By Dan Haag
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Once upon a time, a sad, run-down former auto body shop sat on a dreary street corner in Astoria. Though its storied history could be traced back to some of the city’s prominent business founders, there was a time during the 1990s and early 2000s that no one paid it much attention.
It was just there, crumbling away under the winter rain and summer weeds, kept upright by the boards hammered across the broken out windows.
While it seems like a lifetime ago, it’s only been a little more than 10 years since business partners Jack Harris and Chris Nemlowill chose the spot as the future home for Fort George Brewery.
Time flies when you’re having fun and working feverishly, a combination that has Fort George primed for the next 10 years.
“We’re really proud of the work that went into the building and the hub it’s become,” Harris says.
Now, it’s hard to picture the corner at 1483 Duane St. without what has become known as the “Brewer’s Block.”
While so much has happened since 2007, Harris says Astoria’s welcoming embrace holds special meaning for him.
“We were immediately accepted by this community,” he says. “It evolved into kind of becoming a living room for the town.”
The official anniversary date landed on March 11, and in typical Fort George fashion, it was an all-day affair, complete with three bands, a cake-cutting ceremony and a beer release featuring a 10th Anniversary Pinot Barrel-Aged Barleywine brewed for the occasion.
“It was just a huge party all day long,” Harris says.
The cake — decorated with a U-Haul and tornado — was a nod to Fort George’s very stormy beginning.
In 2006, Harris and Nemlowill took a cross-country trip to secure brewing equipment from a brewery for sale in Virginia Beach, Va.
After taking the brewery apart, they loaded the large tanks onto a rented flat-bed truck and stored the smaller items inside a U-Haul, which Harris and Nemlowill drove.
When they hit Nebraska, they came face-to-face with a tornado that touched down just a few hundred yards off the interstate.
“We came close to losing all that stuff — we had no insurance or anything,” Harris says.
Safe and sound back on Oregon’s north Coast, the team decided to create an IPA to commemorate their adventure.
Harris, who’d already been brewing professionally for a number of years at that point, had never made an IPA.
“Chris being the business man, he knew we needed to make an IPA because he actually wanted to make money at this venture,” Harris says.
Thus, Vortex IPA was born — one of Fort George’s signature brews.
Harris gives credit to Nemlowill for Fort George’s evolution, who he calls “the visionary” of the team.
“I’m always focused on the task at hand, Chris is always looking ahead,” he says.
Speaking of looking ahead, Fort George has purchased a parcel of land in nearby Warrenton for the future construction of a distribution center.
Harris says the current warehouse has reached its limit and they want a spot to make it easier for customers to purchase larger orders and kegs.
Groundbreaking likely won’t occur until late 2017 or early 2018.
While brewing great beer is an essential component of their success, Harris says Fort George’s role in the community takes on a greater importance. Launching a weekly lecture series, participating in charity events and brewing special beers are just some of the ways Fort George gives back to Astoria.
Harris says they also encourage current and prospective employees to find a community cause they care about and become involved.
“I have no interest in running a business just to make money, there is no point in that,” he says. “Our hearts are with anything we can do to give back and make this a better place to live for the locals. It’s really the only reason to be in it for me.”
With hindsight always being perfect, Harris laughs when asked what he’d do differently if he could give his past self any words of advice.
“I’d probably go run and hide,” he says. “But it’s such a privilege to be in this industry and be in this town.”
Fort George Brewery
1483 Duane St., Astoria
By Dan Haag
For the Oregon Beer Growler
If, as Ben Franklin is said to have opined, beer is indeed proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy, then Astoria is well on its way to becoming a beer-lover’s paradise.
Case-in-point: Reach Break Brewing, the sixth brewery to set up shop in the North Oregon Coast town. Officially opened in February, Reach Break is rapidly proving one town can never have too much of a good thing.
Owned and operated by brothers and Coos Bay natives Josh and Jared Allison, Reach Break is a labor of love for a pair of avid homebrewers who made a leap of faith after circumstances gave them a nudge.
Josh Allison, with a background as a biologist, has been homebrewing “religiously” for over a decade. An injury made him look at new avenues and brewing professionally seemed a logical fit.
The term “Reach Break” is a reflection of his biology experience as it describes the exact location where two rivers or streams merge — a point where everything comes together.
Josh says it fit the brewery perfectly. “At Reach Break, we are bringing everything together in one location: hoppy, juicy IPAs, farmhouse-inspired saisons, big flavorful stouts and long-term sours,” he says.
Astoria is even located adjacent to a reach break, where the Youngs and Columbia Rivers merge.
Reach Break is also the confluence of the Allisons’ aspirations.
“Opening a brewery has always been a dream for my wife and I,” he says. “Me, because I absolutely love it. And she really wanted her kitchen, garage and shed back.”
Josh dove into learning about the business side of brewing, enrolling in the online Business of Craft Brewing program at Portland State University, which is geared toward people who brew at home and want to take things to the next level.
All the while, he was hoping to find a spot for a coastal brewery and spent time scouting out possible locations that would fit his needs, which included facilities for long-term barrel aging.
Jared, likewise a devoted homebrewer, honed his craft in Eugene with the “Brew of O” homebrew club, soon working his way into a job at Ninkasi Brewing and then several other commercial breweries.
“That really took his game to another level and he developed quite a resume,” Josh says.
The two connected while Josh was preparing to open Reach Break in Astoria and Jared was living in Tillamook. Jared came on board as an owner/operator.
The downtown Astoria location at 13th and Duane Streets originally housed the Lovell’s Used Car Center. The parking lot is where autos were showcased and the repairs took place inside where the brewery and taproom are now located. Later, the location played host to several other businesses, including a bicycle shop and various retail operations. Turning the building into a brewery was no small task.
“We had to do a lot of cleaning and work on the facility to get it ready for beer production,” Josh says.
That included the installation of a large walk-in cooler, running a glycol system for their tanks, upgrading the main water and natural gas lines, and general utility work, such as plumbing and electrical.
Now up and running, the cozy space features a taproom with a bar, couch and table seating. Reach Break has licensed the former parking lot for beer consumption outside when the weather improves this summer. Rather than having a commercial kitchen, Reach Break will rely on food trucks, which will be located just outside the taproom.
“We really wanted to focus on making the best beer possible and to allow somebody else to focus on making the best food possible,” Josh says.
Creating the best beer possible is already well underway. Several stouts were on tap during Stout Month in February, for example.
“We also are going to be producing a lot of hoppy, juicy, hazy IPAs. Jared has been developing some recipes for a while,” Josh says.
Those include Amoeba Session IPA and Evolution Of An IPA Part 1, both of which Josh says ran out much quicker than expected. As the name implies, The Evolution Series will be an ever-changing line of IPAs. “They will always have a similar genetic backbone, but we will tweak something every batch, like hops, malt, yeast, water,” explains Josh.
Mykiss and Citrus Mykiss, two saisons, have also been popular with customers and the brothers are looking forward to doing more variations.
“We also have mixed-culture beer fermenting and aging in oak barrels downstairs in our barrel cellar. We are opting for a longer-term fermentation process, so those beers should begin to make their debut in the future,” he says.
Reach Break has a 7-barrel system that came from Stout Tanks and Kettles in Portland. That includes an oversized mash tun and boil kettle, allowing the team to do some fun things with higher-gravity brews.
“All of our ‘clean beer’ — IPAs, stouts — that are fermented with domesticated brewer's yeast are kept upstairs in one of our four stainless fermenters,” Josh says. “Our mixed-culture beers that we ferment in oak are stored downstairs in our barrel cellar. We have a very unique facility that allows us the opportunity to do a lot of fun varieties that you wouldn't typically see in just one brewery.”
Reach Break is also planning to use unique ingredients that are sourced from smaller-scale farms. For example, Cradle to Grave Farms in South Dakota has been cultivating hops that Josh is eager to use.
“They are also experimenting and developing some new packaging processes and farming techniques that will directly translate to a better finished product. We are very excited to be working with them,” he says.
With the doors open, it’s time for Reach Break to dream big in the form of an expanded barrel program and fermentation capacity. However, perfecting their signature brews remains the No. 1 priority.
“We are blessed with a unique location where we are able to brew a lot of different styles of beer,” Josh says. “We always want to have a variety of styles and to make the best beer that we can possibly create. Ultimately, we will always focus on making great beer that we are proud to serve. That should be the primary goal of any brewery.”
