By Gail Oberst
Bruce Wolf and his younger brother Derek operate Willamette Hops in an old barn just a few yards from the house where they were both raised. In fields surrounding the office near St. Paul, hop vines hunker in muddy dormancy, waiting for spring.
The company’s plain surroundings mask the rapidly-growing business the brothers have built to supply local and international hops to Oregon brewers.
“We don’t grow the hops,” Bruce explains. “But we would bleed green, if you cut us.”
The Wolfs are distributors, working with Haas International and local growers, to provide pelletized and whole-leaf hops to brewers.
The Wolf brothers have deep roots in St. Paul’s hop culture. They are related by blood or by marriage to some of Oregon’s longest hop growers -- Colemans, Weathers, Davidsons and others are all blood or in-laws. Bruce grew up with his wife, Emily Davidson, whose family has been farming hops in the area for five generations. Their grandparents had worked together. The couple had their first baby, Madelyn Marie, Dec. 8.
“I grew up on a hop farm, working next to my dad,” Bruce said.
Had the hop market not taken a nosedive in the 90s, Bruce and his dad, James, might still be farming. The brothers’ great-grandfather bought the land, cleared it and planted hops in the days when the flowers were picked by hand. In 1986, James Wolf was named Young Farmer of the Year by the Woodburn Chamber of Commerce for his innovations in hop-picking. At the time, James Wolf was farming the hops his father, Philip, had farmed. In 1972, father and son bought the first p-right baling system in Oregon and Washington.
“By the time my dad was 19 years old, he was raising his own hops. He had his own fields,” Bruce said. His dad’s first hop variety? Columbia, said Bruce.
In 1999, after a 12-year downturn in the hops market, the Wolf family quit farming hops. When he was old enough, Bruce worked at relatives’ farms. About six years ago, he began working with his grandpa selling hop rhizomes online.
“About 2009 or 2010, we were getting hit with requests for whole hops and pellets,” Bruce said. The light bulb went off. In 2009, he registered his company, Willamette Valley Hops, and brought his brother in to the company. “Derek has been working with me shoulder to shoulder the whole time,” Bruce said.
Although many Oregon hop growers will sell small amounts directly to the brewer, most of the world’s hop growers set minimum amounts that can be purchased, which edges many small breweries out of specialty markets. Willamette Valley Hops – as do larger dealers – gathers enough orders from clients to create minimum orders. Willamette Valley Hops specializes in personal service. “We’ve even hand-delivered fresh hops to breweries,” said Bruce. Today Willamette Valley Hops has five outside sales representatives, including this month’s cover model and leprechaun, Dave Fleming.
Last year, the company’s only other full-time employee, Maureen, organized a fresh hop festival in St. Paul, donating the proceeds to local schools. This year, they’ll do the same.
What’s in the future?
“More babies, maybe three or four,” said Bruce. But on the business side, he sees expanding connections to local growers and brewers.
“I see nothing but growth for the next five to ten years,” he said.
Willamette Valley Hops
( a ) 18704 French Prairie Rd. N.E., St. Paul
( p ) 503-633-HOPS (4677)
Owners: Bruce and Derek Wolf
By Gail Oberst
Oregonians are famous for their connection to what comes up out of their soil.
Eric Steen of Portland has taken Oregonian’s native interest in flora and suggested it could be used for more than just food and beauty. Local plants can also inspire art and beer.
“People are interested in beers that reflect their local landscapes,” Steen said.
Last year, Steen helped organize over 30 “Beers Made by Walking” events that got the public up off their barstools and into the wilds of Portland, Astoria, Ashland, Oregon’s parks and points in between with a goal to inspire professional and home brewers to include native plants in their craft. His walks and hikes took participants past wild wheat and wild flowers, nettles, thistle, dandelions, Echinacea, yarrow, heather and mushrooms, to name a few. Mint, elderberry, and rosemary wound up in local beers – Upright and Coalition, for example – as a result of the public hikes.
