By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Two brothers wanted a family-friendly brewery, so they built one. Now, Eugene’s ColdFire Brewing sees itself as a hub for bettering the larger community. Early on the two founders, who are also brothers and dads, made a business commitment to focus on children's nonprofit organizations, and more specifically, children's health organizations.
“We all take our kids to the same schools, pay the same bills, buy groceries locally and spend our recreational time locally,” explains ColdFire co-founder Dan Hughes. “It's the broader sense of being part of a community that drives our business values to extend beyond our walls. It is our duty and our privilege to give back where we can.”
Focusing on children is also a way for ColdFire to express their commitment to the next generation. “We want to invest in a way that makes sense,” says Hughes, “by helping those who will be taking the reins from us someday, and maybe inspire them to do the same.”
Not that “alcohol” and “family-friendly” usually appear in the same sentence — much less the same business plan. Between the lingering legacy of Prohibition, as well as national ad campaigns that aren’t exactly known for focusing on family, beer has gained a bad rep. That association is inaccurate, says Hughes, who was inspired by the family-friendly pub culture of Ireland and Germany.
“European communities know what we are trying to recapture here: family is welcome everywhere,” says Hughes. “People there have vastly different expectations on what's expected at a pub. It's centered around food, music, socialization, and family is a key aspect. We see this changing rapidly here in the U.S., and we are very much a part of it.”
ColdFire backs that up not only with its support of community organizations and causes, but also with the simple nuts and bolts of the brewery: visitors to ColdFire can let their kids romp in a play area while parents enjoy a quiet pint.
The family-friendly culture — and kid-welcoming layout — is part of what brought local nonprofit WellMama to ColdFire. With volunteers providing pregnancy and postpartum mental health support services (including services in Spanish) for moms and their families throughout Lane County, WellMama’s fundraising events with ColdFire and Ninkasi have demonstrated how powerful breweries can be in raising awareness for a good cause. WellMama is also looking at how it can further collaborate with breweries to grow its Reaching All Mothers Initiative to support women in underserved areas and bring everybody in the community together.
“ColdFire presented us with an idea to work together, hang out, have family-friendly community events and see what happens,” says Jessica Schultz, WellMama volunteer coordinator. “The intent was to look for something where we could have families and especially kids welcome at, not just board members or staff. We could get everybody together. ColdFire is particularly family friendly, and that serves our mission of serving families and of helping families be healthier.”
Schultz sees the laid-back atmosphere of a brewery, plus its role as a community melting pot, as key ways to help people overcome social stigmas and personal embarrassment — common barriers that often prevent people from seeking needed services. Schultz also appreciates that craft breweries host local food carts and provide non-alcoholic options, striking a balance of healthy and fun interactions with the community.
“Most of us have had experience with postpartum depression and anxiety, and now we want to reach out to other mamas and help them,” says Schultz. “The breweries create space for people to come, relax, and feel like they can be themselves. They can support WellMama and support other families. The breweries bring that together.”
Dan Hughes sees ColdFire continuing to increase its role in supporting the broader community. Plans for 2017 and onward include more support of organizations such as WellMama, local school events and the nearby Campbell Community Center.
“People love a well-crafted beverage. They enjoy socialization. And they love it even more when they can do these things while supporting a good organization,” says Hughes. “We are building our business’s future, so we build our community’s future through our children.”
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 Jim McLaren
For the Oregon Beer Growler
A Chinook helicopter looks like a giant pickle, held in the air by enormous blades fore and aft. The rotor wash from the machine can knock a person off their feet. It kicks up so much debris it earned a colorful, slightly obscene, nickname. (Check Google.)
So, Maj. Stephen Bomar, director of public affairs for the Oregon Military Department, says envision “the unit Bravo 1-168 Aviation” flying the latest Chinooks, the CH-47 Delta, “in Kuwait for one year and doing operations in Iraq.” The heat is unbearable. You’re eating dirt and being sandblasted whenever the beasts take off and land.
