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 Kris McDowell
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The writer behind the recently published zine, A Feminist's Guide to Beer Drinking, is unsurprisingly, a girl (and yes, she's OK being a "girl"). She's also a certified Cicerone, coauthor of the book “Hop in the Saddle” and has her first solo book coming out this fall.
Before Lucy Burningham came to the beer mecca that is Portland, she was living in Utah, which has laws she diplomatically describes as "weird." Those used to the beer-favorable laws found here, however, might describe Utah’s limit of 4% ABV on beers sold at grocery stores and convenience stores “shockingly antiquated.” Moreover, so-called “high point beer” with an ABV above 4% is limited to bottles only, even at state liquor stores, breweries, bars and restaurants. Those laws have resulted in a general lack of craft beer (although that is slowly changing) and for Lucy, a lack of a palate for beer.
When she moved to Portland in 2005 to pursue a master's in creative nonfiction writing at Portland State University, she fell in love with the city after being wooed, in part, by its craft beer scene. While interviewing a beer sommelier for her first beer article she not only learned that beer could taste like bananas; Burningham was also impressed with the beer culture. People knew the brewers, they expressed a tremendous amount of pride for local beers and were passionate about their favorites. It's not hard to understand how she became hooked on Portland, on drinking craft beer and on writing about craft beer.
That first beer article turned out to be the start of a new point of interest and direction in her journalistic career. Lucy had written for years about food. In fact, the thesis for her master's was on Oregon truffles. But Portland's beer enticed her to explore her beer palate. Jumping into craft beer Portland-style, IPAs were her first love due to what she describes as their "bracing bitterness." Beyond being drawn in by the taste, her curiosity was piqued by the wide variety of color variations both within and across beer styles. All of this combined with her journalistic skills to produce pieces for well-known publications such as Bon Appetit, Men’s Journal, The New York Times and SAVEUR.
Out of her vast collection of writing, it was Lucy's first piece for The New York Times that she is most proud of. The article, “A Hop and a Sip to Fresh Ales,” was not only her first high-profile beer piece, but its research put her on a hop farm for the first time. At Sodbuster Farms in Salem, she was introduced to the excitement and incredible smells of the hop harvest. That, along with other beer experiences, opened her eyes to how much there was to explore, which she continued to do through writing. It also spurred her to pursue formal beer education and become a Certified Cicerone.
The Cicerone Certification Program offers three levels of certification with Certified Cicerone being the second, giving students a well-rounded education on beer as well as the skills needed to assess beer quality. Passing a comprehensive exam is necessary for certification and Lucy took the preparation to heart. She learned what it’s like to be a beer student — experiencing the intense pressure and feelings of being completely overwhelmed. Tough decisions arose, including times where she wasn’t sure whether she should just simply sip and enjoy a beer or continue to study in order to pass the exam. Her hard work and dedication paid off when she passed the exam and, as a bonus, she realized she had the content for her forthcoming book, “My Beer Year.”
Lucy Burningham writes about beer for well-known publications and has a new zine called A Feminist’s Guide to Beer Drinking. The journalist wanted to expand her experience with food writing by turning to beer after moving from Utah to Portland and falling love with the craft beer culture. Photo by Kris McDowell
While it will be a few months before her new book is available, her most recent work, A Feminist's Guide to Beer Drinking, is available in hard copy and online. Part of the Portland Zine series, it's one in a set of independently published booklets that reflects the progressive spirit and DIY ethos of the city. When Lucy was initially approached about the guide, she wasn’t sure she could pull it off. As she was brainstorming her approach, she started thinking about the women in the Oregon beer world and how they help to define it. Before she knew it, she was excited about what lay ahead.
With her proposal accepted, she interviewed a number of women, including Gayle Goschie of Goschie Farms, Miranda Kasten of Lady Brew Portland, Teri Fahrendorf of the Pink Boots Society and Whitney Burnside of 10 Barrel Brewing. She wanted the project to be part serious and part playful. It starts off serious, with a section on Gayle where she talks about her role in taking over a portion of the family hop-growing business and changing its focus to craft brewers to meet the changing times.
The playful tone becomes apparent as you move through the pages and find articles such as “How to Evaluate Beer Like a Lady *Or a Man *Or Fluid Gender of Preference.” There's also a guide for hosting a ladies' beer night that concludes with the instruction to "dream about your next ladies' beer night." In addition to Lucy's writing style, the zine's tone is assisted by illustrations from Deirdre Mahon and the layout, reminiscent of a scrapbook of favorite memories, pulls off the balance she was looking for.
The balance in the zine reflects a similar balance in Lucy's feelings about gender in craft beer. While acknowledging that gender can't be ignored and there are still biases and stereotypes, it's not something that she focuses on. Rather it's something that surfaces somewhat unconsciously — like when she finds herself at a beer event counting the number of men versus the number of women.
She's seen the number of women involved in craft beer increase in the last 10 years and takes the count as more of a quick observation than of something to dwell on. In her experience, she's generally found the beer community to be very welcoming, spurring her curiosity instead of discriminating against it. It's the occasional situation that catches her by surprise briefly. For instance, there was the time she was told by a guy that “you don’t look like a beer drinker,” which left her a bit bewildered. Much like the boy picking on girls on the playground, there's bound to be one who hasn't figured out that both guys and girls enjoy craft beer and can even enjoy craft beer together.
