By Ezra Johnson-Greenough
For the Oregon Beer Growler
It would be difficult to overstate the importance of the Oregon Brewers Festival. It’s not just a festival, but THE festival of the Pacific Northwest and the largest of its kind in the country. So large does the OBF loom that when you mention “Portland” and “beer festival,” most assume you’re talking about OBF. It’s become the measuring stick for all other beer events, and in 2017 OBF will set the bar even higher by working to end intoxicated driving by launching a Safe Ride Home program.
This July 26-30th marks the 30th anniversary of OBF, held at Portland’s Tom McCall Waterfront Park. It’s the largest beer fest in the U.S. by attendees, claiming 80,000 or so visitors annually and in 2016 it contributed an estimated $29.3 million to the local economy. Other impressive stats it boasts: 44.2 percent of last year’s attendees were women and 20.2 percent of out-of-town visitors stayed in rental lodging.
Art Larrance, now of Cascade Brewing, founded OBF in 1988 after being inspired by Oktoberfest in Munich and the first Waterfront Blues Festival in Portland. At the time, Larrance and Fred Bowman had founded Portland Brewing — the city’s fourth brewery — and were asked to provide beer for a new event. The two Hillsboro High alums launched the Papa Aldo’s Pizza Blues Festival during the last weekend of July at Waterfront Park. The inaugural celebration was a hit, with kegs kicking as quickly as they could tap them. Surprisingly, then, the event sponsors sold the Blues Festival to the Cascade Blues Association and the date was moved to the Fourth of July weekend. That left an opportunity to purchase the park rental space during the last weekend of July, which Larrance did for $500. He reached out to Widmer Brothers Brewing, BridgePort Brewing Company and McMenamins for help starting a beer festival that no one expected to succeed.
“One of the big questions we got were, ‘How much alcohol do you get out of the hops?’ People did not have a clue what the hops were. Now, people are going ‘I want to try that Citra hop!’ We are all becoming hop experts,” Larrance said.
The first OBF in ‘88 created a template for the token-based, low-cost outdoor beer event that has become perhaps the most popular model. The Great American Beer Festival was founded in 1987 and took place indoors with a session-based entry fee featuring unlimited (but small) pours. Larrance did almost everything differently. OBF, with an outdoor setting, was free to enter and attendees could purchase a plastic mug and $1 drink tickets. The only major change in the last 30 years is a switch from paper tickets to reusable wooden that also double as free advertisement for the fest. That first event featured 22 breweries from six states. With an expected attendance of around 5,000, approximately 15,000 showed up, which had brewers scrambling to keep up with beer sales. These days, the festival takes up twice the length of Waterfront Park that it used to and has stretched from two days to five.
In 1994, Larrance left Portland Brewing. “They said, ‘You’re kind of a starter, but we need more of a finisher. We need more nationally known people … MacTarnahan’s had bought more stock and they didn’t want me around.” Portland Brewing gave Larrance their interest in OBF and he went on to purchase the rest of the shares of ownership from the Widmers and the Ponzis (founders of BridgePort).
A major misconception about OBF is that it does not or should feature more Oregon brewers, but from the beginning that was not the goal. “We wanted to showcase Oregon beer, but not to say we were the best. We want to get out-of-staters ... to stand the local beers up against all the others so that people would say ‘Oh, that Oregon beer is pretty darned good.’ We wanted people to make up their own mind.” A lottery system is used to choose participants, though breweries that have been longtime supporters are grandfathered in. Larrance says narrowing down contributors is the most difficult aspect of the event.
In 2013 the festival attempted a switch to real glassware instead of the much-maligned plastic mugs. Unfortunately, the Boston Marathon bombing put an end to that two years later with law enforcement insisting upon no glass in the park. “The police said glass can be a weapon and I know it can ever since I was chased around a strawberry patch by a girl with a broken beer bottle because I hit her with a strawberry 60-some years ago” says Larrance.
Another aspect that sets OBF apart from other beer events is Larrance’s insistence on keeping it family friendly. He fought the Oregon Liquor Control Commission when a contingent tried to prohibit children. Larrance strongly believes in keeping the family unit together and said “We really had to work hard to show them [OLCC] we were aware of the minors and we really want them there with their parents.” As a compromise, event organizers created a permission slip for parents to sign in order to bring their kids.
