting he wouldn’t send the Kegulator into the field without being sure it would work exactly as he intended.
The Kegulator should be available this fall, in time for the Christmas season, Hill said. He also said there would be some new offerings from DrinkTanks in 2017, without divulging what they would be.
All of that might mean DrinkTanks might see even more growth in the immediate future.
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Sometimes the world of brewing herbs seems a small one. You know, hops. But the world of brewing herbs goes far beyond Humulus lupulus.
As long as humans have been brewing and plants have been growing, we have brewed with a variety of herbs not only for brewing qualities, but for health benefits as well. Centuries ago in some European countries, only unhopped beers could be called ales. Gruits, or beers brewed with combinations of herbs and spices, were the most common brews.
From ginger to yarrow, many common garden plants and weeds have hidden brewing powers and associations with health benefits. If you are looking to put some zing in your 2016 beers — and maybe raise a pint to your “I’m going to be healthier” New Year’s resolutions — here’s some advice from Old Growth Ales, a Springfield-based startup brewery.
“There is a long history of brewing with herbs, all across the earth, each specific to their geography — physical and cultural,” says Amanda Helser, herbalist and Old Growth Ales co-founder. “The northern British Isles brewed with heather. Norwegians brewed a sahti using juniper boughs for lautering. St. John’s wort was used across Europe, and sarsaparilla has been used for centuries worldwide as a tonic. We want go back to this type of brewing. Hops and barley are great. I love them. And there is so much more.”
Helser and Steve Braun (fellow co-founder and head brewer) focus on brewing ales and wines with a range of beneficial botanicals. In March 2015, Old Growth Ales successfully completed a Kickstarter campaign to fund an expansion of their operation. Helser is a certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner and a trained Western herbalist who has practiced for more than five years, including experience with with Cascadia Folk Medicine and Seed & Thistle Apothecary. Her background includes Portland’s School of Forest Medicine and the School of Traditional Western Herbalism, and a Bachelor of Arts from The Evergreen State College with a focus on fermentation and human culture. Braun has a doctorate in environmental science and 15 years brewing experience, including more than 10 years of brewing with herbs, alternative bittering agents to hops and alternative sugar sources to barley.
Before we move on, some caveats. No one is giving medical advice; that’s what your preferred practitioner is for. And while many botanical health properties have not necessarily been scientifically tested, the beneficial properties of plants represent cultural bodies of knowledge that go back thousands of years and span cultures around the world. Brewing books such as Joe Fisher and Dennis Fisher’s “The Homebrewer’s Garden” and Stephen Harrod Buhner’s “Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers: The Secrets of Ancient Fermentation” are also useful resources.
“Brewing is traditional herbalism,” says Helser. “Many botanicals were originally fermented with sugars to take as medicine. The fermentation process adds its own energetics.”
Different herbs also require different methods to bring out their benefits. Like teas and tinctures, ales and wines can become other ways for people to consume herbs: salves, essences, poultices along with eating them in powdered and raw forms. The beneficial properties of a plant can also change depending on how it is used, explains Helser. Dandelion root, nettles and elderberries need to be boiled. Some herbs need to be steeped for a very long time, similar to dry hopping. Some herbs are alcohol-soluble and have different effects when introduced during secondary fermentation as opposed to prior to fermentation.
Here are various herbs common to brewing (common and botanical names), along with some of their health properties, according to Helser and Braun. When seeking out brewing herbs, common names can vary, so always reference the botanical name.
— Yarrow (Achillea millefolium): digestion, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, congestion. “It’s the thousand-leaf plant of Achilles. It is a heal-all. Next time you are cut, chew it up and put it on the cut, you'll see. It is a plant ally of sorts.”
— Elder (Sambucus caerulea): flu and fever, overall health tonic. “A prized plant: the berries and flowers. Be careful though. There are many varieties of elder. Sambucus caerulea (blue elder) is our safe, locally occurring common variety.”
— Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis): vitamin C, antioxidants. “A little astringent, tart and gives beautiful color. Good for hypertension and cancer prevention. A diuretic.”
— Nettle (Urtica dioica): liver tonic, minerals, blood purifying. “One of the first greens to appear in the spring. Helps detox after the winter. Bright and full of umami flavor. When I am feeling run down or stretched thin, I crave any and everything with nettles.”
— Dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale): liver support, detoxification. “When roasted, dandelion root gives a great earthy flavor.”
— Ginger (Zingiber officinale): stimulates circulation and digestion. “It quickens the blood. Good for cold and flu, sexual function, viral infections, coughs, kidneys, the list goes on. Ginger is amazing.”
Other common and popular brewing herbs, along with some beneficial properties, include:
— Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus): adrenal support
— Chicory root (Cichorium intybus): liver support
— St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum): emotional health, digestion
— Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium): antimicrobial
— Hawthorn (Crataegus): circulation, heart health
— Rose hips (Rosa rugosa): vitamin C, antioxidants
And by the way, enjoying an herbal brew isn’t something you’ll need to hold
your nose and close your eyes for either. “We’ve crafted an ebulon, which is an ale with elderberries, black cherries and rose hips,” says Braun, as well as a hibiscus wine that comes in two strengths: a 6% sessionable version, and a 12% imperial.
