By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Surrounded by fans of The Bier Stein taking in the game or beering up for their own football festivities, Troy Potter can hardly believe that a few months ago he wasn't the new owner of Eugene's The Bier Stein. Working in sales at Ninkasi Brewing Company, Potter was happy where he was.
“I didn’t have a desire to be a business owner,” says Potter, “unless the perfect situation came up.”
Then it did.
At the 2016 Oregon Country Fair, Potter was having a beer with his longtime friends Kristina and Chip Hardy, founders of The Bier Stein. “Around one in the morning, I happened to mention, ‘If you ever want to sell, please talk to me first,’” says Potter. “They stopped, they giggled and said they’d been considering selling the place.”
The Hardys felt ready to pursue non-business interests, but didn’t want to be absentee owners. For the next year, when Potter wasn’t working as part of Ninkasi’s national sales team and managing accounts on the East Coast, he quietly evaluated buying the business.
“I was happy, making good money at a good job,” says Potter, “but when this opportunity came up, my wife and I talked about it and realized it was an opportunity that I just couldn’t pass up.”
On Aug. 1, 2017, Potter and silent partner Jon Farah officially became owners of The Bier Stein.
A Long Way From Cleveland
Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Potter was 21 when in 1991 he grabbed his backpack and bought a one-way Amtrak ticket to Portland.
“I fell in love with craft beer, day one,” says Potter. “I spent six months drinking Widmer Hefeweizen with lemon, then Full Sail Amber, then Deschutes Black Butte Porter. But Bridgeport IPA was a game changer. I’ve been in love with IPAs ever since.”
After working as bar manager at an Italian restaurant and Kells Irish Pub, Potter’s interest in craft beer led him to jobs with McMenamins and Rogue. In 2007, his wife was about to graduate from Reed College, and they’d heard about a new brewery in Eugene. The day after graduation they moved south, where Potter became one of Ninkasi’s first employees. Fast-forward 10 years, Potter was learning how to be an owner.
Potter and Farah began working with a bank to navigate the “long, drawn-out process” of getting a Small Business Administration loan. Potter also worked side-by-side with the Hardys to understand day-to-day operations and get advice. Along with respecting the Hardy’s wishes to keep the sale quiet, Potter had signed a non-disclosure agreement and couldn’t say anything to his colleagues. Then, finally, “the bank put everything in writing, and I gave my 30-day notice,” says Potter. “It was a surprise at Ninkasi.”
Smooth Transition, Strong Future
Founded in 2005, The Bier Stein began as a 2,100-square-foot bottle shop and beer bar between downtown Eugene and the University of Oregon campus. In 2012, The Bier Stein moved to a 12,000-square-foot building. Now offering more than 1,000 beers in bottles and from 30-plus taps, The Bier Stein seats 185 and has 50 employees. And that, says Potter, is how he wants things to be.
“The staff and managers are amazing, and everyone was excited to stay on,” says Potter. “I didn’t change one thing. Not the menu, not the beer. That turnkey aspect was in its truest form. Why change something that’s working perfectly?”
Potter is at the shop each day, working with managers and on marketing, advertising and overall operations. “I’ve also been bussing tables, running food. I intend to work in the kitchen and the bar too — keep my finger on the pulse and connect with customers,” says Potter. “The Bier Stein is about the best beer and the best customer experience. That’s what will keep The Bier Stein strong.”
Plans include growing The Bier Stein’s reputation as a destination and craft beer institution. “About 35 percent of our customers come from outside of Eugene, based on word of mouth.”
Increased customer education is also a priority. Potter wants all staff — including himself — to have Level Two Cicerone Certifications. “New customers come in, and they might know a little about beer, but it can be hard to come up to those cooler doors and pick a beer,” says Potter. “Something we can make better is to be there with customers and help them make that bottle purchase.”
Overall, Potter sees his role not as a game changer, but as the next generation. “My goal coming into The Bier Stein is not to change anything,” he explains. “My goal is to grab that torch that Chip and Kristina created and carry it forward. We’re going to keep it about the beer.”
The Bier Stein
1591 Willamette St., Eugene
By Erica Tiffany-Brown
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
For the last three years, I’ve dressed up as a hop during the Halloween season because a.) hops are awesome, and b.) I’m both too lazy and not creative enough to conjure up some other costume. Although I love traditions, I’m growing tired of doing the same thing year after year. But one thing I never get tired of is Oregon beer — so, I’ve decided to brew up some new rituals for all of us featuring our favorite treat. Below, you’ll find four different fall activities — beyond just Halloween — and the beers that go with them. October will never be the same again!