In 2012, OBF introduced the International Tent that featured beers from the Netherlands. “It all started with Mark Strooker,” recalls Larrance. “He started it by contacting Travel Portland and saying ‘I want to try to get the Oregon Brewers Festival to the Netherlands.’ Well, I thought, I haven’t been to the Netherlands since 1976. So I went over there to a festival at De Molen Brewery called the Borefts Beer Festival.” Larrance asked Strooker to invite 10 or so Netherlands brewers to OBF. The festival would pay for travel and the featured beers.
Larrance soon found out that the brewers actually did not know each other that well and the trip to Portland strengthened their bond. Since then, Larrance has traveled back to the Netherlands to explore setting up OBF there but doubts remain about the cost and attendance. Still, Larrance says, “I fell in love with the country, the people, the attitude. It’s kind of like us 20 years ago.”
Since the first International Tent, OBF has brought brewers from other countries. However, import costs have skyrocketed, so the feature will take some time off this year. To beat escalating shipping costs, Larrance wants to fly beer makers here to make a special batch at an Oregon brewery. While that may mark the end of the International Tent, it also relaunches a Specialty Tent (formerly called the Buzz Tent), which will serve smaller kegs not available at the regular pouring stations.
The Safe Ride Home Program is a new update to this year’s festival and was still in the works as of press time. Working with the Portland Bureau of Transportation, Larrance and OBF want to eliminate any post-festival intoxicated driving. “We want to have zero loss from the festival. We want people to get rides home safely.”
The program has a few initiatives, some of which they are still figuring out how to implement. One is a deal with SmartPark Garages. Drivers who come to the festival will be given a receipt that provides a $5 discount for anyone who decides to leave the vehicle overnight and pick it up the next day between 9 a.m. and noon. Another option is an expanded deal with Radio Cab. A little-known OBF benefit is that two taxis are available at the event to transport intoxicated patrons. This year, $20,000 has been raised to fund a fleet of cabs that will be located across the street from the park and discounts will be given to festival goers.
“We are working with Portland Police. We have the same motive to get people home safely. We want them to come back next year.” says Larrance.
Art also hopes the program will go beyond OBF and extend to all the states’ beer fests. “It’s not going to be just for us. We are trying to set up for all beer festivals and working with the guild so they can implement the same thing to work it out this year and figure out how it works best. So you know if you come to Oregon and go to our festivals, there won’t be any issues and you will come back. We will get you home safe.”
By Andi Prewitt
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
Not every homebrewer has a mass spectrometer to play around with. Or a gas chromatograph, which together can detect and identify chemicals in beer. Of course, not every homebrewer has access to the pros, advising them about quality control and assurance. That makes Adam Fleck the envy of every stove-top and back-deck-burner beer maker in Oregon because he has all three.
While a sensory panel for many a homebrewer consists of a “panel” of buddies heaping on praise while looking to score free beer, Fleck has the equipment and training to conduct sophisticated analysis of his own creations. He’s taken that methodical approach on the road to assist small and midsize breweries with the science aspect of the business. And while there are plenty of companies that provide data on everything from IBUs to DMS, what sets Willamette Valley Mobile Testing apart is Fleck’s ability to bring the lab to a brewer’s doorstep. There may be a growing number of portable canning and bottling services in the craft industry, but the notion of the traveling chemist is still new. A natural reaction to Fleck’s innovative approach might be, “That’s cool!” To which Fleck would respond: “Well, it’s either that or it’s really stupid because no one else wanted to do it because they weren’t crazy enough.”
While it certainly took some bravery to launch a business for which there was no model, the risk appears to be paying off. Fleck has a growing number of breweries from Eugene to Seattle he’s contracted with, including Ancestry Brewing, Black Raven Brewing Company, Culmination/Ruse Brewing and Diamond Knot Craft Brewery, to name a few. He offers multiple services, such as sterility and cleanliness checks, yeast viability assessment and cell count along with tests for everything from water chemistry to pH and hop aromas to off flavors. Shaun Kalis, founder of Ruse and brewer at Culmination, which share the same space, said Fleck conducted dissolved oxygen analysis for that facility to help ensure there wouldn’t be any oxygen pickup in the lines. Following that experience, he believes Fleck’s expertise can benefit brewers who don’t have a Breakside or Widmer budget to invest in expensive equipment.
