By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Surrounded by fans of The Bier Stein taking in the game or beering up for their own football festivities, Troy Potter can hardly believe that a few months ago he wasn't the new owner of Eugene's The Bier Stein. Working in sales at Ninkasi Brewing Company, Potter was happy where he was.
“I didn’t have a desire to be a business owner,” says Potter, “unless the perfect situation came up.”
Then it did.
At the 2016 Oregon Country Fair, Potter was having a beer with his longtime friends Kristina and Chip Hardy, founders of The Bier Stein. “Around one in the morning, I happened to mention, ‘If you ever want to sell, please talk to me first,’” says Potter. “They stopped, they giggled and said they’d been considering selling the place.”
The Hardys felt ready to pursue non-business interests, but didn’t want to be absentee owners. For the next year, when Potter wasn’t working as part of Ninkasi’s national sales team and managing accounts on the East Coast, he quietly evaluated buying the business.
“I was happy, making good money at a good job,” says Potter, “but when this opportunity came up, my wife and I talked about it and realized it was an opportunity that I just couldn’t pass up.”
On Aug. 1, 2017, Potter and silent partner Jon Farah officially became owners of The Bier Stein.
A Long Way From Cleveland
Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Potter was 21 when in 1991 he grabbed his backpack and bought a one-way Amtrak ticket to Portland.
“I fell in love with craft beer, day one,” says Potter. “I spent six months drinking Widmer Hefeweizen with lemon, then Full Sail Amber, then Deschutes Black Butte Porter. But Bridgeport IPA was a game changer. I’ve been in love with IPAs ever since.”
After working as bar manager at an Italian restaurant and Kells Irish Pub, Potter’s interest in craft beer led him to jobs with McMenamins and Rogue. In 2007, his wife was about to graduate from Reed College, and they’d heard about a new brewery in Eugene. The day after graduation they moved south, where Potter became one of Ninkasi’s first employees. Fast-forward 10 years, Potter was learning how to be an owner.
Potter and Farah began working with a bank to navigate the “long, drawn-out process” of getting a Small Business Administration loan. Potter also worked side-by-side with the Hardys to understand day-to-day operations and get advice. Along with respecting the Hardy’s wishes to keep the sale quiet, Potter had signed a non-disclosure agreement and couldn’t say anything to his colleagues. Then, finally, “the bank put everything in writing, and I gave my 30-day notice,” says Potter. “It was a surprise at Ninkasi.”
Smooth Transition, Strong Future
Founded in 2005, The Bier Stein began as a 2,100-square-foot bottle shop and beer bar between downtown Eugene and the University of Oregon campus. In 2012, The Bier Stein moved to a 12,000-square-foot building. Now offering more than 1,000 beers in bottles and from 30-plus taps, The Bier Stein seats 185 and has 50 employees. And that, says Potter, is how he wants things to be.
“The staff and managers are amazing, and everyone was excited to stay on,” says Potter. “I didn’t change one thing. Not the menu, not the beer. That turnkey aspect was in its truest form. Why change something that’s working perfectly?”
Potter is at the shop each day, working with managers and on marketing, advertising and overall operations. “I’ve also been bussing tables, running food. I intend to work in the kitchen and the bar too — keep my finger on the pulse and connect with customers,” says Potter. “The Bier Stein is about the best beer and the best customer experience. That’s what will keep The Bier Stein strong.”
Plans include growing The Bier Stein’s reputation as a destination and craft beer institution. “About 35 percent of our customers come from outside of Eugene, based on word of mouth.”
Increased customer education is also a priority. Potter wants all staff — including himself — to have Level Two Cicerone Certifications. “New customers come in, and they might know a little about beer, but it can be hard to come up to those cooler doors and pick a beer,” says Potter. “Something we can make better is to be there with customers and help them make that bottle purchase.”
Overall, Potter sees his role not as a game changer, but as the next generation. “My goal coming into The Bier Stein is not to change anything,” he explains. “My goal is to grab that torch that Chip and Kristina created and carry it forward. We’re going to keep it about the beer.”
The Bier Stein
1591 Willamette St., Eugene
By 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 Jim McLaren
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The idea seems as obvious as Mount Hood on a clear, spring day: Beer, bicycles and tours celebrating both.
But the obvious sometimes takes time to get rolling. In this case, it took a trip to Belgium seven years ago by an IT guy looking to reboot his work life.
It’s a sunny Memorial Day in Hood River. As a light breeze comes off the Columbia River, Claire Cohan is setting up bottles of beer and the makings for sandwiches on picnic tables in Port Marina Park. Soon, a group of riders with tour company Beercycling will arrive and devour the spread.