Ashland’s Caldera Brewing is already Halloween-friendly thanks to their logo, a bubbling black cauldron. But what will really put you under their spell is the Toasted Coconut Chocolate Porter. The brewery uses in-house toasted coconut chips and natural liquid chocolate to create nothing short of Mounds bar goodness. The beer already claims to be dessert in a glass, so why not take your state of sugar-induced bliss one step further by pairing it with the Hershey’s tropical treat? | 6.2% ABV, 24 IBUs
Aside from having a great name, Nut Crusher Peanut Butter Porter from Wild Ride Brewing in Redmond blends the chocolatey, caramelly, nutty notes loved by porter fans and amplifies them times a thousand with an undeniably creamy peanut butter flavor. It’s a beer that pairs well with E.T.’s favorite food group — Reese’s Pieces. Added bonus: The candies will double as a type of breadcrumb trail when you’ve imbibed too many beers and can’t find your way back home! | 6% ABV, 18 IBUs
Fall Activity Pairing: Trick-or-Treating
Even though you’re too big to get away with going door-to-door asking for candy — unless you secretly steal from your kid’s stash — there are likely plenty of leftovers from that giant variety pack you had every intention of handing out to costumed little monsters. Instead of ravaging it like a zombie, here are some more Oregon beer and candy pairings to help you savor every last bite: Rusty Truck Brewing’s Taft Toffee Porter with Heath bars, Base Camp Brewing’s S’more Stout with Peeps marshmallows, and Rogue’s Hazelnut Brown Nectar with Ferrero Rocher.
Pumpkin Spice and Everything Nice
Pumpkin beer (or pumpkin anything for that matter) is one of those things people either seem to love or hate. But even the biggest pumpkin skeptic could be made into a believer with Rogue’s annual Pumpkin Patch Ale. “Crafted from patch to batch,” each year Rogue employees pick fresh pumpkins from Rogue Farms in Independence, load them up and drive them 77 miles to the Newport brewery. The pumpkins are then roasted and pitched into the brew kettle, creating a final product that rivals even the best witch’s brew. | 6.1% ABV, 25 IBUs
Complex enough to be in a category all on its own, Cascade Brewing’s Pumpkin Smash is not for the average pumpkin beer fan. The Portland barrel house is highly regarded for its sour beers, and Pumpkin Smash does not disappoint. Each year’s batch offers a different experience — for example, their 2015 version is a blend of blond and quad ales aged in bourbon and brandy barrels for up to 22 months with pumpkin and spices. In September, the brewery released the 2015 blend on draft only, with vintage 2013 and 2014 bottles available for purchase. If the spirits are in your favor, you’ll likely still be able to score a rare bottle at the brewery, or at bottle shops such as Portland’s Belmont Station and The Bier Stein in Eugene. | 10.8%-12.35% ABV
Fall Activity Pairing: Pumpkin Patch
Check out Heiser Farms in Dayton for the ultimate pumpkin overload. On Saturdays and Sundays in October, the farm has cannons that shoot pumpkins more than a quarter of a mile! They will also be serving Heiser Pumpkin Ale from Silverton’s Seven Brides Brewing, a brew made with pumpkins grown right on the farm.
Originally released as a seasonal in 2014, Ninkasi’s Dawn of the Red has become almost as much of a cult classic as the movie it’s named after — 1978 horror film “Dawn of the Dead.” The brewery’s label designer and art director, Tony Figoli, is obviously a fan of the film, so what better reason to add this zombie-themed pairing to your to-do list this Halloween season and beyond? According to the Eugene brewery, “it doesn’t take brains to know this IRA is a delicious choice any time of year!” | 7% ABV, 75 IBUs
The infamous Black Widow only summons herself two weeks out of the year, but she always leaves a lasting impression. Originally brewed at the McMenamins Thompson Brewery 25 years ago on October 15, 1991, this deep-black porter infused with licorice root is so enchanting she will be the star of her own “Widow’s Weekend” at various locations. While she’s available October 15 through Halloween at all McMenamins pubs, the Thompson Brewery usually releases the popular seasonal earlier than the rest. But don’t get too lost in her web, as she won’t be here for long! | 7.35% ABV, 30 IBU
Fall Activity Pairing: Scary Movie Marathon
Although there is a 1987 crime thriller which shares the name “Black Widow,” McMenamins has a lot more to offer than that in the scary movie department this month. The company’s Mission Theater and Pub in Portland offers a variety of screenings all year long, but in October, you’ll find that classic spooky movies are their specialty. “The Craft” and “Scream” are both celebrating their 20th anniversaries, “Little Shop of Horrors” is celebrating its 30th, and “Carrie” is celebrating its 40th. There will be multiple showings of each, along with the movie “Se7en.” Don’t forget to order your favorite McMenamins beer as liquid courage as you prepare to be scared!