Reach Break Brewing
1343 Duane St., Astoria
By Ezra Johnson-Greenough
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Even at 218 or so breweries, Oregon has yet to reach peak status. True, industry growth is slowing and real estate in popular places like Portland and Bend are harder to come by. But there is still room for the local brewpub. Some large towns — like La Grande — don’t even have a brewery yet, but 2017 looks to change that. Here are our top 10 major breweries scheduled to open this year.
Bodega Beer - Portland
This 15-barrel brewery and taproom will open on the corner of Southeast 14th Avenue and Stark Street right across the street from Meat Cheese Bread and their taproom/bottleshop called Beer. Ex-Laurelwood brewer Steven Balzer will be on board to focus on hop-forward beers with a lager and some international styles represented. They won’t have food, but will have a food cart on site.
Breakside Brewery Slabtown - Portland
Breakside Brewery’s third location was scheduled to open in the Slabtown neighborhood of Northwest Portland last summer, but it’s now on track for a spring 2017 launch. The space will feature a full restaurant, event room mezzanine and outdoor seating on both a patio and rooftop. Best of all — the 10-barrel brewhouse is going to pump out completely new, experimental hop-centric beers.
Crooked River Brewing – Prineville
The 4-barrel startup is taking over a 7,000-square-foot industrial space that used to house an antique shop. Prineville’s second brewery will favor IPAs and pizzas in a setting that will include outdoor seating, a conference room and pool tables. Brewing is still a good six months out or more due to city and federal permitting. (Read more on page 14).
Ferment - Portland and Hood River
Daniel Peterson moved to Hood River to work at Full Sail and then pFriem after experience with microbiology at New York’s Brooklyn Brewery. In 2015 he set out to open his own project with a brewery in Hood River and a taproom/restaurant in Portland, originally slated for the Yard development on the east side of the Burnside Bridge. Peterson said he’ll now look for a nearby ground-floor location that will be more accessible to foot traffic.
The Horn Public House & Brewery - Depoe Bay
Chris Jennings, one of the Hillsboro Brew Brothers before leaving to join the team at Alameda, now takes on the role of head brewer at this upcoming coastal establishment. From the owners of Gracie’s Sea Hag comes this 10-barrel, two-floor brewpub that is already open and should have its own beer on tap sometime after January. Jennings plans to make a variety of styles, with 10 house beers — plus guest offerings — on tap. (Read more on page 18).
Level Beer - Portland
A trio of all-stars came together to launch Level Beer: Bailey’s Taproom owner Geoff Phillips along with brewer/partners Jason Barbee (formerly of Ex Novo) and Shane Watterson (formerly of Laurelwood). Making its home on garden/farmland in outer Northeast Portland off I-84, there will be a tasting room (but don’t expect farmhouse beers).
Little Beast Brewing - Beaverton
When Charles Porter left Logsdon in 2015, he sought a warehouse space to open his own sour blendery, with a brewery off-site. But in late 2016, he found the defunct Brannon’s Pub & Brewery in Beaverton where he’ll start his business before eventually relocating to a space in Portland with more room for barrels. For now, he shares the building with The Westgate Bourbon Bar & Taphouse, which opened in December.
Reach Break Brewing – Astoria
This new 7-barrel brewery and taproom will focus on barrel-aged sour and wild beers, but will also pour clean East Coast-style IPAs and farmhouse brews. Customers can enjoy a covered outdoor beer garden with food carts and to-go menus from local establishments. If there aren’t any holdups, Reach Break could be open by the time you read this with non-wild yeast/bacteria beers and barrel-aged styles debuting as they are ready.
Ross Island Brewing - Portland
Ex-Alameda brewer Carston Haney’s inner Southeast Portland project has been hit with numerous delays by the City of Portland. After waiting more than a year, he hopes to open the taproom in January while work continues on the brewery. Expect big and sessionable English, German and American styles of beer in a cozy neighborhood pub with an outdoorsman's touch.
Side A Brewing - La Grande
When Eastern Oregon University professor Scott McConnell realized that La Grande was the only city in Oregon with a population of more than 7,000 that didn’t have a brewery, he knew he had to do something. Along with two partners, one with brewery experience and the other food and beverage, they are slated to open Side A Brewing in the historic Eastern Oregon Fire Museum this spring.
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