By Jim McLaren
For the Oregon Beer Growler
“This is a man's world, this is a man's world
But it wouldn't be nothing, nothing without a woman or a girl”
Erika Huston has a good, throaty laugh, and on a sunny April afternoon it’s bouncing around the empty Logsdon Barrel House & Taproom on Fourth Street in Hood River as she says, “I knew you’d ask me something like this.”
The question is — what does a woman bring to the beer business that a man doesn’t? “Without sounding sexist,” Huston begins, “I think women bring a maternal instinct, a maternal quality, of wanting to take care of people and make sure they’re happy. I also think we’re used to cooking, so our palate is a little better.”
How Erika Huston worked her way into managing the Logsdon Barrel House has to do with her history with Oregon beer. “I started drinking beer when I was (mumble) years old,” she said with another hearty laugh. “I was canvassing for OSPIRG (Oregon Students Public Interest Research Group) in Eugene. Henry Weinhard’s was considered craft beer back then. I tried my first taste of Blue Boar and I was, WOW, I didn’t know beer could taste like this. My dad drank mostly Old Milwaukee and Hamm’s.”
Huston moved to Portland in the early ‘90s and her palate took another jolt. While Widmer Brothers Brewing, Pyramid (formerly Hart Brewing) and Portland Brewing Company were growing fast, Huston was finding something with a different taste than what they were offering. “What really did it for me was when I had my first taste of Belgian beer. I have an older brother who is very passionate about beer as well. He’d been to Belgium and we went to Belmont Station and bought a few bottles. I tried a Duvel and it just blew my mind. I was like, ‘This is not beer. What is this?’”
The strong, golden ale would fire a passion taking Huston to the front door of her beer career. In 2004, the Concordia Ale House opened in Portland and Huston knew where her future lay. “They were very Belgian-centric at first. I thought, I have to work here.” Quickly, she took her beertending skills from Concordia to County Cork Public House and on to Saraveza. She found her way to Saraveza, the North Portland temple of all things beer, because a friend worked there. She hung around so much that it was just logical to ask for a job. Impressed by Huston’s background, her growing knowledge of beer and her passion, Saraveza owner Sarah Pederson immediately hired her.
The job became Huston’s graduate school, a place where beertenders do more than just pull you another draft. “Definitely, yeah, you have to be very knowledgeable about all of the things coming out. It’s overwhelming because – especially if you work in a craft beer bar that has rotating taps – there are things coming from out of state, there are constantly new breweries opening in Portland and Oregon. So, yeah, you have to be on top of your game. And, you also have to really get to know your customers; what their taste is, what they would like to see, like to try.”
Huston’s six-year stay at Saraveza was a golden time for the shop. As beer buyer, she helped it earn national attention as one of the 100 Best Beer Bars in the country as chosen by Draft magazine. She says selecting which beers fill the Saraveza coolers and come from its taps “is a constant balancing act. I refer to it more as a Tetris game. You’ve got these spaces to fill and you’re trying to make sure they all fit together like the pieces of a puzzle. You don’t want to have all of one style that you’re sticking with. You want to try and satisfy as many palates as possible.”
This is when those maternal instincts come into play. You have an audience you want to serve, but you can also serve the beer makers, especially the new ones who need to get into your shop.
“That was the biggest challenge for me, the biggest hurdle to overcome” she says. “You could smash someone’s dreams. It’s a very personal thing, to make beer. You have someone who is just starting a brewery. They’re coming to you and want you to try something. So I just learned to be very constructive and just be honest and say, you know, ‘I think that this could be good if you maybe tried a different variety of hop.’” Huston’s philosophy builds loyalty with the beer makers and the beer drinkers.
Looking at it from outside, it seems obvious now. Huston and Saraveza couldn’t last. As Sarah Pederson says, Huston made a lifestyle choice, but also a beer-style choice.
“I have roots in the area,” Huston says about Hood River. “I have a lot of friends who work at the breweries out here and I was coming out here to go camping or visit them it seemed like every other weekend during the summer. In the back of my mind I always wanted to move. But until I was offered this job, I didn’t have the fire lit under me to make it happen.”