Claire says this tour began in Portland, where the group met and test rode bikes rented from The Bike Concierge in Oregon City. “We stayed at the Jupiter Hotel, and from there we rode across the Tilikum and Steel bridges to get warmed up. That was the first day. Then we got a tour at Hair of the Dog, which, of course, is amazing.”
During the five-day tour, riders pedal 20-32 miles per day. The route from Portland east to Hood River is mostly flat with the 900-foot climb to Vista House overlooking the Columbia River Gorge being the most breathtaking — both in terms of the view and the oxygen-sucking effort.
On day two, the group rides to Troutdale where they’ll spend the night at McMenamins Edgefield. Day three has the big climb and a stop at Thunder Island Brewing Co. in Cascade Locks. On day four, the group pedals the finished part of the Historic Columbia River Highway, then loads into a van to hop the gap along the unfinished section. A picnic lunch in Hood River is followed by visits to Full Sail Brewing Company and pFriem Family Brewers.
As Claire is running down the itinerary, 12 riders and Evan Cohan coast into the park; the riders are quickly off their bikes and moving toward the beer and food.
Evan comes over for the interview. But he first asks, “Can I have a beer while I answer questions? I’ll answer better that way.”
So, why did Beercycling start in Europe? Taking a sip from a special, non-breakable tasting glass Evan explains, “I’d been there once with friends. Flanders has a dedicated bike infrastructure that goes that entire part of the country and into Holland. You can get between points pretty much traffic free. The whole country is the size of Maryland, and when you focus on a couple of provinces you can really get anywhere really quickly.”
Evan likes beer, likes cycling, but what he wasn’t so happy with back then was his job. “I was having my, kind of, ‘I’m-done-with-my-day-job crisis’ in my mid-20s. Earlier than most. I thought, ‘What would the dream job be?’”
He found the answer on the road through Flanders. “It was a magical trip when you get into Belgian beer and you hear the stories about the Trappist monasteries. We just went for fun on a spontaneous trip, but I learned a lot.”
And he wanted to share what he learned — not as some sort of elaborate pub crawl, but as a lesson about the cultures surrounding beer. “You go along these canals and through farms, and it was amazing. And we got a couple of tours there. The Flemish people are really generous. And I thought this would be the ideal place for a bike tour. It has all the ingredients for logistics to make it happen safely. It would be like doing bike tours in Belgium visiting breweries.”
Stan Bashaw came from North Carolina for the debut Oregon tour. With a beer in one hand and a sizable sandwich in the other, he says he’s participated in a Beercycling event before. “I happened to see a Facebook post Evan put up about Beercycling and from day one I said, ‘Someday I’m doing that.’”
Stan then convinced friends to go with him. “We had the best time. Cycling in Belgium, the Belgians are used to bikes being everywhere. At least back in North Carolina, folks are used to bikes being annoyances. It’s been really great here [Oregon].”
The Beercycling European tours include mini-seminars on brewing, rides through hop fields and visits to ancient breweries. But Stan has one particularly fond memory: “The part of the tour that is really appealing in Belgium is all the food. Oh my gosh, we had such great food. The picnics we had alongside a bike path, Belgian bread — fresh made that day. Oh my God, it is just amazing.”
The food was especially welcome when “we biked out to the North Sea on a really cold day. I think that was really one of our favorite days. We were cold. We were wet. We found a coffee shop because we were so cold. We got warmed up, then rode past World War II artillery fortifications that go on for miles. We had a 20-knot wind behind us, and we barely had to pedal.”
Bashaw and his friends liked Oregon’s attitude toward cyclists but are anxious to do another European tour next year.
It took Evan and Claire about two years to work out the Oregon tour logistics, but they’ll hold three this year and perhaps more next year.
In Europe, Beercycling has grown to six tours: three in Flanders in northern Belgium, one in the Ardennes in southeastern Belgium, another around Milan in northwest Italy and a loop around Amsterdam in Holland.
The tours run from five to ten days with prices ranging from $1,475 in Oregon to $2,850 for one of the Flanders tours. Visit beercycling.com for dates, itineraries and bios of the guides.
By Ezra Johnson-Greenough
For the Oregon Beer Growler
In an industry full of fresh-faced brewers with their shiny kettles and polished mash tuns, the breweries that make into the double digits become the hard-nosed veterans. That means Lompoc Brewing’s 20th anniversary is nothing to shake a mash paddle at.