“Craft beverages are gateways into further experiences with herbs,” says Braun. “Suppose we had a bag of dried elderflowers, mugwort, St. John’s wort, yarrow, and goldenrod. Someone may look at us and ask, ‘What do I do with those?’ and move on, buying their packaged tea or typical craft beer. However, if we ferment these herbs into a crisp gruit and pour them a pint, they will at least try it, and in our experience, enjoy it and strike up a conversation. The path to wellness is facilitated by incidental educational experiences like these conversations.”
By John Foyston
For the Oregon Beer Growler
You could fairly call the Oregon Pint — an elegant beer glass with a geographically accurate Mount Hood molded in the base — a runaway success.
Last February, Matt and Leigh Capozzi and Nic Ramirez of North Drinkware went to Kickstarter to raise $15,000 to buy the tools and material to produce their dream glass, which Matt Capozzi said was originally intended to be a fun little side project. Apparently the public didn't know that because the Kickstarter campaign met its initial goal in five hours and 15 minutes, according to the North Drinkware website.
“We initially figured that some people will want a handcrafted beer glass,” says Capozzi, “and then as things took off, we asked ourselves, 'what if things go really crazy and we raise $50,000 or $100,000?'”
The answer would be, you start making glasses … a LOT of glasses, because the campaign raised more than half a million bucks from 5,600 investors.
Now, $45 seems like a lot of money for a beer container — that is, until you watch a team of artisans transform a blob of incandescent glass into a beautiful, robust vessel. The process starts in the hot shop of their production partners, Elements Glass in the industrial area of Northwest Portland. It starts with the gather — Karlye Golub pokes a four-foot-long blow pipe into a furnace to get a blob of 1,500-degree molten glass from the crucible. How big a blob? “That's the thing.” says Matt Capozzi, “There's no set recipe — these people are doing it all by feel and experience.”
The blowpipe is then cooled in water so it can be handled and Karlye blows a small bubble into the glass, after which it's heated again before marvering — preliminary rolling and shaping on a heavy, flat steel plate called a marver. She hands the blowpipe to Aaron Frankel, who runs the shop, and he continues to shape and expand the bubble while periodically putting the blowpipe into the roaring furnace, which keeps the glass from cooling too much and shattering.
Satisfied, he steps on a low platform and inserts the glass into a heated cylindrical steel mold at his feet while Alissa Friedman swings the mold doors shut. Frankel blows into the pipe, forcing the glass into the mold. He taps his foot when experience tells him he's done, Friedman opens the guillotine doors and together, they separate the glass from the blowpipe. They'll repeat this closely choreographed dance of molten glass about 150 times in a good day — more than 550 times in a week, given vagaries of weather, humidity and temperature, all of which affect the process.
Not that the newborn glass is near ready to receive its beer baptism. First it spends a night cooling in the annealing oven. Then it goes to the cold shop, where it's scored, then placed on a heavy, round table where a micro torch heats the score and separates the top inch or so of the glass, which goes to the scrap bin. A bigger torch then melts the sharp scored edge into a generous rounded rim and the glass goes back into the annealing oven.
A day or so later, you can finally pour a beer into it and watch Mount Hood come alive in the golden light. And you understand what Capozzi means when he says, “People pour their heart and soul into making great beer these days, and we wanted to give craft beer drinkers a glass that we poured our heart and souls into designing and making.”
He and his North Drinkware partners — wife Leigh, and Ramirez, who's a colleague at Portland-based branding/product studio Cinco Design, initially came up with the idea for the Oregon Pint last year. “Mount Hood is perfect,” says Matt Capozzi, “because it symbolizes all of Oregon." They soon will release another state pint for Washington, California, Colorado or Vermont — my bet's on Mount Rainier. And once they catch up with the 13,000 or so Oregon Pints promised to investors, and they're well on the way, the glass will be available online at northdrinkware.com and at Timberline Lodge, Mount Hood Meadows and MadeHere PDX.
It's a great idea, but it was a long way away from full-fledged production last year. The trio started prototyping at night with plaster molds and different production methods. (They'll keep their careers — Capozzi and Ramirez are industrial designers and Leigh Capozzi is in marketing — despite the vivid success of North Drinkware.) The molds are a good example of how Kickstarter made the dream possible. Clearly, plaster molds were a temporary expedient, but when they switched to graphite, they found the molds also wore out rapidly. The current machined steel mold is holding up well, but it's about the eighth mold they've made — at about $8,000 a copy. And that’s why crowdfunding has proved invaluable.
“Kickstarter has been just that.” says Matt Capozzi, “We couldn't have done this on our own. This project has taken over our lives in a way, but in a good way, because we're good at balancing work and life, and I have great partners.”
By the time we get to the proof of the pint — splitting a bottle of pFriem Pilsner between two Oregon Pints, Capozzi is once again watching the dance in the hot shop. “It's mesmerizing,” he says. “I could watch them blowing glass all day. It's like watching snow fall in the mountains — you just can't look away.”
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.