“Having people like Adam who can do testing and can provide the benchmarks to your company’s standard operating procedures, I think, is a great thing for the brewing community — to make us better and consistent,” Kalis said.
Fleck’s arsenal of instruments is tucked away in what resembles a shiny, black toy hauler. Industrial straps and bungee cords secure his tools as he drives from site to site. One of the most important pieces of equipment looks like a cross between a giant copy machine from the ‘80s and a microwave. That is the gas chromatograph — what Fleck calls his “ace in the hole.” He got experience with it after taking a job in the oil fields of eastern Utah analyzing natural gas and petrochemicals.
“A gas chromatograph to a chemist is like a power drill for a carpenter. It’s kind of a multi-tool, depending on your columns, your injectors, software. [Those] are the bits on that power drill. You can do a lot of things with them. You can do buffing, grinding, sanding, cutting, drilling, screwing, whatever,” Fleck explained. “You’ve just got to change out the end. It’s kind of like a gas chromatograph.”
The technology has been around since the 1950s and is used to separate compounds. Oregon State University’s Environmental Health Sciences Center provides a vivid analogy: Imagine a race at a track meet where the runners begin at the same point — the starting line. However, they’ll finish at different times due to speed. In a gas chromatograph, chemicals are separated by volatility, with more volatile (often smaller) chemicals moving faster than those that are less volatile. The mass spectrometer will then identify the chemicals based on structure.
So, how did Fleck go from using a gas chromatograph in the oil fields to applying the instrument to beer? It all comes back to homebrewing. Turns out, his former boss made beer with a friend and they’d run it through a gas chromatograph to test the alcohol. Fleck decided to explore other uses and discovered the list is huge.
“There’s 2,800 different compounds in beer; 478 affect flavor. And I can get about half of them using my mass spec, so that’s pretty cool.”
When the price of oil plummeted in 2014, Fleck turned his layoff into an opportunity. He relied on the State of Oregon’s Unemployment-Self Employment Assistance, commending the program for providing him with a way to build Willamette Valley Mobile Testing without having to also search for jobs that likely wouldn’t match the wages he made in the oil industry. Another advantage was the unemployment payments that allowed him to pump all initial money made back into the business.
As of June 2016, Oregon had 206 brewing companies and 246 brewing facilities, according to the Oregon Brewers Guild. Those numbers will grow given the amount of applications the Oregon Liquor Control Commission receives for new producers. Plenty of them could use Fleck’s help. Breweries lack quality programs for multiple reasons. Some can’t afford the lab. Others simply don’t have space. And plenty say they don’t need it. But Fleck pointed out that just because brewers believe they’re replicating their processes, doesn’t mean batches will be consistent.
“Their equipment doesn’t always act the same way every time. Their inputs aren’t the same every time,” he explained. “If you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”
Fleck contends that “quality and quality control are the next battlefields for craft beer.” They’re factors that increasingly finalize distribution deals, since a quality program provides a better-guaranteed product. The average beer drinker is also more aware of consistency. Fleck said customers are drawn to craft because of the overall experience — part ambience, part novelty and part flavor. Not everyone can identify diacetyl or acetaldehyde, but they won’t hold back if beer quality was “hit or miss” after multiple visits.
“The customer will know when their experience changes. And you’ll hear about it,” Fleck said.
If distributors care and beer drinkers care, the next hurdle is getting more brewers to commit to investing in quality control/quality assurance. Testing services aren’t a tangible purchase like a gleaming new tank or colorful packaging for distribution. But it is one of the most important parts of the brewing process. Fleck is so dedicated to quality, he refuses to test beer submitted to him “because I don’t know how the sample was collected, when it was collected and what has happened to it on transport.” He goes to the source and then tailors a program to fit each brewer’s needs.
Fleck hopes that his one rig will grow into a fleet in the future. There are also plans to expand into distillates, wine and cannabis, the latter of which desperately needs better testing for potency and pesticides, post-legalization. The Portland State University graduate wants to reach out to students at his alma mater by bringing on interns who are majoring in chemistry. However, would-be lab-techs-in-training with spotless GPAs need not apply.
