Pat Hayes heads up the OSU barley project, which focuses on exploring the creation of a strain that’s specifically designed to appeal to craft brewers. The theory is that by selectively breeding specific barley strains, researchers can produce one that will not only influence the flavor of beer, but also gain unique characteristics due to the terroir. Photos by Kris McDowell
By Kris McDowell
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Brewing isn't particularly technical, right? If one can make soup, one can make beer; just acquire the needed ingredients, follow the instructions and in a matter of weeks, tada … beer! But if one takes a closer look at the process, from the viewpoint of a researcher focusing on a single ingredient, there's more than meets the eye. Pat Hayes, a barley researcher at Oregon State University (OSU), is one of the people who is diving well below the surface of currently available barley and influencing the future of barley, thanks in large part to technology that did not exist even a decade ago.
Pat heads up the OSU barley project, which focuses, in part, on exploring the creation of a strain that’s specifically designed to appeal to craft brewers. The theory is that by selectively breeding specific barley strains, researchers can produce one that will not only influence the flavor of beer, but also gain unique characteristics due to the terroir, or the environment in which it’s been grown. Terroir is a term more commonly used by winemakers and understandably so, since most barley grown to be malted comes from multiple states. Oregon "is an epicenter of craft brewing and distilling," according to Hayes, but even as these industries have grown, less and less Oregon-grown barley is being utilized. Pat hopes to change that by creating a variety that will not only grow well in Oregon, but will also perhaps contribute unique flavors to beer BECAUSE it’s grown here.
Considerable work in breeding and selecting has already been done by Pat and his team at OSU to the point where an experimental variety called Oregon Promise is being grown on test plots. The name was developed because the strain came from a cross of Full Pint, which is bred in Oregon, and Golden Promise, which grows in Scotland and is a favorite of craft brewers. These test plots provide far less than the minimum 30,000 pounds of grain for the smallest batch at Great Western Malting based in Vancouver, Wash. or even the relatively diminutive 1,000 pound batches malted at Mecca Grade Estate Malt in Madras. To solve that problem in the first phase of breeding, Pat and other barley breeders around the world use "micro malters," machines that can malt just a few hundred grams of barley. The machines aren’t cheap — they can run as high as $100,000. But these malters can steep, germinate and kiln around 50 samples of this size at one time, an essential first step in breeding to produce flavor in beer. New Glarus Brewing in Wisconsin, one of the partners in OSU’s program, have pioneered a technique to brew a single bottle of beer from less than 200 grams (a little more than 7 ounces) of malt and are using it to test samples of Oregon Promise. The next step up is a mini-malting machine, one of which OSU recently purchased, that’s housed in a room about the size of a two-car garage. It will be able to produce 200 pounds of malt per run and should be ready to begin operating in October.
Once the barley has been malted, it's ready to be used to brew beer. But outside of the technique New Glarus Brewery has developed, researchers still need to make very small batches. A consumer product that recently hit the market, PicoBrew Zymatic, is a potential gold mine to barley researchers. Not only does the product make just 2.5 gallons of beer per batch, it allows for people across the country to brew on the exact same equipment.
At this point one might be wondering why brewing with the exact same equipment in multiple locations should matter to researchers exploring an Oregon-grown variety of barley. The answer is that in order to determine if this particular variety of barley does indeed contribute unique flavor profiles to beer, it needs to be grown in different places.
If this process seems like an awful lot of work, it is, but it’s one that without those technological advances would make small-batch malting and brewing prohibitively expensive for most. In the long run, the potential economic impact of this work for Oregon-grown barley could be substantial. Just think — in the future, craft brewers may be clamoring for Oregon Promise malt, made from barley that is only grown in Oregon because of the unique flavor profile it adds to their beer.
