By Dustin Gouker
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The harvest this year at Mecca Grade Estate Malt was more about the future than the present.
After harvesting a full 300 acres of Full Pint barley and overproducing in 2016 to fill up its storage, the farm and malthouse outside of Madras grew by just 40 acres this year.
But in that same field were 30 different selections for The Next Pint Project, a partnership with Oregon State University for breeding a new variety of barley that will eventually be used by Mecca Grade. (The Full Pint variety was also bred by OSU.)
It was the second of a three-year program. Last year, there were 130 crosses planted at the farm, whittled down to 30 this season based on a variety of factors, eliminating strains that didn’t work out.
After this year’s harvest, the field is down to eight, with the goal of selecting one variety that the farm will produce moving forward, according to co-founder Seth Klann.
“The selection criteria will be based on finished beer for that variety,” said Klann. “We’re looking for something bred exclusively for our conditions in Central Oregon, our irrigation, and hopefully we find some sort of unique flavor, because that’s what it’s all about.”
Barley is often an afterthought for breweries, but Mecca Grade — which raises its own barley and also malts it on the premises — is trying to change that. Most malt for brewing in North America comes from a few large producers. But by farming its own unique barley and malting it, the business is creating a niche for itself in the craft brew industry.
“Because we’re an estate malt house, people ask us ‘Well does all your stuff come from your own farm?’ And I answer ‘Yes,’” said Klann, who runs the farm with his father. “And I think it surprises a lot of people, because even other craft malt houses are having to source from all over the place.
“So everything comes off of our own family farm. And I know that it limits production, but on the other hand the only people that are invested in it are me and my dad,” Klann continued. “We’re not set up to have explosive growth and become this huge thing, and I know the brewers we work with don’t want that either. So as long as we can keep things slow and steady and putting out really rare reserved malt, that’s what we are going to do.”
The list of brewers and beers using Mecca Grade’s malts is constantly growing. (You can see a full lineup on the website.) The Ale Apothecary in Bend now makes all its beer with Mecca Grade malt. Yachats Brewing on the coast uses it for about 95 percent of its beer, according to Klann.
This fall, you’ll see beers using this year’s harvest at Hood River’s pFriem Family Brewers and Logsdon Farmhouse Ales, Klann said. Deschutes Brewery, which has produced several beers using Mecca Grade’s product, has another beer in the making that will feature the farm’s crop.
“We’re going through the process of getting all of our barley certified Salmon-Safe, and that’s been big for Deschutes, and it’s been big for Crux [Fermentation Project],” Klann said.
But Oregon craft breweries are not the only destination for Mecca Grade’s malt. About half of it goes to California; its pilsner-style malts are being used in hazy IPAs.
“Our malt is definitely not cheap, and I think in Oregon the price is going up, but it kind of prohibits people from experimenting with better and more local ingredients,” Klann said. “But down there the price has already gone up, so people are just kind of chasing after the next secret ingredient for making better beer.”
Beer makers as far away as Allagash Brewing Company in Maine have also used Mecca Grade.
If you’re looking for Mecca Grade malt for your homebrew, you can find it at retailers in Portland (F.H. Steinbart Co.), Bend (The Brew Shop) and Corvallis (Corvallis Brewing Supply).
By Andi Prewitt
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
Right now, Greg Swift’s shop might not look like much. The converted detached garage behind his house in Portland’s Arbor Lodge Neighborhood — about a block away from stop-and-go traffic on North Lombard Street — is a patchwork of organized spaces, like the pegboard where wrenches, hammers and tape are hung with care, and pieces of disorder as evidenced by the planter supporting the weight of an old microwave and some lime green Top-Siders resting on the appliance. It is clear, however, that this is the home base of a carpenter, as varying lengths and widths of lumber lay against the roll-up door. Plain old planks like these — scrap wood, really — provided Swift with the inspiration to create his first tap handle. And it didn’t take long before the budding hobby grew into a full-time business, allowing Swift to move into and develop the backyard shop.
