By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
In today’s fast-paced industry, it’s easy to forget that the modern craft beer revolution hasn’t even hit middle age yet. At Oregon State University, the Oregon Hops and Brewing Archives (OHBA), the first brewing archive in the U.S., saves and shares the story of hop production and the craft brewing movement in Oregon.
“We do this by collecting historical materials, conducting oral histories, sharing best practices for maintaining records and assisting with historical research,” explains Tiah Edmunson-Morton, main curator for OHBA (she also blogs about her work at thebrewstorian.tumblr.com). “In line with OSU's land-grant mission, this archive focuses on local agricultural, business and heritage communities, connecting OSU to the much larger story of brewing and hop growing in our region.”
Located on the fifth floor of The Valley Library at OSU, OHBA began in summer 2013 as part of the OSU Libraries & Press’ Special Collections and Archives Research Center. Edmunson-Morton works closely with staff in OSU Special Collections and Archives, the digital production unit and library administration. A student worker aids with research and a graphic design student recently designed a beer history board game.
Edmunson-Morton has collected oral histories from notable figures such as McMenamins’ historian Tim Hills along with beer writers John Foyston and the late Fred Eckhardt. Current projects include scanning brew sheets for the first 2,000 brews at McMenamins Hillsdale, Cornelius Pass Roadhouse and Fulton breweries. Portland Brewing’s Fred Bowman granted access to news clippings about the early years of Portland Brewing, as well as photos showing the remodel of the building at the original Northwest Flanders Street location in advance of the brewery’s opening in 1986. OHBA is also collaborating with the Multnomah County Library on “Portland Brew History,” a digital exhibit featuring materials from 15 breweries.
“I feel so lucky to be working on something so fun and culturally/scientifically significant,” says Edmunson-Morton.
University, Industry Are Key Partners
It’s only natural that OHBA is part of OSU. The Corvallis public university is renowned for its hops breeding, brewing research and Fermentation Science program. Edmunson-Morton works closely with all of them, as well as the beer and cider sessions staff in Professional and Continuing Education to discover and procure new materials and stories.
In addition to oral histories with hop growers, OHBA has records from the Oregon Hop Growers Association and the Hop Research Council and is reviewing hops industry photos and research reports from the 1920s-1950s. Edmunson-Morton has collaborated with the Benton County Historical Society to convert tapes of oral histories with pickers and growers from the early 1980s. “We also scanned a set of questionnaires from that same oral history project,” she says. “That give a really interesting insight into the conditions in the fields in the 1930s.”
OHBA also sources documents and histories through newspapers and other periodicals, such as Zymurgy and The Amateur Brewer, as well as newspapers. “I’d like to continue to collect research files, pictures and publications from beer writers,” says Edmunson-Morton. “We are also looking at expanding the archive to more actively highlight and collect materials related to barley. Who knows? This may lead to a name change if we include yeast too.”
The Art of Beer
Rep. Peter DeFazio and OSU President Ed Ray were among the first to come to OHBA’s opening day for “The Art of Beer: What’s on the Outside.” Celebrating the work of brewers and artists in Oregon through beer labels, the public walk-through exhibition was planned to be open during April and May 2015, but instead closed at the end of July.
With items dating back to the early 1980s, The Art of Beer showed that labels are more than just marketing or advertising. “While the range of art on labels and coasters itself was important,” says Edmunson-Morton, “I also wanted to look at identity, branding, the process of creating art and the simple artistry that goes into … such a small bit of visual real estate.”
Beer labels are a snapshot, she explains: telling customers about the company, the taste or style of beer, the experience you are likely to have. “They are also connecting with consumers as artists, creating something beautiful and evocative,” says Edmunson-Morton. “When you saw the bottles on store shelves or labels on tap handles you were picking up clues about the beer, the brewery, etc. But when you saw those labels enlarged on a wall, they turned into something much more: art.”
However, a sort of meta-exhibition was also at work. Archivists and curators “make choices about what you see, labeling items to categorize them, grouping them with other items, and asking the viewer to consider and examine them in a constructed way,” says Edmunson-Morton. “Advertisers work in the same way by inviting you to draw a quick meaning and conclusions based on what is on the outside, and then asking you to make a decision and interpretation about what’s inside.”
A Community-Based Archive
While of interest to brewing hobbyists, professionals and academics, the archive is also part of the public’s awareness about the history of a vibrant modern industry. “People don't know how interesting and important what they have is, or think the posters they produced three years ago aren't historic,” says Edmunson-Morton. “With an archive like this, three years ago is certainly history!”
OHBA is actively asking the public, brewing industry, and homebrewing community to contribute new materials, such as photographs, news clippings, publications, books, recipes, coasters, taplists, menus, and/or any records for breweries and hop growing operations.
“The way an archive grows is by adding materials, but the way we save a history is by sharing it and telling its story,” says Edmunson-Morton. “I want this to be a community-based archive, which means that we collect materials that tell the story of the cultural and industrial communities, but also the story by the communities. It's not just my story to tell.”
Questions, donations and contributions:
Tiah Edmunson-Morton, OHBA Curator
541-737-7387 / email@example.com
Visit the Archives:
Special Collections and Archives Research Center, Valley Library Fifth Floor, Oregon State University
McMenamins recently reached a milestone by producing 1 million kegs in July. The Pacific Northwest institution is well-loved because of its unique properties. You can visit all 53 in Oregon and Washington, including seven historic hotels and eight theater pubs, during your travels. Photo by AJ McGarry
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
On July 2, McMenamins began Oregon Craft Beer Month with a unique milestone: one million kegs. The millionth keg, the raspberry ale Ruby, was racked at 11:39 a.m. at the McMenamins Queen Anne pub in Seattle.