“Beers Made by Walking” is among Steen’s many projects aimed at combining his love of hiking, beer, art and sustainable living.
“Everyday actions are art. Activism is art,” said Steen. “I’m not just putting on a beer event. It’s art.”
His programs have inspired features at the Portland Art Museum and at Oregon, Washington and Colorado breweries. He’s garnered attention from local, regional and national media, including a feature on NPR’s food blog and Oregon Public Broadcast’s Ecotrope series. His findings are catalogued in The Walking Encyclopaedia, on exhibition at Stoke-on-Trent, England. He was awarded the Outstanding Instructor of the Year in Letters, Arts & Sciences College at the University of Colorado. And the list goes on.
So, what’s he doing now?
Steen is digging in, literally. He’s working on a project with Portland’s Forest Park Conservancy to raise awareness about the resources in the park and in the urban area, including yeasts. Brewers from one of the Columbia Gorge’s newest breweries, Thunder Island, placed beer wort in the old-growth forest area of the park to expose it to wild yeasts there, and then exposed another batch to second-growth forest yeasts. The results are still in the works.
Brewers – professional and home brewers – and other organizations can contact Steen for help organizing their own Beers Made by Walking event. He helps brewers locate a route or a trail, connects them with an area botanist, and provides assistance either in person, or via phone and e-mail. Steen doesn’t charge for his services, but he does ask for donations of beers inspired by these programs, which he shares with the next group of walkers. He also asks that breweries donate a portion of the proceeds from the beer they make to a local environmental nonprofit of their choice.
The walks don’t have to be sponsored by breweries. Recent sponsors have been 16 Tons in Eugene, and Belmont Station in Portland.
Updates on Steen’s activities are on his website and Facebook page, listed on this page. To connect with Steen, send him an e-mail.
Beers Made By Walking
( e ) Eric@beersmadebywalking.com
Facilitator: Eric Steen
By Gail Oberst
For the last 11 years, David Losh has compiled hop crop statistics for the National Agricultural Statistics Service of the United State Department of Agriculture. Sound boring? Not to us beer geeks.
Never mind his job. Losh has been a home brewer for most of his legal life. When he took a job at the USDA in the Northwest in 1985, Losh had already been home brewing for several years. You do the math – or let him.
Born in Ohio and nursed on “bad beer,” in college Losh began brewing beer in his parents’ basement. The first brew kit he ordered was from Portland’s F.H. Steinbart. It was essentially malt extract, a packet of yeast and hops powder or pellets. It was boiled on the kitchen stove and fermented in a plastic bucket, and about half of it was drinkable. “Old basement beer, they called it,” Losh said.
He graduated (in Ag Economics) and moved to Washington state to begin his life as a fed, all the while perfecting his home brewing techniques. He’s a member of the American Home Brewers Association and brews all styles, although he says his favorites are IPA, Brown and Pilsner.
Today, he lives in Portland and in January, spoke to the American Hop Growers Association at their annual convention.
What’s the latest trend in hop cultivation? You, Oregon craft beer drinker, are driving hop growers to increase their production of aroma hops, as opposed to hops grown for bittering or alpha. In 2009, 34% of U.S. hops were grown for aroma. In 2013, 56% were grown for aroma. This bodes well for Oregon, where its soil and climate produce Nugget, Willamette and Cascade hops with unique aroma profiles. Demand for Oregon hops is on the rise, Losh said. Oregon growers are already focused on aroma hops – Willamette and Nugget accounting for at least half of all production last year, Losh said. Cascade, Centennial, Mt. Hood and Sterling are among other aroma hops grown in Oregon.
Losh, as the national hop statistician and a beer-lover, is the perfect person to pass on reliable Oregon hop trivia, listed below.
Hop production increased in the U.S. by 13 percent in 2013, to 69.3 million pounds.
Oregon growers produced 12% of U.S. hops in 2012. Top producer is Washington, which produces 79%. Idaho produces the rest.
2013 – Oregon hop farmers generated $31.5 million from 8.5 million pounds grown on 4,786 acres.