The Coolest Cooler broke all Kickstarter records when it was funded last August. But the idea for this party in a box had humble beginnings. Its Portland-based inventor once used parts from a weed whacker to power a blender to bring to the beach. He later thought of adding speakers to a cooler. Photo courtesy of Coolest Cooler
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
“One year someone gave me an old weed whacker and I had no lawn,” says Ryan Grepper, Portland-based inventor of the Coolest Cooler. “I’m all about efficiency and a lifelong inventor, so I was inspired to take that weed whacker and use it to power a blender for cool drinks at the beach.”
Another idea — put a car speaker in a cooler for portable sound — made Grepper realize the cooler could be more than just a cooler. It could be a party in a box.
“The response from my friends was incredible,” says Grepper. “I began to think that I might have a real product on my hands.”
From there — and after both failure and a record-breaking success — the Coolest was born.
Birth of the Coolest
The idea behind Coolest became finding a way to have a cooler combine shindig essentials.
“People want higher-quality and more features in a cooler beyond just hauling ice,” says Grepper. “No one wants fewer blended drinks on a hot day out with friends and family.”
That’s where Grepper found his sweet spot. The colorful cooler (available in Classic Coolest Orange, Coolest Blue Moon and Coolest Margarita Green) is smartly designed to compactly include a lot in one 55-quart, 26 inches long, 21 inches wide, 19 inches high package:
--Bottle opener with magnetic cap catcher
--Built-in ice-crushing blender with BPA-free plastic pitcher (makes a pitcher of cocktails in about 15 seconds, for approximately 16 pitchers per charge)
--Removable splash-proof Bluetooth/auxiliary jack speaker with resonating panel, protected by a silicon shell, and powered by a separate, built-in rechargeable lithium-ion battery (eight hours of audio per charge)
--Custom-made rechargeable battery pack (powers blender, USB charging port and built-in LED task light)
--Prep area complete with plates, a ceramic paring knife and a cutting board
Rugged wheels and an extendable suitcase-style handle means the cooler is made for easy-anywhere transport, and a “Done in One” retractable bungee tie-down straps things to the top of the Coolest. Combined weight (with gadgets but without ice or your favorite Oregon craft beer) is about 30 pounds.
Oh, it keeps stuff cold too.
At $485 (MSRP), it’s “the Coolest cooler,” not “the cheapest cooler.” But for the serious shindig fan who doesn’t want to assemble and haul these components separately, and who knows they can use the all-inclusive design to the fullest, it will be cool cash well spent.
First-Time Failure, Second-Time Success
Once Grepper had a viable product, in November 2013 he launched a Kickstarter campaign seeking $125,000. Backers committed $100,000 — but under Kickstarter’s goals, falling short means no funding.
Grepper went back to the drawing board. After improving features and design, on July 8, 2014, Grepper launched a new Kickstarter campaign, this time for only $50,000.
Less than 36 hours later, Coolest had met its funding goal — and within 48 hours had raised more than $1 million.
“It’s not only cool … it cools. Get it?” That was the word from Bill Nye the Science Guy, who in a YouTube video discussed his support and admiration for the design and innovation behind Coolest.
By the time the campaign ended on Aug. 29, 2014, 62,642 backers had funded Coolest with $13,285,226 — breaking Kickstarter records.
Which led to a new set of problems.
“Coming in at 26,000 percent to goal is a challenge, but it's a good problem to have,” says Grepper. “We’ve had to quickly scale up and bring in outside experts to help us execute on every stage of this process, and it's been a challenge moving at full speed while managing the process. In the end, we're all very proud of achieving such a high level of quality in such a short time.”
One challenge was scaling up production, which meant delaying when Coolests could be shipped to Kickstarter backers. Instead of February 2015, backers began receiving Coolests in August.
By November, Grepper expects all Kickstarter backers to have their Coolests. The company is also at work to fulfill the additional 200,000 orders on their waiting list. The public should be able to order online from Coolest.com beginning in November. The company is also exploring distribution and retail options for 2016.