The job offer also brought her back to the beer style she loves. “Logsdon makes all Belgian farmhouse-inspired beers,” she said. “We have a Flanders red beer. We do spontaneous fermentation, so some stuff that’s more on the tart side. We secondary ferment some stuff with fruit. Almost everything is barrel aged. And it is actually on an operating farm. The brewery is inside of a barn.”
For now, Huston is happy where she is. Such a job was one of her goals. Managing a barrelhouse allows her to be the link between beer maker and beer drinker to the benefit of each. She can take beer drinkers to places they might not otherwise go. And she can help the beer maker understand why people like — or don’t like — what they are doing. It’s a good role for a beer mother.
Logsdon Barrel House & Taproom
[a] 101 Fourth St., Hood River
By Andi Prewitt
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
“I’m just trying to keep the past alive as best I can,” Dave Wills said while hovering over a blender inside his brewery.
That was one of the more monumental tasks on his list in what shaped up to be a busy day. While tending to business at Oregon Trail in downtown Corvallis one Saturday afternoon, Wills also had a scheduled tour leading the Oregon Brew Crew through the uniquely configured three-story facility. Like an enthusiastic professor, he peppered his lecture with vivid anecdotes and quizzed the listeners on the style of each beer they were served from his taps. When the lesson ended, there were only momentary lulls in activity as friends and neighbors popped in through the always-open back door. Wills had a greeting for everyone, pausing while answering interview questions to make a little time for each individual. But there was still salsa to be made. Rising above the hum of the blender stuffed with tomato, diced jalapeno and bunches of cilantro was his laughter sparked by decades-old memories. It was then it became evident that every day Wills is at Oregon Trail, he’s fulfilling his stated goal — keeping the past alive.
Wills never set out to be leading a brewery, but to those who know him it’s no surprise he’s ended up in that role. They describe him as someone who can motivate others and his energy level is like a brew kettle boiling over. It may seem a bit incongruous that the man who’s served as mentor to many now-established brewers once tossed a batch of homebrew for fear of something akin to food poisoning if he actually drank his own concoction. But Wills’ start in making beer came at a time when President Jimmy Carter had just legalized the activity and ingredients were often of questionable quality.
Wills’ first exposure to good beer actually all began with a woman. When he was 20 years old, his girlfriend surprised him by announcing she was going to London. That motivated Wills to go, too, a couple of months later. It was the late 1970s, so the variety of any beer that might have been considered craft was limited to Anchor and Henry Weinhard's. So seven weeks abroad and a Eurail pass provided Wills with a much-needed crash course in the world of beer. Following the whirlwind trip, Wills transferred to Oregon State University for the agriculture program. He’d already done two years of study in the field at a junior college in his home state of California. The move north exposed him not only to his first live hop plant, it’s also where he stumbled across a sign outside of a natural food store reading “Homebrewing Class.” Wills said to himself, ‘Now I think I’m gonna take that,’ and he did. Two women ran the instructional session, which was unique for the era. It was held in one of their homes and that’s where Wills realized how good a do-it-yourself brew could taste.
Around the same time, Wills took his own field trip to a nearby U.S. Department of Agriculture hop research farm because he wanted to grow his own. The difference between what was coming from the dirt and what was offered by many supply shops was striking. “And they broke out these beautiful green hops that were just — beautiful! Bright green,” Wills described. “And the hops I was buying from the grocery store, which just had the hops on the — you know, hops should really be kept refrigerated or frozen to keep ‘em nice. But what was being huckstered off on the homebrewer back then was just these old, stale hops.”
Experience with hops the color and consistency of yellowing, aged newspaper led to a business idea. As a recent graduate of OSU at this point, Wills began thinking about homebrewers across the country, most of whom were not living in hop-growing states like Oregon. He figured there must be an opportunity to sell fresher cones to these markets. A local hop breeder suggested that Wills get things started by talking to the Colemans, a hop farm family that still operates out of the Woodburn area. They put Wills to work on the property during harvest season. “And after that month, I drove off with my little Datsun pickup full of hops and put a little $14 classified ad in the Zymurgy magazine,” Wills said.