Putting the Oktober in Oktoberfest
If you’re pumpkin-phobic, have no fear, Deschutes is here! The brewery recently added a new fall seasonal to its lineup: Hopzeit Autumn IPA. While this beer may or may not conform to the Reinheitsgebot (a German purity law only allowing water, barley and hops as ingredients), the beer is at least “100-percent gourd free” according to the brewery, and “blends the malt body and flavor of a Marzen with the hop profile of an IPA.” It even has its own hashtag: #SayNoToPumpkinBeer. | 7% ABV, 60 IBUs
For those of you wanting something you could drink a few steins of without being frightened by flavors, this section’s for you. Block 15 Brewing’s Autumn Farmhouse Ale, dubbed as a “harvest celebration of Pacific Northwest regional farms,” is a part of the brewery’s seasonal bottle-conditioned series. The beer truly lives up to its description, featuring organic North American malts, organic oats from Green Willow Grains, Willamette Valley hops, and honey from Queen Bee Apiaries, also located in Corvallis. | 7.4% ABV
Fall Activity Pairing: Oktoberfest
Although Munich’s famous Oktoberfest may be over, luckily for you there are still some Oregon breweries that are hosting their own versions of the revered German celebration this month, including Block 15’s Bloktoberfest on Oct. 21 (Pro Tip: You get free entry if you wear German-themed clothing). On Oct. 8 in Portland, not only is Zoiglhaus Brewing hosting its own Oktoberfest, but Widmer Brothers Brewing will be putting on an Oktoberfest at Pioneer Courthouse Square featuring rock band X Ambassadors.
No matter how you’re celebrating this month, don’t be too spooked to try a new Oregon beer!
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Usually when a craft beer place draws in the public, they are attracting people who come primarily for the beer. But with Beergarden, the 1-year-old Eugene taphouse (and home to four food carts) gets just as many people who come first for their favorite grub — and then discover a pint of something special to go with it. Customers may start out more interested in the food than in the beer, but with 42 (soon to be 47) taps of craft beer, wine, cider, mead and more, they soon realize Beergarden is a unique blend of indoors and outdoors, craft beverages, and artisan food.
Founded in 2015 by Tap & Growler co-owners Colby Phillips and Patric Campbell, Beergarden is located in a renovated former service station at a nexus of major roads and neighborhoods. Decor was salvaged from a to-be-demolished local Marie Callender’s restaurant — look above the bar and you’ll find the old salad bar shield. Beergarden combines metal and wood in both a comfy indoor space and an airy, yet covered, outdoor space that’s filled with plants thanks to the garden center next door. Lunch and dinner crowds come for a variety of reasons, including live music, a food truck meal and the enclosed space where kids can play.
“It’s a beer garden with a true garden feel,” says Phillips. “People really seem to like it.” Local people’s choice awards would agree. During its first year, Beergarden garnered a number of honors: “Best Beers on Tap,” “Best New Restaurant” and “Best New Business.”
At the heart of Beergarden, of course, is the “beer” in the name. At the heart of the beer is beer steward Holly Emery-Walen, who has been with Beergarden since the beginning. The University of Oregon graduate has a resume that includes positions at a number of well-respected beer establishments, such as The Bier Stein, Hop Valley’s Tasting Room and Belmont Station. Managing the Portland beer cafe connected Emery-Walen with brewers, brewery owners and other figures in the industry. Around 2013, though, she was ready to return to Eugene, where she met Colby Phillips, who was conceptualizing the place that would become Beergarden.
“He approached me about something he and Patric were putting together,” explains Emery-Walen. “I wanted something full-time where I could have creative control with the tap list and bottle list. I get that autonomy.”
Now Emery-Walen is the general of the business’s taps and bottle selection. “I love drinking beer,” she says, “and I like to explore.” But developing the right beer selection wasn’t just a matter of pulling in every esoteric beer she could get her hands on. The onsite food carts pulled in lots of foodies and food cart fans. “They aren’t necessarily beer geeks or in the craft beer scene, which is different from a lot of beer places,” says Emery-Walen. “We’re at this confluence of North Eugene, South Eugene, Whiteaker. We’re near two highways, and that brings a big mix of demographics. People weren’t necessarily coming just for craft beer.”
