By Ezra Johnson-Greenough
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The internet was supposed to make life easier and solve humanity’s problems, so who figured it would take an online bookstore more than two decades just to get beer deliveries to your home right? When Amazon rolled out its Prime Now service in late 2014, home beer and wine deliveries were discussed, but it wasn’t until August of 2017 that the service launched in Oregon. Amazon is famous for helping kill off local and big-box book retailers, and some are now concerned they could do the same to grocery stores and bottle shops.
Prime Now is an app for your phone or device that lets you order items you’d normally find at large grocers: food, household supplies and gadgets. To use this service, you must be an Amazon Prime member, which for $99 a year is easily worth it if you do any other online shopping or video/music streaming. Products are shipped through the company’s regional partners, and based on my zip code that would be New Seasons Market, Whole Foods Market or Amazon’s local product center.
Ordering from each incurs a separate delivery fee (typically about $5) that’s waived when the purchase amount reaches a certain threshold. Amazon then adds a suggested $5 tip for the driver, which can be edited. Users choose a two-hour arrival window and it can be scheduled days in advance. If you’re in a hurry, one-hour delivery is available for a fee ranging from $4.99-7.99. Prices are comparable, if not exactly the same, as what’s in stores. Another benefit is the option to have your package left on a safe porch without signature (though you must be present with identification if purchasing alcohol).
Amazon’s Prime Now store is the only outlet in my zip code to ship beer, cider and wine (none of the hard stuff). There is a “Cold Beer” section with subcategories for “Local and Craft Beer” along with domestics, imports and specific styles. At this point, your choices are limited to the lineup you might find at your local mini-mart, but I suspect that will change — especially if there’s demand.
Under “Local and Craft Beer,” some might quibble with listings for Not Your Father’s Root Beer, Blue Moon, Elysian, 10 Barrel and Hop Valley, but that’s neither here nor there. More important to most is the local beer selection, which includes new and classic — but safe — hits from Breakside, BridgePort, Crux, Full Sail, Deschutes, Ecliptic, Fort George, Ninkasi, Oakshire, Pyramid, Rogue, Widmer and Worthy. National/international players are even more basic, like Corona, Guinness, New Belgium, Pacifico, Stella and, interestingly, Schofferhofer Grapefruit Hefeweizen.
I have now ordered from Amazon’s Prime Now service five times, three of them specifically for beer, finding mostly good results. The delivery often arrives on the early side of the two-hour window, and they take care to put the beer in a thin, but still temperature-holding, Mylar bag along with an ice pack. I encountered one issue with my first purchase of two bottles of Breakside’s flagship IPA in 22-ounce bottles (well-priced at $4.29 each) and a six-pack of Pelican’s Beak Breaker Double IPA. Shortly after placing the order, I was notified via email that the Pelican beer wasn’t available. The rest of the items came as usual, and there was no charge for the six-pack — though it was still listed as being available more than a week later.
Polling the hive mind known as my social media connections, I came across one other interesting snag that I tested myself. When requesting a seasonal release, you may not end up with the beer you intend. For instance, one person discovered that an order placed for Fort George’s Suicide Squeeze IPA actually resulted in the brewery’s 3-Way IPA being delivered. I attempted to replicate this by ordering Suicide Squeeze along with Breakside’s Toro Red (the site actually pictured the brewery’s What Rough Beast beer). I ended up receiving the 3-Way as well and the India Golden Ale by Breakside. The lesson: beware of accuracy when it comes to ordering seasonals. On the plus-side, it’s nice to get a refund and still keep the beer by sending in a complaint. This, however, highlights areas where online beer delivery will most likely always fall short — in selection and depth of knowledge.
“Delivery works best for replenishing staples,” says Carl Singmaster, one of the proprietors of Belmont Station in Southeast Portland. “For the consumer that prefers to drink primarily one widely available brand consistently, it makes a lot of sense. But for those who are constantly exploring and learning, I think they'll prefer to shop at bricks and mortar.”
“When customers need friendly interaction, real opinions, industry gossip or tips, that's where we come in. There's nothing virtual about it,” says Sarah Pederson, owner of North Portland’s Saraveza tavern and bottle shop.
With Amazon’s recent acquisition of Whole Foods, there’s a lot of concern that the massive company could push out mom-and-pop grocery and beer retailers. While most bottle shop owners I talked to think that Prime Now is more of a threat to big-box stores, they are still considering the possible consequences.
“We may lose some sales,” says Sean Campbell (aka John Beermonger), owner of The BeerMongers bottle shop and bar in Southeast Portland, “but I feel that is always a threat either from grocery stores or big liquor stores. Knowledgeable staff, good prices and good atmosphere should help keep the little guys in business.”