At the end of each of those 365 days, National Guard members from Oregon and Washington probably wanted nothing more than some air conditioning and a cold beer. The A/C was easier to get overseas than the beer — it’s outlawed in those countries.
But these troops could daydream about what they would get when they got home, besides hugs, kisses and marching bands. Bomar knows “one free beer should do it.”
The “free beer” is a unique, somewhat-secret bottling Rogue Brewery has been doing for nearly 20 years.
In his Salem office, surrounded by bottles of Rogue beer to be donated to the Oregon Military Museum after its renovated, Bomar explains what might be called “Operation Rogue.” It started post-9/11 when Oregon began deploying units to combat zones. “Rogue began recognizing a unit for their service.”
The idea, actually, goes back to the founding of Rogue Brewery in the late 1980s. To “integrate ourselves into the community” was one of the original company goals.
When Rogue moved to Newport, it became part of the Coast Guard community. The “Coasties” were early customers honored with one of the first memorial labels. Company president Brett Joyce says, “the most fun things we do just tend to happen, naturally, because we are there and we’re listening and are open to new things.”
It would’ve been easy for Rogue to bottle some beer, make up a label and hand it out at coming home ceremonies. Instead, Bomar says, the units to be honored work directly with Rogue through the nonprofit Oregon National Guard Association in designing the label and verifying the facts on the bottle. For instance, the label for Sky Daddy Ale — handed out at the Oct. 22 demobilization ceremony for Company B, 1st Battalion, 168th Aviation Regiment -- featured an airborne Chinook with details about its operations, the 1,000 hours of combat flight time and the million pounds of cargo it airlifted.
Rogue stands off to the side during the official ceremonies but has, President Joyce says, “become a fun part of what we call a souvenir service — a service they really look forward to because it has become a tradition for them. So we get emails from people who say — ‘Hey, I couldn’t make the ceremony, can I get a bottle?’ It’s an honor to be able to help those who do serve.”
Bomar agrees and remembers the biggest bottling Rogue did. “When the 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team had its largest mobilization since World War II — it involved multiple states — there were more than 3,500 soldiers. Rogue still did the welcome home.”
Mike Johnson was part of that 2010 ceremony. He was coming back from his second tour. Johnson now works for Rogue, but remembers being impressed “that we have a brewery in Oregon taking time out of their regular course of business to work with the unit to do something really special, to remind them of where they came from and to give back.”
Brett Joyce is slouched in the chair behind the desk in his cluttered Southeast Portland office as he thinks, again, about how this fits Rogue’s community integration goal. “It’s kind of an unwritten agreement — you guys served and we’re happy to serve you up with a bottle of Rogue beer.”
But, after all these years, why not let the world know? Why has it been something of a secret?
“For this project, that is not really the point. People on the inside of it — the families, the friends, the people who serve — enough people know. We don’t do it to run a press release, we don’t blast it on our website. We just do it because it’s the right thing to do.”
The public cannot buy these special bottles. But unit members can pay only $20 if they want a full case.
With Ninkasi’s growth, the brewery sought assistance from Oregon Manufacturing Extension Partnership, an organization that helps increase efficiency and improve safety by bringing changes to a manufacturer's technology, management and labor relations. Pictured here are Ninkasi’s founders. Photo courtesy of Ninkasi Brewing Company
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
When a brewery is scaling production and operations, there’s often a focus on just getting through the day and dealing with problems as they happen. But as a company grows, they realize greater success can only come through better systems. By bringing on changes to manufacturing processes, management, technology and labor relations, breweries not only can improve safety records and increase efficiency; they can decrease costs and increase profits.
In 2013, Eugene-based Ninkasi Brewing Company had come to such a crossroads. They turned to Oregon Manufacturing Extension Partnership (OMEP), a not-for-profit organization that helps Oregon manufacturers grow through innovation and respond to the challenges of a global economy. (OMEP has previously provided consulting services for Fort George Brewery, Three Creeks Brewing Company and Deschutes Brewery.)
“Ninkasi didn’t want to be in firefighting or crisis mode all day long,” explains Chris Scherer, president of OMEP. “In a high-growth situation that can be normal, but companies that move forward realize they don’t want to stay that way.”
OMEP put together an operational excellence program, including recommendations on processes, safety, technology and even management and labor structure. By adopting the program, Ninkasi realized more than $300,000 in efficiencies, $200,000 in cost savings and 35 percent improved inventory accuracy.
At the 2016 Oregon Manufacturers’ Summit, held during March in Salem, OMEP presented Ninkasi with the Patrick R. Murphy Leadership Award, which recognizes outstanding leadership among Oregon’s top manufacturing companies.
“The award goes typically to a company that really understands and absorbs the lessons that we try to put across in our work. There’s a way to conform to our advice on the surface — fix a machine, rearrange an order in which you do things — that’s the technical side,” says Scherer. “There’s a level of appreciation on the cultural side that our award winners get in a deep way. Ninkasi almost started from that point of view. Ninkasi had considered thinking into the way they wanted to be, and they were upfront with us about wanting to make sure that what we did would fit with their cultural values.”
Scherer points out that OMEP is a good fit for breweries and manufacturers seeking long-term transitions and improvements. “Quick fixes aren’t in anyone’s interest,” he adds. “A lot of the companies we work with have had bad experiences with management’s fad of the month.”
OMEP looks to update companies with modern management systems and thinking, seeking to create partnerships between management and workers, as opposed to an adversarial us-vs.-them mentality. OMEP looks at the end customer and then works backward, examining, for example, quality control.
“You need a quality system that ensures that for one of those enormous tanks of beer, it comes out the same way each time,” explains Scherer. “What are the variables, and how do you account for changes in those variables? We had to think about every input, including the human input. It’s a long, complicated process of modernizing.”
It’s not just a matter of OMEP coming in and waving a presentation pointer, however. The company has be willing to put those recommendations to work. “Sometimes these ideas don’t take the first time through. You have to work on changing people’s thinking and behavior,” says Scherer. “The leadership at Ninkasi was very tenacious, committed and sticking to it and trying different ways until they found some solutions.” Even when recommendations go against current practices, Scherer encourages people to be open to new ideas.
Cheryl Collins, chief people officer at Ninkasi, agrees. “Since the beginning of our partnership, OMEP worked with us on a variety of projects — from strategic planning to preventative maintenance programs. OMEP has provided us with the coaching, feedback, tools and support necessary to help our team continue to improve.”
For breweries wanting help from an organization such as OMEP, they’ll need to be ready to talk frankly about their current operations, including selling, production, quality and other factors. OMEP then works with everyone from top management to other workers to amass ideas, understand pain points and figure out the best way forward.
“We think about it as satisfaction with status quo,” says Scherer. “If we’re talking to a company we just met, and they’re happy with where things are going, that’s not a good time to talk with us. If you don’t want us to rock your status quo, then you don’t want to work with us and should enjoy your stability. But when that changes … ”
Oregon Manufacturing Extension Partnership
[a] 7650 SW Beveland St., Suite 170, Portland
Other offices in Bend, Salem, Roseburg and Medford
By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
GoodLife Brewing in Bend has been on a roll ever since it opened five years ago this June. “We’re five years ahead of our business plan and 800 percent ahead of production goals,” said sales and promotions coordinator Chris Nelson.
To celebrate and give back to the community, GoodLife started a Sustainable Session Series in February with a portion of sales going to a Northwest nonprofit. The first beer is the Brewshed Session Ale, available through the end of May, with proceeds going to The Oregon Brewshed® Alliance, created to protect Northwest watersheds.
Nelson said, “All the session beers will be different styles. The new one coming in June is called Wildland Session Ale and we are donating 1 percent of the sales to the Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project. The one for October will be Mountain Rescue, GoodLife’s first beer. The proceeds from that will go to Deschutes County Search and Rescue.”
Native son Curt Plants started the brewery along with Ty Barnett, who’s originally from Joseph. The two managed to secure the business’s enviable west side location through a combination of incredible timing and luck. They were one day away from signing a lease on a facility in northeast Bend and planned to focus on production.