With one little ad, the orders started pouring in. Wills had himself a business. To keep the hops chilled, he bought a mini walk-in cooler for the basement of his rental home. Fulfilling customer requests simply meant packing the hops in plastic, resealable bags and then mailing them off. That was in 1982. And Freshops is still going strong with Wills at the helm.
Some of Wills’ product was sold in the Old World Deli, which in addition to soups, salads and sandwiches, was one of a few outlets that provided the town with homebrew ingredients. It also served as the site that brought together Wills; Ted Cox, owner of the deli; and Jerry Shadomy, who founded Oregon Trail in a corner of the building. All three were members of the Heart of the Valley Homebrewers club. The first meeting took place at Cox’s house before they put an ad in the paper advertising the next event at the deli. Shadomy, who had been winning a lot of awards for his homebrew, ended up gathering enough people who wanted to invest in a local brewery and started Oregon Trail after acquiring a 7-barrel system from Hart Brewing (later known as Pyramid). Wills describes himself as a hired hand back then who helped scrap parts together since there were no major equipment manufacturers, particularly for a smaller-scale brewery at that time. He characterized Shadomy as extraordinarily intelligent and somewhat eccentric person. But brewing the same beer over and over became dull to someone who needed new stimuli. Ultimately, Shadomy wasn’t able to maintain the business. That’s when Wills stepped in.
“I just kept it alive because I wasn’t going to just let this place go to auction after all of that love and sweat and everything that went into it,” he explained. “The space is awesome. It’s very well engineered and designed — and gravity flow — and it’s just a cool thing.”
His bookkeeper Rita Whitted added, “Dave is the reason it’s still here and not a past-tense thing.”
The space is certainly something special. Not all of it is pretty. The brewery is cramped. Three stories means lugging bags of grain up a lot of steep stairs. Some of the walls are just suggestions — beams with wiring that lays bare instead of normally being covered by Sheetrock. But after more than a century of wear and tear on the building, these signs of aging are like a historical record — proof that hard work was done here and people found purpose in this structure. In fact, that section of real estate has now been home to three breweries, according to deli owner Cox. He spoke breathlessly and passionately about the history, as if he couldn’t get the words out fast enough. The two earlier brewhouses operated in the 1870s and 1880s. One went out of business during a rough economic patch and the other burned down, as described by Cox. Oregon Trail, then, continues a legacy, a tradition, in downtown Corvallis.
Oregon Trail’s influence also extends to breweries across the state. Because of its proximity to OSU, plenty of fermentation science students have practiced making beer in that location. That application and Wills’ guidance have proved invaluable for many who’ve either opened their own breweries or gotten jobs at larger operations. John Marliave, co-owner of Corvallis’ Flat Tail Brewing, was one of those who benefitted from the hands-on involvement at Oregon Trail. “Yeah, I owe Dave a lot of where I am today because that experience isn’t something you get,” he noted.
Wills, whose father was a teacher, said he has some of that same urge to guide others in his genes. Bookkeeper Whitted agreed. “And the best teacher. Not the easiest teacher.” Wills was mentoring long before Oregon Trail, according to Mary Shannon O’Boyle, a former president of Heart of the Valley Homebrewers. She recounted that after meeting him in the 1980s, shortly after he helped start the club, he was very encouraging. “He convinced me to do my first beer and it was a pale ale. And we entered it in the county fair, the first county fair that allowed beer to be entered — 1984. And he helped me with it and it won a blue ribbon!”
Additionally, Wills recalled that he wished he’d gotten more time in the field while he was in college and that inspired him to take on students at the brewery. “We hardly went outside, so I wanted to see OSU fermentation science kids get the opportunity to do this. And I was hoping maybe one of them would stick around,” Wills said. “But that hasn’t happened yet.”
