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.
By Andi Prewitt
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
Nobody knows for sure just how many people will flood into Lincoln City for the upcoming eclipse. Estimates range from 50,000-100,000, and that’s a lot of extra bodies for a town with a population of less than 9,000. Expectations about the impact of this onslaught also vary from “hunker-down-for-the-weekend-to-avoid-the-crush-of-tourists” to “build-a-backyard-bunker-and-stock-up-on-canned-food-like-Y2K-is-coming.” Whatever may happen on Monday, Aug. 21 when this coastal destination is the first to experience the darkness cast by the moon’s shadow, the city’s only brewery is prepared to keep its beer flowing.
Despite the months of preparation for this once-in-a-lifetime experience, Rusty Truck’s head brewer probably won’t be around to witness it. Like many residents on the central Coast, Jon Anderson plans to get out of Dodge before Highway 101 is choked with more angry drivers than a mall parking lot on Christmas Eve. But his commemorative eclipse beer will be available for anyone who can make it to the brewery on the southern end of town. While you might expect to find a Cascadian dark ale on tap to mark the two-minutes (or less, depending on location) of dimmed sky that will cross a 60-mile wide swath of the state, Anderson wanted to create something unique. Moon Shadow is a schwarzbier developed on Rusty Truck’s pilot system — a nod to both Anderson’s time spent in Germany as well as the blackness that will shroud the sky that Monday morning. The inky lager is also infused with a slice of sun in the form of blood orange puree. You should be able to order the beer earlier in the month as part of Rusty Truck’s lineup of pre-eclipse festivities.
City and state officials have warned that towns in the path of totality may be so overwhelmed with visitors, grocery store shelves will be emptied — a scenario that almost immediately evokes the image of Thunderdome-style battles over the last six-pack. But Anderson said Rusty Truck is organizing itself to become a one-stop-shop for people to get food and beer as efficiently as possible.
“They’re going to have stations set up. It’ll be a place where people can come and get stuff to go because everything is going to be pretty much on the beach because there will be so many people here,” he described.
Bag lunches and crowler fills are one way the business will work to keep lines moving. Live music in the parking lot should help entertain the idle.
The boom-and-bust of tourist season — eclipse or no — is nothing new to any brewery on the Oregon Coast, including Rusty Truck. That’s what prompted its recent expansion, both in distribution and space. Behind the restaurant originally known as Roadhouse 101 sits most of the pieces for a brand-new 20-barrel system. Next to that are the bones of what will become a tasting room with windows offering a glimpse behind the scenes and into the brewery. During a visit in mid-June, bare panels of wood awaited their layer of drywall, exposing a network of wiring like nerve fibers without skin. By the end of the summer, construction should be complete, the clutter of jockey boxes and kegerators removed in order to make way for 35 taps in a rustic space defined by copper and wood.
“It will romance you out there,” Anderson said of the tasting room, which is going to offer an intimate, beer-centric distinction from the separate bar and restaurant bedecked with hubcaps, neon and license plates. The addition underscores that Rusty Truck is a brewery that’s finally getting top billing. “This was the Roadhouse before us, so we don’t really have our own identity in a place like that,” Anderson explained.
But now the sign towering above passing cars out front proudly announces the home of “Rusty Truck Brewery” instead of Roadhouse. What looks like an open-air attic above the bar will display barrels of aging beer (rather than the brewery, which was the original plan years ago, and one Anderson is undoubtedly grateful was scrapped for a separate outbuilding). Joining the tasting room will be a Portland-area facility where Anderson can make one-offs every few weeks once the owner secures a location and hauls the old 10-barrel system out of the Lincoln City production site. Not only will that help shore up sales when coastal tourism drops off in winter; the move also gives the Rusty Truck brand more exposure. Anderson wants more people to know that the brewery has grown in scope and capability since he took over three years ago. But it was a bit of a blow to learn his perception of the business didn’t always match the public’s during a recent discussion with an industry friend.
“And he’s like, ‘Honestly man, the image you give off is that you’re not really about the beer.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, that’s horrible, because that’s what I’m about and that’s what I want us to be seen as,’” Anderson recounted. “But because this restaurant has so many things going on, I think that the locals see us as not necessarily being about the beer. We really want the tasting room out there to show them that’s what we’re about.”
