By John Foyston
For the Oregon Beer Growler
You could fairly call the Oregon Pint — an elegant beer glass with a geographically accurate Mount Hood molded in the base — a runaway success.
Last February, Matt and Leigh Capozzi and Nic Ramirez of North Drinkware went to Kickstarter to raise $15,000 to buy the tools and material to produce their dream glass, which Matt Capozzi said was originally intended to be a fun little side project. Apparently the public didn't know that because the Kickstarter campaign met its initial goal in five hours and 15 minutes, according to the North Drinkware website.
“We initially figured that some people will want a handcrafted beer glass,” says Capozzi, “and then as things took off, we asked ourselves, 'what if things go really crazy and we raise $50,000 or $100,000?'”
The answer would be, you start making glasses … a LOT of glasses, because the campaign raised more than half a million bucks from 5,600 investors.
Now, $45 seems like a lot of money for a beer container — that is, until you watch a team of artisans transform a blob of incandescent glass into a beautiful, robust vessel. The process starts in the hot shop of their production partners, Elements Glass in the industrial area of Northwest Portland. It starts with the gather — Karlye Golub pokes a four-foot-long blow pipe into a furnace to get a blob of 1,500-degree molten glass from the crucible. How big a blob? “That's the thing.” says Matt Capozzi, “There's no set recipe — these people are doing it all by feel and experience.”
The blowpipe is then cooled in water so it can be handled and Karlye blows a small bubble into the glass, after which it's heated again before marvering — preliminary rolling and shaping on a heavy, flat steel plate called a marver. She hands the blowpipe to Aaron Frankel, who runs the shop, and he continues to shape and expand the bubble while periodically putting the blowpipe into the roaring furnace, which keeps the glass from cooling too much and shattering.
Satisfied, he steps on a low platform and inserts the glass into a heated cylindrical steel mold at his feet while Alissa Friedman swings the mold doors shut. Frankel blows into the pipe, forcing the glass into the mold. He taps his foot when experience tells him he's done, Friedman opens the guillotine doors and together, they separate the glass from the blowpipe. They'll repeat this closely choreographed dance of molten glass about 150 times in a good day — more than 550 times in a week, given vagaries of weather, humidity and temperature, all of which affect the process.
Not that the newborn glass is near ready to receive its beer baptism. First it spends a night cooling in the annealing oven. Then it goes to the cold shop, where it's scored, then placed on a heavy, round table where a micro torch heats the score and separates the top inch or so of the glass, which goes to the scrap bin. A bigger torch then melts the sharp scored edge into a generous rounded rim and the glass goes back into the annealing oven.
A day or so later, you can finally pour a beer into it and watch Mount Hood come alive in the golden light. And you understand what Capozzi means when he says, “People pour their heart and soul into making great beer these days, and we wanted to give craft beer drinkers a glass that we poured our heart and souls into designing and making.”
He and his North Drinkware partners — wife Leigh, and Ramirez, who's a colleague at Portland-based branding/product studio Cinco Design, initially came up with the idea for the Oregon Pint last year. “Mount Hood is perfect,” says Matt Capozzi, “because it symbolizes all of Oregon." They soon will release another state pint for Washington, California, Colorado or Vermont — my bet's on Mount Rainier. And once they catch up with the 13,000 or so Oregon Pints promised to investors, and they're well on the way, the glass will be available online at northdrinkware.com and at Timberline Lodge, Mount Hood Meadows and MadeHere PDX.
It's a great idea, but it was a long way away from full-fledged production last year. The trio started prototyping at night with plaster molds and different production methods. (They'll keep their careers — Capozzi and Ramirez are industrial designers and Leigh Capozzi is in marketing — despite the vivid success of North Drinkware.) The molds are a good example of how Kickstarter made the dream possible. Clearly, plaster molds were a temporary expedient, but when they switched to graphite, they found the molds also wore out rapidly. The current machined steel mold is holding up well, but it's about the eighth mold they've made — at about $8,000 a copy. And that’s why crowdfunding has proved invaluable.
“Kickstarter has been just that.” says Matt Capozzi, “We couldn't have done this on our own. This project has taken over our lives in a way, but in a good way, because we're good at balancing work and life, and I have great partners.”
By the time we get to the proof of the pint — splitting a bottle of pFriem Pilsner between two Oregon Pints, Capozzi is once again watching the dance in the hot shop. “It's mesmerizing,” he says. “I could watch them blowing glass all day. It's like watching snow fall in the mountains — you just can't look away.”
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