After 20 years in Portland, you’re practically an original. And that leaves some of Lompoc’s older pubs as icons in this city. Take, for instance, the Hedge House on the always-busy and trendy Southeast Division Street in a 1912 craftsman-style bungalow, the yard intact doing double duty as a patio. The spot feels like a throwback to a Portland of rough-edged comfort before gleaming condos and concrete storefronts began replacing all of the buildings with character.
The New Old Lompoc was one such Portland institution, a vestige of the old Northwest Portland 23rd Avenue before it became a destination for boutiques and cafes. The Lompoc story began there. Jerry Fechter was fresh out of college and returned from a post-graduation trip to Europe where he discovered beer. He decided to move to Portland.
“I had a real job for a year and I didn’t like it, so I started working for these two guys (Bob Rice and Pete Goforth) that owned a whole bunch of restaurants.” Fechter ended up at the Old Lompoc Tavern — then just a pub serving cheap drinks. “I started bartending for these guys, counting the money, being the errand boy and stuff and homebrewing at the same time” said Fechter.
At some point, Goforth and Rice decided they wanted to start a brewery at Old Lompoc Tavern, and Fechter knew a little about the business through friends who worked for McMenamins as well as his background in homebrewing. The year was 1994 and the brewing scene was in its infancy.
“BridgePort was around. McMenamins was around. The hot beer was Full Sail Amber and Golden.” After laying out plans to start a brewery, Fechter took the short course at Siebel Institute in Chicago and brewed the first Old Lompoc beer in 1996. It was a bitter Marzen.
“The theory was, let’s make an over-the-top malty beer and just bitter the shit out of it because we didn’t really know where the additions would be from the kettle. If it was too thin, we could call it something different. If it were too bitter ... we had options was the point.”
Fast forward to 2000. It’s a new millennium and the Old Lompoc is struggling as a tavern. They were brewing 300-350 barrels a year, but the place just wasn’t very busy. During a game of golf, Fechter offered to purchase the Old Lompoc from Goforth and Rice, even though there was only three years left on the lease. A few potential business partners fell through, but Fechter eventually connected with the late, great Don Younger, owner of Horse Brass Pub. They upgraded the menu and made the beers a little hoppier, eventually reopening the pub as “New Old Lompoc Tavern” in 2001. The addition of a patio to the space also proved to be a success.
Jerry opened the second outlet, Lompoc Hedge House, in 2003. Fifth Quadrant came in 2005 and the Oaks Bottom Public House a year later. “Opening each pub seemed like milestones. We wanted them to be ‘Lompoc,’ but also different.”
Lompoc’s current head brewer Bryan Keilty joined the brewery in 2006, which is when the production brewery on North Williams Avenue opened. A 10-year veteran, he has overseen the expansion of brands and the changing landscape in beer styles and diversity. He’s also experienced Lompoc’s growth from brewpub to distributing brewery.
“I inform every potential hire that you will see every aspect of the industry in a small craft brewery,” Keilty said. “We wear so many different hats! At Lompoc, we rotate brewing and cellaring duties — but we also work on the bottling line, perform tastings in the grocery store, deliver kegs, plan release parties, help with label design and social media. The list goes on.”
Keilty’s culinary background shows in his more balanced approached to beers. During his tenure, Lompoc has excelled at producing fruit beers, barrel-aged brews and farmhouse ales. He counts the year-round best seller Proletariat Red as a favorite, “I love the balance between the malt and the hops! Balance is an overlooked aspect in beer, especially in the Northwest.”
Sadly in 2012, the original Lompoc was razed for new condos and retail. Luckily, Fechter secured a spot in the same building to open what is now called simply the “Lompoc Tavern.” The building doesn’t have the same history. The beloved patio is gone. And modern cold, slick feel (an update forced by developer) is a marked departure from Old Lompoc. But there is a wide selection of Lompoc beers, top-of-the-line pub grub and big front windows that open to sidewalk seating.
“It's been 20 years of brewing and evolving and always trying make things better, not be complacent,” Fechter said. “I think our beer and food are the best they have ever been.”
Even so, Fechter went back to the well for Lompoc’s 20th anniversary beer “Zwanzig,” which means “twenty” in German. It’s a re-creation of his very first brew, a bitter Marzen. While Fechter doesn’t have the original recipe, Zwanzig was brewed like he remembers it — with a pale orange color and full malty body. The modern update included eight hop additions and it was tapped during anniversary celebrations in December.
Twenty years in, breweries like Lompoc cannot rest on their accomplishments. It’s more of a struggle than ever to stay relevant and keep pace in a crowded market of new and expanding breweries and experimental brewing styles. Consumers are always looking for something new, which means breweries must constantly get drinkers to return.