By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The craft beer universe continues to expand with an ever-larger array of new beers in assorted colors, flavors, strengths and potency. So many brews. But which one to choose?
A certified Cicerone can help with that decision. Cicerone certification is a trademarked program, introduced in 2008, that identifies people with significant knowledge and skills in beer sales and service.
Ray Daniels, a longtime beer expert from Chicago who worked for the Brewers Association as a magazine editor, book publisher, and promoter of craft beer, created the certification program. “It’s not a unique concept for people familiar with the hospitality and restaurant industry,” he said.
Although a Cicerone is to beer like a sommelier is to wine, Daniels avoided examining the sommelier training program when developing his. “Beer people didn’t want certification to be a stepson to the wine program. They didn’t want it to be parallel in structure,” he explained.
He reviewed most of the content in the beer world and determined which portions were relevant to which jobs, such as front-line servers and consultants, then developed the tests.
There are three levels of expertise, beginning with Certified Beer Server, then Certified Cicerone and finally the Master Cicerone, the most difficult level achieved by fewer than ten people nationwide.
The online program is readily accessible. “It does not require you to take a class,” said Daniels. He compared the written exam for Certified Beer Server to taking the SAT exam for college. “It allows you to demonstrate knowledge you already possess. You can learn what you need in a variety of ways.” The web site cicerone.org lists numerous study resources, a syllabus and an optional study class.
The Certified Beer Server exam costs $69 and it’s completed online. The Certified and Master Cicerone exams are more expensive and extensive, involve written and tasting components and are scheduled at specific sites around the country.
Daniels said that the certification program didn’t really take off nationally until 2009. Stone Brewing in Southern California was one of the first to embrace it and was active about talking it up, especially with beer distributors. Oregon was slow to adopt it.
But that’s changing. Today, there are more than 800 Certified Beer Servers with Oregon addresses and 34 Certified Cicerones.
Deschutes, Widmer and Columbia Distributing are some of the larger companies that support and encourage their employees to complete at least the first level of certification. Since the certification is relatively affordable and accessible, many interested individuals, brewers and sales personnel are pursuing certification.
Pat Gerhart is the human resources director at Deschutes in charge of training and educational opportunities. She said that when Deschutes went to a stock-option program a few years ago and changed to partial employee ownership “we started planning for offering the Cicerone Certification.”
“We developed our own curriculum and organized study groups that could work together and go out for tastings. We used many of the references and resources from the Cicerone web site. We felt like people would be more successful with the group learning and we’re a pretty social company.”
About 60 percent of all employees are Certified Beer Servers, a distinction that covers proper beer storage, beer styles, beer tasting and flavors, brewing ingredients and processes and pairing beer with food. Two Deschutes employees are Certified Cicerones — 10 are working toward it — and two people are working towards the Master level.
Gerhart said, “The impetus for funding the certification came from our employees. As people were getting certified, more and more were interested. Now it’s an open invitation for all.”
Both experienced and novice beer drinkers appreciate the expertise and knowledge they can gain from Cicerones. “It’s important as people make the transition into craft beers and our beer in particular, that they get what they want,” said Gerhart. “We want to provide that for our friends and customers.”
For some, the certification and training represent a competitive advantage. For others, it’s background material necessary for a good beer ambassador. But most consider it a piece of their personal beer journey.
Would You Pass the Test to Become a Certified Beer Server?
Sample Quiz, Courtesy of the Cicerone Certification Program
(Answers After Question 10)
1. English hops are often associated with which flavor attributes?
A. Oaky, vanilla
B. Herbal, earthy
C. Citrus, resiny
D. Flowery, perfumey
2. Which of the following is most likely to help preserve the freshness and flavor of bottled beer?
A. Fluorescent light
B. Room temperature storage
C. Carrying it around in the trunk of your car
D. Refrigerated storage
3. What role does “choker line” play in a draft system?
A. Prevent too much beer from flowing to the tap when it is first opened
B. Make the tap system look more attractive
C. Provides resistance to bring the system into balance
D. Reduces bitterness of beers by “choking back” the bitter components
4. Compared to a Bohemian (Czech) pilsner, a German pilsner will usually be:
A. Lighter bodied
B. Much darker in colo
C. One percent ABV higher in alcohol
D. None of the above
5. Which beer style is likely to have the highest alcohol content?
A. Scottish Ale
B. Scotch Ale
C. Dry Stout
D. English Bitter
6. A normal-strength beer that has been stored at room temperature for nine months would most likely exhibit what off-flavor?
7. How much beer is contained in a standard half-barrel U.S. keg?
A. 10 gallons
B. 13.25 gallons
C. 15.5 gallons
D. 31 gallons
8. In which of the following beers would haze be a sign of a likely problem with the beer?
A. Bavarian hefeweizen
B. German pilsner
C. Belgian wit
D. American wheat
9. The clove or nutmeg flavors associated with four-vinyl guaiacol (a phenol) are typically found in what style of beer?
D. American wheat
10. Which of the following is an off-flavor commonly associated with over-sparging?
1. Herbal, earthy
2. Refrigerated storage
3. Provides resistance to bring the system into balance
4. Lighter bodied
5. Scotch Ale
7. 15.5 gallons
8. German Pilsner
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