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.
By Jim McLaren
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The brown bottle on the low table in front of Hilda Stevens is labeled Westmalle.
“It’s Belgian-style tripel. In Belgium you have dubbels, tripels and quads. And the tripel comes from the fermentation process. It follows a traditional fermentation process; making beer and then double fermenting it — meaning they add more sugar to get the alcohol level up. In this case it is tripel fermented. So, right before they bottle it they add a little bit more sugar so it helps the alcohol build up. It helps in the aging process. In the case of tripels, for instance, you can age it for five, eight, 10 years if you want to.”
The popularity of Belgian-style beers has been on the rise in Portland for several years now. The flavors can tickle your tongue with a range of styles more complex than hop-heavy IPAs.
As for those flavors, Hilda explains: “Traditionally, in the case of Westmalle, because they’re a Trappist brewery, they use their own yeast. So, the yeast will have a lot in the flavor profile. They also add some candy sugar to it. In tripels you’ll pick up some caramels, some roasted notes because they’ll use more of a roasted malt in it as well. It’ll have a nice golden color. Usually, in the case of the bottles, you get a lot of the effervescence. Westmalle tripel has a really nice creamy head when you pour it in the right glass; it opens up more of the aromatics, too.”
It’s just after 3 p.m. on a quiet, drizzly March afternoon. Bazi Bierbrasserie on Southeast 32nd Avenue and Hawthorne Boulevard in Portland has just opened. There’s some music playing. The beertender is checking glasses. A couple wanders in, orders a couple of beers and hovers over them in quiet conversation. The drinks are undoubtedly Belgian or at least, like Hilda, Belgian-inspired.
Beer is not Hilda’s first job. After undergraduate and graduate work, she landed positions with high-tech companies and start-ups. Along the way, she did a lot of business traveling and during one of her stops in Philadelphia she first tried a Belgian beer. It was love at first sip.
The romance turned torrid during a vacation in Europe. On the advice of a couple she met while traveling through France, Hilda took a detour to Bruges, Belgium — an ancient city she refers to as “the Venice of the North.” Hilda began studying Trappist beers, appreciating and understanding their balanced flavors.
By 2011 Hilda was ready to do what would seem foolish to many people. Encouraged by her entrepreneurial father, she walked away from a six-figure paycheck and used a plan developed for her grad school thesis to open Bazi. Originally, she’d planned on operating a European-style bistro, but she soon realized she needed to find a market niche. Looking around, she realized what was missing — there were no Belgian-focused taprooms in Portland.
Something else was beginning to happen about the same time. Brouwerij Huyghe, a 111-year-old brewery based in Melle, Belgium was marking International Women’s Day by making a special beer. Hilda explains the idea was in response to Belgian women saying, “We drink your beer, but we don’t have a beer of our own and we want to learn more about making beer.” The event began slowly “with just women in Belgium; restaurateurs, homebrewers, everyday women who were interested in beer and learning more about it.”
Dressed in white lab coats and bonneted in white hairnets, dozens of women followed brewers through the Huyghe facility learning about and making beer they dubbed “Deliria.” It is the little sister of Huyghe’s best ale, “Delirium Tremens.” Both beers come in white bottles with blue foil cap wraps and feature ‘de roze olifant,’ a pink elephant, on the label. The name is also found on a bierbrasserie sign in Melle.
The “Deliria” event has been slow to open its doors to outsiders. At first it was only for Belgians. Then applications were accepted from other European countries. But finally through Wetten Importers, Huyghe’s U.S. distributor, Hilda heard 2017 would be “the first year they invited women from the U.S. and their goal was to send two women from the U.S.”
When Huyghe accepted Hilda’s application, they got more than a rookie brewer. She has done some collaboration brewing in Portland, surrounding herself with “people who are passionate about it ... I’ve brewed with Upright and Lompoc and Widmer. And any time you brew with somebody, everybody has a different way.”
In Belgium, Hilda learned more about the evolution of the brewery that has been working since 1906 — how it ferments and filters, but also how it is adopting eco-friendly policies such as using gray water from the brewing process for cleaning up and keeping plants hydrated.
But more important to Hilda was the social aspect of the one-day event. “I really enjoyed brewing with women from different parts of the world ... and the influence that a family-owned brewery, like Huyghe, can have on women brewing. What I loved about that experience, it wasn’t just industry related. They really cater to the community. We had some of the women brewing that day who were stay-at-home moms who wanted to have that experience.” The beer and how it’s made may be different, country to country, but the community beer creates seems to be the same wherever you go in the world.
Though she did taste the wort from the beer made that day, Hilda did not taste the Deliria she worked on until this Easter Sunday when she debuted it at Bazi.
Proost, de roze olifant!
This year was also not Hilda’s first time brewing in Belgium. Her house beer is Hofbrouw Tripel. “Two years ago I went to Belgium. A friend of mine owns a nano-brewery. We created a recipe and made 120 cases.” There are only 20 cases left. Hilda will go back to Belgium to make more.
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Effective May 1, Eugene-based Ninkasi Brewing Company has a new leader. In her five years at the company, though, chief executive officer Cheryl Collins has already been an integral force shaping the brewery’s culture. Now she’ll set the company’s overall course.
“Our core purpose has been, and will always be, to perpetuate better living,” says Collins. “My chief role in guiding and molding Ninkasi will be to continue our pursuit of perpetuating better living by building an effective team that aims to create an exceptional customer experience by producing quality craft beers.”
Co-founder Nikos Ridge stepped down as CEO to take the role of president and will continue to serve on the board. “The first 10 years of Ninkasi were about inventing ourselves as a company,” says Ridge in a press release. “The next chapter of Ninkasi is about taking the capabilities and teams we’ve built and aligning them even more to better serve our customers and craft beer fans.”
Since its founding in 2006, the 11-year-old brewery has grown to 103 employees in Eugene and other states. In 2016 Ninkasi produced approximately 100,000 barrels of beer and had sales of $30 million, and the Brewers Association ranked Ninkasi the 33rd largest U.S. craft brewery, up from 36th in 2015.
With more than 10 years of organizational leadership and development experience, Collins began at Ninkasi in 2012. A recipient of the Recruiter of the Year award from the University of Oregon, Collins has also been recognized as Manager of the Year by the Willamette Chapter Credit Union Association, and she holds two national awards from the Credit Union National Association for development and execution of training programs. Industry publications look to her leadership on small business best practices, and in 2016 Collins was the keynote speaker at the Oregon Manufacturers’ Summit.
Her time at Ninkasi, though, awakened Collins to the joy underlying craft beer. “It started with Ninkasi, the first time I heard a brewer describe what they had made,” she explains. “You could feel the passion that went into it; they talked about it similar to an artist talking about a painting. It was contagious. As I expanded my palate and began visiting other breweries, I noticed this trend throughout the industry. There is such great passion we all have in craft beer, how could you not enjoy it?”
In her role as chief people officer, Collins shook up the company — and the industry — with a radical proposal: get rid of performance reviews. The company agreed, leading to an ongoing evolution in how Ninkasi employees and management collaborate on professional improvement. The change was just one of many ways Collins modified company policy and practices to ensure that they built and maintained a cohesive, mutually supportive company culture — instead of being mere tools of employee compliance.
“My background and education is rooted in understanding and building organizational cultures,” says Collins. “Above all else, if leaders do not understand the importance of impact of culture, then everything else becomes more challenging. By being able to lead the organization with respect to culture and how we operate as a business, we will be able to position ourselves in an even more viable position in the future.”
As vice president of organizational development and chief operations officer, Collins spearheaded implementation of both cultural and operational initiatives. She instituted programs for employee recruitment, training and onboarding programs; continuous improvement strategies and best practices across brewery operations; team-building activities to nurture organizational culture; safety protocols and initiatives; leadership development programs; employer branding; and overarching company strategies.
“Cheryl has worked closely with every department across Ninkasi and is a pivotal force in pushing our teams to their full potential,” says Ridge. “Her leadership, coaching and strategic focus make this transition an obvious step forward.”
Now Collins expands her role to direct and lead the company both in its day-to-day operations and to guide long-term strategy. “I look forward to continuing our commitment to our core purpose — perpetuate better living — and working with our teams to develop innovative approaches to how we do business,” says Collins. “The door is open for new and innovative methods for how we operate as a business. We a have a team of creative and dedicated people who have made Ninkasi what it is today, and I’m excited to continue to help us improve and remain leaders in the industry.”
The craft beer industry is experiencing upheavals. Some independent brewers have been acquired, others have closed. And Collins knows she’ll encounter hurdles during her tenure as CEO. “Of the many challenges we face in the industry, the ones prevalent right now are the increasing number of breweries in the market and the impact of localization, both of which present growth challenges for most breweries,” says Collins. “As the industry continues to shift and change we will navigate these challenges through staying true to who we are at Ninkasi and listening to what our customers are saying.”
Whatever challenges come, she knows she can rely on Ninkasi’s collaborative culture. “People — both women and men — are passionate about craft beer, and all of us strive to make the industry better.”
As she takes up her duties as CEO, Collins will continue to lead with a belief that operations and culture are interdependent, and that the success, growth and health of one depends on the other. “It’s inspiring to be a part of a community with the level of commitment and engagement we see here at Ninkasi,” explains Collins. “You feel, believe and know you are part of something bigger than yourself; that level of inspiration is what we strive for every day.”
By Jim McLaren
For the Oregon Beer Growler
“This is a man's world, this is a man's world
But it wouldn't be nothing, nothing without a woman or a girl”
Erika Huston has a good, throaty laugh, and on a sunny April afternoon it’s bouncing around the empty Logsdon Barrel House & Taproom on Fourth Street in Hood River as she says, “I knew you’d ask me something like this.”
The question is — what does a woman bring to the beer business that a man doesn’t? “Without sounding sexist,” Huston begins, “I think women bring a maternal instinct, a maternal quality, of wanting to take care of people and make sure they’re happy. I also think we’re used to cooking, so our palate is a little better.”
How Erika Huston worked her way into managing the Logsdon Barrel House has to do with her history with Oregon beer. “I started drinking beer when I was (mumble) years old,” she said with another hearty laugh. “I was canvassing for OSPIRG (Oregon Students Public Interest Research Group) in Eugene. Henry Weinhard’s was considered craft beer back then. I tried my first taste of Blue Boar and I was, WOW, I didn’t know beer could taste like this. My dad drank mostly Old Milwaukee and Hamm’s.”
Huston moved to Portland in the early ‘90s and her palate took another jolt. While Widmer Brothers Brewing, Pyramid (formerly Hart Brewing) and Portland Brewing Company were growing fast, Huston was finding something with a different taste than what they were offering. “What really did it for me was when I had my first taste of Belgian beer. I have an older brother who is very passionate about beer as well. He’d been to Belgium and we went to Belmont Station and bought a few bottles. I tried a Duvel and it just blew my mind. I was like, ‘This is not beer. What is this?’”
The strong, golden ale would fire a passion taking Huston to the front door of her beer career. In 2004, the Concordia Ale House opened in Portland and Huston knew where her future lay. “They were very Belgian-centric at first. I thought, I have to work here.” Quickly, she took her beertending skills from Concordia to County Cork Public House and on to Saraveza. She found her way to Saraveza, the North Portland temple of all things beer, because a friend worked there. She hung around so much that it was just logical to ask for a job. Impressed by Huston’s background, her growing knowledge of beer and her passion, Saraveza owner Sarah Pederson immediately hired her.
The job became Huston’s graduate school, a place where beertenders do more than just pull you another draft. “Definitely, yeah, you have to be very knowledgeable about all of the things coming out. It’s overwhelming because – especially if you work in a craft beer bar that has rotating taps – there are things coming from out of state, there are constantly new breweries opening in Portland and Oregon. So, yeah, you have to be on top of your game. And, you also have to really get to know your customers; what their taste is, what they would like to see, like to try.”
Huston’s six-year stay at Saraveza was a golden time for the shop. As beer buyer, she helped it earn national attention as one of the 100 Best Beer Bars in the country as chosen by Draft magazine. She says selecting which beers fill the Saraveza coolers and come from its taps “is a constant balancing act. I refer to it more as a Tetris game. You’ve got these spaces to fill and you’re trying to make sure they all fit together like the pieces of a puzzle. You don’t want to have all of one style that you’re sticking with. You want to try and satisfy as many palates as possible.”
This is when those maternal instincts come into play. You have an audience you want to serve, but you can also serve the beer makers, especially the new ones who need to get into your shop.
“That was the biggest challenge for me, the biggest hurdle to overcome” she says. “You could smash someone’s dreams. It’s a very personal thing, to make beer. You have someone who is just starting a brewery. They’re coming to you and want you to try something. So I just learned to be very constructive and just be honest and say, you know, ‘I think that this could be good if you maybe tried a different variety of hop.’” Huston’s philosophy builds loyalty with the beer makers and the beer drinkers.
Looking at it from outside, it seems obvious now. Huston and Saraveza couldn’t last. As Sarah Pederson says, Huston made a lifestyle choice, but also a beer-style choice.
“I have roots in the area,” Huston says about Hood River. “I have a lot of friends who work at the breweries out here and I was coming out here to go camping or visit them it seemed like every other weekend during the summer. In the back of my mind I always wanted to move. But until I was offered this job, I didn’t have the fire lit under me to make it happen.”
The job offer also brought her back to the beer style she loves. “Logsdon makes all Belgian farmhouse-inspired beers,” she said. “We have a Flanders red beer. We do spontaneous fermentation, so some stuff that’s more on the tart side. We secondary ferment some stuff with fruit. Almost everything is barrel aged. And it is actually on an operating farm. The brewery is inside of a barn.”
For now, Huston is happy where she is. Such a job was one of her goals. Managing a barrelhouse allows her to be the link between beer maker and beer drinker to the benefit of each. She can take beer drinkers to places they might not otherwise go. And she can help the beer maker understand why people like — or don’t like — what they are doing. It’s a good role for a beer mother.
Logsdon Barrel House & Taproom
[a] 101 Fourth St., Hood River
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.