By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
A decade of hindsight later, it must have been a sign.
After months of planning, construction and delays, on July 5, 2005, Chip Hardy was finally ready to open the doors of Eugene’s The Bier Stein to the public. Soon, people would be able to purchase bottled beers and specialty craft beverages from all over the world.
There was just one problem.
“Cases of beer were everywhere,” says Hardy. “We had received a very huge order from Columbia Distributing.” So Hardy did the only thing he could: got the taps open instead. “We sold a lot of draft beer that day.”
A Sign of Things to Come
Co-owners and founders Hardy and his wife Kristina Measells had different plans, though. “The Bier Stein was originally supposed to be a craft beer store that you could eat and drink in,” explains Hardy. “Now we are a craft beer bar and restaurant that sells beer to go. What we have become wasn't our original intention, but we went with what our customers wanted, and it has been very successful.”
Listening to what customers wanted became an overall theme for how Hardy and Measells steered their course. Originally opening in a 2,100-square-foot space at 11th Avenue and Mill Street near the University of Oregon campus, it wasn’t easy to cram in 10 beer coolers, a kitchen, the 10-tap bar (later expanded to 12 taps) and seating. The Bier Stein quickly filled up with bottles, customers — and complaints: there just wasn’t enough room. “We had customers that stopped coming because it was too hard to find a seat,” says Hardy.
On April 15, 2013, The Bier Stein moved to a new location at 1591 Willamette St. The fully remodeled 12,000-square-foot bottle shop and restaurant features a large central bar, 18 LED-lit bottle coolers, 30 taps (and social media updates on tap changes), one cask engine, a private function area (with a separate 6-tap bar), a larger kitchen, and, above all, seating for 150.
The expansion made for other big changes too. Originally opening with a staff of three, The Bier Stein now employs 55, which “makes for a lot of HR work,” Hardy says.
More Breweries, More Selection, More Customers
Today, The Bier Stein is one of the largest beer bars on the West Coast, with a selection of more than a thousand beers, ciders, meads and other craft beverages. Its large selection and ongoing evolution is a response to a local and national craft beer scene that changes at a rapid pace.
“In the past 10 years, there are more breweries, more beer styles and better selection,” says Hardy. “We are able to give those breweries a showplace.”
However, trying to carry everything has to be balanced with tapping only what you can empty. “My sense on taps was only to have enough that we could sell and keep fresh,” explains Hardy. “We constantly rotate. Staying relevant means having an always-changing tap and bottle list, and the beer community has become more educated on what beer is.”
Public regard for The Bier Stein has also translated into accolades. In local newspaper Eugene Weekly’s annual “Best of Eugene” people’s choice awards, The Bier Stein regularly takes top slots for categories such as “Best Beers on Tap.” Readers of CraftBeer.com, the Brewers Association (BA) website for beer lovers, have also twice awarded “Great American Beer Bar” status to The Bier Stein for the Pacific region, as well as “Overall Great American Beer Bar” status in 2014.
“Winning this has given our place a sense of legitimacy,” says Hardy. “We are doing the right thing in the craft beer community: teaching, educating and tasting.”
Staying the Course
As The Bier Stein heads into its next decade, it’s time to celebrate — but also to stay true to their mission and customers. “We like having one location and doing it to the best of our ability,” says Hardy. “We’ll continue to provide our area with some of the best craft beers we can get a hold of and continue being one of the best beer bars in the country.”
July 6 marked the anniversary. A special selection of beers was available, including collaboration beers brewed with Agrarian Ales and Hop Valley. Anniversary plans also include “a large outdoor event” to be held later this summer.
For Hardy, marking The Bier Stein’s first decade is a big step on a long path that winds along with the larger community. “We are very happy the local craft beer community has supported us over the past 10 years, and we are also happy that our employees are so awesome,” he says. “The Bier Stein wouldn't be what it is today without them.”
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.