“It is an interesting milestone for us, this whole ‘Keg Million’ business,” says John Richen, Chief Brewery Administrator for McMenamins. “It was crazy. It was daunting. And ultimately, just a huge amount of fun.” But he keeps perspective: “It is a symbolic milestone. There isn’t anything substantially different about keg one million from keg nine-hundred-ninety-nine-thousand, other than the gravitas of what it stands for to folks inside our brewing ranks.”
The Oregon and Washington chain of more than 50 pubs, breweries and hotels began brewing in 1985, initially releasing 5.5 kegs of Hillsdale Ale at the Hillsdale Brewery & Public House in Southwest Portland. The first year of production reached 83 barrels, or 165 kegs. Five years later in 1990, production had leaped to 12,813 barrels (25,625 kegs). By the turn of the century, McMenamins produced 173,427 barrels in 2000, or 346,853 kegs — more than 30 percent toward one million.
Five years ago, in 2010, production was more than 75 percent of the way: 395,692 barrels, or 791,385 kegs. Now, as of July 15, McMenamins has officially brewed 1,001,806 kegs. While 24 percent of that was produced at the Edgefield Brewery in Troutdale, 76 percent was brewed at “small house” breweries, such as High Street in Eugene, Lighthouse in Lincoln City and Spar in Olympia, Wash.
Of the one million kegs, 89 percent were kegged in Oregon and 11 percent were kegged in Washington. But not one used “kegging robots, automated golden gate fillers, racking line programmed replicants or Amazon drones,” says Richen. “We filled them all ‘the hard way.’”
Early Experiments, Today’s Favorites & Yesterday’s Disasters
Hillsdale Ale gave rise to other standard McMenamins beers enjoyed today, such as Terminator Stout, Hammerhead and Ruby. Originally brewed as extract-based recipes, the ales were switched to all-grain malt bills starting in March 1987. Early experimentation set a precedent that continues — but the brewers are glad that there have been equipment improvements.
“McMenamins pioneer brewers were a rugged breed,” explains Richen. “The brewers’ day started by driving to F.H. Steinbart to pick up their bags of malt. They would then drive to the Barley Mill Pub to crush the grain through the functional malt mill, which serves as the pub’s namesake. After cleaning up the mess and loading the resulting grist back into their vehicles, they would return to the Hillsdale to begin the brewing process. There was great rejoicing when a simple plate mill was purchased and installed in the brewery.”
In 1985 McMenamins released their first fruit beer, named simply Batch No. 2 and made with blackberries growing in the parking lot. The first Terminator Stout (Brew No. 12) was brewed Nov. 19, 1985 and the first Hammerhead (Brew No. 37) was brewed Jan. 25, 1986.
While first year production focused on original standards — Hillsdale Ale, Terminator Stout, Crystal Ale, Hammerhead and Barley Mill Ale — by November 1986 the fledgling brew operation had produced 40 batches of fruit beers between the Hillsdale, Cornelius Pass and Lighthouse breweries. Early fruit batches also included Brew No. 67, a raspberry ale brewed on March 21, 1986.
Today we know it as Ruby.
Despite the regional popularity of bitter beers such as IPAs, Ruby and Hammerhead remain two of the company’s most popular beers, with Ruby alone comprising 21 percent of total output.
Not every experiment has paid off, though.
“We’ve had great success with incorporating fruit, coffee and spices into styles both traditional and untraditional,” says Richen. “Forays into the worlds of garlic, Mars Bars, Cherry Garcia Ice Cream and wormwood were not as successful, which, to be honest, is a tremendous understatement. They were unmitigated disasters.”
With 24 breweries in two states producing more than 70 batches of beer each week, it’s no small challenge to balance brand consistency with freedom to experiment.
“There is so much that has been learned, much of it the hard way,” says Rob Vallance, general manager of McMenamins Breweries. “Most importantly is the big-picture concept of how every facet of the process affects the beer that goes into every glass. You have to be ever-vigilant.”
However, Vallance notes that McMenamins brewers have an “unprecedented amount of freedom with recipe formulation.” Instead of locking down specifications across all the breweries, some beers — such as a standard McMenamins IPA — actually have no official standard recipe.
“Brewers have different philosophies and skill sets in our system,” he explains. “With the standard and seasonal recipes, it is very difficult to create consistency across so many breweries across such long distances with so many hands on so many paddles.”
This creative freedom also reflects simple practicality. “Water tables can be so different,” says Vallance. “Each brewery is its own unique ecosystem. These are neighborhood breweries. We have to accept that our methods will breed some inconsistencies, and it has always been, and always will be, our most daunting challenge to try and minimize those inconsistencies. The goal is always production of a quality end product with a nod to the stamps the various regional factors place on a beer.”
Creative license, though, does have limits. “We’ll let our brewers try pretty much anything,” says Vallance. “Once anyway.”
The Path to 2 Million
“Having worked in this craft beer business since 1987,” says Richen, “I was unexpectedly moved seeing the listing of the 195 names of folks who put the beer into those million kegs since 1985, many of them in batches with a number of kegs you could count with the fingers on two hands. I pictured faces of people I hadn’t seen or even thought of in years.”
Now as they look ahead, Vallance and Richen wonder what the path to 2 million kegs looks like.
“It certainly won’t take us 30 more years,” says Vallance. “Probably between 15 and 20.”
OBG Blog Archives
Welcome to our archive pages! Read stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler from June 2012 to January 2018. For newer stories, please visit our new website at: