Above, Ninkasi launched its yeast aboard an amateur rocket hoping to activate it in space. Due to faulty tracking devices, it was not retrieved from the Black Rock Desert in time to find the yeast viable. Mission One was a learning experience. Ninkasi is now planning Mission Two.
Photo courtesy of Ninkasi Brewing Co.
By Anthony St. Clair
On July 14, Eugene-based Ninkasi Brewing launched the Ninkasi Space Program (NSP). An amateur rocket packed with 16 strains of brewer’s yeast was launched high into the atmosphere. Ninkasi was hoping to later retrieve the yeast and brew a batch of “space beer.”
Twenty-seven days after launch, the payload was retrieved from Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. Due to a lengthy search time, the result of the failure of tracking devices, the yeast was not viable for brewing.
“This was an opportunity that came about through a combination of relationships and timing,” says Ninkasi co-founder Nikos Ridge. “The mix of science, engineering, rockets, yeast, and space has been a really cool experience. Watching a rocket launch into space is actually cooler than you expect. We thought it would be fun, it turned out to be amazing. There is something pretty deep about reaching out beyond the earth. This was only the second amateur rocket ever launched into space, and set a host of new records for amateur space flight, such as speed, height, and first amateur picture taken in space.”
While the first launch did not result in viable yeast, Ninkasi already has plans for a second attempt. “We will have the opportunity to launch again in late October,” says Ridge. “After learning from some of the experiences from the first launch, we hope to get back viable yeast.”
Updates about the Ninkasi Space Program can be found at nsp.ninkasibrewing.com or on Ninkasi’s Facebook page.
Northwest Canning’s Justin Brandt displays his faster new Cime Careddu canning line.
Photo by Alethea Smartt LaRowe
By Alethea Smartt LaRowe
Opportunities for small breweries to distribute their beer have grown significantly over the past few years with the introduction of companies that specialize in mobile canning and bottling. Wild Goose Canning in Boulder, Colo. was the first U.S. firm to manufacture a canning line that was specifically designed to be hauled around to different breweries. In the Pacific Northwest, the first company to invest in one of their lines was Northwest Canning, started by Justin Brandt and a business partner in late 2011. A few months later, in June 2012, Owen Lingley debuted Craft Canning. Both are based in Portland.
An avid outdoorsman, Brandt had noticed the limited availability of canned craft beers while purchasing supplies for a day on the river. He quickly did some market research and put together a business plan, opening Northwest Canning less than a year later. With work experience as a financial advisor and with a degree in biology, Brandt said he “can really help the breweries we work with from a financial standpoint, but I also understand beer on a molecular level.” Now the sole owner of the company, Brandt has four other full time employees and hires part-time labor as needed while traveling into parts of Idaho and all over Oregon and Washington.
Owen Lingley’s work experience at Wyeast Laboratories, where he provided retail support by educating customers all about yeast, required extensive travel. As he visited brewers around the country, he saw the shift to cans coming. Anticipating the need of established breweries to increase volume, he saw an opportunity to use his knowledge of packaging and product handling to serve them in the fast-growing market of mobile canning and bottling. Operating within a three-hour radius of Portland, Craft Canning now has nine employees.
Northwest Canning started out with a small two-head filler, the Wild Goose MC-50, which could can about 20 cases per hour. As business increased, Brandt later purchased a three-head filler with a capacity of 40 cases per hour. Even that proved to be insufficient for his ever-growing list of clients and he recently invested almost $1 million in a fully-automated rotary system made by Cime Careddu of Italy that is capable of canning 160 cases per hour. The high-end line is installed in a custom-built 40-foot trailer, which also houses an on-board generator that supplies all of the power, a depalletizer, a filling unit, an inspection unit, and a packaging unit made by PakTech in Eugene.
Craft Canning currently operates a Wild Goose MC-250 canning line which Lingley hauls around in a 16-foot box truck. The system has to be offloaded and assembled then taken apart and reloaded after every job. Lingley estimates the line has produced three million cans of beer and is now averaging 1200-1500 barrels per month. The line is usually in operation for nine days in a row, then Lingley schedules one “spa day” for equipment maintenance. He also has a Meheen 6-head bottler capable of bottling eight barrels per hour.
One of the key benefits of working with mobile canning and bottling operations is cost. “For a brewery to purchase a modest canning system, you’re looking at around a $200,000 investment,” said Brandt. And that’s before paying the employees and allocating enough space to house the line and store the empty cans and bottles.
Both companies are working hard to keep up with demand. According to Brandt, “Northwest Canning has almost tripled our sales since opening. We’re doing 20,000-25,000 cases a month, so we’re busy. We’re just focused on hiring and training people right now.” Lingley said that Craft Canning has experienced 140% growth this year and is projecting 100% growth next year. “We just purchased a second bottling line and have our second canning line on order, and we’re already looking at a third of each.” Lingley also has plans to start a yeast lab, can their homebrew yeast, and do more QA testing for clients.
Owner: Justin Brandt
Craft Canning + Bottling
[a] 17252 NE Sacramento St., Portland
Owner: Owen Lingley
By Gail Oberst
Enquiring minds (and tongues!) want to know what gadgets are in place to keep Oregon beers fresh and up-to-date. Aaron Brussat of The Bier Stein answered a few questions about LED (light- emitting diode) lights used in their business. This simple technology helped this Eugene bar/growler-fill station/restaurant/bottle shop to be the West’s favorite bar in a recent reader poll conducted by the Brewers Association.
OBG: How do you use LED lights in storage, or are they throughout your business?
Brussat: We have LED lighting throughout the building, but most importantly, LEDs light our beer cooler where we have individual bottles for sale.
OBG: What is the benefit of those lights?
Brussat: LED lights do not emit UV light. UV light reacts with hop compounds (isohumulones) in beer and creates mercaptan (methanethiol), which smells like skunk, and is in fact the same chemical that skunks use to deliver their stinky punch. While brown glass does effectively block around 88% of UV light and most of our bottles are brown glass, we took the most preventative step to ensure no beer would be skunked.
Additionally, LED lights use about 50% less energy than fluorescent or CFL bulbs, which made it an economical and environmental move for The Bier Stein’s large new space.
OBG: What standards are you using for cold storage and date codes?
Brussat: As soon as beer enters our building, it is brought into a 17-by-30-foot walk-in cooler (lit with LEDs). Every case and keg is checked for a date. We even have a list of date codes to decipher some of the more cryptic codes (why breweries choose to do this is beyond me; beer is a food product and should be labeled with a clear date of packaging, if not a best-by date that accurately reflects its flavor shelf life). Beer without date codes (again, why a brewery would do itself and its customers this disservice is beyond me) is generally given 90 days. Exceptions are made for stronger, darker, and mixed fermentation (sour/wild) beers. All beer (with the exception of a few gift packs and large bottles) is kept cold until it is purchased.
Our inventory system lets us put an expiration date on items, so we calculate how many days a beer has left, input that, and do regular checks. If a beer is still around a week or so before it goes out of code, we put it on sale.
OBG: What would your customers notice as a result?
Brussat: We are especially attentive to hoppy beers; hop aroma and flavor degrade at a rapid rate, so that even three months after a beer is bottled, the hop aroma will be significantly reduced. We do not accept IPA that is over 90 days old — that is our standard — because we want our customers to have the satisfaction of drinking a beer the way the brewer intended.
Regarding other beer styles, cold storage helps prevent oxidation, which dulls beer flavor and makes it taste like cardboard. And for some odd reason, people like their beverages cold!
OBG: When you moved into your place last year, what new technology did you install and why?
Brussat: A couple of upgrades were necessary. Our DigitalPour draft list replaced hand-written boards; with the larger space, twice as many beers, and, to be frank, variable penmanship skills, we needed a more dynamic system that would be easier to read from over 10 feet away. The DigitalPour system allows us and our customers to see how much is left in a keg; those who don’t want to miss out on that barrel-aged imperial stout don’t have to guess when it will kick, and we keep an accurate inventory of stock.
Another technological upgrade lies in our draft system hardware. We use a long-draw system; beer travels between 40 and 70 feet to reach the tap. The lines are chilled with glycol until they reach the draught towers. We also installed individual pressure regulators for each keg, as well as foam-on-beer (FOB) detectors. A FOB is a small chamber with a plunger that drops and stops gas from entering the main beer line when a keg is empty. Empty space in beer line means that the beer following it will foam as CO2 escapes solution, which creates a lot of waste in a system as long as ours. FOBs prevent a lot of beer from going down the drain.
By Sam Wheeler
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Ashland-based nano-brewery, Swing Tree Brewing Company, is located a little off the beaten path of its Shakespeare-centric Southern Oregon hometown, but its beer and atmosphere are spot on.
Swing Tree got off the ground in November 2013 and although the brewery is experiencing a few growing pains, finding people to drink Swing Tree’s craft beer isn’t one of them, said Brandon Overstreet, founder, owner, and lead brewer.
“Ever since we opened we still haven’t been able to meet the demand,” Overstreet said. “We are clawing away to upgrade as soon as we can.”
The brewery is currently operating a 3 1/2 barrel system Overstreet called a glorified homebrew system. Pulling quality beer off of the setup isn’t an issue, but keeping up with the thirst of the brewery’s patrons is.
Optimistic, Overstreet is inching closer, one pint at a time, toward upgrading to a seven-barrel system, but that’s only a piece of Swing Tree’s grand scheme.
“We need a kitchen,” he said, waving his hand around the brewery/tap house digs inside the No. 7 space of a business park at 300 East Hersey Street — across the tracks from Ashland’s Historic Railroad District.
Within the next two to three years, he said, he’d like to see Swing Tree opening up a second location — a brew pub — along A Street in the Railroad District.
It’ll be more of a family atmosphere than the current brewery/tap house, and it will serve top- notch pub food, he said.
Swing Tree’s current home base offers a relaxing atmosphere with a clear view of the mountains above Ashland. A shuffleboard table — the only one in Ashland — flanks one end of the space while six retired wine barrels filled with a soon-to-come specialty sour beer are stacked on top each other.
“It’s a really relaxed, fun atmosphere and even if you don’t know anyone, you’re bound to make a friend,” said Teri Badenhop, Swing Tree tap house manager. “We’re geared definitely toward the locals — we do get some tourists, but they are usually beer geek tourists.”
If you want some grub with your brew, come by Swing Tree on a Sunday for one of Badenhop’s Sunday Funday feeds – sometimes tacos, other times barbecue — always tasty.
With five faucets, the tap house tries to keep its four mainstay brews flowing all the time along with a guest beer.
Swing Tree currently offers its flagship Porch Swing Pale, an easy-drinking American pale ale; Obligatory IPA, a hopped-to-the gills lip smacker of an IPA; Lonely Trike Red Ale, it has a hoppy IPA kick with more malty quench, and Two Shilling Ale, a rich-flavored brown that rolls easy off the back of your tongue leaving a fruity tingle.
“We want the community to really take ownership of our pub and these beers, but the nation will know us for our traditional series specialty beers,” Overstreet said.
Take, for instance, the specialty sour beer Overstreet has aging in the old Petite Sirah barrels. It’s being brewed in the traditional Belgian Lambic style using spontaneous fermentation and will be bottled in 750 milliliter bottles just in time for the holiday season.
“I don’t want to work in a brew factory and I don’t want brewers that want to work in a brew factory. I want brewers that are going to be creative,” Overstreet said. “We don’t want to be a distribution brewery, ever.”
Swing Tree is currently open Thursday through Saturday 3 to 10 p.m. and 3 to 9 p.m. on Sundays. Check the brewery’s Facebook page for regular updates on its rotating tap and Sunday Funday menu schedule, Overstreet said.
“I try as hard as I can to just create this environment where it feels like you’re going over to your buddy’s house to have a beer,” he said.
By Andi Prewitt
After Barley Brown’s Beer won five medals and Very Small Brewing Company of the year at the 2013 Great American Beer Festival, a competition some liken to the Super Bowl, you’d expect beer geeks would be clamoring for a photo of owner Tyler Brown. But the same day Brown collected all that hardware, he found himself being asked to get out of a shot while pouring his gold medal Pallet Jack IPA in the Barley Brown’s booth. Apparently, he didn’t move far enough and once again received a request to take a few steps aside. It turns out the photographer wanted to snap a picture of two more famous brewers: Jeff Bagby, formerly of Pizza Port, and Fat Head’s Matt Cole. But what that beer fan failed to notice was why the men were at the booth to begin with. Brown pointed out, “yeah, they’re drinking our beer. If you want a beer I’m going to pour you a beer, otherwise get out of the way.”