Sarah Pederson agrees, “I think Amazon grocery will affect grocery stores in the beer departments more than small bottle shops such as Saraveza. I can't imagine that all the time, effort, devotion and education we put into our selection on a weekly basis could be mimicked by a ginormous online store.”
In addition to the selection and expert customer support, Prime Now doesn’t offer details consumers want, like where their beer is coming from.
“I have so many customers who are very conscientious of what brands they purchase in regards to the ownership of the brewery,” says Sarah Pederson. “I don't know if these people refuse to shop at Walmart or on Amazon, but I'm curious to hear from them.”
The area where Amazon really could hurt small businesses is pricing. “The biggest concern is that a company of the scale and with the cash on hand of an Amazon can subsidize their service to undercut other retailers. The other concern would be if producers and distributors give them outsized allocations of limited-release beers,” comments Singmaster.
Beermonger is more concerned about the beer itself. “I know not all beer is stored properly. I see it in big stores, but also specialty stores. If people get inferior product that was stored and shipped under less-than-ideal conditions, they may blame the brewery for making bad beer. This is a problem that often comes up and I see this new delivery system increasing the likelihood of beer that is ‘off.’”
Overall, these craft-centric retailers were interested in following this new wave of beer delivery, but didn’t seem overly worried about competition. In some cases, they were even encouraging.
“I am all for consumers having as many options and choices available to them as possible,” says Singmaster. “For those that prefer to have their groceries delivered rather than visiting stores in person, there is no reason they shouldn't be able to put beer and wine into the mix.”
“Convenience sells. This move by Amazon and Whole Foods is a sign of the times, and we shouldn't be surprised by it. In fact, we should be prepared for more of it. People are very emotional, and often fearful, about big business and how it takes over. It's not necessarily a bad thing for the craft beer movement, but it sure is an interesting twist in this ever-changing industry.”
One thing is for sure, now that there are more ways to get beer delivered, Amazon won’t be the only one to get into the business. Additional specialty retailers are likely on the way. We already have draft growler beer subscription services in companies like Hopsy and bottle subscription through Tavour, among others.
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 Dan Haag
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Once upon a time, a sad, run-down former auto body shop sat on a dreary street corner in Astoria. Though its storied history could be traced back to some of the city’s prominent business founders, there was a time during the 1990s and early 2000s that no one paid it much attention.
It was just there, crumbling away under the winter rain and summer weeds, kept upright by the boards hammered across the broken out windows.
While it seems like a lifetime ago, it’s only been a little more than 10 years since business partners Jack Harris and Chris Nemlowill chose the spot as the future home for Fort George Brewery.
Time flies when you’re having fun and working feverishly, a combination that has Fort George primed for the next 10 years.
“We’re really proud of the work that went into the building and the hub it’s become,” Harris says.
Now, it’s hard to picture the corner at 1483 Duane St. without what has become known as the “Brewer’s Block.”
While so much has happened since 2007, Harris says Astoria’s welcoming embrace holds special meaning for him.
“We were immediately accepted by this community,” he says. “It evolved into kind of becoming a living room for the town.”
The official anniversary date landed on March 11, and in typical Fort George fashion, it was an all-day affair, complete with three bands, a cake-cutting ceremony and a beer release featuring a 10th Anniversary Pinot Barrel-Aged Barleywine brewed for the occasion.
“It was just a huge party all day long,” Harris says.
The cake — decorated with a U-Haul and tornado — was a nod to Fort George’s very stormy beginning.
In 2006, Harris and Nemlowill took a cross-country trip to secure brewing equipment from a brewery for sale in Virginia Beach, Va.
After taking the brewery apart, they loaded the large tanks onto a rented flat-bed truck and stored the smaller items inside a U-Haul, which Harris and Nemlowill drove.
When they hit Nebraska, they came face-to-face with a tornado that touched down just a few hundred yards off the interstate.
“We came close to losing all that stuff — we had no insurance or anything,” Harris says.
Safe and sound back on Oregon’s north Coast, the team decided to create an IPA to commemorate their adventure.
Harris, who’d already been brewing professionally for a number of years at that point, had never made an IPA.
“Chris being the business man, he knew we needed to make an IPA because he actually wanted to make money at this venture,” Harris says.
Thus, Vortex IPA was born — one of Fort George’s signature brews.
Harris gives credit to Nemlowill for Fort George’s evolution, who he calls “the visionary” of the team.
“I’m always focused on the task at hand, Chris is always looking ahead,” he says.
Speaking of looking ahead, Fort George has purchased a parcel of land in nearby Warrenton for the future construction of a distribution center.
Harris says the current warehouse has reached its limit and they want a spot to make it easier for customers to purchase larger orders and kegs.
Groundbreaking likely won’t occur until late 2017 or early 2018.