You probably won’t find any of Swift’s tap handles at breweries around town just yet, but there’s a good chance that buddy of yours who homebrews has picked up a few for a home kegerator. Swift’s creations are hot sellers at beer-making supply shops like F.H. Steinbart Co., Homebrew Exchange and Mainbrew. Two years ago, Swift actually started his business (currently called glsDESIGN, but he expects to change the name this summer) by selling the handles on Etsy, the website dedicated to handmade goods. Since he had some extra wood left over from other projects, the newcomer to homebrewing wondered whether he could put the supply to good use and turn it into tap handles. The resulting smooth rectangles with a mini chalkboard in the center looked pretty good — good enough to try to sell.
“And I had, like, 20 or so and I was like, ‘I’ll sell them on Etsy and make a couple of bucks.’ And then immediately they all sold out within a week,” Swift recounted. He made another batch, which was also snatched up. “And then it was just like, OK — I guess there’s a niche for this.”
The handle design has changed slightly from the original — it’s now a bit thinner and lighter. There are also two sizes: a 6-inch tap that costs $20 online and in stores and a taller version that retails for $5 more. Both come in cherry, maple, oak and walnut, with walnut being the most popular wood. Swift guesses it’s due to the darker, rich color, but cherry is also a solid performer. While sales are strong, the carpenter was initially met with some doubt when he approached local homebrew supply stores about stocking his product, including his first account Mainbrew. Swift said they were hesitant because the handles they had weren’t exactly flying out the door.
“And I was like, ‘I’ll show you them.’ And they’re like, ‘Oh yes -- these handles we’ll take.’ So it was something about the chalkboard. Steinbart jumped right on it too. I know Homebrew Exchange, they were like, ‘Yes, we need these.’ Something about it seems to be working,” Swift said.
That something is the ability to personalize the product with the chalkboard feature. Consumers can write and draw on the handles, but easily change up those images when they put on a new batch of beer. And that can happen quite often with an ambitious homebrewer or even at a busy bar.
“Homebrewers often have a lot of turnover. Or bars have a lot of turnover. And most of the time, like, a brewery will send their tap handle [to a bar], but a lot of times they don’t. I know Side Street bar off of Belmont — that was the reason they got some,” Swift explained.
Beyond homebrewers, taprooms are becoming a lucrative source of business. Swift recently shipped 36 tap handles to one in Chicago, and his creations have been ordered by customers as far away as Germany and Australia. To fill orders, he’s primarily worked out of ADX, a shared workspace with tools available via membership in Southeast Portland. The facility has some key equipment that his shop lacks, including a laser cutter, that would allow Swift to add engravings. However, he hopes to purchase a table saw, joiner and planer — moving most, if not all, production to his home address.
From start to finish, Swift spends approximately 15 minutes on each handle by working on bundles at a time. Getting the raw shape is the quickest part of the process, while adding finishing touches takes the longest. Swift hand sands every block, tapes off each handle to spray paint the recessed middle three times to create the chalkboard and then oils the wood at the end. It’s a job that might sound repetitive and one that surely keeps Swift on his feet, but it’s the kind of job he prefers.
“I like working in a woodshop much more than just sitting at a desk all day,” Swift said. “I find it hard sitting at a desk.”
His previous work as an architectural designer was more sedentary than his current endeavor. And while he’s been formally trained in the field at the University of Oregon, Swift has sawdust in his blood. His grandfather was a carpenter. He grew up with a dad who had him by his side completing house projects — and this wasn’t just fixing a creaky step or hanging a shelf — Swift’s childhood chores included finishing the attic. But growing up in a shop class on steroids prepared him for UO’s architecture department, which has its own woodshop where Swift spent much of his time. After college, he took positions at local architecture firms, but the rise of the tap handle business put him on the path to self-employment.
Being his own boss and setting his own hours have obvious benefits, but by crafting these particular handles he’s also helping homebrewers tell their own stories about the unique personalities of their beers. Taps have become a critical medium for craft producers to introduce drinkers to their brands. A simple piece of wood or metal needs to convey a lifestyle, message or feeling that’s easily identifiable. But homebrewers largely lack the ability to provide a succinct narrative in their own bars at home, where friends are just as likely to gather as they are at the neighborhood bar.
