By Ezra Johnson-Greenough
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The internet was supposed to make life easier and solve humanity’s problems, so who figured it would take an online bookstore more than two decades just to get beer deliveries to your home right? When Amazon rolled out its Prime Now service in late 2014, home beer and wine deliveries were discussed, but it wasn’t until August of 2017 that the service launched in Oregon. Amazon is famous for helping kill off local and big-box book retailers, and some are now concerned they could do the same to grocery stores and bottle shops.
Prime Now is an app for your phone or device that lets you order items you’d normally find at large grocers: food, household supplies and gadgets. To use this service, you must be an Amazon Prime member, which for $99 a year is easily worth it if you do any other online shopping or video/music streaming. Products are shipped through the company’s regional partners, and based on my zip code that would be New Seasons Market, Whole Foods Market or Amazon’s local product center.
Ordering from each incurs a separate delivery fee (typically about $5) that’s waived when the purchase amount reaches a certain threshold. Amazon then adds a suggested $5 tip for the driver, which can be edited. Users choose a two-hour arrival window and it can be scheduled days in advance. If you’re in a hurry, one-hour delivery is available for a fee ranging from $4.99-7.99. Prices are comparable, if not exactly the same, as what’s in stores. Another benefit is the option to have your package left on a safe porch without signature (though you must be present with identification if purchasing alcohol).
Amazon’s Prime Now store is the only outlet in my zip code to ship beer, cider and wine (none of the hard stuff). There is a “Cold Beer” section with subcategories for “Local and Craft Beer” along with domestics, imports and specific styles. At this point, your choices are limited to the lineup you might find at your local mini-mart, but I suspect that will change — especially if there’s demand.
Under “Local and Craft Beer,” some might quibble with listings for Not Your Father’s Root Beer, Blue Moon, Elysian, 10 Barrel and Hop Valley, but that’s neither here nor there. More important to most is the local beer selection, which includes new and classic — but safe — hits from Breakside, BridgePort, Crux, Full Sail, Deschutes, Ecliptic, Fort George, Ninkasi, Oakshire, Pyramid, Rogue, Widmer and Worthy. National/international players are even more basic, like Corona, Guinness, New Belgium, Pacifico, Stella and, interestingly, Schofferhofer Grapefruit Hefeweizen.
I have now ordered from Amazon’s Prime Now service five times, three of them specifically for beer, finding mostly good results. The delivery often arrives on the early side of the two-hour window, and they take care to put the beer in a thin, but still temperature-holding, Mylar bag along with an ice pack. I encountered one issue with my first purchase of two bottles of Breakside’s flagship IPA in 22-ounce bottles (well-priced at $4.29 each) and a six-pack of Pelican’s Beak Breaker Double IPA. Shortly after placing the order, I was notified via email that the Pelican beer wasn’t available. The rest of the items came as usual, and there was no charge for the six-pack — though it was still listed as being available more than a week later.
Polling the hive mind known as my social media connections, I came across one other interesting snag that I tested myself. When requesting a seasonal release, you may not end up with the beer you intend. For instance, one person discovered that an order placed for Fort George’s Suicide Squeeze IPA actually resulted in the brewery’s 3-Way IPA being delivered. I attempted to replicate this by ordering Suicide Squeeze along with Breakside’s Toro Red (the site actually pictured the brewery’s What Rough Beast beer). I ended up receiving the 3-Way as well and the India Golden Ale by Breakside. The lesson: beware of accuracy when it comes to ordering seasonals. On the plus-side, it’s nice to get a refund and still keep the beer by sending in a complaint. This, however, highlights areas where online beer delivery will most likely always fall short — in selection and depth of knowledge.
“Delivery works best for replenishing staples,” says Carl Singmaster, one of the proprietors of Belmont Station in Southeast Portland. “For the consumer that prefers to drink primarily one widely available brand consistently, it makes a lot of sense. But for those who are constantly exploring and learning, I think they'll prefer to shop at bricks and mortar.”
“When customers need friendly interaction, real opinions, industry gossip or tips, that's where we come in. There's nothing virtual about it,” says Sarah Pederson, owner of North Portland’s Saraveza tavern and bottle shop.
With Amazon’s recent acquisition of Whole Foods, there’s a lot of concern that the massive company could push out mom-and-pop grocery and beer retailers. While most bottle shop owners I talked to think that Prime Now is more of a threat to big-box stores, they are still considering the possible consequences.
“We may lose some sales,” says Sean Campbell (aka John Beermonger), owner of The BeerMongers bottle shop and bar in Southeast Portland, “but I feel that is always a threat either from grocery stores or big liquor stores. Knowledgeable staff, good prices and good atmosphere should help keep the little guys in business.”
Sarah Pederson agrees, “I think Amazon grocery will affect grocery stores in the beer departments more than small bottle shops such as Saraveza. I can't imagine that all the time, effort, devotion and education we put into our selection on a weekly basis could be mimicked by a ginormous online store.”
In addition to the selection and expert customer support, Prime Now doesn’t offer details consumers want, like where their beer is coming from.
“I have so many customers who are very conscientious of what brands they purchase in regards to the ownership of the brewery,” says Sarah Pederson. “I don't know if these people refuse to shop at Walmart or on Amazon, but I'm curious to hear from them.”
The area where Amazon really could hurt small businesses is pricing. “The biggest concern is that a company of the scale and with the cash on hand of an Amazon can subsidize their service to undercut other retailers. The other concern would be if producers and distributors give them outsized allocations of limited-release beers,” comments Singmaster.
Beermonger is more concerned about the beer itself. “I know not all beer is stored properly. I see it in big stores, but also specialty stores. If people get inferior product that was stored and shipped under less-than-ideal conditions, they may blame the brewery for making bad beer. This is a problem that often comes up and I see this new delivery system increasing the likelihood of beer that is ‘off.’”
Overall, these craft-centric retailers were interested in following this new wave of beer delivery, but didn’t seem overly worried about competition. In some cases, they were even encouraging.
“I am all for consumers having as many options and choices available to them as possible,” says Singmaster. “For those that prefer to have their groceries delivered rather than visiting stores in person, there is no reason they shouldn't be able to put beer and wine into the mix.”
“Convenience sells. This move by Amazon and Whole Foods is a sign of the times, and we shouldn't be surprised by it. In fact, we should be prepared for more of it. People are very emotional, and often fearful, about big business and how it takes over. It's not necessarily a bad thing for the craft beer movement, but it sure is an interesting twist in this ever-changing industry.”
One thing is for sure, now that there are more ways to get beer delivered, Amazon won’t be the only one to get into the business. Additional specialty retailers are likely on the way. We already have draft growler beer subscription services in companies like Hopsy and bottle subscription through Tavour, among others.
Alex McGaw, head brewer and owner of Two Kilts in Sherwood, stands in front of his shiny 15-barrel Practical Fusion system that replaced the homemade 7-barrel original system he pieced together before opening in 2011. McGaw is focusing on increasing production, exposure and distribution in the new year. Photo by Patty Mamula
By Patty Mamula
For Oregon Beer Growler
With new craft breweries opening on what seems like a daily basis around the state, a brewery that’s been around for five years is considered an established commodity. That’s the case for Two Kilts, a brewery in a semi-industrial area of Sherwood that Alex McGaw opened in 2011.
McGaw, the head brewer and owner, gave a strong nod to his Scottish heritage in choosing the name. He also developed a solid reputation for making excellent Scottish beer, winning the gold medal for Scottish Ale in 2014 at the World Beer Cup in Denver.
Still, McGaw is quick to point out, “We make all different kinds of beers.”
His winter seasonal beers include an oatmeal chocolate stout and a wheat.
McGaw arrived in Eugene in 2004 from the small, rural town of Dassel in south central Minnesota and immediately fell in love with craft beer. From landscaping he transitioned to delivery work for McMenamins in 2006 when he moved to Portland.
Naturally, he was interested in brewing. “I was in and out of different breweries and locations. I knew all the managers and all the brewers. By the time I started shadowing some brewers, I was also doing some homebrewing.”