1935 – Oregon hop farmers generated $2.3 million from 25.8 million pounds grown on 26,000 acres, the highest acreage ever. (Gail’s note: 1935 dollars were valued at about $17 of today’s dollars. That means our farmers are getting approximately the same value from about 1/5th of the acreage. Incredible!)
1961 – Oregon hop farmers produced about $2 million from 4.3 million pounds grown on 3,000 acres, the lowest acreage ever.
If all of Oregon’s 2013 hop cones (approximately 1 inch each) were strung end to end, they would reach a quarter of the way around the world, or from Portland, Ore., to Portland, Maine, and back to Chicago.
There are about 40 dried hop cones in an ounce and 640 per pound
A bale of hops is approximately 200 pounds. A bale would have 128,000 cones.
In recent years, Oregon hops fetched higher average prices than Washington’s by 50 to 80 cents per pound until 2013, when they averaged the same, $3.68.
Of the U.S. hops exported to other countries, Mexico, U.K. and Germany were the biggest customers.
The U.S. produced about a 39% of the world’s hops in the 2012-13 growing season, the highest percentage of the past 10 years. Germany, the next-largest producer, grew 34% of the world’s hops (P.S. Germany is about the size of Oregon, Washington and Idaho, together).
U.S. brewers last year imported 8.7 million pounds of hops, mostly from Germany and the U.K.
More beer and hop statistics presented to the Hop Growers of America in January are at www.usahops.org and at www.nass.usda.gov/Statistics_by_State/Oregon/index.asp
By Gail Oberst
A few blocks from Coos Bay’s boardwalk along Coos River, I am stopped in my tracks by a gigantic map of the bay area, spread across the front of a building that once housed an appliance and electrical repair shop. Warming themselves by the fire in front of 7 Devils Brewery are owners Carmen Matthews and Annie Pollard, who tell me the map shows the circa 1928 Coos Bay. Annie, a marine biologist, points to the places that have been filled or changed. It is a fitting introduction to the 30-something couple who met over a potter’s wheel, fell in love over a home-brewing kettle, and today own a popular brewery and taproom – Coos County’s only commercial brewery.
Like 7 Devils, clad in local décor I’m dubbing “eclectic coastal craftsman,” the couple represents a segment of Coos County society that defies the south coast stereotypes: They are energetic, well-heeled and cultured. The couple has invested their savings, family money and a substantial loan into re-outfitting the long-vacant shop into a working 7-barrel (soon to be 15) brewery with a taproom and restaurant that features local art and artists. Oriental rugs warm the floors. Original glass art drips from the ceilings, local paintings hang on the walls, ceramics decorate the tables, which are also handmade from local materials. If you order chowder, it will most likely be served in a bowl turned by Annie.
Almost all of the funds raised from the sale of 300 special pint glasses went to purchasing and creating local artwork hanging from the walls and ceilings at 7 Devils. The couple has apparently hit on something appealing to Coos Bay glitterati (Fishermen, professionals, newcomers and old-timers). The Wednesday night I visited, the tables were filled and a short line was waiting to be seated.
And the beer? Great, in my humble opinion. And, judging by the number of beers being slurped by patrons, I wasn’t the only fan. Musicians have showed up almost every night in February to entertain guests, Carmen said. “It’s made from coastal waters by coastal folks,” he said. Half of the brewery’s production is sold in house, the rest to Coos Bay/North Bend-area accounts. By press time, the company will be bottling (with a manual 4-head line) in 22s. Three of the 7 Devils labels -- a session, a pale ale and an IPA – will begin appearing in local stores and bottle shops.
The 7 Devils Brewery opened Oct. 30, 2013, and already the couple has made plans to expand the dining area. The pub food is an assortment of seasonal favorites and local fare. Clams from Coos Bay and locally-baked focaccia and pretzels are menu staples. A variety of seasonal greens and vegetables are supplied by local grower Valley Flora and its affiliates. Their poutine (an upscale version of cheese fries) features Face Rock cheese curds, from the Bandon creamery 20 miles south.
