By Jim McLaren
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The idea seems as obvious as Mount Hood on a clear, spring day: Beer, bicycles and tours celebrating both.
But the obvious sometimes takes time to get rolling. In this case, it took a trip to Belgium seven years ago by an IT guy looking to reboot his work life.
It’s a sunny Memorial Day in Hood River. As a light breeze comes off the Columbia River, Claire Cohan is setting up bottles of beer and the makings for sandwiches on picnic tables in Port Marina Park. Soon, a group of riders with tour company Beercycling will arrive and devour the spread.
Claire says this tour began in Portland, where the group met and test rode bikes rented from The Bike Concierge in Oregon City. “We stayed at the Jupiter Hotel, and from there we rode across the Tilikum and Steel bridges to get warmed up. That was the first day. Then we got a tour at Hair of the Dog, which, of course, is amazing.”
During the five-day tour, riders pedal 20-32 miles per day. The route from Portland east to Hood River is mostly flat with the 900-foot climb to Vista House overlooking the Columbia River Gorge being the most breathtaking — both in terms of the view and the oxygen-sucking effort.
On day two, the group rides to Troutdale where they’ll spend the night at McMenamins Edgefield. Day three has the big climb and a stop at Thunder Island Brewing Co. in Cascade Locks. On day four, the group pedals the finished part of the Historic Columbia River Highway, then loads into a van to hop the gap along the unfinished section. A picnic lunch in Hood River is followed by visits to Full Sail Brewing Company and pFriem Family Brewers.
As Claire is running down the itinerary, 12 riders and Evan Cohan coast into the park; the riders are quickly off their bikes and moving toward the beer and food.
Evan comes over for the interview. But he first asks, “Can I have a beer while I answer questions? I’ll answer better that way.”
So, why did Beercycling start in Europe? Taking a sip from a special, non-breakable tasting glass Evan explains, “I’d been there once with friends. Flanders has a dedicated bike infrastructure that goes that entire part of the country and into Holland. You can get between points pretty much traffic free. The whole country is the size of Maryland, and when you focus on a couple of provinces you can really get anywhere really quickly.”
Evan likes beer, likes cycling, but what he wasn’t so happy with back then was his job. “I was having my, kind of, ‘I’m-done-with-my-day-job crisis’ in my mid-20s. Earlier than most. I thought, ‘What would the dream job be?’”
He found the answer on the road through Flanders. “It was a magical trip when you get into Belgian beer and you hear the stories about the Trappist monasteries. We just went for fun on a spontaneous trip, but I learned a lot.”
And he wanted to share what he learned — not as some sort of elaborate pub crawl, but as a lesson about the cultures surrounding beer. “You go along these canals and through farms, and it was amazing. And we got a couple of tours there. The Flemish people are really generous. And I thought this would be the ideal place for a bike tour. It has all the ingredients for logistics to make it happen safely. It would be like doing bike tours in Belgium visiting breweries.”
Stan Bashaw came from North Carolina for the debut Oregon tour. With a beer in one hand and a sizable sandwich in the other, he says he’s participated in a Beercycling event before. “I happened to see a Facebook post Evan put up about Beercycling and from day one I said, ‘Someday I’m doing that.’”
Stan then convinced friends to go with him. “We had the best time. Cycling in Belgium, the Belgians are used to bikes being everywhere. At least back in North Carolina, folks are used to bikes being annoyances. It’s been really great here [Oregon].”
The Beercycling European tours include mini-seminars on brewing, rides through hop fields and visits to ancient breweries. But Stan has one particularly fond memory: “The part of the tour that is really appealing in Belgium is all the food. Oh my gosh, we had such great food. The picnics we had alongside a bike path, Belgian bread — fresh made that day. Oh my God, it is just amazing.”
The food was especially welcome when “we biked out to the North Sea on a really cold day. I think that was really one of our favorite days. We were cold. We were wet. We found a coffee shop because we were so cold. We got warmed up, then rode past World War II artillery fortifications that go on for miles. We had a 20-knot wind behind us, and we barely had to pedal.”
Bashaw and his friends liked Oregon’s attitude toward cyclists but are anxious to do another European tour next year.
It took Evan and Claire about two years to work out the Oregon tour logistics, but they’ll hold three this year and perhaps more next year.
In Europe, Beercycling has grown to six tours: three in Flanders in northern Belgium, one in the Ardennes in southeastern Belgium, another around Milan in northwest Italy and a loop around Amsterdam in Holland.
The tours run from five to ten days with prices ranging from $1,475 in Oregon to $2,850 for one of the Flanders tours. Visit beercycling.com for dates, itineraries and bios of the guides.
By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Thousands have embarked on a Cosmic journey with a McMenamins passport, which also includes rewards of merchandise, food, drink and fun experiences at all of the chain’s distinct Northwest locations. While some take years to earn their stamps, others raced through the challenge and are ready to complete it again. Either way, the idea has engaged customers in a unique fashion using a method that grew out of the DIY way patrons would use McMenamins brochures to check off locations they’ve visited.
“The idea was to get people to experience McMenamins,” said director of marketing Renee Rank Ignacio. “Along the way, an amazing community has grown out of it.”
There are now both official and unofficial pages on Facebook for the passport, which are the same size and color as the real deal. The number of stories of people forming friendships through the experience grows every year.
“I knew it was going to be a hit. I was surprised by the magnitude of people who embraced it,” said Ignacio.
Ignacio and designer Kevin Still spent years developing the passport. A primary concern was creating something that gave customers and staff the best experience possible. Additionally, the program needed to be manageable during crowded times.
“We had many different visions,” Ignacio said. An early prototype had a separate page for each stamp, which was too cumbersome. Finally, it started clicking. “The goal was to get people out to explore all our places and to enjoy the experience along the way,” said Ignacio. With that in mind, there are several experience pages with stamps for activities like attending a History Pub presentation or playing a round of golf.
The official passport launch date was Oct. 31, 2013 for employees and Nov. 5, 2013 for the public. “We want our employees to learn about all our locations. All our customers want to know about the history of our places and we want our employees to have that information,” said Ignacio.
The initial 10 customers and 10 employees to complete the passports received special prizes. Catherine Buck, who is now the Edgefield sales and events coordinator, was the first employee to finish. “It took some solid planning to make sure I could hit every McMenamins while it was open as fast as possible,” she said.
She started her adventure on a Friday when she got off work and planned to complete it that weekend. But a bad snowstorm on Mount Hood kept her from traveling to Bend. Instead, she headed south on I-5 to hit McMenamins locations in Salem, Corvallis, Eugene and Roseburg. The next Monday, she took I-84 to Highway 97 and made it to Bend’s Old St. Francis School.
“1,600 miles and four solid days later, I had every stamp but one,” she said. At that time, Bagdad Theater was closed for renovation until November. Determined to be the first in line when it opened, she decided to camp out Friday and Saturday before the official opening on Sunday. “I’m a very competitive person,” she said. The prize also proved to be a strong motivator: free admission to all concerts at the Crystal Ballroom and Lola’s Room for a year.
Scott Bassett, from Salem, was the first customer to finish and took his place in line at the Bagdad behind Buck. “It was cold and stormy on Hawthorne. I brought a heater and some propane and Catherine and her mom were kind enough to hold my place in line when I wasn’t there,” he said.
Bassett, a loyal McMenamins fan, learned about the passport and competition for first finishers four days after he retired from a career in state government. “I decided to go for it with encouragement from my wife,” Bassett said.
He headed out in his Prius for a quick tour of the Northwest. Bassett’s longest day started at the White Eagle at 6 a.m. He hit all the Washington locations, then headed to the coast by crossing the congested Lewis and Clark Bridge connecting Longview, Wash. to Highway 30 in Oregon. It was a race against the clock to get to the Pot Bunker Bar on the Gearhart property before driving to the Lighthouse Brewpub in Lincoln City and home to Salem 16 hours later. His prize was a $600 party at the Thompson Brewery & Public House that ended up doubling as a fundraiser for a nonprofit.
Bassett said, “I’ve traveled the kingdom four times and I’ve been lucky enough to go to four of the five Cosmic Tripster parties.”
