By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The Travelin Taphouse is a unique, fully customized beer trailer that can carry 30 kegs and has 12 taps. Even more, the mobile bar is an ingenious concept that provides almost any service you might want for any occasion — including weddings. And as nuptial-planning season kicks into high gear, a taphouse that brings the party to you might be the perfect fit for the reception of a craft beer-loving couple.
“We’re your one-stop shopping for any event, large or small,” said coordinator Patricia McPherson. The Travelin Taphouse not only brings the beer — and any other drinks requested — but also ambiance, including music, lighting, seating and a fire pit.
Tyke Murdock, who lives in Dallas, designed and owns the taps-on-wheels setup. Murdock, a confirmed extrovert who could easily be the poster child for the person who never met a stranger, came up with the idea while watching his good friend open a taphouse.
“I like to interact with people,” said the one-time police officer. “I’m not a big drinker, but I got interested in beer and started studying [Jeff Alworth’s book] ‘The Beer Bible.’”
Combining the convivial atmosphere with the popularity and mobility of a food truck all came together when Murdock’s wife suggested a beer cart. Murdock wanted to ensure choice for his customers, which is why there’s a dozen taps instead of two or three. Their first event was at Detroit Lake during Fourth of July celebrations. Murdock also brought his Travelin Dogs food cart.
When selling beer to the public, he submits paperwork for approval and draws up a plan that shows how the space will be arranged and staffed. For private setups like tailgate parties, he usually contains the area with attractive fencing and contacts the site involved. For couples planning a wedding, McPherson has a helpful and detailed checklist. “Most people don’t realize how many things there are to consider,” she said.
The list of services that Travelin Taphouse provides is daunting: from catering a full sit-down dinner to serving a more affordable, but no less impressive, buffet meal on China or plastic. The bar options are seemingly endless, including beer taps, wine service and even mixed drinks.
“We have all the required licenses and certificates,” said Murdock, whose experience supervising group homes probably helped him navigate all the regulatory hurdles. “Alcohol management is an important part of any package we sell,” he said. Murdock always has the appropriate number of alcohol monitors overseeing his events. “We take the stress off the wedding and assume all responsibility for alcohol consumption,” he said.
Although the Travelin Taphouse goes all over the state, many of the wedding venues they have worked at are scattered throughout Willamette Valley. Organizers can cater to any style of reception: from rustic to shabby chic to black tie with tuxedoed waiters. As an added bonus, Murdock can perform the ceremony since he is a minister. Now that’s what you call full service.
One of their favorite public events last summer was the Pendleton Round-Up. Their family-friendly space included a stage for hula hooping and food from the executive chef at The Joel Palmer House in Dayton. “The Round-Up time can get pretty wild,” Murdock said, “but we had no incidents.”
He has learned that beer tastes vary widely according to region and works to bring the styles and brands people prefer in any given area. Murdock also researches sales and always carries two ciders.
For custom events like weddings, the clients choose what they want. Murdock said the couple might decide to have a host/no-host bar, where the first three kegs are on them and after that, guests have to pay. Murdock emphasized he does not mark up his beer and charges clients exactly what he pays. There are smaller barrel options if a customer wants to have a wider assortment at a more reasonable price.
“If you want a variety, let’s look at six barrels and that way you can have more choices,” he said. “We want to work with the budget in mind.”
By Peter Korchnak
For the Oregon Beer Growler
In pursuit of their dream of opening a brewery, Joe St. Martin and Sean Oeding took the road less traveled: they opened a beer cart. And then another one.
When St. Martin moved from San Francisco -- where he sold his beer at small events — to Portland, he bought a food cart and refurbished it to serve beer. In the summer of 2014, the first Scout Beer Garden opened at the Good Food Here pod at Southeast 43rd Avenue and Belmont Street, and shortly thereafter the second one became the anchor for the Tidbit Food Farm and Garden pod at Southeast 28th Place and Division Street. Each cart serves up to 12 brews, including St. Martin's own craft beer and a cider.
Adventures in Brewing
“It was a bit of an adventure,” St. Martin says. While he has acted as the brewer and day-to-day manager, Oeding has provided financial backing. The duo's dream of brewing came true last February, when St. Martin poured his first two creations: a peanut butter porter and a marionberry red ale. He says, “You could serve them separately or as a black and tan to make a liquid PBJ.”
The following month Scout Beer Garden introduced the Pretty in Pink IPA, with grapefruit and pink peppercorns. And on April 13 they launched their fourth brew, the Kentucky Coffee Stout, with bourbon and hazelnut.
Pod Bar Blazes the Way
As unique as Scout Beer Garden may be, it isn't the first beer cart to open in Portland. Captured by Porches Brewing Company’s Mobile Public Haus beer bus launched the phenomenon in 2010. While successful, it was an extension of the brewery, operating with a brewery license. Strictly speaking, it was not a food cart, says Brett Burmeister, editor of the Food Carts Portland blog.
The first dedicated beer cart with a full liquor license was Pod Bar, at the Carts on Foster pod at Southeast 52nd Avenue and Foster Road. The pod and bar owner Steve Woolard today laughs about the now-notorious episode, when the City of Portland fought the Oregon Liquor Control Commission's award of the license, but eventually backed down in 2012. “They're out of office, we're still in business,” he quips.
To get the license Woolard had to add a covered, enclosed seating area to the 1956 Aloha trailer made in Beaverton. On a March Saturday, during a lull between lunch and happy hour, a family with small children enjoyed a late lunch and brews, and a steady stream of craft brew aficionados kept the barkeep, Larry Walters, busy with filling growlers.
The beer cart was a natural extension of food carts, says Woolard, who used to brew at Yamhill Brewing Company and now runs the Spring Beer and Wine Fest. “If the food is so good, why not serve beer too?” he thought. Pod Bar scratched his beer itch, Woolard says, and the constantly changing beer list makes it so “you never know what you're gonna get.”
Beer Carts as Community Hubs
Though he knew the neighborhood needed a place with good food and good beer at a reasonable price point, Woolard says, “I didn't expect it to become such a family destination and a neighborhood hub.”
According to Burmeister, beer carts contribute to creating community spaces. The Tidbit pod buzzes with activity, with families, groups of friends, couples, and tourists alike crowding picnic tables, noshing on various world cuisines and quaffing pints to live music. St. Martin says, “I love being able to be a part of the local community.”
The Future of Beer Carts
Burmeister forecasts that, rather than each pod featuring a dedicated beer cart, regular cart vendors will offer drinks that are unique to their cuisine -- e.g., a Vietnamese food cart serving Vietnamese beer — and that beer carts will expand their offerings by including cider and wine.
For St. Martin, the future lies in brewing. For now, he makes beer at Portland U-Brew. He is seeking contract breweries to increase production of the IPA and the red to keep them on tap permanently and make them available elsewhere.
“I am lucky,” he says. “I get to make a living with a unique little business and share it with people.”
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