“I was not an A+ student. I don’t want A+ students. I despised A+ students,” he laughed. “I want a student that’s good, but lazy enough to find a better way to do it.”
In the meantime, Fleck will continue to build his client base by meeting new brewers and starting a discussion about quality control.
“The idea of the craft industry is kind of centered around quality. So, yeah. It’s a good product. Why wouldn’t you do it with consistency? You can’t just make great beer once.” Fleck said. “You have to make great beer every time.”
Willamette Valley Mobile Testing
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
No beer was flowing, but more people were getting in line.
The culprit at Eugene’s 13th Sasquatch Brew Fest? A jockey box had run out of gas. “It took me a long time to find a CO2 wrench,” says Doug Fuchs. “Then I found another CO2 bottle. I swapped out the dead bottle for the new one and the beer flowed. It took about a half an hour, but every single person in line was still there, waiting patiently in good humor. Beer nerds are good folk.”
For Fuchs and the rest of the team behind Eugene’s annual one-day festival, that’s what it comes down to: meticulous planning, hauling heavy kegs, on-the-spot problem solving, and above all, trusting in the best of the industry and the public.
Bringing together breweries and cideries, finding a location, arranging food and entertainment, organizing dozens of volunteers, setting a beer dinner, collaborating on a homebrew competition, complying with Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) regulations and drawing in the public is no easy feat. “Beers festivals are back-breaking work,” Fuchs says. But every year the Northwest Legends Foundation (NLF) -- the 501(c)(3) nonprofit that organizes Sasquatch — makes it happen.
It Takes Four Months to Make One Day
Four months of planning culminated in 2015 Sasquatch, held on Saturday, June 6 during Eugene Beer Week. More than 100 kegs — 1,550 gallons — from 50 breweries and cideries poured for more than 3,000 people who braved temperatures rising above 90 degrees to celebrate craft beer at the Hop Valley Tasting Room. For Fuchs, of Eugene-based publicity and marketing firm Flying Ink Media, it was not only a celebration of the craft beer industry; it was another year commemorating a renowned figure in the local brewing community.
“Glen Falconer was a dear friend,” says Fuchs. “I met him during the first employee meeting just before Steelhead Brewery opened in 1991. Glen was the first assistant brewer. I was the first head bartender. Glen and I became friends quick and stayed that way.”
The two also worked together at the now-closed Wild Duck Brewery, Fuchs as an assistant brewer and bartender, and Falconer as the head brewer. When Falconer died suddenly in 2002, Fuchs was one of the first to realize something was needed to honor his memory, and Sasquatch was born. Fuchs has served as the publicist and marketing director for the festival since its inception in 2002. In 2014 Fuchs also joined the Northwest Legends Foundation board of directors, and this year became the festival’s brewery and beer coordinator.
Three people are in charge of organizing Sasquatch: Fuchs, John “Chewie” Burgess (operations manager) and Steve Ditmar (NLF president). They coordinate with an event operations board, which manages both big picture and minutiae.
“We start planning in early February of each year,” explains Fuchs. “Working together, we put the festival together in about four months, from February to the first week of June. February through March is mostly planning. April and May are fulfillment.”
Early festivals were held at the now-closed Wild Duck Music Hall, then outside in Kesey Square, moved inside the Hilton Eugene, and then switched venues back outside, first at Ninkasi in 2014, then at Hop Valley this year. “We plan on keeping the festival outside from now on,” says Fuchs. “When the festival is outside, we have a larger footprint, and then can pour more beer and entertain and educate more folks about beer culture and craft-brewed beer. These past two festivals, 2014, 2015, may very well be the largest ever.”
Different venues pose different challenges. “Every year is a learning experience,” Fuchs says, “Since we are pouring an alcoholic beverage outside in public, we have to have permits, oversight, fencing, security, all of which have to come together to make the festival a success.”
The Lifeblood of a Beer Fest
The lifeblood of Sasquatch comes down to two things: breweries and volunteers. All kegs are selected by head brewers and donated to Sasquatch (all proceeds from the festival go to area charitable organizations and to brewing scholarships for institutes such as Siebel and the American Brewers Guild).