“We’re pushing our suppliers hard to scale up production speed while keeping tight reigns on quality,” explains Grepper.
However, Coolests are out there. “We're seeing camping trips, family reunions, tailgating, you name it,” says Grepper. “It’s been so rewarding to hear the praise coming from people as they first get a chance to use their Coolest. My favorite quote so far has been someone saying it should get the Pulitzer Prize for party coolers.”
One of the founding partners of Plough Monday, Norm Vidoni, puts in the hard work to make sure his hops are grown organically, which means more labor — like weeding by hand. The Veneta-based brewery isn’t focused on making every batch the same, resulting in a unique experience for the consumer. Photo by Gail Oberst
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The vision began with locally sourced, organic ingredients for a true Willamette Valley beer. The reality has proven far more challenging. Veneta-based Plough Monday is adapting and plowing ahead with plans to bring as-local-as-possible beers to Oregon and Washington — despite making hard decisions to veer from their original plans.
Founding partners Norm Vidoni and Charlie Whedbee have been friends and homebrew partners for more than 20 years. From working a farm and trying to meet the challenge of raising organic hops, to learning not only how to brew, but how to build a market for their beers, the two friends keep adapting and learning. Through it all, the crew at Plough Monday has been producing 7 to 10 barrels a week, working toward a local tasting room and refining recipes for bottling and wider distribution of beers such as Fresh Hop Fuggle, American Brown Ale and Northwest Strong Ale. And, more recently, the brewery was certified organic by Oregon Tilth, a nonprofit that’s been advocating for organic agriculture since 1974. In this conversation, Norm Vidoni discusses farming, hops, the importance of local, the decline of organic beers, Plough Monday’s vision and how they are finding their way in a challenging agricultural environment and a crowded market.
What drives your passion for Willamette Valley-grown hops?
NV: Willamette Valley hops have a unique quality. They have less harshness to the bitterness, even at higher alpha acids. I think the aromas don’t have the same strong citrus qualities, but more of the lighter, floral aroma qualities. The climate here is much more similar to the climates in England and Germany, where they have those Noble varieties.
What are the challenges of growing hops organically?
NV: You have to be careful with organic inputs. Too much copper in the soil can make it so you can’t grow things. Weeding has to be done by hand, since you can’t use herbicides. Input is higher, but your output per acre is lower than it would be if using conventional fertilizers. These problems are causing people to start dropping out of organic hop production, and we likely will see drops in organic beer production.
How do mildew problems affect what you can grow?
NV: There’s one hop that’s totally downy mildew resistant, and that’s Magnum. That’s a great hop, and I’ve got lots of Magnums, but I think it’s only good as a bittering hop.
Fuggle, Golding, Perle and Orion all have some resistance, so they grow well here without getting decimated by downy mildew. No other hops can be grown organically here.
The hops industry hasn’t been focused on developing hops with these disease resistances. The Willamette Valley could be much more competitive in hop production if that had happened, but the focus has been growing hops that grow better in Yakima.
How are you adapting your own beer production?
NV: We’re recalibrating, long-term, for having sourcing as local as possible be more of a long-term goal than an immediate goal. It’s a quality decision. I really wish that there was more desire within the industry and the market for Willamette Valley-grown hops at this point.
What beers and styles will you be putting out?
NV: We’re moving more towards traditionally Northwest-style ales, but we are going to continue making the malt-forward, English-style beers, but with Northwest ingredients.
When we came into this, we had big hopes we could have a dogmatic, 100 percent local product. I see us moving more toward sourcing locally even if it’s out of our way, but if we can’t source it locally, we focus on where we get the quality or organic we seek. That’s disappointing to change from our original plan, but it helps us put out a product that the market wants.
How do you want people to view Plough Monday?
NV: We want to always be an artisanal brewery.
When we bottle, the bottles will have batch numbers. We aren’t focused on every batch being the same or every bottle being the same. We are always going to tweak our recipes and processes in between batches. We want there to be a variety, because we are always changing, learning, trying new things. That makes for an interesting product, and it allows you as a consumer to have some surprise in what you’re going to have. As time goes on, we hope to have three to five flagship, regular beers, then everything else work their way around those regular beers.
I’ve farmed organically for years, and I believe in it. I believe in trying to source locally. It’s great for the economy. It’s an important thing for the community at large to have these services, this agricultural production, within the community itself. But at the end of the day, people like to eat bananas, and those can’t be grown locally. We’re learning that we have to allow ourselves more flexibility than we’ve allowed ourselves to this point.
[a] 25327 Jeans Road, Veneta
By Chris Jennings
For the Oregon Beer Growler
With all of the different styles of beer being produced these days, there is bound to be some overlap. In some cases, it can be downright impossible to tell the difference between certain types of brews and we end up relying on the bartender to tell us what we’re drinking. The two styles that seem to have the most overlap are the porter and the stout. Both are dark and robust, so an untrained palate may not be able to detect subtle distinctions. Whether you want to brew your own or sample some of Oregon’s best, we’ve provided a guide and brief history to help you determine the difference between these two black, beautiful styles.
The invention of roasted malt was most likely an accident. You can imagine that a maltster might’ve simply dozed off on the job and left the grain in the kiln for too long. Or perhaps one adventurous person decided to experiment with the cooking process. In any case, documentation shows that roasted malts were employed by brewers making porters in Britain in the 1700s. The method allowed for the production of beers that had a lot more flavor. Additionally, brewers could use the roasted malts to hide off-flavors. Today, it’s generally accepted that porters use only roasted malts, such as chocolate and black malt. And when compared to stouts, porters tend to have a lower alcohol content and much fuller body.
Stouts haven’t always been large, roasty beers. In the early days of brewing, water was often not safe to drink and even when it was it usually tasted terrible. But beer helped solve both of those problems. There was plenty of experimentation with alcohol content — it could run as low as 3 percent and as high as 15 percent in various concoctions. And that’s not what defined the stout — neither did the degree of color. Its distinction was that it was a single-mash beer. After the mashing process was complete, brewers would skip sparging (running water through the grain bed to extract the remaining sugars and blending it with the wort) and instead use that liquid to make the first batch. This beer would be the largest in gravity and receive the name “stout.” Today, the stout is a dark, roasty beer that has a higher alcohol content than a porter and a dry finish. The dry, roasty notes come from the addition of roasted barley to the mash.
Stouts and porters are the great black beers of the brewing world. With marketing gimmicks and breweries mislabeling their beer, it can sometimes be tricky to determine what you are drinking. Just remember to ignore all the fluff and taste them all. A little history and a lot of experience just might help you someday create a style beer drinkers will be talking about in 300 years.
Portly Porter [AG]
Portly Porter [Extract]
By Kris McDowell
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Six years ago the craft beer world was considerably different than it is today. Six years ago technology was considerably different than it is today. Both were less sophisticated, still children with unexplored potential.
That's when Kerry Finsand had the idea to put technology to work to create a product that would help craft beer drinkers find specific beers on tap. As a craft beer consumer himself, he was tired of calling places or finding outdated information on websites and felt he could create something that would make his life and the lives of other craft beer consumers easier.
During that time he had been a regular attendee at Beer and Blog events at the Green Dragon. They were geared toward the technology crowd, and Kerry found three like-minded individuals who were interested in working on something he describes as "a fun side thing." With shared interests of craft beer and technology, Kerry, Ken Baer, Kevin Scaldeferri and Scott Wray created Taplister. Less than a year later their product, one that allowed consumers to both look up beers and submit beers into the searchable database, was ready to be launched. Kerry drew upon his experience working at Groupon and similar companies marketing their products to implement marketing for Taplister. A kickoff party was held at EastBurn, Taplister's first account, followed by a significant presence at that year's Oregon Brewers Festival. They secured a booth at the festival, hiring friends who were paid in beer tokens, to get the word out about what Taplister was and why it should appeal to the craft beer community. Following the festival, they brought on a group of Taplister ambassadors to visit establishments and ensure tap lists were up to date.
Fast forward two years and Taplister, now far more than the side project it had started as, was expanding to Seattle and beyond. This was also a time of restructuring for the group of four that had started the company.
Scott and Kevin were the first to leave Taplister and not long after that Kerry became sole owner when he bought out Ken. With the full weight of the company on his shoulders Kerry kicked Taplister into high gear, raising $100,000 to help fund the young company. That success was followed by acceptance into local business accelerator Upstart Labs, a now-closed entity that focused on early-stage development of technology companies. That opportunity provided Kerry with hands-on mentorship and business experience to draw upon. The initial money raised was then supplemented by Kerry's efforts that raised an additional $150,000, the majority of which went toward developing the technology to support his vision of Taplister. With things getting considerably more serious, Kerry left his full-time position to focus on Taplister.
Taplister founder Kerry Finsand kicked the business into high gear after becoming sole owner, but eventually found he needed a team with the knowledge to complement his. The search for help grew frustrating and Taplister actually shut down for a period of time. It’s now been revived with Finsand taking on the role of consultant. Photo courtesy of Taplister
Kerry eventually found that he needed a team of individuals who had skillsets to complement his. He worked with multiple people, but had difficulty finding those with the right mix of skills and passion. A bit frustrated and needing a break from devoting all of his time to the company, Kerry made the decision to shut down Taplister in the summer of 2014. The announcement brought forth multiple people who wanted to help out or even buy Taplister in order to keep it around. The unexpected positive response was heartening and prompted Kerry to reconsider the future of the company. It was important to him that Taplister remain a Portland-owned business, therefore he wanted to find someone who was more skilled in running the business side of the company he had created.
Enter Mark Meyer, a man who grew and ran a company for 22 years before selling it. His background was in computers, and after he sold his company he began working with the beer industry on the equipment and software side of things. He found the industry to be full of "nice, fun people," so when the Taplister shutdown was announced he was quick to contact Kerry. Not long after that, Mark purchased Taplister with Kerry remaining involved as a consultant. Then it was time for Mark to get down to business to figure out how to resurrect and improve Taplister.
The first step was to rebuild the entire platform, retaining the same functionality but improving its performance and adding new features. Beyond that, Mark focused on getting feedback from customers. Mark is proud to hear people say, "You give really, really good service," and it's something that is of the utmost importance for him to continue. He knows that listening to potential customer feedback is key improving and expanding Taplister.
The world in which Taplister exists faces increasing competition all the time, so finding the right niche, doing a superior job of filling that niche and working with customers to help them understand the power the platform provides when it's fully utilized is key to both customer and consumer satisfaction. Customers, like EastBurn, have four levels of engagement to choose from that range from the most basic, free listing of their establishment and tap list (The Six Pack) to a full package of capabilities (The Keg), which includes digital beer boards on-site, pushing information to social media accounts and even transferring digital beer listings into easily printed, hardcopy menus. Keeping tap lists up to date benefits Taplister's customers by allowing craft beer drinkers to find locations that have beers they are looking for, a win-win for both parties.
It has now been a year since Mark took the reins at Taplister. He's pleased with what has been accomplished to date, but not ready to rest on his laurels. For the last year, he's primarily focused on educating customers and being responsive to their needs. As he moves into the second year with Taplister, he'll take a closer look at the craft beer drinker side of the equation. There will continue to be challenges — figuring out how to better manage the listing of collaboration beers, keeping up with the new beers that craft brewers seem to be constantly be rolling out and finding ways to use the vast amount of analytical data they’ve amassed. But as a veteran businessman, Mark is excited by the challenges and looks forward to the future of Taplister.
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