And that’s where the reward of teaching conflicts with the realities of running a business. Wills guesses he’s had 20 or so brewers come and go. “So having them turnover like that, that has made it impossible for us to grow,” he said. “You can’t have a new brewer every 12 to 18 months.” Wills continues to search for somebody who wants to help be an owner and invest in the brewery. Ultimately, he doesn’t want to sell it. In the meantime, he’s got a new brewer who has been on board since March. Whitted praised his beer making and attention to detail.
When asked why he sticks with the brewery despite the ups and downs, Wills’ friends are quick to answer: He doesn’t give up. He’s hardworking. He’s determined. He always looks for the next challenge. The liveliness in Wills’ eyes reveals another reason: he is a man who is constantly in motion and thoroughly enjoys connecting with others through his work. “He knows what he’s doing and he established a group of people throughout the entire region,” O’Boyle said, “and I know that sounds like I’m a fan. But as a friend, I’ve watched him bail people out who’ve needed help and also be respected for the fact that he knows what he’s doing.”
Beyond stabilizing the brewery, Wills wants to intensify his commitment to sustainability. He currently sells beer out of the adorably shaped party pig dispensers because they’re reusable and fit within the brewery’s footprint better than a bottling line. Of course, growlers are also welcome. Wills would like to see an overall consumption shift — less focus on obtaining beer bottles from across the country or world and more commitment to drinking local beer much in the way we would source milk from area farms. And in staying with the spirit of the brewery’s name, he has another wish: “I hope I see our beer getting delivered by covered wagon in my lifetime in the local community.”
In 2043, the original Oregon Trail will mark its 200th anniversary. Wills says he’ll be here. “Not sure what I’ll be doing. I’ll be drinking beer, I think, I hope, if my liver will make it that far,” he laughs. “I’d love to be there for the 200th anniversary and seeing this whole Oregon Trail thing will be an awesome visit to the past. I think it’d be awesome to see that kind of history all tied in. A lot’s going to change in the next 28 years.”
But rest assured, he’ll continue to keep the past alive — and kicking.
By Kris McDowell
For the Oregon Beer Growler
With the explosion of craft beer, so too has come an explosion in beer writers who are celebrating the industry through the publishing of books, articles and blogs. One of those beer writers is Fred Eckhardt, who started tackling the subject when the founders of the craft beer industry were still homebrewing. His "A Treatise on Lager Beers" was published in the early 1970s, followed by books on beer styles and sake. His extensive career also includes writing for The Seattle Times and The Oregonian as well as magazines like All About Beer.
Before he began his writing career, he was in the Marines and one of the impacts the Bay of Pigs invasion had on him was to make him ponder life after a nuclear holocaust. According to an interview with John Foyston, Fred said, "I realized that if you could brew alcohol you would be welcome in whatever shreds of civilization might remain after a nuclear war, so I took a good homebrew recipe and made my first batch of beer." Whether he was being entirely serious or not, his early forays in homebrewing were the beginnings of a career that would impact the craft beer world for decades.
Since those early days, beer writing has gathered steam with technical books like Fred's to ones telling the stories of the folks living their brewing dreams. The stories behind how each person came to be a beer writer are as varied the number of beer styles. Brian Yaeger, who wrote "Red, White, and Brew: An American Beer Odyssey," didn't know he was going to write a book until he announced it to a classroom during the pursuit of his master’s in professional writing. Once it was out of his mouth, he couldn't take it back. And before he knew it he'd secured a media pass to the Great American Beer Festival. From there he embarked on a six week road trip across the country. He describes the book as being "about the people, less so the beer."
Brian knew he'd write a second book but it wasn't until his publisher proposed "Oregon Breweries" that he knew what it would be. As luck would have it, he had already created the outline for it during the road trip that brought him and his wife from California to their new home in Portland. After retrieving the handwritten journal, he began two years of work during which the number of breweries in Oregon was growing exponentially. In the end, he had gathered the details on 190 breweries and brewpubs and was even more qualified to show visitors around, one of the things he loves most about being a beer writer.
