By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Sometimes a great business idea hangs heavy in the air, just waiting for the right person to pluck it down and run with it. That’s what happened with Portland’s BREWVANA tour company and Ashley Rose Salvitti, a high-energy ambassador for Oregon’s craft beers.
The young entrepreneur started BREWVANA, an obvious nod to Beervana, six years ago with one bus and one employee. In April, Salvitti and friends celebrated the touring company’s anniversary at Breakside Brewery’s new Northwest Portland location.
Ashley, who added Rose to her first name because she liked it, established her LLC in November 2010. “My first tour was on April 8, 2011,” she said.
Today BREWVANA has grown to include public and private tours, bus and walking, with three small buses and one large one, for a total of nine weekly tours that include 26 breweries. And the excursions go beyond just bar hopping. For example, the “Behind the Scenes” tour provides a tutorial on the brewing process with stops at Breakside and Unicorn Brewing Company/Portland U-Brew. “Beers and Barrels” highlights breweries and a distillery where barrel aging takes place. There are now even walking tours where guides talk about neighborhoods and their histories in between brewery visits.
The seeds for Salvitti’s beer-related business took root in college when she started working at Liberty Steakhouse and Brewery in High Point, N. C. She was attending the nearby University of North Carolina at Greensboro and her dad, who was a mug club member at Liberty, suggested she should get a job there. Once she hit 21, she got behind the bar to serve.
Salvitti moved to Portland in 2007 after graduation. “I wanted to go where young people go to retire,” she said. Naturally, she gravitated to beer and her first job was at Laurelwood Brewing Co. Then she moved to Hopworks Urban Brewery when the brewpub opened in 2008. “Christian had a huge following then,” she said.
Salvitti’s sunny personality quickly made her a favorite with guests and those interactions helped her quickly fall in love with Portland’s craft beer industry. “I found that in Portland you would greet a table and people clearly wanted to drink beer and they were very knowledgeable about it,” she said.
The brew tour idea came together after a trip to Puerto Rico with her family. “We wasted a lot of money trying to find fun things to do. On our last night, we met a server at a bar who said she did tours on the side. She could have shown us all the places to go and things to do,” she said.
Salvitti had also encountered a few other local tours that didn’t seem to have a strong connection to the breweries.
“I thought I could do it better. I was optimistic and ready to take a risk with no husband, no kids, no big responsibilities,” she said.
Salvitti wrote up a business plan and took the Business Foundations course through Mercy Corps Northwest and participated in the nonprofit’s matching savings plan. Her initial investment was $20,000 — a $16,000 loan from her father and a $4,000 loan from her best friend’s parents. “That was enough to buy a buy a bus and get my website done,” she said. “I didn’t quit my day job.”
After her first tour, she was on an amazing high after experiencing the success of her idea. But she also worked very hard in the beginning since she was the one and only employee. After seven months, she hired her first tour guide, but continued to work full-time at Hopworks for two more years.
“BREWVANA was created to provide an all-inclusive VIP access fun and educational touring experience,” she said. “We’re working with the breweries. BREWVANA is nothing without the relationship we have with the breweries. It’s our mission to support them,” she said. Because of her background as a server, she is also very focused on the guest experience. You can’t board a BREWVANA bus without smiling—the vehicles are covered in beer-centric graphics both inside and out that beckon passengers to “come join the fun.”
Brewvana has three short 14-passenger buses for the public tours, named Angel, Georgie and Lil’ Johnny, and one standard large school bus, named Pam, that seats up to 44. That vehicle is also used to shuttle people to and from out-of-town festivals like Fort George Brewery’s Festival of the Dark Arts in Astoria.
Salvitti said they got “Pam” because they spent $14,000 during the last couple years to rent buses that arrived dirty, smelly and in unacceptable condition for hosting guests. She wanted a bus that represented the BREWVANA ethic. The buses are one of the company’s biggest challenges because of the constant maintenance needs and the fact that they are all used vehicles with some pre-existing conditions.
While the buses get much of the attention, the heart of the tours are the guides. Salvitti still hosts some tours, but she recently hired four guides. Her challenge with guides is finding the right people and making their jobs sustainable throughout the year. Guides must be multitasking masters, so the training process is lengthy and complex. In addition to studying the training manual, guides learn about local history, undergo bus driving training, and then shadow existing tours before assisting and practicing with an experienced guide.
On a recent “Pacific Northwest is Best Tour” that visits Baerlic Brewing Company, Hopworks, Migration Brewing and Scout Beer, 13 of us were entertained by guides Liz Shihadeh and Kelene Stinson. The easy-going duo had an engaging routine that went from the ridiculous (they gave us the no-vomiting-on-the-bus talk) to the educational when we tasted different malts and passed around samples of hops. In the space of four hours, we became friends — sharing pretzels from our pretzel necklaces and stories about our lives.
Business continues to grow and Salvitti said that demand for private tours is stronger than ever. She also has more responsibility now that there are 10 employees, a fleet of vehicles, a husband, a daughter, a house and a dog.
“We’re proud that we have many repeat customers. On one recent tour with 14 people, six had been on a tour before, and several had been on more than one.” Repeat customers can join the Brew Veteran program.
Salvitti was recently featured on “Start Up,” a series that tells the stories of entrepreneurs. You can watch her segment at pbs.org/video/2365903935/. For tour information, check out brewvana.com.
By Brian Yaeger
For the Oregon Beer Growler
In the winter, Oregon gets fewer than nine hours of sunup. That’s a lot of darkness. Beer-wise, darkness is something our brewers do very well. Some of those stouts and porters get a big spotlight while others, pardon the expression, are generally left in the dark. There’s no arguing that Deschutes’ The Abyss is a world-class imperial stout or that Barley Brown’s Turmoil deserves to be the award-winning Cascadian Dark Ale that it is. But there are more than 200 breweries across Oregon. Some simply get less lip service; some stellar beers may be overlooked. So in honor of wintry dark ales, especially as imperial stouts get their major love-fest this Valentine’s Day at Fort George Brewery’s Festival of the Dark Arts, take a moment to try and seek out these other opaque and obscure onyx beauties.
Seaside’s eponymous brewery, Seaside Brewing Company gives the arcade and taffy-laden town what it really needed: a brewpub. Their imperial stout, Black Dynamite, lives up to its name in that it’s pitch black and explosively tasty. The beer with bourbon-soaked vanilla beans and cacao nibs (also getting the bourbon treatment) is a show-stopper from first chilled sip to last warmed drop that has the sweetness to not just pair with dessert but replace it, yet the bitterness and roastiness to enjoy snifter after snifter.
At the southern end of the coast in Brookings is Chetco Brewing Company. Michael Frederick and his wife Alex Carr-Frederick launched Chetco as a nanobrewery using their friend James Smith’s 1.5-barrel homebrewing system as their commercial setup. It’s how they make their super-small batch but mighty Block & Tackle. This stout achieves a unique viscosity after aging for six months, and the resulting notes of Baker’s chocolate achieve the right balance between a sweet and dry stout -- just ask the World Beer Cup judges who awarded it a silver medal.
Speaking of award-winning south coast breweries, the aforementioned James Smith is the brewer at Arch Rock Brewing Company in Gold Beach. Although he medaled at last year’s Great American Beer Festival for his lager, State of Jefferson Porter pours a chocolaty brown hinting at the deep chocolate flavor buried under the mocha aroma. Yes, there is a robust maltiness that suggests molasses and brown sugar, but it’s not syrupy on the tongue. The brew is rich from the roasted malts and holds up from first sip to last, then back to first.
In mid-Willamette Valley, two tiny breweries are making some of the most unique stouts in the state. Santiam Brewing is the passion project of nine buddies, only some of them homebrewers, who collectively formed the brewery and cozy tasting room in Salem. Pirate Stout is a rum-barrel aged “tropical export stout” (7.9% ABV) with a fudgy base of chocolate malt and de-bittered black malt that sails through the Bahamas in a dark rum barrel picking up a crew of toasted coconut flakes. Fans of Malibu Rum and Mounds bars are the obvious targets, but the allure of this rich, sweet, voluptuous stout is very easily enjoyed as the meal, not just dessert.
While farther down I-5 in brewery-happy Eugene, Viking is technically a brewery but I like to call it a braggotery since every brew they make has a large honey content. They make a bourbon-aged stout with Meadowfoam honey, which naturally tastes like toasted marshmallow giving it an overall s’more character. But they also make Winter Squash Porter featuring 150 pounds of delicata squash that is hand-roasted and given a honey backbone courtesy of turnip honey. The result is reminiscent of Big Black Jack Imperial Chocolate Pumpkin Porter from their neighbors at Oakshire Brewing but bottles are even rarer to find.
One last pick from a brewery truly off the beaten path is the Chocolate Stout from Dragon’s Gate Brewery in Milton-Freewater near the northeastern corner of the state. Le Morte D’Arthur is a milk stout with cocoa nibs that was once described as a “Fudgsicle, but beer” and has developed a local cult following. Therefore, if you’re heading to this farm-based brewery near Washington’s wine country, bring a growler to share this decadent treat with friends.
Finally, even in Portland there are rare jewels to be treasured. Ex Novo Brewing Company is the most altruistic brewery, donating 100% of its profits to local charities -- but their new Moonstriker is still pure hedonism. This stout is a collaboration with Moonstruck Chocolates and debuted at the Holiday Ale Festival. It features nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla and, of course, Moonstruck cocoa along with a fiery kiss of habanero. The result is a creamy, dreamy Mexican hot chocolate stout.
Clearly, the force is strong on the dark side of Oregon’s less-heralded brews.