Buck is thinking of completing another passport with her boyfriend. “But my plan for the next one is to do it slowly and enjoy the experience,” she said.
Since the passports were first “brewed” up, there have been five Cosmic Tripster parties. The first one was in the jail at Edgefield. “It’s the place where we store the artwork for our properties,” said Buck. “They cleaned it up, put the artwork out for display, and had tasting stations and food pairings in various parts of the building. There were about 500 of us at this event.”
The second was a pre-opening of the Anderson School in Bothell, Wash. With about 2,500 attendees. “It was an opportunity for our staff to practice and to get feedback and suggestions from a friendly crowd,” said Ignacio.
Impact on business has been tremendous, however, the program is costly as it includes giveaways. Since 2013, more than 5,000 people have become Cosmic Tripsters and Ignacio estimates about 80,000 passports have been sold.
“Because of its popularity, we’ve had to change our parameters,” she said. Originally she envisioned one party annually, but now plans them on an as-needed basis, trying to manage the attendance so people can still mingle. The limit for completed passports is two a year. And the passports are continually changing. If a new location opens, passport holders must get that stamp and “just-for-fun” stamps are always being added.
“We feel it’s a great value and connection to our customers that’s very special. We have three historians on staff. When we come into a place, we want to connect with the community,” said Ignacio. “And we want people to have fun. Those are the core values of Mike and Brian McMenamin.”
By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The McMenamins experience is one that is simultaneously unique and connected to the cosmic center that holds together the magical collection of quirky brewpubs. Its celebration of the fall hop harvest perfectly illustrates the company’s originality.
In early September, McMenamins brewers make identical batches of Thundercone Fresh Hop Ale on the same day. Then about two weeks later, they release the Thundercone, again on the same day, at all brewery locations. The same beer plays out a little differently at each spot. The process of making Thundercone was aptly named the “Running of the Brewers” by Brian McMenamin when the beer was first introduced seven years ago.
“When fresh-hop brews became popular, we decided to try one,” said Rob Vallance, brewery general manager. “And Northwest fresh hops are the grandfather of all hops. My predecessor approached Doug Weathers, the owner of Sodbuster Farms in Salem,” he said.
Sodbuster is a family farm that grows more than 14 varieties of aromatic and bittering hops and has been cultivating the crop since 1958. They sell hops to many local breweries and were happy to add McMenamins to the list.
Vallance said, “Cascade hops were the most popular and best known, so we decided to go with Cascade hops that first year.”
A team of brewers known as the Recipe Development Squad decided on a style and ingredients. “They didn’t want an IPA,” said Vallance, “so they went with an American pale ale with Pilsner and Carastan malts. Nothing has changed. The base is still the same. The hops may vary from year to year.”
Hop harvest in the Northwest traditionally begins the first or second week of September. As that time approaches, the Thundercone team preparation gets into full swing.
“We start planning in mid-August,” said Jessica Standley, brewery administration, public relations and social media. “We can’t over-plan. We usually get a three-day notice before the harvest day. That’s part of the unique quality of the Running of the Brewers.”
Weathers, the hop expert, maintains close connections with his brewing partners and determines the harvest date. He chooses the variety that looks best each year. Last year it was Simcoe. This year the hop variety will be Cascade. “We are shooting for a harvest and brew date of Sept. 7,” Vallance said.
The brewers at the 21 breweries make sure they have all their other ingredients on hand, prepare the mash bill and prep the wort so they can drop the fresh hops in the brew the minute they arrive. (No easy feat, to be sure.)
On harvest day, brewery managers show up at the farm early in the morning. The hop bines are cut, the cones are separated and the sticky, green hops are put into 30-pound burlap totes.
Then the fun begins. The delicate flavors of fresh hops are diminished by time and temperature. The Running of the Brewers helps ensure the temperamental flowers are quickly and safely delivered to 21 different breweries. “We all take varying routes and full totes of hops, and within hours they will be going into the brew,” said Standley. “We go in completely different directions. We have eight or nine routes with multiple stops. The largest route has six locations.”