Pete Dunlop, author of the 2013 book "Portland Beer: Crafting the Road to Beervana" started writing for the daily paper at Washington State University during graduate school. He went on to teach high school journalism and then had a career in marketing communications before going freelance. As opposed to Brian's books that are more contemporary, Pete's book is primarily historical in nature, no doubt influenced by his master’s in history.
When asked about his favorite part of being a beer writer, he replied that, "Beer people are easy to talk to," noting as well that he enjoys being able to write about the good in the industry (and sometimes bashing AB InBev). On the flip side, he noted that making money as a beer writer can be challenging. For him, publishing articles and authoring a beer blog were steps that led up to the realization that getting a book published was an important next move to make progress in this career. He's found magazine work easier to come by after publishing his book and is looking forward to writing a second historically based book.
Newer to the craft beer world is Steven Shomler, author of the just-released "Portland Beer Stories." Before 2007 he was not a beer drinker, having tasted the "crap beer" his dad drank and hating it. It wasn't until he was filming a hop harvest that he experienced what he described as "a life-changing experience." Smelling the hops in the field, during processing and in the drying room, opened his eyes and "stupid palate" to a world he didn't know existed. Later that day, he tried his first triple IPA and a whole new world opened to him, a world that he was able to write with a newcomer's perspective. However, he was new only to craft beer, as this would be his second book, following one about Portland's food cart scene. The realization that he was not going to be able to do a comprehensive piece was his biggest challenge so instead he focused on a mix of the old (McMenamins and Widmer) and the new (PINTS and Culmination). Finding stories to write about was easy as the brewers made themselves accessible, a sharp contrast to his experience with the wine industry.
The forthcoming "The Beer Bible" by Jeff Alworth is a product of his travels during two years visiting an array of amazing breweries overseas. It wasn't something that he had planned on writing; instead it was at the request of Workman Publishing, who had turned down his pitch for another book. They were looking for a follow up to "The Wine Bible" and sent him a copy, requesting he submit a table of contents as his "pitch." It was perhaps an unconventional way of finding the right author, but Jeff "didn't have anything to lose." After all, they were approaching him instead of the other way around and so he didn't stress about it.
Workman was happy with the table of contents Jeff submitted and after more than a year in contract negotiations, Jeff began the task of researching and writing his book that is broadly divided by beer styles. Since beginning work on the book in 2011 he has accumulated countless hours of stories about brewers all over the world, facilitated largely by making contacts with importers. Some countries he could have navigated on his own, the ones where English is commonly spoken, but it was destinations like Italy where he would have struggled without help arranging visits and translating.
Unlike Steven, Jeff had been a huge beer fan for years, having downed plenty of Henry Weinhard’s back when it was big, attending graduate school in Wisconsin when New Glarus Brewing opened and producing his own beers. That background, and having written ever since he was a kid, was the perfect combination that helped him begin his writing career, which started when he took over the beer column at Willamette Week following William Abernathy's departure. He went from there to write countless pieces for other publications.
Whether you prefer shorter pieces or books, historical or contemporary topics, there's something for everyone when it comes to beer writing. The best part is that they celebrate the day in and day out work that brewers do to fill our glasses. Cheers to the pioneering writers who first took it up and those who have followed in their steps!
Beervana Buzz http://www.beervanabuzz.com/
Portland Beer Stories https://www.facebook.com/PortlandBeerStories/
By Ezra Johnson-Greenough
For the Oregon Beer Growler
It’s the end of an era. Full Sail Brewing’s employees and founders voted in March to sell to Oregon Craft Brewers Co., which is a local investment group formed by Encore Consumer Capital, a San Francisco-based private equity firm. “The votes were returned confidentially to our ESOP attorney. It passed nearly unanimously,” said Full Sail founder and CEO Irene Firmat.
While this news is sure to not make as big a splash as the recent sales of 10 Barrel Brewing and Elysian Brewing Company, it is in many ways more important. Full Sail has been one of the industry’s pioneers and produced more beer (115,000 barrels) in 2014 than 10 Barrel (40,000 barrels) and Elysian (50,000 barrels) combined, making it the 25th largest craft brewer in the country.