While brewing great beer is an essential component of their success, Harris says Fort George’s role in the community takes on a greater importance. Launching a weekly lecture series, participating in charity events and brewing special beers are just some of the ways Fort George gives back to Astoria.
Harris says they also encourage current and prospective employees to find a community cause they care about and become involved.
“I have no interest in running a business just to make money, there is no point in that,” he says. “Our hearts are with anything we can do to give back and make this a better place to live for the locals. It’s really the only reason to be in it for me.”
With hindsight always being perfect, Harris laughs when asked what he’d do differently if he could give his past self any words of advice.
“I’d probably go run and hide,” he says. “But it’s such a privilege to be in this industry and be in this town.”
Fort George Brewery
1483 Duane St., Astoria
By Pete Dunlop
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Belmont Station, Portland’s original bottle shop and beer bar, is hitting the ripe old age of 20. They’re celebrating with a 20/20 theme — 20 days of events for 20 years.
The party gets underway on Saturday, April 1 at the Horse Brass, where Belmont Station got its start in 1997. The Brass will have a collection of special beers on tap when it opens at 11 a.m. Some of those beers will have been made with help from Belmont Station staff.
At 1 p.m., guests will march up Southeast 45th Avenue to the current home of Belmont Station, where they will feature several bottle releases and more special beers on tap. The parade will include noisemakers, bubbles, signage and typical parade fare — though no floats.
“Twenty years is a nice milestone,” said Lisa Morrison, majority owner of Belmont Station. “Besides being a celebration for patrons, we’re honoring the contributions of people who made and continue to make Belmont Station what it is today. People like Joy Campbell, Don Younger and Carl Singmaster, not to mention our awesome staff, past and present.”
Another featured event, mini-Puckerfest, is set for April 7-9. They’ll be pouring at least eight sour beers at all times during the weekend. A number of special beers from well-known breweries will be released, including one from de Garde Brewing called, “The Station.”
“As part of Mini-Puckerfest, we’ll be doing another Battle of the Blends competition,” Morrison said. “Two teams made up of Belmont staff produced blends with Cascade Brewing. Patrons will vote on their favorite for the insufferable bragging rights.”
The weekend of April 14-16 will feature Bigger, Badder, Blacker drafts, featuring a Deschutes night with an Abyss variant, Black Butte 25-28 and a vintage bottle sale, plus other offerings through the weekend from Ninkasi, Fort George and more.
On Monday, April 17, the Besties celebration will bring together the folks behind the recent Oregon Beer Awards Small, Medium and Large Breweries of the Year: Baerlic Brewing Company, The Commons and Breakside Brewery.
Next up is the annual Samuel Smith's Salute on Tuesday, April 18. Tom Bowers of Merchant du Vin will showcase the iconic brewery and its place in modern craft beer culture. There will be bottles pouring at the bar and Bowers will lead the annual salute during the course of the evening.
The party finishes up on April 20, with Lagunitas tapping The Waldos’ Special Ale at 4:19 p.m. (so it can be in your glass at 4:20 p.m.). Sixpoint will contribute their Puff to the party (including Puff rolling papers) and Laurelwood will have a special 4/20-themed IPA.
Old-timers will recall that Belmont Station was the only place of its kind when it opened next to the Horse Brass. Campbell and Younger launched the small store because Horse Brass patrons were asking to purchase imported beers and other specialty items.
“We were just slightly more than an afterthought next to the Horse Brass,” said Chris Ormand, who spent a decade at Belmont before joining General Distributors last year. “We sold novelties, specialty food and offbeat videos, most of it imported from the U.K. And beer.”
The place stocked some 400 bottles in those days. It’s hard to fathom given present circumstances, but each bottle was displayed with a price tag. The actual beer was stored in walk-in coolers. Customers would make a list of what they wanted and give it to the clerk, who would round up the beers.
The beer selection has exploded, obviously. Modern Belmont Station carries some 1,500 beers, ciders and meads in bottles and cans, and also features 23 rotating taps pouring some of the best beer in the city. It’s a Cheers bar for many locals, as well as a destination for tourists.
“There truly was nothing like Belmont Station when Joy and Don launched it 20 years ago,” Morrison said. “It was a big deal when my business partner, Carl Singmaster, joined as co-owner, moved it to the current location and added the beer bar.”
Belmont Station is generally regarded as Portland’s premier bottleshop and beer bar. They were again recognized at the Oregon Beer Awards for just that: Best Beer Bar and Bottle Shop. But Morrison refuses to brag.
“I guess we are looked at as setting the standard for what a bottle shop and beer bar should be,” she said. “That’s something we strive for. I like to think we’re respected for our knowledgeable service, our friendly and cozy atmosphere and the fact that we've been consistent through the years.”