Vallance coordinates the assorted vehicles and drivers. “So far we’ve been lucky enough not to have any major last minute catastrophes,” he said. The brewery that’s farthest north is McMenamins Mill Creek, some 235 miles from Sodbuster. The north Washington brewery manager takes the hops to that location and makes stops in Olympia and Bothell, which is home to the new Anderson School. The southernmost deliver goes to McMenamins Roseburg Station and Pub. Lincoln City’s Lighthouse Brewpub is a stand-alone delivery. Although McMenamins has numerous locations throughout Oregon and Washington, 65 in all, most of the breweries are near the I-5 corridor, meaning they are situated just hours from the fresh hops.
Justin Azevedo, the Wilsonville brewer, will be making Thundercone for his third year. “We all have the same brew sheets and the same grains. The hops might change from year to year. They are a late kettle addition. We want to preserve all the delicate flavor.” Azevedo continued, “The neat thing from a brewing perspective is the similar concept to terroir with grapes. The hops are right out of the field; the fresh hops preserve all the flavors of the fields.”
Azevedo feels fortunate that Wilsonville is so close to Sodbuster, and he’s one of the first locations to receive the hops. “This is one of our biggest events,” he said. “Everyone gets ready for when the hops come in. It’s a fun, seasonal treat.”
Standley tracks the exact time that hops arrive at the breweries, the distance traveled and other fun stats, like how many cups of coffee were consumed during the Running of the Brewers. All this information, plus photos, are posted online at mcmenamins.com/Thundercone.
Vallance said that all the brew houses receive the same amount, about 30 pounds, with two exceptions. The new Anderson School will receive close to 50 pounds and Edgefield will get about 100 since these two sites have bigger systems.
The Running of the Brewers is organized chaos over one day, leading to the release of Thundercone Fresh Hop Ale several weeks later. “It’s usually all gone within a couple weeks, a month at the most,” said Vallance.
Start looking for it mid-September and order it as often as you can.
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
On Mar. 21, 1986, the brewers at McMenamins Hillsdale in Portland were setting up to brew their 67th batch of beer, simply called “Raspberry.” The 110-gallon batch used 144 pounds of malt extract, two pounds of Cascade boil hops, two pounds of Willamette boil hops, two pounds of Willamette finish hops, and 30 pounds of raspberries. Starting with an original gravity of 1.043, on Mar. 26, with a final gravity of 1.026, the brewers racked the finished beer to seven kegs.
That beer hadn’t been foreseen as something special. Raspberry was just another in a long line of fruit beer experiments for the young brewpub, which prior to the raspberry brew had also fiddled with blackberries, blueberries, pineapples, apples and cherries. It was also another beer built off the company’s first beer, Hillsdale Ale, from which Hammerhead Pale Ale and Terminator Stout also descended. But this beer became more than just another sheet in the brew log. It became McMenamins Ruby Ale, now a flagship beer for the Oregon/Washington chain of more than 50 pubs. In 2015 alone, McMenamins brewed 166,036 gallons (5,356 barrels) of Ruby, in 628 batches (McMenamins Edgefield brewed the most volume — 47,000 gallons). The simple, hazy-pink brew not only remains a top seller. This month it celebrates its 30th anniversary.
At 11:39 a.m., on July 2, 2015, at the Queen Anne Pub in Seattle, McMenamins reached another milestone: racking their millionth keg. The beer that marked their “keg million?” Ruby. The unassuming, slightly tart ale doesn’t have the bitter punch of a DIPA. There’s no barrel-aging. No brett or other fascinating Petri dish of ambient, wild microbes. No “it” hop or spiffed-out, malt-of-the-moment. No bells and whistles whatsoever. Yet in 2014, Ruby was the No. 1 beer in sales for McMenamins, comprising nearly a quarter of the production and output for the entire company. It beat out not only Hammerhead, but the entire category of IPAs and DIPAs.
“Ruby is probably one of my favorite beers in the grand scheme of things,” says Hanns Anderson, head brewer at McMenamins High Street Brewery in Eugene. “It’s very popular, brings people in to try it and also try other things, and it’s pretty straightforward to make.”