Both 10 Barrel and Elysian are also examples of quick growth in a very short period of time, which may have been one of the reasons 10 Barrel was in a difficult financial position and willing to sell. Full Sail has experienced its ups and downs, but has largely avoided pitfalls and continued on a steady stream of growth by going its own direction. Ignoring trends like barrel aging, fresh hops, double IPAs and sour beers (for the most part, though the brewery certainly has dabbled); Full Sail instead focused its energy on recreating the craft lager and session beers, a move that was way ahead of its time. Full Sail’s location in Hood River is also undoubtedly responsible for the explosion in the number of breweries in the town and the entire Columbia River Gorge. Former Full Sail brewers have opened favorites like Double Mountain, Logsdon Farmhouse Ales, pFriem Family Brewers and Everybody’s Brewing.
Full Sail’s growth has not always been smooth. In 1999 the company transitioned into an ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan) rather than be put up for sale. That model has worked well, with other breweries -- most notably New Belgium -- following in Full Sail’s footsteps. Then in 2012, Full Sail lost its Henry Weinhard’s beer contract, which it had held for 10 years with SABMiller. That investment allowed Full Sail to reinvest in its brewery, keep debt low and sustain growth. Full Sail was making so much Weinhard’s beer that the Weinhard’s brand alone was ranked as the seventh largest in Oregon. At that time I worried for the future of Full Sail, but the company re-upped its No. 1 in-house brand, Session.
The Session beer brand by Full Sail may have been the smartest and most successful product launch of any Oregon brewery since the start of the craft beer revolution. Short, stubby, highly-recognizable bottles of cheap (but still craft) tasty, light lager were a huge seller. And the brand has sustained with spin-offs Session Black, Session Fest and recently Session IPA. When growth started to go flat, Full Sail launched the beer into new markets and took Session beer to bar taps for the first time in a move the company said would never happen.
The pessimist might suspect the recent huge expansion of the Session brand was in anticipation of putting the brewery up for sale, driving up production numbers and the value of the company. Though Full Sail Chairman Irene Firmat says that the brewery was approached unsolicited last September, that doesn’t mean the brewery was not preparing for a buyer. Anheuser-Busch paid an estimated $400 per barrel times the annual 60,000 barrel production of Blue Point Brewing when it purchased that company in February of 2014. Given those figures, Full Sail’s estimated value would be $46 million.
As I mentioned before, a pessimist might also suspect that the Full Sail employee vote on approval of the sale was a formality and the sale was a foregone conclusion. Leaving the decision to the employees who own an estimated 58 percent of the company makes for a terrific PR move. Though that is a solid majority, founders Jamie Emmerson and Irene Firmat own 42 percent and would only need a small percentage of employees to agree to the sale. But according to Firmat, “The employee vote was not a sure deal. Jamie and I don’t have a majority position, so even though we felt that this was a very good offer for all our shareholders, it was not a sure thing until the votes were counted. We did an early reveal because once notices went out to 78 employees, we thought confidentiality would be difficult to maintain and it would be better to have the facts out to minimize speculation.”
Still, it would seem the deal was done since Firmat and Emmerson could reverse any “no” decision by the employees as they are the two sole trustees of the ESOP. Not that the deal is a bad thing for the employees who, based on their time at the company, will likely earn four to five figures in the buyout as well as keep their jobs. The other good news is that Full Sail would still be counted among the “craft” brewers as defined by the Brewers Association by selling to an equity firm rather than a macro brewer like Anheuser-Busch.
The bad news is that brewery sales to private equity firms might have a worse track record than those sold to SABMiller and Anheuser-Busch. While the previously mentioned companies’ business is at least making and selling beer, both are only concerned with making money. However, an equity firm will quickly sell off companies to make a buck and has no interest in continuing the products. That seems to be the case here. The formation of a new company called Oregon Craft Brewers Co. distracts from the fact that the real owners are Encore Consumer Capital, a group that holds no other breweries or beverage companies. Oregon Craft Brewers Co. is a brand new formation that also has no history in the industry. While Full Sail posits that its buyer’s lack of experience guarantees the current employees jobs (which may be true), it also underscores a potential turn toward primarily profit-driven endeavors. That could mean cutting costs and raising profit margins on products and perhaps launching into more states or countries.
After raising the value further, Full Sail could be sold off again, following the path of Portland Brewing/MacTarnahan’s, which has been bought and sold a few times and is now owned by a Costa Rican conglomerate. Encore Consumer Capital has an established track record of buying and selling companies a few years later. It has been alternately reported that Emmerson and Firmat would either plan their immediate exit or stay with the company. Firmat clarified this: “We have committed to stay a year to insure that this transition goes smoothly. After that we will see.” After seeing Full Sail through the transition, I think we can expect little substantial change immediately, but I worry what will happen in a few years after they continue to develop the Session brand. Will we see a day in the future where a craft brewery on the East Coast is contract brewing Full Sail beer as it becomes a version of the formerly-prestigious Henry Weinhard’s?
Firmat admits, “It is what they do, but they have a track record of holding on to companies for a longer period of time and, in the meantime, they invest to grow it. Our distributor alignments make a purchase by a big brewer very difficult and more expensive and they are very aware of that.”
Let’s hope she is right. At the very least, Firmat and Emmerson have followed through with their commitment to employee owners, giving them a nice bonus to their 401Ks while making a happy exit for themselves. That is much better than what Anheuser-Busch is offering to the casualties of its acquisitions.
This article originally appeared in The New School.
By Alethea Smartt LaRowe
For the Oregon Beer Growler
If you have ever attended a Portland-area beer festival or an Oregon Brew Crew meeting, you have probably seen Jenn McPoland and Jeremie Landers. The husband-and-wife team are very active in the local beer community, volunteering and helping coordinate and staff events throughout the year.
A third-generation Oregonian and second-generation Portlander, Jenn remembers walking from her Northwest Portland apartment to her job downtown with the smells from the Blitz-Weinhard Brewery -- which brewed its last beer in 1999 -- permeating the air. She drank Henry’s back then, but was introduced by a friend to big, hoppy beers in the early 2000s and now enjoys all styles of beer. Her love of beer became a hobby when she started homebrewing in 2004.
Jeremie, who has lived in Portland for half of his life, recalls that the first craft beer he ever drank was Widmer Hefeweizen at a bar in Sacramento, Calif. when he turned 21. He admits that he wasn’t a big beer drinker until he tried BridgePort IPA. The impression left by the complex hop flavors set him on a course, both for a lifelong love of IPAs and, eventually, a desire to try to recreate his favorite beers which culminated in his first attempts at homebrewing.
The natural next step in learning more about making beer was to join a homebrew club. Jenn started attending Oregon Brew Crew (OBC) meetings at F.H. Steinbart Co. in 2004. OBC is Oregon’s oldest homebrewing club, established in 1979. It was at an OBC meeting at Widmer Brewery in July 2006 that Jeremie first laid eyes on Jenn. She was serving on the board of directors and Jeremie was attending the meeting with the goal of joining the organization as a member.
Their first date was at Horse Brass over pints of Terminal Gravity IPA. In the subsequent months and years, they bonded over their mutual love of beer and became ever-more involved in homebrewing, with both holding various positions on the board of the OBC. It was only a matter of time before a wedding was in the pipeline.
With Rob Widmer’s blessing, they were married where they first met, at Widmer Brothers Brewing, in September 2010. The ceremony was officiated by their friend Lisa Morrison, aka the Beer Goddess, who was ordained as a Dudeist Priest for the event. Incidentally, Lisa was being filmed for the documentary "The Love of Beer," produced by Alison Grayson. As a result, their wedding appears in that film.