“You have to spend more time, money and effort just to remind people that you exist.” said Keilty.
When asked what it is they do differently than others to stand out and stay relevant, Fechter said he didn’t know. But the question sparked something.
“I was trying to figure out about what the next big thing would be. I think about it all the time. I thought it used to be IPAs, and in my mind, in Oregon it dwindled down about eight or nine years ago,” Fechter explained. “Then I thought it was Belgian beers. Sours have really been blowing it up.”
After pausing for a moment, he wondered, “Maybe the next style might be no style.”
The good news is that however saturated Portland becomes, there’s always the draw of a neighborhood pub. And that is where Lompoc excels.
By Pete Dunlop
For the Oregon Beer Growler
It’s been a wild year for Ben Dobler. After 20 years at Widmer, he took over as head brewer at Mt. Tabor Brewing in February. Soon after they opened their doors in late September, Dobler left — unhappy with the direction of the business. Shortly thereafter, he became head brewer at Laurelwood.
“We’re super excited to have Ben on board,” said Mike De Kalb, Laurelwood owner and founder. “He brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to the table. His role will be to maintain and enhance quality and consistency, and to bring increased innovation to our brewing program.”
Don’t expect the classic Laurelwood recipes to change much, if at all. Beers like Workhorse, Free Range Red and Red Elephant are well established and well loved. Dobler has no plans to disturb the continuity, though he does have a few ideas.
“I look forward to maintaining and building on what my predecessors accomplished here,” Dobler says. “Laurelwood has had some fantastic brewers and produced a variety of great beers in its 15-year history. I hope to delicately add my fingerprints to that tradition.”
Some of the beers will receive subtle tweaking to smooth out the edges, he expects. Another priority is to develop a line of lower-alcohol beers. Laurelwood is a family-focused business and the beer menu could be more accommodating to folks who don’t want to drink more than a pint of 7.5% Workhorse.
“We realize mom and dad aren’t going to throw back multiple pints of Workhorse,” Dobler says. “Well, they shouldn’t. I’ll put some effort into producing flavorful, low-ABV beers. That’s been a big part of my mantra because I like to drink beer, which means I like to have more than one.”
The innovation angle is important and it applies to the beers brewed at the Sandy headquarters and Hood River’s Full Sail, where Laurelwood has a production brewing arrangement. Dobler worked in new product development at the Craft Brew Alliance (CBA) for 10 years and seems nicely suited to freshening up Laurelwood’s beer palate.
“We’ve had pretty much the same pub lineup except for seasonal beers for the last 15 years,” De Kalb said. “We’re looking to Ben for innovation that will enhance the beers available to our pub customers. IPA may be king, but our patrons and fans are always seeking alternatives.”
Dobler has a similar view of the opportunities.
“I see a definite need to enhance the experience of pub patrons,” he said. “The beers served there should always be somewhat different than what is sold in stores. I’d like to use that theme as a catalyst that brings people into the pub and also generates excitement outside it in the retail channels.”
Dobler’s biggest challenge will almost certainly be managing the relationship out in Hood River, where Laurelwood brews the bulk of its packaged lineup. That includes Workhorse, Free Range Red and seasonal six-packs. Experience acquired on his watch at Widmer/CBA will be handy.
“My job is to make sure the beers made in Hood River match the ones made here,” he says. “During my time at the CBA, I learned a lot about scaling production from 10 to 250 barrels and how to execute that successfully. I think my exposure to larger-scale brewing operations is a big part of why I’m here.”
For now, Dobler is working to get a handle on what the Full Sail relationship looks like, short-term and long-term. It’s an evolving relationship involving changes in strategy and tactics on both ends. His goal is to maximize what Laurelwood is getting out of it.
“Packaged product is an important part of our business and the processes need ongoing attention” Dobler says. “A significant amount of my time will be spent managing how we do things in Hood River.”
Dobler succeeds Shane Watterson as Laurelwood head brewer. Watterson is joining Geoff Phillips of Bailey’s Taproom and Jason Barbee, formerly of Ex Novo, in Level Beer, a new brewery in planning. Rodney Stryker, formerly of Heathen Brewing in Vancouver, Wash., has taken over for Dobler at Mt. Tabor.
Laurelwood beers are currently sold in Oregon, Washington, California, British Columbia, Idaho and Alaska. In addition, a small amount of their beer is exported.
[a] 5115 NE Sandy Blvd.
[a] 6716 SE Milwaukie Ave.
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: