By Dustin Gouker
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The craft beer industry in Central Oregon has shown no signs of slowing down.
Neither has the growler industry that has grown up alongside it.
Just three years ago, DrinkTanks was an idea on Kickstarter. Now, the Bend-based growler company is a rapidly growing and recently expanded business by partnering with one of the largest outdoor retailers in the country.
“I didn’t think the growth would happen this quickly,” DrinkTanks founder Nicholas Hill said, sitting in his company’s new office on the east side of Bend. “It’s something I envisioned, but we’re definitely growing at a fast pace. You have to be careful because growing at a rapid pace can be just as dangerous as not growing at all.”
The idea behind DrinkTanks — and other similar products on the market — is no longer new to the beer world. High-end growlers that keep beer cold, carbonated and fresh are available at pretty much any brewery and growler fill station around.
DrinkTanks’ double-walled, vacuum-insulated growlers have become a staple of the craft beer industry following an unassuming start as a Kickstarter campaign. But things haven’t slowed down much since the beginning for DrinkTanks — in less than a year, the company has nearly doubled in size.
This summer DrinkTanks moved into a new facility, with 18,000 square feet of production and office space. It also employs 35 people, nearly double the number working there a year ago.
“This should sustain us for a while,” Hill said, smiling, noting that an adjacent lot could provide room for additional growth.
The biggest change, however, is that the company is more than just a hit in the world of beer. That’s not to say that sales in the world of beer have slowed. Hill noted that the company was up 170 percent year over year and is on pace for similar growth in 2016. Now, however, the business has revenue coming from an entirely different source.
“When we started, the low-hanging fruit was craft beer, growlers — it was an easy to enter into the craft industry,” Hill said. “And we’ve done a really good job transforming over into the outdoor industry, because it’s a natural fit.
“A lot of people that like to do outdoors activities — hiking, biking, skiing, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding — all associate, at some level, with some sort of beverage, whether it’s beer, or margaritas or water,” Hill continued. “So our vessel does very well crossing over to that channel.”
Getting into that world was facilitated by outdoor gear and clothing co-op REI. What began as a planned five-minute meeting at the Outdoor Retailer trade show in Salt Lake City turned into a full-blown relationship with REI. Starting in July of this year, DrinkTanks is now in all of REI’s stores and also sold on its website.
But much of the core of the company remains the same. While the vessels themselves are manufactured overseas, the rest of the business — from powder coating, to custom engraving, to assembly and shipping — all happens in Bend.
New this year for DrinkTanks will be the Kegulator, an auto-regulating keg cap that turns a DrinkTanks growler into a mini-kegerator. It uses a CO2 cartridge and purge valve to keep beer fresh.
The product was actually supposed to go to market earlier this year, but Hill said he wanted to wait.
“We refused to compromise on the quality and the functionality of the product,” he said, noting he wouldn’t send the Kegulator into the field without being sure it would work exactly as he intended.
The Kegulator should be available this fall, in time for the Christmas season, Hill said. He also said there would be some new offerings from DrinkTanks in 2017, without divulging what they would be.
All of that might mean DrinkTanks might see even more growth in the immediate future.
By Dustin Gouker
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The idea of crystal-clear mountain springs being the source of great beer has long been an image evoked by the beer industry, from the iconic commercials of Coors to the labels and marketing of today’s craft brewers.
But getting that water — and keeping it usable after the brewing process — are major issues craft brewers and cities must confront on a daily basis.
Water and general sustainability for the beer industry were the focus of a two-day event held in September, put on by the City of Bend and the Pacific Northwest Pollution Prevention Resource Center. (A similar event was held in Bellingham, Wash., later in the month.)
The event was meant to be an educational opportunity for brewers while bringing together government officials, regulators and members of the craft beer industry to talk about sustainability and water usage. The workshops provided ideas for brewers and owners wanting to decrease their environmental footprint while improving their bottom lines, and connected them with cost-effective resources and solutions to energy, water and waste issues.
“Great beer starts with great water quality and great ingredients, and we have the luxury of having both here,” said Chris Hodge, the CEO of Worthy Brewing, in greeting attendees to the Sustainable Craft Brewery Workshop. Worthy, which hosted day one of the event, is one of a number of Central Oregon breweries that take sustainability issues seriously.
Of course, Bend is renowned for the quality of its water, which is often cited as one of the reasons the craft beer industry has flourished in the region.