By Gail Oberst
For the Oregon Beer Growler
This is my idea of paradise: A seat in the sun-warmed sand at sunset, driftwood log for a backrest. To my right is a small cooler, with an assortment of beers made on the Oregon Coast. I pop the top of a favorite -- Pelican’s Silver Spot is one -- and raise the bottle to the giant orange-magenta ball sinking into the Pacific. The setting serves as a romantic getaway year-round, whether you’re storm watching with a beer inside a brewery or enjoying a summer sunset with a growler on the beach. Life is good with an Oregon beer in your hand. These days, with the burgeoning craft beer business in Oregon and here on its coast, life is getting really good.
Ten years ago, there were just a handful of scattered breweries on the coast. Today, there are at least 20, with more in the offing. Like the rest of Oregon, craft breweries are popping up all over, offering visitors another reason to stay and play.
Coastal visitors and residents have long had access to a few great beers. Established in 1986, McMenamins Lighthouse Brewpub in Lincoln City claims to have reintroduced craft brewing to the post-prohibition Oregon coast. Although there were other coastal breweries that are long gone now, McMenamins thrives, hosting an August brewfest every year that features a “tiny brewer” art contest and samples from most of McMenamins’ 24 Oregon and Washington breweries.
Three years after Lighthouse, Rogue Ales’ founder Jack Joyce moved his small Ashland brewery’s headquarters to Newport’s waterfront. In 1996, developers Jeff Schons and Mary Jones opened their Pelican Brewery in an old brick building in off-the-beaten-path Pacific City. Pacific Rim Brewery, now Astoria Brewing, opened in 1997. The same year, Bill’s Tavern owners Ken Campbell and Jim Oyala opened a brewery in a refurbished 1923 building in Cannon Beach. But the days of far-between breweries are blessedly gone. Now the longest drive between breweries on the coast is about 50 miles -- the distance between Yachats and Reedsport. The passion for craft beers has hit the coast like a tidal wave.
Today, the elder breweries continue to produce award-winning brews: Pelican Brewery has been named “Small Brewing Company and Brewmaster” champion at the World Beer Cup. Pelican’s success expanded to a Tillamook brewery with an additional tasting room and restaurant there.
The baby breweries are also collecting bling. Chetco Brewing in Brookings celebrated its first anniversary with a Great American Beer Festival medal for its Block & Tackle Stout in 2013. And when it was less than a year old in 2014, Arch Rock won gold at the Great American Beer Festival. Arch Rock celebrated the win with a grand opening party. The same for newly-minted Buoy Brewing in Astoria, which won GABF silver for its Dunkel just months after it opened.
The Oregon coast’s unique mixture of beauty, isolation and innovation borne of necessity has produced a wide variety of beers, some so unusual that they attract devotees from afar. De Garde Brewing in Tillamook is a fine example, and a unique tasting experience for beer tourists and experts alike. De Garde’s brewer exposes his brews to the ripe coastal breezes to produce a wild beer aged in barrels. This process, more akin to winemaking than brewing, yields beers unlike any others.
South in Coos Bay, two youthful natives in 2013 opened 7 Devils Brewing Co., which showcases local history, art and food, as well as their own beers. It’s not Coos Bay’s first brewery, but it’s the county’s only one -- for now. The brewery began expansion within a year.
The recent surge of coastal breweries has prompted official and unofficial celebrations of craft beer. Many coastal bars and restaurants (even hardware and farm stores!) are expanding their taps to include local brews. Growler fill stations (you bring the bottle; they fill it with beer) and craft beer sections in grocery stores are now commonplace on the coast. Life is good. Cheers!
Following is a list of a few of the celebrations that feature coastal beers:
Oregon Coast: Zwickelmania – This statewide event is on Presidents’ Day weekend each year. Visit oregoncraftbeer.org/events/zwickelmania/ for a map to participating coastal breweries.
Astoria: Fort George Brewery’s Festival of the Dark Arts is in February each year and features stouts and local arts – from tattooing to fire dancing. Details can be found here: https://www.fortgeorgebrewery.com/festivalofdarkarts/.
Seaside: Pouring at the Coast is March 6 and 7. It is a craft beer festival, homebrew contest and brewers dinner. Updates are at pouringatthecoast.com.
Newport: Brewer’s Memorial Ale Festival is a dog-centric brewfest hosted by Rogue Ales, but features many other brews from the coast and other regions. It’s typically held the third weekend in May and you can get an update at www.brewersalefest.com, which will connect you to their Facebook page.
Lincoln City: McMenamins Lighthouse Brewfest is generally the third Saturday in August each year. Meet McMenamins brewers at their wackiest party. More info at www.mcmenamins.com/1485-mcmenamins-brewfests-lighthouse.
Astoria: Pacific Northwest Brew Cup, held on the last weekend of September, is an Oktoberfest-like event on the riverfront’s boardwalk. It features family-friendly events and more than 30 beers. Details are at pacificnorthwestbrewcup.com.
Lincoln City: Artober Brewfest, Oct. 3, combines art, culinary treats and great Oregon craft beers, Updates are on the event’s Facebook page: www.facebook.com/pages/Artober-Brewfest-Lincoln-City-Oregon.
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