By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Sometimes a great business idea hangs heavy in the air, just waiting for the right person to pluck it down and run with it. That’s what happened with Portland’s BREWVANA tour company and Ashley Rose Salvitti, a high-energy ambassador for Oregon’s craft beers.
The young entrepreneur started BREWVANA, an obvious nod to Beervana, six years ago with one bus and one employee. In April, Salvitti and friends celebrated the touring company’s anniversary at Breakside Brewery’s new Northwest Portland location.
Ashley, who added Rose to her first name because she liked it, established her LLC in November 2010. “My first tour was on April 8, 2011,” she said.
Today BREWVANA has grown to include public and private tours, bus and walking, with three small buses and one large one, for a total of nine weekly tours that include 26 breweries. And the excursions go beyond just bar hopping. For example, the “Behind the Scenes” tour provides a tutorial on the brewing process with stops at Breakside and Unicorn Brewing Company/Portland U-Brew. “Beers and Barrels” highlights breweries and a distillery where barrel aging takes place. There are now even walking tours where guides talk about neighborhoods and their histories in between brewery visits.
The seeds for Salvitti’s beer-related business took root in college when she started working at Liberty Steakhouse and Brewery in High Point, N. C. She was attending the nearby University of North Carolina at Greensboro and her dad, who was a mug club member at Liberty, suggested she should get a job there. Once she hit 21, she got behind the bar to serve.
Salvitti moved to Portland in 2007 after graduation. “I wanted to go where young people go to retire,” she said. Naturally, she gravitated to beer and her first job was at Laurelwood Brewing Co. Then she moved to Hopworks Urban Brewery when the brewpub opened in 2008. “Christian had a huge following then,” she said.
Salvitti’s sunny personality quickly made her a favorite with guests and those interactions helped her quickly fall in love with Portland’s craft beer industry. “I found that in Portland you would greet a table and people clearly wanted to drink beer and they were very knowledgeable about it,” she said.
The brew tour idea came together after a trip to Puerto Rico with her family. “We wasted a lot of money trying to find fun things to do. On our last night, we met a server at a bar who said she did tours on the side. She could have shown us all the places to go and things to do,” she said.
Salvitti had also encountered a few other local tours that didn’t seem to have a strong connection to the breweries.
“I thought I could do it better. I was optimistic and ready to take a risk with no husband, no kids, no big responsibilities,” she said.
Salvitti wrote up a business plan and took the Business Foundations course through Mercy Corps Northwest and participated in the nonprofit’s matching savings plan. Her initial investment was $20,000 — a $16,000 loan from her father and a $4,000 loan from her best friend’s parents. “That was enough to buy a buy a bus and get my website done,” she said. “I didn’t quit my day job.”
After her first tour, she was on an amazing high after experiencing the success of her idea. But she also worked very hard in the beginning since she was the one and only employee. After seven months, she hired her first tour guide, but continued to work full-time at Hopworks for two more years.
“BREWVANA was created to provide an all-inclusive VIP access fun and educational touring experience,” she said. “We’re working with the breweries. BREWVANA is nothing without the relationship we have with the breweries. It’s our mission to support them,” she said. Because of her background as a server, she is also very focused on the guest experience. You can’t board a BREWVANA bus without smiling—the vehicles are covered in beer-centric graphics both inside and out that beckon passengers to “come join the fun.”
Brewvana has three short 14-passenger buses for the public tours, named Angel, Georgie and Lil’ Johnny, and one standard large school bus, named Pam, that seats up to 44. That vehicle is also used to shuttle people to and from out-of-town festivals like Fort George Brewery’s Festival of the Dark Arts in Astoria.
Salvitti said they got “Pam” because they spent $14,000 during the last couple years to rent buses that arrived dirty, smelly and in unacceptable condition for hosting guests. She wanted a bus that represented the BREWVANA ethic. The buses are one of the company’s biggest challenges because of the constant maintenance needs and the fact that they are all used vehicles with some pre-existing conditions.
While the buses get much of the attention, the heart of the tours are the guides. Salvitti still hosts some tours, but she recently hired four guides. Her challenge with guides is finding the right people and making their jobs sustainable throughout the year. Guides must be multitasking masters, so the training process is lengthy and complex. In addition to studying the training manual, guides learn about local history, undergo bus driving training, and then shadow existing tours before assisting and practicing with an experienced guide.
On a recent “Pacific Northwest is Best Tour” that visits Baerlic Brewing Company, Hopworks, Migration Brewing and Scout Beer, 13 of us were entertained by guides Liz Shihadeh and Kelene Stinson. The easy-going duo had an engaging routine that went from the ridiculous (they gave us the no-vomiting-on-the-bus talk) to the educational when we tasted different malts and passed around samples of hops. In the space of four hours, we became friends — sharing pretzels from our pretzel necklaces and stories about our lives.
Business continues to grow and Salvitti said that demand for private tours is stronger than ever. She also has more responsibility now that there are 10 employees, a fleet of vehicles, a husband, a daughter, a house and a dog.
“We’re proud that we have many repeat customers. On one recent tour with 14 people, six had been on a tour before, and several had been on more than one.” Repeat customers can join the Brew Veteran program.
