Roddy Morris puts the finishing touches on a 40-barrel brewhouse at JVNW, one of Oregon’s largest and oldest brewery fabricators.
Photo by Alethea Smartt LaRowe
By Alethea Smartt LaRowe
Each gantry, or workspace, resembles an artist’s studio. Instead of easels, paintbrushes, and canvas, the tools of the trade at JVNW in Canby are hoists, plasma torches, and stainless steel. For 20 hours a day, fabricators working in pairs assemble every component of the vessel they are building from the ground up. The limited hands working on one project help ensure quality control. Instead of at a gallery or museum, the finished product is proudly on display at one of the several hundred breweries worldwide they have outfitted over the past 33 years.
JVNW was founded in 1981 by Don Jones and Ken Verboort (hence the JV in the company name) when a depression in the timber industry created an excess of stainless steel intended for making saws. Jones started making tanks for the beverage industry at a time when the wine boom was just beginning in the Pacific Northwest. Within a few years, the beer industry experienced a resurgence and the company was soon making the first brew systems for pioneers like Bridgeport, Deschutes, Full Sail and Widmer.
Jones’ son, David, who grew up along with his brother, Marc, playing in the factory, was groomed to lead the company. He went to work full time as a salesman for JVNW in 1996 after obtaining his brewmaster certification from Siebel Institute in Chicago. Now the CEO, David refers to his father, who is retired but is still Chairman of the Board, as a “visionary.”
The business has evolved over the years. While JVNW made their first brew system in the early 80s, they had to look to other sources of revenue during the recession, including manufacturing vessels for the cosmetic, pharmaceutical and alternative energy industries. Diversifying has made the company more sustainable in the long run, says Jones. “Currently, the majority of our business is for the brewing industry. We are more passionate about beer now than we have ever been.”
The 55,000 square foot Canby factory, built in 1997, has a somewhat sterile look and feel due to the work JVNW was doing at the time for the pharmaceutical industry. Yet there are thoughtful touches throughout, including the cement floor in the office space which ensures the fabricators feel comfortable walking in from the plant. David Jones’ office is in a direct line to the plant, conveying the executive’s open door policy. The gleaming staircase that is the centerpiece of the space was crafted by JVNW employees to look like a brewing tank. There’s even a small garden on the second floor patio where the company grows hops, peppers and herbs for their employees to use in homebrews.
Along with the casual and welcoming atmosphere, the company’s dedication to quality, design and innovation is what keeps talented employees with the company for their entire careers. CEO Jones relates, “For most companies, outsourcing continues to increase. We’ve gone the other way and created a vertically-integrated system so we have more control over what it looks like, how it functions, and how it performs. If it’s stainless steel, chances are that we made it.”
One person who remembers the early days is Phil Loen, Vice President Sales. Born, raised and educated in Oregon, he has worked for JVNW for the past 31 years. In the beginning, “they basically gave me a phone book and said ‘don’t come back until you’ve got some orders.’” Loen amusingly recalls the creative process that was required to fulfill an order for a client in Berkeley in the mid-80s, “that wanted us to design everything for their brew system. We had to figure out how to cool it, heat it, etc. The smaller- size, direct-fired brew kettles you see out there today are really an extension of what you see in a crab cooker on Fisherman’s Wharf or a bagel cooker at a shop in Berkeley.”
The emphasis on creativity is something the two senior fabricators I spoke with mention when asked what they like most about their jobs. Roddy Morris has been with JVNW for 21 years while Casey Halbakken joined the company in 1997. Both are brewery piping specialists. “We constantly try to reinvent ways to make things better and more efficient,” says Morris. Adds Halbakken, “Piping is the one part of building tanks that we get to create ourselves. They leave it up to us (the piping specialists) to figure out how to go from point A to B. If we feel like being cosmetic we can decide to make things look really good. We get to build our own things, have our own unique imprint.”
When asked how they commemorate a completed project, Morris says “We usually just high-five, then Chelsea Shoji (the Marketing & Advertising Manager) comes out and photographs it, then we tear it down and get it ready to send to the brewery.” It’s one of his favorite times on the job. Halbakken talks about arriving at a brewery to install a system: “you show up and it’s like Christmas for these guys (the brewery owners). You feel like Santa Claus and often get compliments beyond what you deserve. It’s really what the entire facility (JVNW) has done.” A recent project was the new 10-barrel system for Fat Head’s Brewery in Portland, due to open in October. “That one was really cool, a lot of fun to work on,” says Morris.
According to David Jones, the company’s future plans center on automation. “We’ve ordered some equipment that will help reduce our lead time on making tanks. Welding two rings (the shell of the tank) together takes 10 hours. A machine can do it in 45 minutes. We are also planning to offer automation packages to 40-60 barrel breweries to help them ensure consistency in the brewing process.” They will also continue to make most of their own components, “more than any other company doing what we do. It’s a JVNW signature—the fit & finish, the polish, the look, the manway,” says Jones.
[a] 390 S Redwood St., Canby, Ore.
CEO, President: David Jones
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.