With constantly rotating taps, however, Emery-Walen hit upon a simple solution for people whose taste in beer might be more on the stick-with-what-you-know end of the spectrum. She decided to keep Hop Valley’s Light Me Up Lager on Beergarden’s sole permanent tap, “for people who want something familiar in a place where all the beer is unfamiliar.”
That simple change puts people at ease, though, and more and more customers come in who “enjoy exploring.” That adventurous spirit, Emery-Walen observes, is a natural extension of food cart fans and foodies. “They’re already familiar with their palate, what they like. Usually foodies are pretty exploratory. You can have different tastes in food or beer, but still be able to find beer and food that suits whoever is coming with you.”
When curating Beergarden’s selection, Emery-Walen focuses on quality and freshness. As Beergarden celebrates entering its second year, she continues building relationships, expanding access to limited-release beers and keeping Beergarden’s selection a mix of the unique, the everyday, and overall, the well-crafted.
“I try to keep a diverse range of styles, and beers within styles. Diversity was our foundation at Belmont Station, and I brought that here too,” says Emery-Walen. “If you taste something and think it’s awesome, you want to share that with the world.”
(a) 777 W. Sixth Ave., Eugene
Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Friday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to Midnight
By Peter Korchnak
For the Oregon Beer Growler
An unusual pub crawl in Southeast Portland on Oct. 10 proved that the ninth time can be a charm, too. After a series of eight walks that invited “brewers to go on nature hikes and make new beer inspired by edible and medicinal plants on the trail,” eager consumers burned a little more shoe leather as they made the trek from pub to pub during the Beers Made By Walking tapping. Oregon Beer Growler covered the original hikes in the August 2015 issue with the article “A Beer Walk in the Woods” and wanted to follow up on the process.
The Portland tapping featured 15 beers and one cider made by 11 commercial breweries, a homebrew club, and a cidery. All four participating pubs were within walking distance of each other. BMBW founder Eric Steen says that the beers “create a drinkable landscape portrait of Forest Park.” The bar hop, which transformed beers made by walking into beers consumed by walking, allowed people to literally drink in what Portland’s landscape has to offer.
While many people joined the informal walking tour, which started at Belmont Station at noon, members of the High Street Homebrew Club gathered at the last stop, Bazi Bierbrasserie, where their brew, Spruce Lee IPA packed a bright punch. Club member Bizzy Gross said the brew took some extra effort. “Spruce tips are out of season and distilleries buy them up to use in whiskey. But we finally found a supplier in Canada that sold us a pound for $50.” The inaugural tasting of the collaboration, made at Portland U-Brew, created a festive atmosphere. Club member Jax Zajdel spoke for many by saying, “It tastes like Christmas.”
The rest of the lineup at Bazi featured Belgian-style beers: Base Camp’s barrel-aged saison made with wild yeast harvested from an old-growth ancient forest preserve; The Commons’ saison featuring redwood and cedar bows and pine-smoked tea; Hopworks’ Belgian pale with licorice fern, wild ginger and maple syrup; and 10 Barrel’s sweet cherry beer with Belgian yeast.
The owners of Likewise, artists Adam Moser and Nancy Prior, also hosted one of the tappings thanks to a personal connection to Steen, who was Moser’s classmate at Portland State University. They also share a philosophy regarding support for fellow artists and a love of beer. “Art formalizes conversations in many different ways,” Moser said. “And beer is all about conversation.”
The lineup at Likewise included an IPA with cedar by Ecliptic, a strong ale with tips from four different trees by Hopworks and a German pilsner with wild red huckleberries by Widmer Brothers. Michael and Meredith Westafer, visiting Portland from Chapel Hill, N.C., said the event encapsulates what they think of the city. “The event brings two Portland institutions — beer and Forest Park — into public life,” said Meredith over a pint of Hopworks’ ale with vanilla leaf.
The Horse Brass Pub offered a grape root gruit by Burnside and Coalition, a saison with Hawthorn berries and lemon balm tea by Humble. While finishing an ESB by Hopworks, Carl Singmaster said he not only appreciated the fresh take on brewing that BMBW offers, but also the fact the event outgrew Belmont Station, which he co-owns and where the tapping exclusively took place from 2012 to 2014. “Local beer doesn’t get any better than this,” he said. Belmont Station’s offering included a red ale with cedar tips by Hopworks, a strawberry gose by Laurelwood, and a Reverend Nat’s cider with Hawthorn berries, dandelion and burdock root as well as a bagged garnish of Western red cedar wood chips.
Proceeds from the event benefited Forest Park Conservancy. Cody Chambers, who serves as the organization’s trails and restoration coordinator, led several of the walks. The program has not only brought people into the park; Chambers said, “it’s intriguing to see the brewers’ creativity bring the beers from inception to consumption.”
Because foraging in Forest Park is not permitted, brewers had to find ingredients they identified on their walks elsewhere. Brewers at Hopworks, where Steen works a day job as a communications coordinator, foraged for ingredients on trails along the Sandy River. The challenge for him this year, as the organizer of the tapping event, was identifying the right tapping locations. “Walking from bar to bar was a satisfying fulfilment of all those negotiations.”
This year, BMBW events were held in eight cities across five states. The Eugene tapping takes place Nov. 5 at The Bier Stein, with eight beers and ciders inspired by three walks in the area. Learn more at www.beersmadebywalking.com.
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
A decade of hindsight later, it must have been a sign.
After months of planning, construction and delays, on July 5, 2005, Chip Hardy was finally ready to open the doors of Eugene’s The Bier Stein to the public. Soon, people would be able to purchase bottled beers and specialty craft beverages from all over the world.
There was just one problem.
“Cases of beer were everywhere,” says Hardy. “We had received a very huge order from Columbia Distributing.” So Hardy did the only thing he could: got the taps open instead. “We sold a lot of draft beer that day.”
A Sign of Things to Come
Co-owners and founders Hardy and his wife Kristina Measells had different plans, though. “The Bier Stein was originally supposed to be a craft beer store that you could eat and drink in,” explains Hardy. “Now we are a craft beer bar and restaurant that sells beer to go. What we have become wasn't our original intention, but we went with what our customers wanted, and it has been very successful.”
Listening to what customers wanted became an overall theme for how Hardy and Measells steered their course. Originally opening in a 2,100-square-foot space at 11th Avenue and Mill Street near the University of Oregon campus, it wasn’t easy to cram in 10 beer coolers, a kitchen, the 10-tap bar (later expanded to 12 taps) and seating. The Bier Stein quickly filled up with bottles, customers — and complaints: there just wasn’t enough room. “We had customers that stopped coming because it was too hard to find a seat,” says Hardy.
On April 15, 2013, The Bier Stein moved to a new location at 1591 Willamette St. The fully remodeled 12,000-square-foot bottle shop and restaurant features a large central bar, 18 LED-lit bottle coolers, 30 taps (and social media updates on tap changes), one cask engine, a private function area (with a separate 6-tap bar), a larger kitchen, and, above all, seating for 150.
The expansion made for other big changes too. Originally opening with a staff of three, The Bier Stein now employs 55, which “makes for a lot of HR work,” Hardy says.
More Breweries, More Selection, More Customers
Today, The Bier Stein is one of the largest beer bars on the West Coast, with a selection of more than a thousand beers, ciders, meads and other craft beverages. Its large selection and ongoing evolution is a response to a local and national craft beer scene that changes at a rapid pace.
“In the past 10 years, there are more breweries, more beer styles and better selection,” says Hardy. “We are able to give those breweries a showplace.”
However, trying to carry everything has to be balanced with tapping only what you can empty. “My sense on taps was only to have enough that we could sell and keep fresh,” explains Hardy. “We constantly rotate. Staying relevant means having an always-changing tap and bottle list, and the beer community has become more educated on what beer is.”
Public regard for The Bier Stein has also translated into accolades. In local newspaper Eugene Weekly’s annual “Best of Eugene” people’s choice awards, The Bier Stein regularly takes top slots for categories such as “Best Beers on Tap.” Readers of CraftBeer.com, the Brewers Association (BA) website for beer lovers, have also twice awarded “Great American Beer Bar” status to The Bier Stein for the Pacific region, as well as “Overall Great American Beer Bar” status in 2014.
“Winning this has given our place a sense of legitimacy,” says Hardy. “We are doing the right thing in the craft beer community: teaching, educating and tasting.”
Staying the Course
As The Bier Stein heads into its next decade, it’s time to celebrate — but also to stay true to their mission and customers. “We like having one location and doing it to the best of our ability,” says Hardy. “We’ll continue to provide our area with some of the best craft beers we can get a hold of and continue being one of the best beer bars in the country.”
July 6 marked the anniversary. A special selection of beers was available, including collaboration beers brewed with Agrarian Ales and Hop Valley. Anniversary plans also include “a large outdoor event” to be held later this summer.
For Hardy, marking The Bier Stein’s first decade is a big step on a long path that winds along with the larger community. “We are very happy the local craft beer community has supported us over the past 10 years, and we are also happy that our employees are so awesome,” he says. “The Bier Stein wouldn't be what it is today without them.”
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