Salvitti was recently featured on “Start Up,” a series that tells the stories of entrepreneurs. You can watch her segment at pbs.org/video/2365903935/. For tour information, check out brewvana.com.
Yachats Brewing + Farmstore recently added to its 7-barrel brewhouse, including a six-head bottling line and wind machine that will power the glycol chiller. Pictured, left to right, assistant brewer Aaron Gillham, director of brewery operations Jenna Steward and head brewer Charlie Van Meter. Photo by Michael Kew
By Michael Kew
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Brewer on the roof: “I’m snowblind whenever I first walk up here.”
We squint in the glare. Sunday afternoon. Over there is the ocean. We’re at the beach, but we’re not.
In shades and a black hoodie, Charlie Van Meter sips fresh kolsch from a glass. From his downstairs brite-tank tap, of course.
“It’s nice being right on 101,” Jenna Steward, his wife and director of brewery operations, says. She’s on the kolsch, too. “Even if people don’t expect to stop in, they see our sign and decide to take a break and see what we’re about.”
Third story — technically the flat, white roof — of Yachats Brewing + Farmstore. This used to be a bank. Look 30 feet down: Highway 101 and the somnolence of Yachats, population 700. Look up: clear sky. Look west: blue Pacific forever. Look south: the Yachats River estuary, shadowed by Cape Perpetua — the fabled green fist of rock, knuckling the white waves.
“The dream,” Van Meter says, “is to put a third-story taproom right here so we can all have this epic view. Yachats is beautiful in the sun — and in the rain and wind. It’s great for storm watching, too. People will sit and watch the chaos around them.”
In 2015, Van Meter and Steward (both 28) relocated from Hood River at the wish of Yachatians Nathan and Cicely Bernard. Three years earlier, the Bernards flipped the old bank into a farmstore hub, selling local meat, produce, fermented food and all sorts of cool garden gear. The bright, helpful space was crafted with salvaged Oregon wood and wine barrel furniture. It became an intersection for this tranquil community.
“We’ve got a ‘coast time’ outlook on things,” Van Meter says, exhaling, admiring the view. “It’s Yachats Time, like ‘island time’ in the tropics. A nice, relaxed pace.”
Unfortunately, the Bernards are not here today. They’re likely eight miles upriver, tending to their sunny permaculture homestead. Here at the brewery, they’ve left the proverbial gate ajar for their young yeastmaster; Van Meter and Steward (with assistant brewer Aaron Gillham) are taking full advantage. New additions to their 7-barrel brewhouse include a six-head bottling line for 500 milliliter glass with “limited release sales, hopefully by Thanksgiving,” Steward says before pointing at a roof next door. “And over there is the proprietary wind machine that’s going to power our glycol chiller.”
Van Meter is an anomaly. Just a few years into his wort-wrangling, he stood onstage at the 2014 Great American Beer Festival, fist-bumping Charlie Papazian and sporting a shiny silver medal for a peach saison he helped brew at his (now) alma mater, Logsdon Farmhouse Ales. That happened after he’d dovetailed jobs at Portland U-Brew and Uptown Market into his first pro-brewing gig at Sasquatch Brewery in Hillsdale. This was in 2012, the birth year of Yachats Farmstore. Logsdon’s Chuck Porter — colleague of Van Meter and an old friend of the Bernards — then cameoed to mash a few farmstore ales with Bernard’s 20-barrel pilot system.
But the system had to grow. Logsdon again pollinated the Yachats fold, this time via Van Meter/Steward.
They fit in.
“Yachats is an eclectic collection of people who very intentionally decide to live in this town,” Van Meter says. “It has a weird magnetism. People with all kinds of crazy skills and backgrounds end up here. I like to say Yachats is a collection of wizards.”
It’s getting hot here on the roof. More kolsch, anyone?
On draught downstairs in the bustling eatery/store/bar are 13 house beers. There are three kombuchas, seven guest beers, two meads, three ciders and two wines. There’s a saison with Szechuan peppercorns, a saison with plum and lavender, a saison with sage, a saison with lemongrass and rosebud….
“We like to keep it fresh, keep it new, keep it tasty,” Van Meter says. “Farmhouse ales are close to my heart — probably my ‘traditional’ beers. They capture my imagination in terms of the history of the style and the romanticism of oak and its charms and attention to the simple ingredients.”
“Simple grain bills and hop bills. A lot of the stuff I make is just a little bit of pilsner malt, a little bit of wheat, and combinations of yeast and adding fruit or spices to it. There is so much you can do with a small palette, like a painter’s palette. You can make a lot of things within the saison/farmhouse category with only a few ‘colors,’ if you will. It’s complex, yet it can be refreshing. There are lots of subtle flavors to come out of these combinations of yeast. Brewing is like being a yeast shepherd. You try to give it its ideal conditions and food and let it take care of itself. You’re just there to help it get into a package.”
I gape at the long wooden tap wall, a palette of choice in a place that is nothing but.
“This brewery is its own living thing,” Van Meter says. “We’re just letting it grow to what it wants to be.”