But they happened to drive by an indoor tennis center for lease in the Century Center Events venue. Immediately they were hooked. The building had high ceilings, good light and plenty of space: 22,000 square feet inside and 9,000 square feet outside. They jumped at the chance to lease it and took the financial hit for the buildout. At the time, people wondered what in the world they would do with all that space.
It turns out, plenty. When you drive into the GoodLife parking lot, you’re right in front of their beer garden. The fenced area features a few tables, a firepit, a bocce ball court and a food cart. There’s room for kids and dogs to run or to spread out a picnic and hang out. In the summer, it’s constantly full and often the scene of charity events.
The brewery is directly to the left of the garden. With all the new tanks GoodLife keeps adding, the brewhouse is close to needing an expansion. But before they opened and installed a 30-barrel system, the empty space was cavernous and obviously so. There was so much room initially, the touring company Cycle Pub moved in. It was a beneficial partnership for a while, but GoodLife eventually needed to grow and the bike company found a new home. Curt’s older brother Mark has now taken over a section of the building for BackDrop Distilling. This is another win-win arrangement, as Mark uses the brewery’s wort and GoodLife gets his barrels. Plus, the copper still is an eye-catching addition.
Growing up, Curt was interested in learning about different beers. Curt and his father, a music teacher in the Bend school district, often vacationed at Odell Lake, which is about 65 miles southwest of Bend. That’s when father and son would sample beers to educate their palates. One day, Curt’s dad suggested he continue his studies at the Siebel Institute because he knew his son was passionate about beer and didn’t like traditional schooling. Curt went on to complete coursework there, got a job at Rogue, but eventually turned his focus to opening a brewery with co-founder Ty.
GoodLife got going with a 30-barrel, four-vessel system and produced 3,100 barrels during the first year. Growth continued from there, including the addition of two 240-barrel fermenters and a 130-barrel lagering tank. Last year, production hit 20,000 barrels. Nelson said, “The 30-barrel system will max out at 55,000 barrels a year.” Right now, they brew four batches a day, six days a week from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.
The expansion was driven by their purchase of a canning line. They had been using a mobile unit that filled 30 containers a minute. But the new line can handle 122 cans in that same amount of time. The line from Palmer Canning out of Chicago was, at the time, the largest the business had shipped west of the Mississippi. The equipment will allow GoodLife to keep up with demand in their distribution markets, including Oregon, Idaho, Hawaii, Washington and Vermont.
For GoodLife and so many other local enterprises, sustainability is simply a part of life in Central Oregon. Spent grain recycling started with a phone call from Curt to longtime family friend Dave Holmberg, his former teacher and principal. Holmberg, who worked with Curt’s father at the same school, also owns Anchor Heart Ranch and raises cattle. Holmberg described that, “Curt asked if I still had cattle and said he was starting a brewery. Would I be interested in taking that stuff?”
Holmberg started with one small trailer to haul off GoodLife’s spent grain, but he now owns four large trailers and two 1-ton diesel trucks to handle all of the byproduct. He arrives in the morning, depending on the brew schedule, with an empty trailer to replace the full one, which contains 10,000-12,000 pounds of spent grain. Not only do Holmberg’s cattle benefit from the process; hogs at High Hope Acres in Culver also get some of the load. Holmberg additionally picks up the trub (yeast mixed with beer, the stuff left at the bottom of the fermenters) in 300 gallon containers — five or six a week.
“With the trucks and trailers I have now, and with GoodLife’s 30-barrel operating system, I can keep up with them for the foreseeable future,” said Holmberg. “Between me and my other driver, even with increased production, we will just be busier recycling spent grain.”
Future plans for GoodLife? “We have the option of building on the lot adjacent to our parking lot. If we were to do that, we would be going big — comparable to Deschutes with a 100-120 barrel system. Or we will stay put — maybe put in a 60-barrel system and continue as a regional brewery,” said Nelson.
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.