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 Erica Tiffany-Brown
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
For the last three years, I’ve dressed up as a hop during the Halloween season because a.) hops are awesome, and b.) I’m both too lazy and not creative enough to conjure up some other costume. Although I love traditions, I’m growing tired of doing the same thing year after year. But one thing I never get tired of is Oregon beer — so, I’ve decided to brew up some new rituals for all of us featuring our favorite treat. Below, you’ll find four different fall activities — beyond just Halloween — and the beers that go with them. October will never be the same again!
Ashland’s Caldera Brewing is already Halloween-friendly thanks to their logo, a bubbling black cauldron. But what will really put you under their spell is the Toasted Coconut Chocolate Porter. The brewery uses in-house toasted coconut chips and natural liquid chocolate to create nothing short of Mounds bar goodness. The beer already claims to be dessert in a glass, so why not take your state of sugar-induced bliss one step further by pairing it with the Hershey’s tropical treat? | 6.2% ABV, 24 IBUs
Aside from having a great name, Nut Crusher Peanut Butter Porter from Wild Ride Brewing in Redmond blends the chocolatey, caramelly, nutty notes loved by porter fans and amplifies them times a thousand with an undeniably creamy peanut butter flavor. It’s a beer that pairs well with E.T.’s favorite food group — Reese’s Pieces. Added bonus: The candies will double as a type of breadcrumb trail when you’ve imbibed too many beers and can’t find your way back home! | 6% ABV, 18 IBUs
Fall Activity Pairing: Trick-or-Treating
Even though you’re too big to get away with going door-to-door asking for candy — unless you secretly steal from your kid’s stash — there are likely plenty of leftovers from that giant variety pack you had every intention of handing out to costumed little monsters. Instead of ravaging it like a zombie, here are some more Oregon beer and candy pairings to help you savor every last bite: Rusty Truck Brewing’s Taft Toffee Porter with Heath bars, Base Camp Brewing’s S’more Stout with Peeps marshmallows, and Rogue’s Hazelnut Brown Nectar with Ferrero Rocher.
Pumpkin Spice and Everything Nice
Pumpkin beer (or pumpkin anything for that matter) is one of those things people either seem to love or hate. But even the biggest pumpkin skeptic could be made into a believer with Rogue’s annual Pumpkin Patch Ale. “Crafted from patch to batch,” each year Rogue employees pick fresh pumpkins from Rogue Farms in Independence, load them up and drive them 77 miles to the Newport brewery. The pumpkins are then roasted and pitched into the brew kettle, creating a final product that rivals even the best witch’s brew. | 6.1% ABV, 25 IBUs
Complex enough to be in a category all on its own, Cascade Brewing’s Pumpkin Smash is not for the average pumpkin beer fan. The Portland barrel house is highly regarded for its sour beers, and Pumpkin Smash does not disappoint. Each year’s batch offers a different experience — for example, their 2015 version is a blend of blond and quad ales aged in bourbon and brandy barrels for up to 22 months with pumpkin and spices. In September, the brewery released the 2015 blend on draft only, with vintage 2013 and 2014 bottles available for purchase. If the spirits are in your favor, you’ll likely still be able to score a rare bottle at the brewery, or at bottle shops such as Portland’s Belmont Station and The Bier Stein in Eugene. | 10.8%-12.35% ABV
Fall Activity Pairing: Pumpkin Patch
Check out Heiser Farms in Dayton for the ultimate pumpkin overload. On Saturdays and Sundays in October, the farm has cannons that shoot pumpkins more than a quarter of a mile! They will also be serving Heiser Pumpkin Ale from Silverton’s Seven Brides Brewing, a brew made with pumpkins grown right on the farm.
Originally released as a seasonal in 2014, Ninkasi’s Dawn of the Red has become almost as much of a cult classic as the movie it’s named after — 1978 horror film “Dawn of the Dead.” The brewery’s label designer and art director, Tony Figoli, is obviously a fan of the film, so what better reason to add this zombie-themed pairing to your to-do list this Halloween season and beyond? According to the Eugene brewery, “it doesn’t take brains to know this IRA is a delicious choice any time of year!” | 7% ABV, 75 IBUs
The infamous Black Widow only summons herself two weeks out of the year, but she always leaves a lasting impression. Originally brewed at the McMenamins Thompson Brewery 25 years ago on October 15, 1991, this deep-black porter infused with licorice root is so enchanting she will be the star of her own “Widow’s Weekend” at various locations. While she’s available October 15 through Halloween at all McMenamins pubs, the Thompson Brewery usually releases the popular seasonal earlier than the rest. But don’t get too lost in her web, as she won’t be here for long! | 7.35% ABV, 30 IBU
Fall Activity Pairing: Scary Movie Marathon
Although there is a 1987 crime thriller which shares the name “Black Widow,” McMenamins has a lot more to offer than that in the scary movie department this month. The company’s Mission Theater and Pub in Portland offers a variety of screenings all year long, but in October, you’ll find that classic spooky movies are their specialty. “The Craft” and “Scream” are both celebrating their 20th anniversaries, “Little Shop of Horrors” is celebrating its 30th, and “Carrie” is celebrating its 40th. There will be multiple showings of each, along with the movie “Se7en.” Don’t forget to order your favorite McMenamins beer as liquid courage as you prepare to be scared!
Putting the Oktober in Oktoberfest
If you’re pumpkin-phobic, have no fear, Deschutes is here! The brewery recently added a new fall seasonal to its lineup: Hopzeit Autumn IPA. While this beer may or may not conform to the Reinheitsgebot (a German purity law only allowing water, barley and hops as ingredients), the beer is at least “100-percent gourd free” according to the brewery, and “blends the malt body and flavor of a Marzen with the hop profile of an IPA.” It even has its own hashtag: #SayNoToPumpkinBeer. | 7% ABV, 60 IBUs
For those of you wanting something you could drink a few steins of without being frightened by flavors, this section’s for you. Block 15 Brewing’s Autumn Farmhouse Ale, dubbed as a “harvest celebration of Pacific Northwest regional farms,” is a part of the brewery’s seasonal bottle-conditioned series. The beer truly lives up to its description, featuring organic North American malts, organic oats from Green Willow Grains, Willamette Valley hops, and honey from Queen Bee Apiaries, also located in Corvallis. | 7.4% ABV
Fall Activity Pairing: Oktoberfest
Although Munich’s famous Oktoberfest may be over, luckily for you there are still some Oregon breweries that are hosting their own versions of the revered German celebration this month, including Block 15’s Bloktoberfest on Oct. 21 (Pro Tip: You get free entry if you wear German-themed clothing). On Oct. 8 in Portland, not only is Zoiglhaus Brewing hosting its own Oktoberfest, but Widmer Brothers Brewing will be putting on an Oktoberfest at Pioneer Courthouse Square featuring rock band X Ambassadors.
No matter how you’re celebrating this month, don’t be too spooked to try a new Oregon beer!
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.