Brewery support doesn’t end with the keg delivery though. “Brewers and their employees, representatives, and friends show up early, set up their own jockey boxes, haul their own kegs, ice down the beer, and inform and educate folks that show up to taste their brews,” says Fuchs. “The breweries are the real force behind the festival, and we give each brewery an opportunity to show off their craft.”
Beer fans show up initially to support their favorite breweries, but quickly turn to exploration of other breweries and styles. By providing so many different beer styles to try from so many different breweries, Sasquatch’s broad range provides something for everyone.
Alongside the brewers are 100 volunteers who handle all the big and small tasks on the day of the event. They set up the festival, work front of house, haul ice to keep the beer cold, pour beer, tidy up after the festival closes and show up the next day to clean the venue and break down all remaining equipment. “Volunteers make the festival happen,” says Fuchs. “I am amazed each year at the sweat and work put in by people — sometimes I don’t even know their names — who just make it work.”
As Fuchs and the Sasquatch team come off another year, they are icing their backs and glad to be out of the heat for a while, but the pain has been worthwhile. “Beer culture is an exceptional place with a lot of heart,” Fuchs says. “Eugene is a wonderful place. And the best way to reveal the heart of the community is to ask for help. Eugene jumps right in every time.”
By Peter Korchnak
For the Oregon Beer Growler
In pursuit of their dream of opening a brewery, Joe St. Martin and Sean Oeding took the road less traveled: they opened a beer cart. And then another one.
When St. Martin moved from San Francisco -- where he sold his beer at small events — to Portland, he bought a food cart and refurbished it to serve beer. In the summer of 2014, the first Scout Beer Garden opened at the Good Food Here pod at Southeast 43rd Avenue and Belmont Street, and shortly thereafter the second one became the anchor for the Tidbit Food Farm and Garden pod at Southeast 28th Place and Division Street. Each cart serves up to 12 brews, including St. Martin's own craft beer and a cider.
Adventures in Brewing
“It was a bit of an adventure,” St. Martin says. While he has acted as the brewer and day-to-day manager, Oeding has provided financial backing. The duo's dream of brewing came true last February, when St. Martin poured his first two creations: a peanut butter porter and a marionberry red ale. He says, “You could serve them separately or as a black and tan to make a liquid PBJ.”
The following month Scout Beer Garden introduced the Pretty in Pink IPA, with grapefruit and pink peppercorns. And on April 13 they launched their fourth brew, the Kentucky Coffee Stout, with bourbon and hazelnut.
Pod Bar Blazes the Way
As unique as Scout Beer Garden may be, it isn't the first beer cart to open in Portland. Captured by Porches Brewing Company’s Mobile Public Haus beer bus launched the phenomenon in 2010. While successful, it was an extension of the brewery, operating with a brewery license. Strictly speaking, it was not a food cart, says Brett Burmeister, editor of the Food Carts Portland blog.
The first dedicated beer cart with a full liquor license was Pod Bar, at the Carts on Foster pod at Southeast 52nd Avenue and Foster Road. The pod and bar owner Steve Woolard today laughs about the now-notorious episode, when the City of Portland fought the Oregon Liquor Control Commission's award of the license, but eventually backed down in 2012. “They're out of office, we're still in business,” he quips.
To get the license Woolard had to add a covered, enclosed seating area to the 1956 Aloha trailer made in Beaverton. On a March Saturday, during a lull between lunch and happy hour, a family with small children enjoyed a late lunch and brews, and a steady stream of craft brew aficionados kept the barkeep, Larry Walters, busy with filling growlers.
The beer cart was a natural extension of food carts, says Woolard, who used to brew at Yamhill Brewing Company and now runs the Spring Beer and Wine Fest. “If the food is so good, why not serve beer too?” he thought. Pod Bar scratched his beer itch, Woolard says, and the constantly changing beer list makes it so “you never know what you're gonna get.”
Beer Carts as Community Hubs
Though he knew the neighborhood needed a place with good food and good beer at a reasonable price point, Woolard says, “I didn't expect it to become such a family destination and a neighborhood hub.”
According to Burmeister, beer carts contribute to creating community spaces. The Tidbit pod buzzes with activity, with families, groups of friends, couples, and tourists alike crowding picnic tables, noshing on various world cuisines and quaffing pints to live music. St. Martin says, “I love being able to be a part of the local community.”