It’s a unique role breweries along the Coast fulfill that may, at times, hinder their reputation in the beer community. Rusty Truck has to balance the needs of not just knowledgeable craft drinkers, but also those of tourists and locals. Sand-covered families are just as likely to stop in for a meal after an afternoon at the beach as a local who comes later in the evening to socialize, smoke on the patio and plug the video lottery machines in the bar. Neither of those customers may be particularly interested in hop varieties or the process of aging sours.
“I don’t know if all breweries have to look at themselves as being the place in town at night time where people have to come. But here we kind of do because there’s no other places in town,” Anderson said. “The coast is a hard place to live, and a hard place to work and definitely a hard place to sell beer.”
But it’ll likely get a lot easier — at least that last part — now that Rusty Truck has signed with Point Blank Distributing. After schlepping kegs to accounts on its own for six years, the brewery is ready to go statewide with sales, which prompted the purchase of the larger system. Together with the tasting room and second metro location, Anderson hopes to increase the visibility of all breweries on the central Coast that sit between the well-known Rogue and Pelican.
“You know, we’re actually putting down some really top-notch beer. And I think that people from the valley don’t necessarily come here thinking that,” Anderson said. “And so I think that’s going to change here coming up.”
The one thing that won’t change, though, is the brewery’s namesake that’s taken up residence alongside Highway 101. The faded brick red cab with a flatbed is basically the brewery’s mascot, but its fate was in question after the city tried to force the owner to get rid of it.
“And he’s just like, ‘I don’t want to move it. We have our label on it now,” Anderson said.
But the city persisted, so while the owner was cleaning up the parking lot, he discovered the beat-up Chevy that had been sitting on a patch of dirt was exactly where it belonged.
“It was a legitimate space that [the city] said was real, so now it can stay out there,” Anderson said. “It’s a real parking spot, so they can’t make him move it now.”
By Ezra Johnson-Greenough
For the Oregon Beer Growler
In March, Portland’s Metalcraft Fabrication shut down after facing a federal lien, causing the company’s bank funds to be emptied, according to industry insiders. Owner Charlie Frye acknowledged the bank had closed accounts, but did not address this specifically when asked for comment.
The closure came as somewhat of a shock since Metalcraft was one of the greater success stories in Oregon’s craft beer industry. Co-owner Charlie Frye came from well-established manufacturer JV Northwest to found an innovative brewery-centric fabricator. Metalcraft reportedly made more than 1,000 tanks for businesses in 30 states and three countries in the last 10 years, including equipment for some of our state’s best breweries like Breakside Brewery and pFriem Family Brewers.
Many are left wondering how a company that was once praised by beer makers and business journals alike can suddenly close and see some of its relationships with clients go sour.
Charlie Frye and his then-wife Jen Baque opened Metalcraft in 2007, starting off welding furniture and building facade components before picking up work fixing tanks and equipment for breweries. By 2015, the business expanded by moving into a huge new warehouse to become one of the few U.S. fabricators that could make larger equipment — tanks more than a couple hundred barrels and brewhouses beyond 30 barrels. And just last year, Metalcraft teamed with Pelican Brewing Company to develop a new dry-hopping method. The resulting “Hopinator” received a rave review from brewmaster Darron Welch, who said Metalcraft “perfected a design that was exactly what we wanted. Not every fabricator would have been that patient.”
However, it wasn’t long after that when Metalcraft began scrambling to keep the doors open long enough to finish millions of dollars’ worth of projects.
“A number of factors contributed to Metalcraft’s demise,” said Frye in my original article breaking the closure for newschoolbeer.com, “the greatest one being several unforeseen challenges associated with our expansion.”
Metalcraft entered the brewery fabrication business at just the right time — before the big boom that would become the industry’s largest period of growth, post-2010. Growth was quick and used equipment became scarce, which led to longer lead times and down payments. Industry sources familiar with the matter indicated these upfront down payments ranged from 15-40 percent.
“The company got themselves into a cash crunch,” said Thad Fisco of Portland Kettle Works, another local fabricator that has offered to help finish Metalcraft’s work for clients. “[Metalcraft] ignored some basic fundamentals to maintain cash to finish deals. You begin to burn those deposits to finish projects that were contracted previously.” There are no rules against operating this way.
According to Fisco, this is “unfortunately not an uncommon occurrence in the manufacturing industry.”
The practice of taking on new jobs and even discounting them in a mad dash to use that money to finish past work that may not have even gotten underway “unintentionally turns into a Ponzi scheme.” Fisco says this is a critical issue for the industry overall and one that he expects could cause a few more fabricators to go bankrupt.
You might be wondering if this has anything to do with the unsustainable growth of the craft beer industry. Yes, a little. As brewers get bigger, and some more desperate to compete, they may plop down huge sums of money upfront without checking a fabricator’s creditworthiness.
Meanwhile there is mounting competition from China where fabricators routinely offer a cheaper but lower-quality product. Some American companies have even stooped to selling Chinese equipment and marketing it as U.S. made, according to Fisco. However, the larger the tanks, the higher the shipping costs, and that can decrease margins and any competitive advantage.
According to comments Frye made to me in March, he laid off 35 employees, which would’ve been a significant cut to the 50-60 people he reported would be hired by 2015. He also hinted at some financial mismanagement, saying “a business owner should always be aware that their finances are in order and those trusted to manage them are qualified to do so.”
Frye declined to answer additional questions, stating “I'm not prepared to give any more interviews at this time.” For now, then, it’s impossible to know the full story of what happened to Metalcraft. But its failure is bad for both the brewery fabrication business as well as brewers and should serve as a wakeup call to each.
When fabricators go bust, some brewers who have sunk large sums of money into equipment will have invested too much to recover. That may include some of Metalcraft’s clients. Bill Baburek of Infusion Brewing Company in Benson, Neb. is one of those affected by the closure. “They took $45,000 dollars in deposit money from us in late December,” Baburek said, “for a $60,000 tank order, and now we get nothing for it!”
“If another company the size of Metalcraft or bigger goes down, it’s going to be a big deal,” warned Fisco. “It starts to tear the fabric of the system that is in place ... people that are looking to buy right now should take a moment to check the credit of the people they are looking at doing business with. Find out what’s going on with the business before jumping in with both feet.”
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Stay on the nice list of the beer lover in your life by giving the gift of a special bottle that is worth a spot in the cellar. The picks here were curated by Mike Coplin, owner of 16 Tons in Eugene, and Ryan Fosbinder, purchasing manager at Belmont Station in Portland. One tip: “gift” an extra bottle to yourself.
The Ale Apothecary, Bend
House lactobacillus gives sour balance to malt and wheat structure. Added complexity from up to a year of aging in oak barrels, followed by a month-long dry-hopping — also in oak barrels. The result surprises with tropical and citrus aroma, with tart, earthy and herbal notes on the palate. 9% ABV
Captain of the Coast
Pelican Brewing Company, Pacific City
MacPelican’s Wee Heavy aged in Washington Wheat Whiskey barrels from Dry Fly Distilling in Spokane, Wash. Silky texture and complex flavor evokes creme brulee, dried apricots and sherry. 9.5% ABV
The Commons Brewery, Portland
Pucker up! Last released in 2012, this floral, earthy ale brings mild tartness and cherry notes from ale yeast, brett and 10 months of aging in a 60-barrel foudre. 6.3% ABV
Ninth Anniversary Peach Farmhouse Ale
Oakshire Brewing, Eugene
Released in 2015. A brett ale and wild ale each mingled with peach puree for two years before they were blended and spent another month on more peach. Fruit flavors hold strong. 6.2% ABV
Belmont Station 19th Anniversary Barrel-Aged Barley Wine
Ecliptic Brewing, Portland
Brewed for Portland’s oldest beer shop. Aged nine months in 12-year-old bourbon casks, this barley wine picks up rich barrel character: oak, caramel and heat. 12% ABV
Oakshire Brewing, Eugene
Oakshire snagged a recommendation each from Ryan and Mike. Oakshire’s sixth anniversary continued their Hellshire series with an imperial stout aged 12 months in Heaven Hill Rittenhouse Rye and Elijah Craig bourbon barrels. 12% ABV
Breakside Brewery, Portland
Gin meets hops meets brett in a blend of barrel-aged sour beers 16 months to 26 months old. Delicious now, but expect cellaring to further improve and refine its character. 7.7% ABV
16 Tons Sech 'n Brett
Logsdon Farmhouse Ales, Hood River
Session-style Szechuan Brett Seizoen brewed to commemorate the five-year anniversary of Eugene’s 16 Tons. Various yeasts influence spice and fruit notes, plus a crisp, dry finish. Pepper character enhances food pairings. Expect this bottle-conditioned beer to keep evolving. 6.5% ABV
Caldera Brewing Company, Ashland
Chocolate and bourbon step right up to the palate. Imperial porter conditioned on Maker's Mark-soaked oak spirals, then aged in Kentucky Heaven Hill bourbon barrels. 8.5% ABV
Conflux Series No. 2: Collage
Deschutes, Bend and Hair of the Dog, Portland
Both Mike and Ryan recommended this “artistic collage of cask-aging alchemy.” A blend of Deschutes The Abyss and The Stoic (each aged in pinot barrels) and Hair of the Dog Fred (aged in American oak and rye whiskey barrels) and Doggie Claws (aged in cognac barrels). Roasted accents and complex malt character underpin molasses, caramel and vanilla. Don’t be surprised if this beer improves after a couple more years. 14.3% ABV
By Dan Haag
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The phrase “necessity is the mother of invention” could well have been coined with Oregon brewers in mind. How else can one explain decades of behind-the-scenes research and development that have carried the state’s brewmasters to the front of the line?
Case in point, the team at Pelican Brewing Company recently unveiled the “Hopinator,” an innovative system designed to create a more efficient, safer method for dry-hopping beer.
Made in collaboration with designers at Metalcraft Fabrication in Portland, the Hopinator streamlines how the agitator introduces hops to the fermenter. They also redesigned the method to move hops in and out of Pelican’s brews more efficiently and effectively.
Up and running at Pelican’s brewing facility in Tillamook, the Hopinator — also dubbed R2-D2 by the team — bears a slight resemblance to a certain “Star Wars” favorite.
Much like that beloved droid, the Hopinator helps things run more smoothly. Brewmaster Darron Welch has been impressed with the results.
“It overcomes a lot of the utilization problems with traditional dry hopping,” he says.
The new process introduces much less oxygen; the hop pellets go directly into the clean vessel, then the brewer seals the vessel and purges with carbon dioxide.
As a result, there is extremely low oxygen pickup compared to the traditional dry-hopping process, increasing flavor stability and quality.
Because the hops are incorporated into the liquid with an agitator and emulsified in the beer, then shot back into the main fermenter, the brewers are able to extract much more flavor and aroma from the hops than the traditional method of dry hopping. Welch says the benefit is that Pelican is now able to use around 30 percent fewer hops with better results.
Fans of Pelican’s brews will notice the difference.
“What this means for the beer drinker is enhanced taste and aromatics,” Welch says. “It introduces much less oxygen along with the dry hops in an anaerobic environment.” He adds that for beers where the dry hop charge stays exactly the same, there is a better, “punchier” dry hop aroma.
Beyond the science and increased efficiency, the Hopinator addresses many of the safety concerns associated with dry-hopping.
“There’s no more hauling 50 pound buckets of hops up high ladders,” Welch says. Hop infusions are done easily at ground level with the mixing element and agitation built in.
Installing the Hopinator wasn’t as simple as going to a supply store and hooking up a couple hoses. Welch admits that this project had been on his wish list for many years and that development took quite some time.
“It was two trade shows ago at the Craft Brewer’s Conference where we were looking at some of the options that were on the market at that time,” he says, adding that Pelican was close to purchasing a more traditional “hop gun,” a piece of equipment designed in Germany. While there’s much to like about the hop gun, Welch wasn’t convinced it was the right fit for Pelican.
“American craft brewers use a lot more dry hops than any German brewer would rightly consider,” Welch says. “We started looking at ways to design a system that eliminated some of the challenges of that particular equipment.”
Those challenges included constant plugging and the infusion of hops taking a much longer time than desired.
After a series of back-and-forth conversations with Metalcraft about adapting the hop gun for Pelican’s needs, it became clear that a completely new design was in order.
“Metalcraft worked with us to achieve the design we wanted,” Welch says.
Another plus is mobility, as the Hopinator can be moved from vessel to vessel, depending on which batch is receiving dry-hopping. Welch says this eliminates the need for hoses strewn about the floor and streamlines the workload.
While Pelican will not be marketing or selling the Hopinator, Metalcraft will be offering the design to other customers. The Pelican team is thrilled with their creation and have reached the point where they can’t imagine dry-hopping any other way.
“It’s turned out to be a great benefit in terms of time, efficiency, cleanliness and safety,” Welch says.
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.