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.