At the workshop, Christina Davenport, industrial pretreatment technician for the city of Bend, talked about why brewery wastewater is of concern to cities in general and Bend in particular. For instance, Davenport pointed out, Bend’s Deschutes Brewery and 10 Barrel Brewing create more than 25,000 of wastewater gallons per day.
“We’re working with breweries to find solutions to reducing what goes to the sewer,” Davenport said. “That includes both the strength of the waste, and reducing the volume going into the sewer line.”
Creating one barrel (or 31 gallons) of beer often results in a brewery creating four to 10 barrels of wastewater, Davenport noted. From every brewery, some of that wastewater is of the “high-strength” variety — from the brewing process or from cleaning — which can carry an extreme pH level and is more difficult for municipalities to treat.
One solution employed by breweries is “side streaming,” or collecting high-strength waste so it can be disposed of separately. For instance, spent hops, grain and yeast can often be used by farms, and are commonly used by farms that have relationships with breweries.
Water wasn’t the only issue at the workshop. The Energy Trust of Oregon presented on how incentives and energy audits can save significant energy costs. Worthy, for instance, worked with Energy Trust and installed energy-efficient lighting, a high-efficiency heating system and solar electric. That resulted in nearly $80,000 in Energy Trust incentives, as well as $16,000 in annual energy savings for Worthy.
The PPRC presented on proven cost-saving sustainability measures, including case studies for breweries on how to reduce usage of energy, water and carbon dioxide.
But water was the focus of day two, the “Source to Brewer to Sewer Tour.” Attendees got an up-close look at the City of Bend’s water system.
The tour gave attendees a better idea of where the water that goes into beer comes from, and what has to happen for it to be treated after the brewing process. It starts with Bend’s surface water intake on Bridge Creek near Tumalo Falls, which is just a few miles from a pristine water source.
Bend also just finished a project that cost tens of millions of dollars, including the new Outback Water Filtration Facility and miles of new pipe connecting intake to the facility. That gives brewers an idea of how much effort and money is put into water quality in municipalities in general, and Bend in specific. Attendees also saw Bend’s water reclamation facility, which deals with breweries’ wastewater on the back end.
In between those stops, four local breweries (Deschutes, 10 Barrel, Crux Fermentation Project and Monkless Belgian Ales) opened their doors to talk about sustainability and water issues.
It’s clear that the idea of municipalities working with breweries on these issues is far from finished. Paul Rheault, Bend’s public works/utilities director, talked with attendees and said he hoped to one day forge a private-public partnership with the breweries to deal with the problems and costs associated with high-strength waste.
“We want the breweries to succeed,” Rheault said. “Thankfully, we have a good water source that’s well treated now for the brewers to use and make a good product.”
The discussion on water and sustainability issues for breweries is far from over. The city of Bend hopes to host a similar event in the future. Jack Harris, founder of Fort George Brewing in Astoria, was in attendance. Fort George recently hired a director of sustainability, and Harris said he would like to have an event similar to this one in his town.
The craft brewery industry has often prided itself on trying to be green and employing sustainable practices. That obviously becomes more difficult as breweries grow, but Bend and the breweries that call it home have shown there are ways to work together to make it easier.
By Jim McLaren
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The Ridgewalker Brewing taproom in Forest Grove is in an old building that has, among other things, been a church. You’ll catch the aroma of barbecue coming from a deck on one side of the building. And, as you trot up the steps to the door, you’ll pass a hand-drawn paper sign telling you the place is “Now Open.”
None of this prepares you for what’s to come once inside. Jeff Farrar, the taproom manager, says “It’s nice when you see the door open and you see those eyes, like ‘Wow.’”
The tall room is bright and airy. A 700-pound table made of a single piece of big leaf oak runs down the center of the room. Tables of the same heavily burled wood line the walls on either side. Industrial-style lamps hang from the ceiling. The bar, at the back of the room, is as clean and sleek looking as anything you’d find a 45-minute drive east in downtown Portland.
“This taproom wasn’t the original plan.” Justin Marble is seated next to Storm Brown; the brewery was their idea. “We had to deviate from that plan. We wanted to go big into production, but that was probably naive.”
This story has a couple of deviations actually; so let’s back up to a time when Storm was 5 years old. His father, an economics professor, made beer and let Storm mill the grain for him. A few years later, Storm and Justin met when they went head-to-head in the fifth grade for a Forest Grove School District spelling bee. Storm won, but a friendship had been seeded.