“I think the people they like more design than just black tap handles, like a little black piece of plastic,” which is the common handle available at homebrew shops. “Yeah, I think it’s just more, I guess, why do we buy nice furniture or other nice accessories? So I think it’s just this nice added touch that has, like, it’s just more impressive to look at than the black plastic.”
Beyond bringing flair to the functional, Swift gets most of his satisfaction by creating something out of nothing. He wants to expand his focus by also building carriers for six-packs and 22-ounce bottles as well as taster trays. So if you happen by a home in Arbor Lodge and catch a glimpse of an open garage with the sound of a table saw buzzing as a man’s hands make quick work of a piece of walnut — that just might be Swift in his completed shop.
“When you get a piece of wood from the store, it’s really rough around the edges and then it comes out as this nice polished piece of craft,” Swift described. “Yeah, it’s rewarding to see that.”
Joseph Haggard (pictured) and his wife Michelle Haggard got into the beer business about a year ago when they bought a manual canning system that Joseph then modified using his knowledge from an electrical engineering degree and his time in the field. He hopes to upgrade in the next year. Photos courtesy of Crossroads Mobile Canning
By Erica Tiffany-Brown
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
If you choose to look up the meaning of “crossroads” in the dictionary, you’ll find both a literal definition and a metaphorical one. Or, to save time, you can listen to the narrative of Joseph and Michelle Haggard.
“There’s his story and my story,” Michelle explained when asked about how Crossroads Mobile Canning got its name.
“Which one do you want?” Joseph asked.
I opted for both.
Michelle started, “Over the last five of six years, we’ve wanted to get into the beer industry somehow. We’d looked at several properties off and on, and unfortunately we just didn’t have the capital to actually do it ourselves. There was a property off of Portland Road (in Salem) and I was like, ‘You know, that’d be a really nice place for a taphouse — right there, right on the corner — lots of traffic … and I think I would call it Crossroads.’ That never came to fruition, so when we had this idea for the canning, I still liked the name.”
Joseph added, “That’s her story. Mine was because I became disabled. I lost my job — they let me go. I was at a crossroads in my life. I didn’t want to lay down and die, so…”
A business was born.
Just about a year ago, the Haggards were sitting at Edgefield, watching wine move through a mobile bottling line. Their own wheels got turning, and they realized they knew a lot of breweries in the Salem area and wondered if mobile canning lines existed. After doing some research and discovering both Northwest Canning and Craft Canning + Bottling in Portland, they decided to go for it.
“That’s how it started that one day — the coolness of watching them bottle wine from a trailer,” Michelle said.
When it came time to choosing the right machine, the couple decided on a manual canning system from Cask Brewing Systems in Canada that can accommodate both 12-ounce and 16-ounce cans.
“I was a field service engineer before all this, and the electronics on it were like I had invented it. I’d researched all those other machines and this one’s put together the best. It’s like someone from the field designed it instead of an engineer behind a desk that’s never worked a day in his life in the field,” Joseph said.
“And it’s pretty, too.”
While Michelle isn’t quite as involved in the business— she has a full-time job as a medical laboratory technician —she does help with canning on the weekends and contributes a lot of great ideas, such as designing a few labels for brewers and printing them on the couple’s Primera LX900 color label printer. However, Joseph does about 90 percent of the footwork.
With his electronic engineering degree and background working with voltages of medical and laboratory equipment, Joseph knew that if anything were to go wrong with this machine, he could repair it, because it’s a 220-volt system.
Ever the handyman, Joseph even added wheels to the machine and had it shortened 16 inches. Firstly, to make it fit into their 6-by-12 cargo trailer, and secondly, to make it easier on his body.
“I can’t stand all day, so sitting at it was just the right thing to do.”
Joseph also bought a generator just in case, which makes Crossroads totally mobile now.
So, why did the Haggards choose to go with canning as opposed to bottling?
The duo looked into both, but felt that cans seemed to be the way to go at the time and were growing in popularity with the industry. Their lighter weight and the fact that the entire package is fully recyclable drew them in as well.