The Future of Beer Carts
Burmeister forecasts that, rather than each pod featuring a dedicated beer cart, regular cart vendors will offer drinks that are unique to their cuisine -- e.g., a Vietnamese food cart serving Vietnamese beer — and that beer carts will expand their offerings by including cider and wine.
For St. Martin, the future lies in brewing. For now, he makes beer at Portland U-Brew. He is seeking contract breweries to increase production of the IPA and the red to keep them on tap permanently and make them available elsewhere.
“I am lucky,” he says. “I get to make a living with a unique little business and share it with people.”
By Jim McLaren
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Bryce Morrow was sliding easily into his brewery project.
In five years he, his father and father-in-law went from stovetop brewers to having the first legal brewery in a home garage in Oregon.
The Oregon Liquor Control Commission and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau smiled benevolently on what Bryce was doing. His luck continued when, one day while the garage door was open, a dog-walking neighbor happened by and caught a whiff of brewing beer. The neighbor owns a barbecue joint and offered to carry some of Bryce’s beer.
Soon, Bryce and his father Craig -- both Oregon City boys — went shopping for a brewery location. They found it in an old auto showroom at the corner of 14th and Washington Streets.
While father-in-law Rajiam Pursifull was experimenting with brews -- a marionberry beer, a chocolate pale ale, a sour and, of course, the Oregon-requisite IPA — Bryce and Craig outfitted their new space for a 3-barrel brewing system and taproom. Oregon City Brewing Company opened Nov. 15, 2014.
On a concrete pad outside the taproom, below a tricky sign that seems, at first glance, to promise FREE BEER*, Bryce invited a rotating roster of food trucks to park and dish up. “People loved it,” Bryce and Craig agree. “We contacted the best food trucks that we liked in Portland. They did really well and the people, all of our customers, really love it.” Bryce wants the food for another reason. The OLCC allows parents to bring in underage children when the food trucks are on site and Bryce believes family business is key to success.
But then came the first bump in Bryce’s plans. He received a couple of cease-and-desist letters from Oregon City officials and found out why there aren’t any food trucks in Oregon City. A few years back, the city banned them from downtown.
The city will allow food trucks on the old Blue Heron mill site on the Willamette River if it is developed as is hoped. Also, the community development director has said he thinks city ordinances can be revamped to allow trucks elsewhere, but things are moving slowly. Bryce says he understands. “They’re busy and they’ve got a lot of things going. I don’t expect them to drop everything else they’re doing and take up this initiative.”
This is where good business and politics come together. Besides beer, Bryce also sells shoes. He is the CEO and co-founder of Solestruck, an online shoe company with just one brick-and-mortar store in Portland’s Pearl District. With a history, then, of giving people what they want, Bryce decided to ask Oregon City what it wants. He says an informal survey in the taproom garnered about 2,500 pro-food truck signatures in three weeks. Of course, some of the great political movements in history have begun over a beer or two and since Oregonians love to vote on things, the successful survey convinced Bryce: “We’re going to pursue putting it on the ballot in November, so it would be a voter initiative.”
Getting products, beer or shoes, to customers is what drives Bryce. After being open for just over six months, he says, “We’re going to eventually increase our capacity and we’ll upgrade our warehouse. But we want to make sure when we do that it is the right thing for us.”
Ahead of that, the brewery will soon be offering Crowlers. Bryce, smiling like a kid with a new toy, says “We have something unique coming that I’ve just ordered from Oskar Blues (a Colorado brewery), a Crowler system.” It uses a special machine to draft fill and seal a 32-ounce can in about two seconds. It keeps the beer fresh until you pull the tab and pour it out.
The Oregon City Brewing Company taproom offers more than OCB beer. Hop on a stool at the bar, look above the turntable and the shelves of vinyl records and you’ll see four big LCD screens. They are digital menus announcing 44 selections from other breweries, cider makers, wineries and even some root beer. All of it is aimed at helping people meet and fall in love with the best beer.
*And about that sign at the corner of 14th and Washington Streets -- it does say “FREE BEER” in large letters, but look closely. In smaller letters you’ll see the word “Wi-Fi” below “FREE” and the word “Great” above “BEER.”
Oregon City Brewing
[a] 1401 Washington St., Oregon City
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.