Jumping ahead, Storm says “it was after college, Justin and I moved in with Jason Cirlincione, another partner, and we started homebrewing pretty regularly. So, we always talked about starting our own brewery. Every homebrewer does.”
Life gets in the way here. Justin and Jason started businesses; Justin is an arborist and Jason is in construction. Storm was a bit unsettled. He spent seven years in the Army, including one year in Iraq.
After the military, Storm decided to walk. As a teen, he and friends spent time hiking Oregon’s Coast Range, as well as the Cascades. So, a through-hike of the Pacific Coast Trail, from Mexico to Canada, seemed like a good idea. But when he came off the trail, he still wasn’t sure what to do. Jason reminded him of the daydream of starting a brewery and also suggested the name Ridgewalker, which evoked Storm’s passion for hiking.
The three friends started on a 1-barrel system — the same one they’re brewing on today — and simply developed recipes for styles they liked. “We are fans of American-style beers. Big, clean American ales. Justin is much more a fan of English styles, so we sort of go back and forth. Also other European styles — pilsner, lagers.” (Try their Wickiup Wheat. It’s a refreshing, slightly citrusy hefeweizen.)
As the beer got better, the team did some tap takeovers and got into some businesses in Beaverton and Hillsboro. But they wanted to stay closer to home.
Storm says they all have ties to Forest Grove. The town has helped get their business started and “we’re realizing if we want to be part of Forest Grove, and all of us are from Forest Grove, then having a storefront here is really something that is going to get our name out there.”
Storm, Justin, Jason and Jason’s brother Chris, are jugglers right now. They have jobs away from the brewery and Justin is married with a child. He says they are all, essentially, volunteers in their own business but “once you get into something, you have to stick with it.”
They also have a roadmap for the years ahead. It’s based on a consistently high-quality product, which will allow them to grow to a 4- or 5-barrel system, get into more pubs and perhaps can their beer.
For now, they are building their base as a family-friendly taproom. They serve food, including that barbecue. Business picks up at about 5 p.m. each day as downtown folks get off work and classes at nearby Pacific University end for the day.
The four friends want to give their hometown what it has given them — a place to meet, be comfortable and share some good times.
1921 21st Ave., Forest Grove
By Chris Jennings
For the Oregon Beer Growler
There are all kinds of new fancy gadgets to make our lives easier these days. This phenomenon is also prevalent in the brewing industry, with homebrewers on the forefront of the innovation. One such advancement in the homebrew world is the use of electricity in brewing. We aren’t talking about using a pump or an extension cord. The technology of using electricity as your primary heat source has become affordable and relatively easy to implement. The future is here and it will shock you…
Bad puns aside, changing your homebrew system to all electric is not as difficult as you may think and can have some benefits. To start with, converting to electric means you can make beer indoors. Apart from needing a window open for the steam, you no longer have to shiver in a cold garage while brewing on a typical, drizzly Northwest winter’s day. Even if you decide to keep operating in your garage sanctuary, you don’t have to open the door, exposing your brew to the elements. With the ability to produce inside comes an even greater control over scaling. That also means going electric is handy if you live in a small apartment or lack access to an outdoor area. Additionally, you can build a system that doesn’t rely on your stove, eliminating excess heat and wasted energy. And if you get space to expand your brewery, you can always use your electric setup as a pilot system.
Unfortunately, as with everything in life there are some drawbacks. The first negative is that converting to electric can be expensive. If you’re just starting out, it’s relatively cheap. However, moving from gas to electric can get a bit pricey unless you can sell your old burners. Some existing equipment can be retrofitted with electrical components, though. Now that we’ve got price out of the way, the next issue to address is uneven heating. Be sure to warm your wort evenly to avoid over-caramelizing or even burning the liquid.
Of course, you need juice to brew. And while power outages are uncommon, it’s something to take into consideration. Perhaps you should postpone your brew day if a giant windstorm is in the forecast. Losing power halfway through the process could mean you end up ruining a potentially award-winning batch.
The most serious concern is electrocution. With gas brewing, there is always the risk of an explosion. But there’s a better chance an exposed wire and liquid could meet with an electric conversion. Check your system carefully before you begin and remember that at the end of the day, brewing was never meant to be easy or completely safe — otherwise everyone would do it. Minimize risk, press on and brew bravely.
Finding an Electric System
Rather than bombarding you with diagrams and multiple steps on how to build your own electric brewing system, I’ll steer you in the right direction. There are a handful of companies that pop up with a simple web search for “electric homebrewing” that will sell you fully operational systems. This can be beneficial if you’re just starting out or have some money to spare. However, if you want to DIY, instructions are also available online — everything from the most complicated, nearly pro-level build-out to something as simple as adding a single hot water heater element to a pot. Also be sure to check in with local homebrew clubs, shops and bloggers. All can serve as an ally in this new, electric world.
House Porter [AG]
House Porter [Extract]
With Ninkasi’s growth, the brewery sought assistance from Oregon Manufacturing Extension Partnership, an organization that helps increase efficiency and improve safety by bringing changes to a manufacturer's technology, management and labor relations. Pictured here are Ninkasi’s founders. Photo courtesy of Ninkasi Brewing Company
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
When a brewery is scaling production and operations, there’s often a focus on just getting through the day and dealing with problems as they happen. But as a company grows, they realize greater success can only come through better systems. By bringing on changes to manufacturing processes, management, technology and labor relations, breweries not only can improve safety records and increase efficiency; they can decrease costs and increase profits.
In 2013, Eugene-based Ninkasi Brewing Company had come to such a crossroads. They turned to Oregon Manufacturing Extension Partnership (OMEP), a not-for-profit organization that helps Oregon manufacturers grow through innovation and respond to the challenges of a global economy. (OMEP has previously provided consulting services for Fort George Brewery, Three Creeks Brewing Company and Deschutes Brewery.)
“Ninkasi didn’t want to be in firefighting or crisis mode all day long,” explains Chris Scherer, president of OMEP. “In a high-growth situation that can be normal, but companies that move forward realize they don’t want to stay that way.”
OMEP put together an operational excellence program, including recommendations on processes, safety, technology and even management and labor structure. By adopting the program, Ninkasi realized more than $300,000 in efficiencies, $200,000 in cost savings and 35 percent improved inventory accuracy.
At the 2016 Oregon Manufacturers’ Summit, held during March in Salem, OMEP presented Ninkasi with the Patrick R. Murphy Leadership Award, which recognizes outstanding leadership among Oregon’s top manufacturing companies.
“The award goes typically to a company that really understands and absorbs the lessons that we try to put across in our work. There’s a way to conform to our advice on the surface — fix a machine, rearrange an order in which you do things — that’s the technical side,” says Scherer. “There’s a level of appreciation on the cultural side that our award winners get in a deep way. Ninkasi almost started from that point of view. Ninkasi had considered thinking into the way they wanted to be, and they were upfront with us about wanting to make sure that what we did would fit with their cultural values.”
Scherer points out that OMEP is a good fit for breweries and manufacturers seeking long-term transitions and improvements. “Quick fixes aren’t in anyone’s interest,” he adds. “A lot of the companies we work with have had bad experiences with management’s fad of the month.”
OMEP looks to update companies with modern management systems and thinking, seeking to create partnerships between management and workers, as opposed to an adversarial us-vs.-them mentality. OMEP looks at the end customer and then works backward, examining, for example, quality control.
“You need a quality system that ensures that for one of those enormous tanks of beer, it comes out the same way each time,” explains Scherer. “What are the variables, and how do you account for changes in those variables? We had to think about every input, including the human input. It’s a long, complicated process of modernizing.”
It’s not just a matter of OMEP coming in and waving a presentation pointer, however. The company has be willing to put those recommendations to work. “Sometimes these ideas don’t take the first time through. You have to work on changing people’s thinking and behavior,” says Scherer. “The leadership at Ninkasi was very tenacious, committed and sticking to it and trying different ways until they found some solutions.” Even when recommendations go against current practices, Scherer encourages people to be open to new ideas.
Cheryl Collins, chief people officer at Ninkasi, agrees. “Since the beginning of our partnership, OMEP worked with us on a variety of projects — from strategic planning to preventative maintenance programs. OMEP has provided us with the coaching, feedback, tools and support necessary to help our team continue to improve.”
For breweries wanting help from an organization such as OMEP, they’ll need to be ready to talk frankly about their current operations, including selling, production, quality and other factors. OMEP then works with everyone from top management to other workers to amass ideas, understand pain points and figure out the best way forward.
“We think about it as satisfaction with status quo,” says Scherer. “If we’re talking to a company we just met, and they’re happy with where things are going, that’s not a good time to talk with us. If you don’t want us to rock your status quo, then you don’t want to work with us and should enjoy your stability. But when that changes … ”
Oregon Manufacturing Extension Partnership
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