But their dedication to craft beer, local arts and seasonal food products is just the beginning: outside, under the giant 1920’s map, electric car charging stations sit next to the first “ocean-friendly beer garden,” according to Carmen. The City of Coos Bay assisted the company with a storm-water retention system that holds roof-water run-off from the brewery building, slowing its release into rain-swollen Coos River and decreasing flood pressure. Heavily insulated walls and windows, energy efficient fixtures and other energy-conserving methods are in place now. Solar panels are in the offing. In the summer, the outside gardens may house a local food cart and pizza oven.
The brewery’s success has created a whirlwind of responsibilities for the man who – just three years ago – was working for Dutch Bros—and the woman whose science work took her to Antarctica to study penguins three months of the year. Now, the company has 15 employees and a fan club of locals who depend on them to grow the business.
“Our customers are people who are interested in this community. We take that seriously,” said Carmen.
7 Devils Brewery
( a ) 247 S; Second St., Coos Bay
( p ) 541-808-3738
Owner/Brewers: Carmen Matthews, Annie Pollard
By Sam Wheeler
Caldera Brewing Company is well settled into its colossal new digs in Ashland, Ore. and fresh off its biggest year yet.
The 17-year-old brewery is starting to button up its big britches and though it’s still just a fraction of the size, it isn’t out of place now for the up-and-comer craft to be uttered in the same sentence as some of Oregon’s most renowned craft breweries – Rogue Ales, Full Sail, BridgePort, Ninkasi or Bend’s mammoth Deschutes.
To be among that crowd is a badge of honor said Caldera’s lead brewer and brewery manager Adam Benson, who’s been peeking his head into Caldera’s mash kettles as lead brewer for four years and running.
In 2013, Caldera's 30-barrel production beer system and one-off specialty 10-barrel set-up pumped out about 10,000 barrels worth of beer – that’s over 300,000 gallons – and that’s about a fifth of what the brewery can manage inside its new headquarters.
The sky is the limit, Benson said. Caldera has greater expansion on tap.
For comparison, Deschutes offloads about 350,00 barrels annually, while Ninkasi is brewing about 95,000 barrels annually and plans to push that to 200,000 annually once its current expansion is complete this spring.
The year-old 28,000-square-foot Caldera brewery and restaurant sits a few hundred yards up south Ashland’s Clover Lane from the brewery’s former 6,000-square-foot brewhouse, whose 10-barrel system is nestled in a side room of the new brewery.
Maxed out for years producing about 6,000 barrels annually, the old 10-barrel is strictly being used for experimental brews, seasonal one-offs and other hard-to-get beers that you can’t normally find anywhere but the tap wall, Benson said.
And it still gets worked plenty hard, considering Caldera has about 40 taps to fill on its tap wall and only cans its Pale Ale, Ashland Amber, IPA, Pilot Rock Porter and Lawnmower Lager, and bottles eight other brews in 22-ounce longnecks.
The light-tasting Lawnmower Lager and the Pilot Rock Porter are the newest additions to the Caldera can family, and “both of them have taken off, especially the Lawnmower. I am not even sure how we’re going to deal with it this summer once people start really drinking,” Benson said. “To get a micro brew in a can for under $4 locally is huge, so people are just gobbling it up.”
Caldera is well known for kicking off somewhat of a canned-beer-can-be-good phenomena among craft and micro breweries.
“It’s a better product in a can. You’re not getting light struck and ecologically it’s so much better, it’s lighter – either empty or full – you can take it places,” Benson said. “It’s just getting over that stereotype of only big brewers use cans, garbage beer, so that’s what we have been dealing with the last 10 years or so. Now it’s pretty well accepted.”