Conrad Santos, one of the pioneer brewers for McMenamins, says that early McMenamins brewing philosophy was influenced by Belgian brewing, especially the use of fruit, such as raspberries and cherries, in lambic beers. Ruby became a juggernaut for the young brewpub and helped McMenamins grow and expand their brand. “It is just a huge, huge beer,” says John Richen, former chief brewery administrator for McMenamins. “Not much has changed about the basic recipe specs and flavor profile of the ale since its inception 30 years ago. Ruby is a genuine artifact from our earliest era of brewing.”
That simplicity is what keeps Ruby so popular, says Anderson. “There aren’t any huge flavors competing with each other, it’s just a nice simple base designed to be a raspberry delivery system. Ruby is very approachable.”
It’s also flexible enough to be blended, such as the popular Rubinator, a mix of Ruby and Terminator Stout, or to brew variant beers, such as the seasonal Purple Haze, which is the Ruby recipe brewed with boysenberries instead of raspberries.
Throughout its three decades, the biggest changes to Ruby have been moving from extract brewing to single-infusion, all-grain mashing in 1987, and switching from whole raspberries to puree (42 pounds of Oregon-grown raspberry puree, sourced from Oregon Fruit Products in Salem, go into every batch) during the middle of the last decade. “The aseptic puree allowed us to dial in the consistency and we got much improved color, flavor, and aroma,” explains Graham Brogan, district manager. Other than a brief period in 2008 when a raspberry shortage forced it off the tap list for a while, Ruby has been in constant production.
The enduring popularity also seems to be Ruby’s ability to be an “every beer,” with something to offer any beer fan. Anderson notes that non-hopheads are drawn to its lack of bitterness, and malt fans enjoy the light, refreshing flavor, and how it cleanses the palette.
And, simply, “it’s a joy to brew,” says Anderson. “Low hops and a light malt bill make for an efficient day in the brewhouse, and the low original gravity leaves for a quick turnaround in the fermenters. It’s a good chance to step away from a lot of the bigger, complex beers I brew down here, and hit the reset button once or twice a month.” He smiles. “It reminds me that not every beer needs to be insanely difficult or overly involved.”
Joseph Haggard (pictured) and his wife Michelle Haggard got into the beer business about a year ago when they bought a manual canning system that Joseph then modified using his knowledge from an electrical engineering degree and his time in the field. He hopes to upgrade in the next year. Photos courtesy of Crossroads Mobile Canning
By Erica Tiffany-Brown
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
If you choose to look up the meaning of “crossroads” in the dictionary, you’ll find both a literal definition and a metaphorical one. Or, to save time, you can listen to the narrative of Joseph and Michelle Haggard.
“There’s his story and my story,” Michelle explained when asked about how Crossroads Mobile Canning got its name.
“Which one do you want?” Joseph asked.
I opted for both.
Michelle started, “Over the last five of six years, we’ve wanted to get into the beer industry somehow. We’d looked at several properties off and on, and unfortunately we just didn’t have the capital to actually do it ourselves. There was a property off of Portland Road (in Salem) and I was like, ‘You know, that’d be a really nice place for a taphouse — right there, right on the corner — lots of traffic … and I think I would call it Crossroads.’ That never came to fruition, so when we had this idea for the canning, I still liked the name.”
Joseph added, “That’s her story. Mine was because I became disabled. I lost my job — they let me go. I was at a crossroads in my life. I didn’t want to lay down and die, so…”
A business was born.
Just about a year ago, the Haggards were sitting at Edgefield, watching wine move through a mobile bottling line. Their own wheels got turning, and they realized they knew a lot of breweries in the Salem area and wondered if mobile canning lines existed. After doing some research and discovering both Northwest Canning and Craft Canning + Bottling in Portland, they decided to go for it.
“That’s how it started that one day — the coolness of watching them bottle wine from a trailer,” Michelle said.
When it came time to choosing the right machine, the couple decided on a manual canning system from Cask Brewing Systems in Canada that can accommodate both 12-ounce and 16-ounce cans.
“I was a field service engineer before all this, and the electronics on it were like I had invented it. I’d researched all those other machines and this one’s put together the best. It’s like someone from the field designed it instead of an engineer behind a desk that’s never worked a day in his life in the field,” Joseph said.
“And it’s pretty, too.”
While Michelle isn’t quite as involved in the business— she has a full-time job as a medical laboratory technician —she does help with canning on the weekends and contributes a lot of great ideas, such as designing a few labels for brewers and printing them on the couple’s Primera LX900 color label printer. However, Joseph does about 90 percent of the footwork.
With his electronic engineering degree and background working with voltages of medical and laboratory equipment, Joseph knew that if anything were to go wrong with this machine, he could repair it, because it’s a 220-volt system.
Ever the handyman, Joseph even added wheels to the machine and had it shortened 16 inches. Firstly, to make it fit into their 6-by-12 cargo trailer, and secondly, to make it easier on his body.
“I can’t stand all day, so sitting at it was just the right thing to do.”
Joseph also bought a generator just in case, which makes Crossroads totally mobile now.
So, why did the Haggards choose to go with canning as opposed to bottling?
The duo looked into both, but felt that cans seemed to be the way to go at the time and were growing in popularity with the industry. Their lighter weight and the fact that the entire package is fully recyclable drew them in as well.
“There still seems to be a stigma — it’s just a matter of changing people’s minds about it and pushing the ecological stuff. Plus, if you take it backpacking, you don’t have to worry about bottles breaking or anything like that,” Joseph said.
“It’s a good thing we did, because I don’t think homebrewers would come to me to bottle their beer — they can do it at home.”
But that doesn’t mean they always want to.
Case in point: the hundreds of homebrewers the Haggards have canned for since opening up for business in December 2014.
Keizer-based PBH Brewing — Mike Bauer, Bill Herring and Aaron Pittis — were the first homebrewers to use Crossroads, canning their Red Sled IPA. PBH usually brews 25 gallons at a time, six to 10 times a year. They’ve canned with the Haggards three times so far — around 60 gallons of beer total.
“The cans are a lot easier to store. I don’t have to clean bottles — no cleanup at the end,” Pittis said.
When asked if he would recommend Crossroads to other homebrewers, Pittis’ response was an immediate “Yes, yes, yes. Joe is great to work with and we will continue to use him.”
Endorsement for Crossroads also comes from the two aforementioned fellow mobile canning businesses. Both Justin Brandt of Northwest Canning and Owen Lingley of Craft Canning + Bottling point quite a few homebrewers in the direction of the Haggards.
“Anything that’s too small for them, they send our way,” Joseph said.
Crossroads’ first official canning was actually with an already-established brewery — Vagabond Brewing in Salem.
“Vagabond was gracious enough to host us and we canned 6 barrels of their Into the Wild IPA,” Joseph said.
It was the first canned beer in Salem in 50-some years, so in a sense, Crossroads brought canning back to the state’s capital.
According to the Haggards, there’s “a ton of interest” from some of the smaller commercial breweries in Oregon, but most of them seem to be waiting until they get a little bigger and can produce more beer.
For now, the couple has been keeping busy by hosting monthly canning events for homebrewers at locations all over the state, such as F.H. Steinbart Co., Homebrew Exchange and Hi-Wheel Wine & Mead Co. in Portland, as well as Claim 52 in Eugene and Redmond Craft Brewing Supply.
“Of course, we’re always willing to just do it here (in Keizer) if none of those locations or times meet anybody’s needs,” Michelle adds.
Or, they’ll come to you — Joseph clocked in about 1,500 miles of traveling during the month of August.
Within the next year, the Haggards plan on upgrading from their current manual system to a semi-automated unit with four filler heads and two seamers that would put out triple what they’re doing now.
If all goes well, Michelle would like to be at another sort of crossroads in her life.
“Hopefully, we’d like to make this my full-time job. Get busy enough so that I can switch gears. I’ve been doing the laboratory work since 1978. It’s been a great career — really, no complaints — but I’m to the point where something different would be wonderful. To be able to work with him, side by side…”
“We have a lot of fun doing that,” Joseph concluded.
Crossroads Mobile Canning
[a] 671 Wayne Drive N., Keizer
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.