The reception, where many friends from the beer community gathered to toast the couple, featured free-flowing beer from 12 kegs. For their honeymoon, they traveled to Europe, specifically to well-known beer destinations: Brussels and Bruges, Belgium; Prague, Czech Republic; Munich, Germany for the 200th anniversary of Oktoberfest; and Bamberg, Germany. During the three-week trip, they had many romantic beer experiences including drinking Kwak and Tripel Karmeliet on draft on their first morning in Belgium. They also warmly recall dining at a rooftop restaurant in Prague, drinking good beer and eating great food while enjoying the 360-degree view of the city.
After settling back into married life in Portland, Jenn and Jeremie purchased a home in the Kenton neighborhood in 2013. They have converted the 350-square-foot detached garage into a private brewery and drinking den, named McPoLanders Taproom. They acquired a 6-foot-by-10-foot walk-in cooler from the Old Ivy Taproom in Vancouver, Wash. and also have a 42-cubic-foot bottle fridge stocked with an envy-inducing selection of craft beer from all over the world. On the night I visited, the impressive draft beer list was comprised of four McPoLanders homebrews, two collaboration beers, two locally-made commercial beers, and one homebrew made by their friend Lee Hedgmon.
Jeremie says his favorite style to brew is Cascadian Dark Ale. Jenn doesn’t have a favorite, but along with brewing traditional styles like stouts and IPAs, they also enjoy the challenge of experimenting with things like fruits and spices.
The couple also likes to enter homebrew competitions, where they find it helpful to get feedback from both professional beer judges and regular beer lovers alike. At the 2014 Fall Classic, the OBC's yearly American Homebrewers Association/Beer Judge Certification Program-sanctioned homebrew competition held after hop harvest, Jenn and Jeremie each took home two gold medals apiece, with Jenn taking the “Best of Show” out of hundreds of entries. She now holds the distinction of being the first solo female winner of that title at the Fall Classic. Earlier in the year, Jeremie entered the Clean Water Services Pure Water Brew Competition and took second place with a German pilsner. The beer was sent to New Orleans for the WateReuse Association's “One Water Innovations Gala,” where it received high praise for its quality and drinkability.
Over the years, Jenn and Jeremie have had the pleasure of teaming up with various brewmasters to brew their recipes professionally. In 2012, they brewed "North End Cascadian Dark Ale,” a Timbers Army Homebrew Competition “Best of Show” winner at the New Old Lompoc Fifth Quadrant. In 2013, they won the Widmer Collaborator Homebrew Competition with "Kenton IPA" which they then brewed in 2014 with Dan Munch on the Widmer Innovation Brew System for local release. Also in 2013, Jenn, with the Ladies of Lagers and Ales (LOLA), brewed a CDL at Base Camp. In 2014, they brewed their "StellaNova India Session Ale" with the legendary John Harris at Ecliptic Brewing for the Willamette Week’s Beer Pro / Am. Jenn also brewed another beer for the Pro / Am with LOLA and Tonya Cornett at 10 Barrel in Bend. They have already started off the new year with another collaboration. In January, they brewed a Russian Imperial Stout with Charlie Hutchins at Rock Bottom Brewery in Portland.
Another unique beer-related fact about this couple is that they have a yeast strain named after them. While on their honeymoon in Prague, they visited the famous U Fleků Brewery where they enjoyed a Bohemian Dunkel. They acquired samples of the yeast, which they brought back to Oregon and then gave some to Wyeast Laboratories, which made it into smack packs. OBC members conducted the “McPoLanders Czech Lager Yeast Experiment” by brewing a variety of beers using this yeast.
While Jenn and Jeremie truly enjoy all of their work and involvement in the Oregon beer community, they do not have any plans to open their own brewery. “We just wouldn’t be able to maintain the lifestyle we have now if we brewed commercially.” Both have full time jobs, neither of which is in the craft beer industry. They will continue to homebrew a few times each month as well as participate in club events and educational seminars helping new homebrewers.
As Lisa Morrison enthuses, “Jenn and Jeremie epitomize everything that's great about Oregon beer. It's safe to say that no other couple has devoted so much time and energy to promoting and celebrating our local beer community. From their wedding to their new in-home taproom, their passion for beer -- and more importantly for each other -- is evident every day. Cheers to the McPoLanders!”
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