In 22-ounce bottles Caldera offers: Hopportunity Knocks IPA, Ginger Beer, which is brewed with fresh organic ginger and Belgian candi sugar, Rose Petal imperial golden ale, brewed with real rose petals and you can smell it, Vas Defrens Ale, a strong Belgian-style that has a straight-out-of-hell label inspired by owner Mills’ very own vasectomy, Rauch Ur Bock, a German-style lager, Old Growth Imperial Stout -- it’s thick, Hop Hash, which is made using chunks of hop resin, and Mogli, a chocolate Imperial Porter, aged in retired oak Jack Daniel’s bourbon barrels.
The hop resin-induced Hopportunity Knocks started as an experimental one-off, Benson said, after a chunk of resin once mistakenly turned up inside a batch of fresh whole hops and Caldera decided to use it.
“We were calling them and asking for more of it!” said Benson, noting that the hop resin was free of charge until the supplier caught on.
During the winter months Caldera’s brewery gets by with Benson and brewer Frederick Martinez, who’s been with the company for three years. From May through September, the thirsty season, a third brewer is added. When the brewery is running full tilt for a triple batch, there are three brewers and five other people overseeing the gargantuan purple canning line, which has pushed out over 70,000 cans on many days, Benson said.
Martinez remembers vividly when Caldera was still slinging six packs using a six-can hand packer.
“Ah it was brutal, but we did it man. We had to,” he said. “And Jim was right there with us ... this place is great, I love it, it’s a family.”
Between Caldera Tap House on Water Street in downtown Ashland and its new restaurant and brewery headquarters, Caldera is run by about 50 employees, said General Manager Charlie Shoemaker, who is also known as the ‘glue,’ among the Caldera family.
Shoemaker, who had a hand in building the new Caldera headquarters as an employee for Medford-based contractor Ausland Group, hit it off with Caldera owner Jim Mills when construction was underway and jumped ship.
After building about a mile of shelves, Shoemaker helped place Mills’ 4,979-beer bottle collection, which wraps around the inside walls of the 96-seat restaurant. Don’t worry, they’re glued down.
There are another 250 bottles stashed in storage boxes that will go up as soon as the restaurant’s upstairs expansion is complete, Shoemaker said.
There are another 80 dining seats on the outside patio of the restaurant, which makes a point of incorporating beer into several of its recipes.
The menu is loaded with pasta dishes, smoked salmon, gourmet burgers, freshly baked jumbo pretzels, hand-tossed pizzas hot out of a stone oven and homemade crackers and bread. Aside from 34 beer choices on tap, there is also Caldera-made root beer and ginger ale, which is going into cans in the near future Benson said.
Not to mention, Mills has a mean hibiscus and rose petal tea concoction.
The restaurant’s crackers are made from the brewery’s spent grain, he said, and whatever spent grain doesn’t become a cracker is sent as feed to a Northern California pig farm, from where the restaurant gets its pork.
It’s quite the operation and in about a year, the brewing company hopes to start distilling its own spirits – scotch, vodka, bourbon and gin.
Even with everything going on, Benson says, there is always plenty of time for experimenting, developing new recipes.
“We always have something new coming on, I am doing a Mother Pucker Raspberry Sour ... it’s a sour beer, but it’s not done the typical way,” he said.
Kihei Snow, a burnt coconut, toasted cane sugar stout, is one of the newest additions to the tap wall, he said.
The last time Benson counted, Caldera beer was available in 12 states and British Columbia, Japan, Brazil, South Korea, Holland, Denmark, England and Puerto Rico – and the list is always expanding, he said.
“It’s exciting to know that the beer I brew is going around the world and people are enjoying it everywhere,” he said.
Of course, he would not name a favorite, but he is most proud of Caldera’s Helles Lager and Pilsener Bier.
“They are just extremely well made. A lot of lagers are rushed; ours get the time they need.”
( a ) 590 Clover Lane, Ashland
( p ) 541-482-4677
(h) 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., every day
Owner: Jim Mills
Brewer: Adam Benson
General Manager: Charlie Shoemaker
OBG Blog Archives
Welcome to our archive pages! Read stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler from June 2012 to January 2018. For newer stories, please visit our new website at: