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 Pete Dunlop
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Chris Ormand got an offer he couldn’t refuse. And it didn’t come in the form of a severed horse head.
After more than a decade of formative fun at Belmont Station, Ormand is moving to General Distributors, where he will be craft brand manager. He’s been the purchasing manager at the Station, responsible for what makes it into the coolers and onto the floor, for many years.
“I’m moving on for a combination of reasons, definitely not just for money,” Ormand said. “I wasn’t unhappy. There have been many offers over the years. This was the first that was strictly craft-oriented. I’m delighted that I’ll be focused on what I know best, which is craft beer. Plus, I’ll be working alongside [VP of Craft/Specialty Beverage] Bob Repp, someone I’ve known and respected for years. ”
General is hoping to tap into Chris’s experience in inventory control and sales trends at the retail level. He’ll help them smooth the gap between distributor and retailers. His collection of industry contacts may also come in handy.
“Chris understands ordering and forecasting,” said Tiny Irwin, general manager at General Distributors. “He’ll help us manage inventory more efficiently and ensure that the freshest product reaches shelves. I also think his relationships will help drive sales for current partners and attract new ones to our portfolio.”
Ormand’s time at Belmont Station dates to 2005, when it was just slightly more than an afterthought next to Horse Brass Pub. They sold novelties, specialty food and off-beat videos, most of it imported from the U.K. There was beer, as well. The Station stocked some 400 beers in those days.
“We displayed a bottle of each beer with a price tag,” Ormand recalls. “All the actual beer was stored in giant walk-ins. Customers would make a list of what they wanted and we would gather it for them. It was horribly inefficient. But you couldn't ask for better product storage conditions.”
Serendipity landed Ormand at Belmont Station. He had moved to Portland from the Midwest in June 2004 and was living in an apartment near the business. Shortly after losing his coffee shop job at the end of the year, he ventured across the street to grab some bottles to celebrate his unemployment.
“Alex Ganum (who went on to found Upright Brewing) was working behind the counter. I mentioned that I was unexpectedly out of work. It turned out he had just accepted a brewing position at BJ's and was giving notice. He told owner Joy Campbell she should hire me. That led to several hours of chatting with Don Younger, who was a partner in the business, over pints. I agreed to start the next day, Jan. 5, 2005.”
He spent his first six months working in the bottle shop. When the buyer left to pursue another opportunity, there was little interest in the position. So it fell into Chris’s lap. Serendipity had struck again.
There have been a lot of changes over the years and Ormand has seen them all.
“Probably the biggest change was the relocation,” he says. “We were a small store with 400 beers and a bunch of novelties. In early 2007, we moved to the current space on Stark Street and became a true bottleshop, with more than 1,300 bottles and an attached beer bar. That was enormous.”
The best part of that story is that Belmont Station’s growth occurred slowly and organically, allowing them to build a customer base and beer selection while maintaining high standards of freshness and quality.
“I see new places opening nowadays with 1,000 beers right off the bat,” Ormand says. “I just shake my head because I know half of those beers will be stale before they sell. Our inventory here was built over time, which allowed us to mostly avoid that issue.”
Things have obviously changed a lot in recent years, during which the local brewery count and number of available beers has exploded.
“Demand for most imports has plummeted in recent years,” Ormand says. “That’s probably because we have local breweries producing great beers that are fresher and less expensive than their imported counterparts. Most people like local.”
The big exception to the import decline is sour and wild beers, which have gotten increasingly popular in recent years. Beers that were once “shelf turds” are now all the rage.
“I loved sour beers when I arrived at the Station,” says Ormand, “But we could hardly give the stuff away for years. We’d get Cantillon or Fantome and cases would sit for months. That flipped around 2011. All of a sudden, everyone was looking for those beers and cases would fly out to door.”
Portland being what it is, another big change is that consumers have gotten more sophisticated.
“Especially as it relates to freshness,” Ormand says. “I see more people checking bottled-on dates than I used to a couple of years ago. People have figured out that freshness matters. They won’t buy old beer, unless it’s something that’s going to be cellared.”
Belmont Station will carry on. With Ormand’s help, it has established itself as a world-class bottleshop and beer bar. Replacing him won’t be easy.
“There’s no way to fill Chris' shoes,” said Lisa Morrison, majority owner. “We aren’t just losing our purchasing manager. We’re losing our institutional memory, our historian, graphic designer, web designer and IT guy. He also has one of the best palates I've known. Fortunately, we have a great staff and we’ll get through this. But we’ll never be quite the same.”
Ormand looks forward to the excitement and challenges of his new role. He’ll be working with fewer products in higher volumes, shaping Portland’s craft beer landscape.
“Being able to choose what goes on the floor at Belmont Station has been awesome,” he says. “Being able to choose what potentially ends up in stores and on tap around the city is a step up. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Lisa Morrison, aka “The Beer Goddess,” loves a challenge, especially when it comes to beer. She jumps heart first into all her ventures and success follows this passionate trailblazer.
Her newest challenge is Belmont Station, the premier bottle shop in Portland with more than 1,300 varieties of beer and 23 different taps, including cider, in the Biercafé. Two years ago Morrison became a co-owner of Belmont Station, a 51 percent owner to be exact, with Carl Singmaster.
Morrison said she often jokingly asked her friend Carl if he wanted to sell. One day he said yes.
“It was around the time that my husband Mark and I were talking about ideas for retirement. We threw out the idea of owning a bottle shop, and then it happened,” said Morrison.
It was, and still is, a whole new experience, learning about the retail and bar side of beer. She manages daily operations, orders beer, receives beer, supervises 14 staff members and keeps her eye on the entire shop, including the inviting outside patio area and adjacent Italian food cart.
“Keeping all the balls in the air is the hardest part of the job,” she said, “but I like wearing a lot of different hats.”
Morrison traces her interest in beer to a college friend at Colorado State who introduced her to flavorful German beers and her husband Mark Campbell who introduced her to homebrewing.
Fast forward through a successful journalism career in television and radio to a burnout time in Portland where she was doing freelance video work and considering her next move. She envied well-known beer writer Fred Eckhardt, taking notes and tasting brews at festivals.
Citysearch was just starting up in Portland and Morrison wrote a few restaurant reviews for them, often mentioning the beer lists. Her editor then asked her to write a beer column.
She only wrote one before she was approached by her former employer KOIN-TV to develop the broadcaster’s first website. If she accepted, the beer column was dead. So she took the job on condition that she could write a beer column. That’s how “First Draft” started.
It was one of the first beer columns online and definitely the first written by a woman. More important, it was Morrison’s beginning as a professional beer author. “I was learning about beer as I went along. At first, I didn’t know what I was doing,” she explained.
Although the broadcast website was groundbreaking, exciting work with only three stations across the country in Portland, Los Angeles and Minneapolis developing guidelines at the time for significant ethical issues, Morrison’s future was in the craft beer world. Her column eventually caught the attention of national beer publications. By 2008 she had so many assignments she was writing full time.
Writing led to her first radio gig as a co-host on a show called “The Libation Station.” It didn’t last. “But Don Younger, of the Horse Brass, thought Portland, of all places, should have a beer radio show. So, he pitched it to KXL that I would buy the airtime and sell advertising to breweries, bars and other places to pay myself back.” “Beer O’Clock” launched and Morrison entertained and educated listeners with interviews and conversation for more than six years. During that time she was also working on “Craft Beers of the Pacific Northwest,” which was released March 30, 2011. She wanted to create a book that would be a companion for beer lovers when traveling, touring or living in the Pacific Northwest.
“I didn’t want to write a guide book that listed every brewery with a short blurb because it would be outdated as soon as it was in print. Instead, I made it a collection with stories from each location and I visited all of the ones in the book. What you will find in the pages are places to source good beer and a good vibe with friendly, helpful passionate people in all corners of Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. And you get some insider knowledge about each spot,” said Morrison.
Another opportunity came her way when Fred Bowman from Portland Brewing mentioned there wasn’t any marketing or advertising to women about beer. She quickly decided to change that and began presenting classes to women about beer. The first sessions were held once a month at Portland Brewing with a small group that tasted and tested different styles of beer. She gave them cheat sheets to take home and later gave them key words to use when selecting beers.
Morrison would intentionally challenge preconceived ideas about taste and serve a dark, chocolaty stout beer first. Her ground rule was that all participants had to taste everything and often women who thought they didn’t like dark beers would change their minds. “It was fun to be able to open people’s eyes,” said Morrison. She has offered classes at breweries, at a beer festival in Quebec, at a Women Chefs and Restaurateurs Convention in Seattle, using all different brands of beers.
“The beer community is so cooperative, so unique and friendly,” said Morrison. In appreciation for the support and generosity, Morrison, in turn, has founded several fundraisers for the beer community.
The day we met, Belmont Station was hosting a fundraiser that evening for a brewery in Belgium. Three generations of family farmers in 2008 opened a sustainable brewery using their own grain, hops, barley, water and yeast. Morrison had an opportunity to visit it last year. Unfortunately, it caught fire in January. At the fundraiser, they were serving the Belgium brewery’s beer.
Ten years ago Morrison started FredFest to honor the Dean of American Beer Writers, Fred Eckhardt, who began writing about beer in the 1960s. On his 80th birthday, Morrison and friends held a birthday celebration at Hair of the Dog Brewing with beer tasting, cake, candles and fun. His birthday is May 10, but the festival is held the Sunday before to avoid conflict with Mother’s Day. Every year Fred chooses the charity.
Morrison also organizes Sasquatch Brew Am, a golfing event at McMenamins Edgefield, held annually on the Friday of the Oregon Brewers Festival in July. The fundraiser is for the Glen Hay Falconer Foundation. Glen was a well-loved and highly-respected brewer in Eugene who died tragically in 2002 while working on a car. The money goes to Northwest brewers for education to improve their craft. “I love being able to do good through good beer,” said Morrison.
Right now, she loves the chance at Belmont Station to “talk beer” one-on-one. “Maybe it’s just chatting with a regular about the new beer on tap, turning a customer on to a new style or just helping an out-of-towner looking for great Oregon IPAs, but I get to really talk with people and see those ‘aha’ moments.”
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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