“There still seems to be a stigma — it’s just a matter of changing people’s minds about it and pushing the ecological stuff. Plus, if you take it backpacking, you don’t have to worry about bottles breaking or anything like that,” Joseph said.
“It’s a good thing we did, because I don’t think homebrewers would come to me to bottle their beer — they can do it at home.”
But that doesn’t mean they always want to.
Case in point: the hundreds of homebrewers the Haggards have canned for since opening up for business in December 2014.
Keizer-based PBH Brewing — Mike Bauer, Bill Herring and Aaron Pittis — were the first homebrewers to use Crossroads, canning their Red Sled IPA. PBH usually brews 25 gallons at a time, six to 10 times a year. They’ve canned with the Haggards three times so far — around 60 gallons of beer total.
“The cans are a lot easier to store. I don’t have to clean bottles — no cleanup at the end,” Pittis said.
When asked if he would recommend Crossroads to other homebrewers, Pittis’ response was an immediate “Yes, yes, yes. Joe is great to work with and we will continue to use him.”
Endorsement for Crossroads also comes from the two aforementioned fellow mobile canning businesses. Both Justin Brandt of Northwest Canning and Owen Lingley of Craft Canning + Bottling point quite a few homebrewers in the direction of the Haggards.
“Anything that’s too small for them, they send our way,” Joseph said.
Crossroads’ first official canning was actually with an already-established brewery — Vagabond Brewing in Salem.
“Vagabond was gracious enough to host us and we canned 6 barrels of their Into the Wild IPA,” Joseph said.
It was the first canned beer in Salem in 50-some years, so in a sense, Crossroads brought canning back to the state’s capital.
According to the Haggards, there’s “a ton of interest” from some of the smaller commercial breweries in Oregon, but most of them seem to be waiting until they get a little bigger and can produce more beer.
For now, the couple has been keeping busy by hosting monthly canning events for homebrewers at locations all over the state, such as F.H. Steinbart Co., Homebrew Exchange and Hi-Wheel Wine & Mead Co. in Portland, as well as Claim 52 in Eugene and Redmond Craft Brewing Supply.
“Of course, we’re always willing to just do it here (in Keizer) if none of those locations or times meet anybody’s needs,” Michelle adds.
Or, they’ll come to you — Joseph clocked in about 1,500 miles of traveling during the month of August.
Within the next year, the Haggards plan on upgrading from their current manual system to a semi-automated unit with four filler heads and two seamers that would put out triple what they’re doing now.
If all goes well, Michelle would like to be at another sort of crossroads in her life.
“Hopefully, we’d like to make this my full-time job. Get busy enough so that I can switch gears. I’ve been doing the laboratory work since 1978. It’s been a great career — really, no complaints — but I’m to the point where something different would be wonderful. To be able to work with him, side by side…”
“We have a lot of fun doing that,” Joseph concluded.
Crossroads Mobile Canning
[a] 671 Wayne Drive N., Keizer
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.”
By Andi Prewitt
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
You’ve likely passed by Preston Weesner dozens of times and never realized it if you’ve attended a beer festival in this state. It’s because you won’t find him standing still very long. If someone is having a problem with a keg in one area of the event, he’ll be there to check on it. If there’s an issue with beer delivery on the opposite side of the venue, he’s rushing to put out that fire as well. And if Weesner is lucky, he’ll have a moment to pause for a bite of festival food before the next emergency.
The former construction worker clearly has a knack for building things, whether they’re underground tunnels for TriMet’s light rail or beer communities that seemingly appear overnight. Weesner is currently the general manager for the Holiday Ale Festival, which takes place in Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square, and runs the production company Peerless Management. But his involvement with beer celebrations doesn’t end there. He has roles at the Spring Beer and Wine Fest, the Oregon Garden Brewfest, the Bite of Oregon and still finds time to lend a helping hand to any organizer who asks. This list is actually pared down from a time where he was working on 12 or 13 events. But grueling schedules are still a part of his life. Come Holiday Ale Festival time, he’ll clock in 20 hour days for nine days straight. Weesner is so drained by the end of the project that he always swears to his wife he won’t do it another year. Luckily, the months that follow are enough time to help him forget the pain, the lack of sleep and the breaking point. He keeps coming back because the memory of the rewards last longer.
Below is my interview with Weesner, which was edited for length:
Q: When was your first beer festival and what was the experience like?
PW: I think it was, gosh, had to be 17 or 18 years ago. It was the Holiday Ale Fest. Backing up a little bit, it was the end of the summer I’d gone to a friend’s house for a barbecue and I was big into NorWester’s Raspberry Weizen. Think what you will, but it tasted better than the Bud I was drinking at that time. At the barbecue my friend gave me one and afterwards asked if I enjoyed it. And I said ‘Yes.’ And he said, ‘I made that.’ And I was like, ‘No you didn’t.’ He was like, ‘Yeah, I did!’ I’m like, ‘You can make beer?’ It seems innocent enough, but at the time that wasn’t something that was really talked about. I was more perplexed — like, you can make beer? I just figured it came out of the silver faucet on the wall or the bottle, right? He told me he’d gotten the kit at F.H. Steinbart, so my wife actually went and purchased a kit for me and I read the book in a day. I think I was homebrewing the next weekend.
That winter I was at Steinbart’s buying ingredients and someone at the counter said, ‘Well are you going to go to the Holiday Ale Fest?’ ‘Well what is that?’ ‘Well, it’s a beer festival.’ Again, I was perplexed there was a festival for beer. Went to the festival; was enamored. I walked up and asked instantly, ‘Hey, do you need any volunteers the next day?’ And they did. So I volunteered the next two days. It was an amazing experience to see that many people coming down in a tent in the middle of winter and rain, drinking beer and having a good time.
Fast-forward a couple of months, I heard about the Spring Beer Fest, volunteered there. Oregon Brewers Fest, volunteered there. I started asking friends in other cities, like ‘Hey, what beer fests do you have?’ And they’re like, ‘What’s a beer fest?’ It was something very unique to Portland.
Q: Can you take the average reader of OBG through planning something like Holiday Ale Fest?
PW: In regards to Holiday Ale Fest, I’m literally planning next year’s event a year in advance and specifically at the event. Each year I’m writing down notes, I’m making connections, I’m talking about how to make it better this year. Sometimes my staff gets on me. They’re like, ‘We’re in this year right now and you’re already talking about next year?!’ But if we don’t think about and remember it now, then we won’t be able to make preparations.
I always would say I could probably throw a great barbecue with a week’s notice. I could probably throw a pretty darn good party with a month’s notice. But if you’re looking to throw an event — a wedding planner would be a good idea. A wedding planner starts working six months before the wedding for about 200 or 300 friends. You start involving the public and the numbers start climbing into the thousands, you really have to have a team of people. If you’re not working on it a year in advance, or at least nine months in advance, you’re maybe not running the most efficient or effective show.
Q: Can you think of something you learned last year that you’re going to change this time around?
PW: I don’t particularly have something for next year, but I’ll give you an example from two years ago. We’d always use beer trailers from the distributors and we’d park them as far against one wall as we could. Well, the problem with the trailers is they actually displaced more room than they held beer. For years I thought, you know this is the middle of winter. Average temperature is 45-50 degrees. Why are we killing ourselves with these trailers? Guys are hitting their heads. We’re getting back injuries from lifting kegs. I mean, it was a nightmare! We used to have to bring in a special crew in the morning just to change the kegs because the event staff was beaten and flogged from changing kegs during the event.
I’d talked to several draft technicians in town and I was like, ‘Why can’t we set [the kegs] outside? We’ll wall it off and blow some cold air on it from a unit we took off a semi-truck.’ And he looked at me as though I were speaking in a foreign language. And he said, ‘That would never work.’ I’m like, ‘What history do we have to prove it?’ ‘Well, we’ve never done it before.’ So I just vowed the next year, I’m going to try this. All the draft guys, all the distributors stood there with tools in hand, ready and willing to cut things apart … and it worked. We were able to then go from 30-40 breweries to 55 breweries because we could hold more beer on site.
Q: How have you seen festivals in Oregon evolve since your involvement with them began?