One year later, he was a McMenamins brewer. After a three-week training stint at John Barleycorns in Tigard, he moved to the Fulton Pub in Johns Landing. During his four years there, he discovered he had a real knack for brewing beer.
“I like cooking and baking,” said McGaw. “I became pretty good at brewing. I was what you might call a technical, mechanical brewer.”
Eventually, he moved on to a larger McMenamins facility — the Crystal Ballroom with its numerous bars and spaces for live music. There he worked with several different brewers and gained more firsthand brewing knowledge and experience. “I learned the business of brewing. A lot of people were enjoying my beer,” he said.
On his own time, he started assembling a brewing system. Everything came together for him to start his own brewery when he found the Sherwood location in 2011. For two hectic years, he worked two jobs, sometimes around the clock. During the day he brewed for McMenamins at the Crystal Ballroom and at night he brewed at Two Kilts and ran the taproom.
“I thought I was going to get a break with the Crystal Ballroom gig, working four days on and three off, but it didn’t really turn out that way. Still, it was fun. I loved having my own place, working for myself and brewing beer,” said McGaw.
In 2013 he was able to leave McMenaminns and devote himself full time to Two Kilts. “I was finally able to pay myself a livable wage,” said McGaw.
Last summer, he took some Fermentation Science courses at Oregon State and gained a thorough overview of the process. In addition to online work, he spent a week at the Corvallis campus. “I learned the science behind beer and found out how to set up a lab. That’s very important, especially when you start to package your beer,” he said.
Until McGaw gets his own lab up and running, he has turned to fellow brewers for their assistance. “One of our best supporters is Jeff Edgerton at Bridgeport. He takes our samples to his lab to check.
“I love this business because it’s such a supportive community, competitive, yes, but supportive in learning the skill. We’re all trying to make us look good,” he said.
In the past year, McGaw has increased production and marketing. His beers are available around the state, but in small doses. “We’re trying to cover more territory,” he said.
Bottles and cans are available at New Seasons and Plaid Pantry stores, about 100 in all. Right now Two Kilts IPA, Crystal Sunshine and Scottish Ale are available in 12-ounce cans, and the Pale Ale, IPA, Scottish Ale and Cocoa Porter are available in 22-ounce bottles. “We’re trying to expand locally and working on increased distribution to growler shops and other outlets,” he said.
His full-time sales manager, Michael Fiaschetti, has really pumped up sales. “Everyone knows him. He’s made a nice mark for us,” said McGaw.
In addition to a whole new system — a 15-barrel Practical Fusion system with 30-barrel brite tanks, McGaw is adding new beers to the lineup and packaging more for retails sales.
The Crystal Sunshine, popular this summer, he describes as especially crisp and drinkable. “Our Scottish Ale is standard. I’m revamping the IPA to make it bolder. We had a fresh-hop version in the Oaks Park festival this fall,” said McGaw.
He’s thinking of adding an IPA series and a seasonal kettle sour.
With the goal of increased exposure, McGaw has entered Two Kilts in many of the state’s beer and food festivals, including the Bend Brewfest, Feast Portland and the recent Holiday Ale Festival. This was a first for the December fest, which requires brewers to make something that’s not on tap anywhere else.
The Two Kilts contribution was called the Earls of Orkney, a wheat wine with the following description: “A very big mouthfeel is present due to the insane amount of wheat malt that goes into this beer.”
McGaw is brewing three to four times a week. Last year the production topped out at 1,000-plus bottles and he’s planning to double that in 2016.
“We’re trying to support our local community of Sherwood and participate in community events,” said McGaw. He’s looking for another location in Sherwood to expand and add a food menu.
“What’s grown this place is word-of-mouth,” he said. “We’re looking to get into a more visible spot and provide our customers with a great experience.”
By Jim McLaren
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Two boys from North Carolina eased their truck up alongside John’s Market in Multnomah Village on a rainy day last October for one of three Portland stops on what has to be the greatest beer run in history. And they’re doing it for you.
While a ponytailed Stephen Pond was rattling and scanning bottles on the store shelves and downloading the information onto a laptop, George Taylor explained they were creating an app that will “evaluate beer based on scientific data rather than subjective adjectives.”
Beer Census 2014 was the collection phase of the latest project from Next Glass, which came about when Taylor’s father and brother got some bad advice from a sommelier. They figured there had to be a better way to pick wine than knowing if it was oaky, earthy or citrusy.
Taylor said they decided to run first wine, now beer, through a scientific investigation evaluation. Similar to what happens on the television show, “CSI,” a small sample of “evidence” is put into a mass spectrometer. The machine “spins the sample so fast it separates everything — proteins, sugars, carbs, alcohol content, calories, everything,” Taylor said.
That was the easy part. What was harder was getting the bottles for testing. Unlike most wines, many craft beers are not distributed nationally, and having them shipped cross country can be expensive or legally prohibited.
So the boys hit the road, lead-footing it from the Northeast, through Middle America to the West Coast.
In Oregon and Washington they bought nearly 2,000 bottles, pushing closer to their goal of 40,000 beers. And they purchased “one of everything ever made — seasonals, those crazy one-offs.” Taylor explained, “What’s cool, if they don’t ever make it again, I can put you onto something almost identical that is being made.”
Last October’s rains were dried up by a long, hot summer and now September is again easing toward the kind of weather an Oregonian can live with. Meanwhile, those boys from Carolina have been computer crunching the info gathered on their epic beer run. So, what do you get for all those miles, all that beer and all that digitalizing?
To find out, I downloaded the Next Glass app to my iPad, entered account information and worked my way through the tabs.
The Taste Profile tab rates beers on a 100 point scale, but also tells you the alcohol and calorie content of your favorite beer. The Breakside Country Blonde, for instance, comes at 7.5 percent ABV and 225 calories. Next Glass said it is 90 points on a “My Favorites” scale.
The Recommendations tab works like a Cicerone, suggesting beers you might like. Clicking on the Filter tab narrows your search to just beer. You can also refine your hunt to a particular beer style; though the app does not define styles.
The Search feature can help adventurous beer lovers find many, but not all beers. I easily found the offerings from Portland-based breweries, as I did larger craft brewers. But smaller breweries didn’t make the app. For instance, in Central Oregon, Deschutes made the app but Three Creeks and RiverBend didn’t. In Southern Oregon, I checked for six breweries, including Standing Stone and Caldera, and didn’t find them. In the Gorge, Logsdon made the list as did Full Sail, but pFriem didn’t.
The Snap feature is the most fun. To test it I hauled my iPad to a nearby New Seasons and input images of labels and bar codes. The app rates those beers based on my taste profile and should recommend alternatives. The results were mixed. Next Glass recognized the Rogue Dead Guy I liked and gave me a rating. But when I snapped a Pelican label it merely brought up a listing of other Pelican beers without ratings. In neither case did the app offer alternatives to those beers. And that is a problem. The most interesting challenge and potential for Next Glass is to allow a user to go to a place like Portland’s Belmont Station, take a picture of a strange beer label and then find out if the app compares it to something you like and tells you where to buy it.
To find out if Next Glass has plans to upgrade, I emailed Emma Johnson, Next Glass user happiness specialist, and asked about adding a match feature along with the GPS locator Pond and Taylor described to me last year. Johnson replied: “Next Glass does have a Glass Match feature available, but we've removed it for the time being for some revamping! It'll be back and better than ever soon. We're also working on another new feature — filtering by geographic proximity. As we perfect these features you'll be able to see bottles that you like that are available in your area!”
Apps are like beer, there’s probably going to be more than one you’ll like. Next Glass has potential but has some catching up to do. Untappd and Pintley are better at social networking for beer drinkers. BeerCloud offers a beer and food pairing service. Find Craft Beer has a mapping service that directs you to a shop carrying the beer you are hunting for.
Like beer, you probably have a favorite app. Just make sure you don’t ignore the newcomers. Each has the potential to enrich your experience.
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.