Stay tuned for information on next year’s big bash, when Belmont Station reaches drinking age.
Note: Many of the events happening during the 20/20 festival were still being finalized as this story went to press. Check the Belmont Station website for updated details.
4500 SE Stark St., Portland
By Dustin Gouker
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The idea of crystal-clear mountain springs being the source of great beer has long been an image evoked by the beer industry, from the iconic commercials of Coors to the labels and marketing of today’s craft brewers.
But getting that water — and keeping it usable after the brewing process — are major issues craft brewers and cities must confront on a daily basis.
Water and general sustainability for the beer industry were the focus of a two-day event held in September, put on by the City of Bend and the Pacific Northwest Pollution Prevention Resource Center. (A similar event was held in Bellingham, Wash., later in the month.)
The event was meant to be an educational opportunity for brewers while bringing together government officials, regulators and members of the craft beer industry to talk about sustainability and water usage. The workshops provided ideas for brewers and owners wanting to decrease their environmental footprint while improving their bottom lines, and connected them with cost-effective resources and solutions to energy, water and waste issues.
“Great beer starts with great water quality and great ingredients, and we have the luxury of having both here,” said Chris Hodge, the CEO of Worthy Brewing, in greeting attendees to the Sustainable Craft Brewery Workshop. Worthy, which hosted day one of the event, is one of a number of Central Oregon breweries that take sustainability issues seriously.
Of course, Bend is renowned for the quality of its water, which is often cited as one of the reasons the craft beer industry has flourished in the region.
At the workshop, Christina Davenport, industrial pretreatment technician for the city of Bend, talked about why brewery wastewater is of concern to cities in general and Bend in particular. For instance, Davenport pointed out, Bend’s Deschutes Brewery and 10 Barrel Brewing create more than 25,000 of wastewater gallons per day.
“We’re working with breweries to find solutions to reducing what goes to the sewer,” Davenport said. “That includes both the strength of the waste, and reducing the volume going into the sewer line.”
Creating one barrel (or 31 gallons) of beer often results in a brewery creating four to 10 barrels of wastewater, Davenport noted. From every brewery, some of that wastewater is of the “high-strength” variety — from the brewing process or from cleaning — which can carry an extreme pH level and is more difficult for municipalities to treat.
One solution employed by breweries is “side streaming,” or collecting high-strength waste so it can be disposed of separately. For instance, spent hops, grain and yeast can often be used by farms, and are commonly used by farms that have relationships with breweries.
Water wasn’t the only issue at the workshop. The Energy Trust of Oregon presented on how incentives and energy audits can save significant energy costs. Worthy, for instance, worked with Energy Trust and installed energy-efficient lighting, a high-efficiency heating system and solar electric. That resulted in nearly $80,000 in Energy Trust incentives, as well as $16,000 in annual energy savings for Worthy.
The PPRC presented on proven cost-saving sustainability measures, including case studies for breweries on how to reduce usage of energy, water and carbon dioxide.
But water was the focus of day two, the “Source to Brewer to Sewer Tour.” Attendees got an up-close look at the City of Bend’s water system.
The tour gave attendees a better idea of where the water that goes into beer comes from, and what has to happen for it to be treated after the brewing process. It starts with Bend’s surface water intake on Bridge Creek near Tumalo Falls, which is just a few miles from a pristine water source.
Bend also just finished a project that cost tens of millions of dollars, including the new Outback Water Filtration Facility and miles of new pipe connecting intake to the facility. That gives brewers an idea of how much effort and money is put into water quality in municipalities in general, and Bend in specific. Attendees also saw Bend’s water reclamation facility, which deals with breweries’ wastewater on the back end.
In between those stops, four local breweries (Deschutes, 10 Barrel, Crux Fermentation Project and Monkless Belgian Ales) opened their doors to talk about sustainability and water issues.
It’s clear that the idea of municipalities working with breweries on these issues is far from finished. Paul Rheault, Bend’s public works/utilities director, talked with attendees and said he hoped to one day forge a private-public partnership with the breweries to deal with the problems and costs associated with high-strength waste.
“We want the breweries to succeed,” Rheault said. “Thankfully, we have a good water source that’s well treated now for the brewers to use and make a good product.”
The discussion on water and sustainability issues for breweries is far from over. The city of Bend hopes to host a similar event in the future. Jack Harris, founder of Fort George Brewing in Astoria, was in attendance. Fort George recently hired a director of sustainability, and Harris said he would like to have an event similar to this one in his town.
The craft brewery industry has often prided itself on trying to be green and employing sustainable practices. That obviously becomes more difficult as breweries grow, but Bend and the breweries that call it home have shown there are ways to work together to make it easier.
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