PW: Certainly the attendance has gone up. That means there’s not just an increased passion for beer; there’s also an increased knowledge of beer. People are wanting to try new beers. There’s the potential to have beers or breweries you’ve never heard of at the event. It’s not just about going and getting a beer for the weekend; it’s really changed into more of a beer geek kind of thing where you’re looking to go there and you’re hoping to find something you’ve never heard of. They’re looking for Easter eggs. It’s a bit of a treasure hunt for good beer.
Q: People would probably say you have a dream job. But there have to be struggles. What’s a failure from the past and how did you overcome it?
PW: Well there’s failures every year, whether it’s failures to meet a deadline and how to recover from that, there’s failures in implementation — you know, if the beers don’t go on from the tap list we’ve promoted, how do you rectify that and get it back on track? Those are all little hiccups. But here’s a great failure: I think it was five years in to when I started stewarding the festival I was looking around at other great beer events — the St. Patrick’s Day events. It’s like, wow, if you want to go stand in line for two hours to maybe get into Kells and then have five frat guys dump your drink on you — we should just have a little craft beer festival. People can come by and maybe get a beer, hand out, relax — go down to Kells and then come here. It was called the Shamrock Ale Fest.
We had no intentions of it being something big and special. We just wanted to give an opportunity for those who didn’t want to wait in line to actually get a beer. So we worked with 10 breweries who each did two beers. It didn’t do well financially. When I had to explain to the board of directors how it had actually not just lost some money but a lot of money, I was personally on the hook for that because it was my idea to do it. I never thought that because Holiday Ale was successful that I could do an event anywhere at any time. I guess the reality was just because one thing works doesn’t mean that everything’ll work.
Q: You’ve mentioned a lot of things that you like when it comes to your work. Would you have anything you’d cite as your favorite?
PW: Well I’m a builder. I like to build things. I’ve always been a fan of the underdog. Being told it can’t be done just empowers me more. Being told, ‘Well, it’s never been done before,’ just lets me know that somebody else didn’t succeed. I’m going to try.
I like to see the festivals come together — the chaos of all the parts that are mingling around and coming together suddenly gel and the team pulls and suddenly the boat surges ahead toward the finish line. It’s always nice to see the culmination of something, especially when it’s a long, arduous project to make it happen. But to see it truly recognized and appreciated — there’s no money involved there. That’s just a personal thing. To see people enjoying it. That’s a huge reward.
Q: So if you had to advise a newbie and give them the nuts and bolts, what makes a successful event?
PW: More planning. More planning. Just when you think you’ve got enough, do more planning. Lay out a schedule — a timeline — and work the timeline backwards from the opening and allow extra time. For things that should take 30 minutes, allow an hour. You want good PR. If you’re 90 days out trying to plan an event, it’s probably going to be a rough event. There’s probably going to be a lot of hiccups. There’s probably going to be a lot of heartache and crying and pain, but you’ll learn something from that.
There’s untold things that can go wrong and you need to have backup plans for everything. What happens when your mugs don’t arrive? What happens when your tickets don’t arrive? What happens if your wristbands are the wrong color? Because if it can go wrong, eventually it will.
Q: Festivals are fun. You get to drink beer. But what larger role do you think these events play in terms of facilitating a sense of social connectedness of community identity?
PW: They’re a community that didn’t exist and they only exist for the festival. And the anticipation for the community to spring back up is there all year long. As an example, at Holiday Ale we would always say it’s the worst time of year. Everybody’s running out of money. The holidays are coming. You’ve got to buy gifts not only for people you care about, but for people you’re only going to see once a year. You’re racing around; workload is heavy. You’re trying to get your workload done so you can go to the Christmas party, go to your mom and dad’s house. Everybody’s working extra hours trying to squeeze in all this stuff. It’s like, wait. Hold on. Take a second for yourself. Come down to the festival. Arrange to meet a friend there — even if you’re doing it in between shopping trips, just take two seconds, have a beer, catch up with some friends and then go back to your credit-laden plans to ruin yourselves for the holidays. The community aspect is just that. The festivals are a microcosm of community and people are coming together to support the event but also just to see each other, to talk.
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