Yachats Brewing + Farmstore
348 Highway 101, Yachats
By Gail Oberst
It’s no secret that a new brewery is popping up in Oregon every few days. Some of those breweries are expanding from already-established beer-related businesses.
Like their clients, the owners of homebrew stores, bottle shops, and restaurants aim to tap into Oregon’s passion for craft brews by opening brewing operations on site.
Among the first to make the leap from homebrew shop to brewery was Falling Sky, in Eugene. Jason Carriere bought the failing Willamette Street Homebrew Shop in 2002, changing it to Valley Vitner and doubling its size at its new location on 13th Avenue. In 2005, employees Scott Sieber and Mark Zarkesh proposed adding a brewery and pub in the warehouse behind the homebrew shop, and the seed was sown. “I agreed to pitch my lot in with them and help work on the plan,” said Carriere. A few years later, Rob Cohen, a former Ithaca, N.Y., restaurateur joined the business and created, what is now, the Falling Sky brand. The homebrew shop was renamed Falling Sky Fermentation Supply Shop. An additional deli and taphouse opened in last year in the Whiteaker district. The Pour House & Delicatessen is on Blair Street.
Portland U-Brew has been a homebrew shop since 2010 with quality brewing equipment available for use by the brewing public. Owner Jason (Jay) Webb had a 20-year history of brewing in the Northwest, so it was no accident that the homebrew shop had an attached brewery and pub. “From day one we began serving what was brewed here. Our business model always included drinking beer as well as making it and selling supplies for it,” Webb said. Dozens of people each week attend workshops and make their own beer on Portland U-Brew’s equipment. Recently, Portland U-Brew has added a new dimension: contract brewing. The company has added three new 55-gallon fermenters with an aim to brew beer for hotels or restaurants wanting to feature their own label or recipe. When I visited the shop, Jay was working on a special brew that would be served at a Portland wedding, with a recipe developed to the bride and groom’s tastes. To accommodate their growing business, Portland U-Brew improvements have included digitally-monitored electronics that control temperatures, designed by Cliff Webb, Jay’s dad to maintain control of the brews in the special rooms for fermenting lagers or ales.
In Hillsboro, Brew Brothers’ partner Chris Jennings leans on his new bar and talks about his brewery, Three Mugs, attached to the back of the family’s homebrew shop.
“A brewery was always in the master plan,” said Chris. “We started the homebrew shop because we were already buying grain for our own brews.”
The long-time home-brewers father and son Chris and Jay Jennings began selling extra supplies to friends and then in 2010 opened a homebrew shop that was supposed to transition quickly to a brewery and taphouse. But the shop’s business grew and expanded into another building, delaying the brewery. But the wait is over. Today, Three Mugs is on tap in the bar, where guests can get beer from the brewery at six of the 19 taps. The other taps are for guest beers and rotating beers, mostly from the Northwest. The new taproom also has a walk-in cooler, where kegs and corny kegs from Three Mugs and other breweries can be purchased.
As if the current expansion is not enough, Chris said he hopes to expand to a 10-barrel system and add food service within a year. Already, the family is looking for an additional location.
About 9 miles southeast of Brew Brothers on the edge of Beaverton is Uptown Market, in a building that until 2011 had housed a 7-Eleven store. AJ Shepard, his brother Chris, and their partner Stuart Faris upscaled the store to feature a bottle shop and tap house, with homebrew supplies and classes. In November, the store expanded to 18 taps to meet neighborhood demands for craft beer. This year, the company hired brewer Jason Rowley, a young gun with a long homebrew history who had worked for a time with Two Kilts Brewery in Sherwood. Uptown bought a used system and began practicing on it in November last year. They offered first tastes from the 7-barrel system at the Zwicklemania tour in February.
The company had brewed an Irish dry stout, an imperial red ale, an ESB and a U.S. session ale. In the future, Uptown Market Brewery’s partners plan to expand the brewery area to accommodate a larger fermenter and add more Uptown beers to their taps. Most of the beer is designated to be sold on site, either from the taps or by kegs, but who knows what the future holds, AJ Shepard said.
“The market will direct us. I’m just excited to see what happens,” he said.
Across the Cascades to Bend, where new breweries are as thick as rattlesnakes, The Brew Shop in Bend opened in 2011 in a former church on busy Third Street, AKA Highway 97. In addition to homebrew supplies, the shop has an extensive bottle collection, offering more than 600 beers. The downstairs floor of the building features Platypus Pub, a taphouse and a popular restaurant, home of tastings, live music and beer events every week. Recently, the pub began featuring a few of its own beers, brewed offsite. It brewed its first beer in September last year. In February, it released its second beer, the Platypus Pub Flat Tail Pale Ale, available on tap.
In Roseburg, Dogbarrel Homebrew Shop opened in January last year, but its owners immediately began making preparations for a brewery and tasting room, attached to the shop near the busy intersection of Roseburg’s Stephens Street and Garden Valley Boulevard. Thomas Anderson and his brother, Russ, are starting out with a 1.5-barrel pilot system before expanding to a 7.5-barrel system once recipes are perfected. There have been a few delays, but the brothers are intent on opening the brewery later this year.
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.