That exchange summarizes the journey of Barley Brown’s, aka Baker City Brewing Co. Barley Brown’s seemed to fly under the radar of most drinkers in the state even though it has been operating since 1998 and winning awards at major competitions since 2006. Perhaps it’s the far-flung location, the brewery’s initial low-key presence in Portland, or Oregon’s metro-area myopia. Whatever factors might have contributed to Barley Brown’s muted profile seem to be diminishing now that the brewery has won a slew of medals, including the much- coveted gold in American-style IPA at GABF. Brown knows that Portland has started to notice because people tell him they think his brewery is new.
“Yeah, I hear that all the time,” Brown laughs. “‘Oh you guys just popped right in the middle of the scene!’ yeah, about 16 years ago!”
Barley Brown’s cellerman Addison Collard says the recent notoriety “is like being a band that’s been together for years and you finally get that one hit album and they’re like, ‘Oh, these guys are good!’ Like, no. We’ve been struggling. Pounding the pavement for a long time.”
While it took time to draw the attention of the average beer consumer, bar and bottle shop owners have been in the know for about 10 years. Brown recalls Belmont Station’s Carl Singmaster making the 300-mile journey to Baker City just to get a few kegs he seat-belted in the back of his Subaru before returning to Portland. Brown would also take kegs to the city and target outlets that were choosy about which beers they offered, making them difficult to get into and often filled with sophisticated drinkers. He used these opportunities as tests to see how
his beer would stack up against some of the best. Brown is clearly a man who likes a challenge since his tests these days pit him against not just the top competitors in Portland, but some of the finest in the world.
Before Brown was turning out top-quality beer in his remote section of the state, he witnessed his parents experiment with various businesses in the building that would eventually house the brewpub. The couple ran a bakery out of the property after purchasing it in the 1970s and parked bread trucks where the current dining room is situated. In 1983, they remodeled the space and turned it into a restaurant. Despite changing the cuisine several times—pizza, breakfast, and what Brown describes as “pseudo-Mexican,” nothing would really stick. Meanwhile, Brown would use the building’s kitchen space to brew during slow nights.
The rise of the brewpub came with the collapse of the Mexican food joint. That business actually had some success since it was the only one in town at the time. But it was the beginning of the end when a Mexican family moved to Baker City and opened their own restaurant with authentic fare. Brown’s father told him he was done with the place and that he could now do whatever he wanted with it. So he did. Brown installed a four-barrel brewery that he had built for the tight quarters and didn’t look back. And the Mexican restaurant that helped push his family’s place out of business is still one of Brown’s favorites.
Baker City is one of those towns where the only strangers are those who make a pit stop
while traveling along bustling I-84. It’s no surprise, then, that Brown and his brewer Eli Dickison have longstanding ties. Dickison started as a prep cook at the pub, but decided it was time to go back to school after working odd jobs for seven or eight years. Leaving Baker City for college at Oregon State University caused a bit of a culture shock. But it wasn’t due to the larger population or urban living.
“I realized just how expensive and hard-to-find good beer is,” says Dickison. “So I started to play around with making some myself.”
Dickison was finally able to fuse his two favorite things, science and beer, into a career path. He joined OSU’s Fermentation Science program while continuing to homebrew. One of those beers made its way into Brown’s hand while Dickison visited Baker City on winter break. Instead of having to sip and politely smile while secretly choking down the homemade concoction, Brown was blown away. That night, he told his wife how excited he’d be if Dickison came to the brewery after graduating. About one year later, Dickison joined the brewing family he seemed destined for.
While Brown and Dickison continue to garner ecognition for their beers, they never set out to perfect any particular style. Brown says that’s a big difference between homebrewers and craft brewers. Rather than worrying about style guidelines, the Barley Brown team develops new brews by tossing around ideas. Sometimes a beer is born when an ingredient isn’t available and the brewers have to improvise. Dickison explains that’s one element that led to the making of Ratchet Strap IPA. The brewery lacked hops normally used in Pallet Jack IPA and Hand Truck Pale Ale. However, some new German Melon hops had recently arrived, so they decided to try something new. Brown says the Germans claimed that particular hop could never be used in an American-style IPA. Once again, he rose to the challenge and proved those doubters wrong.
“We have targets. We have an idea. And I guess it would be more of a style of brewing instead of brewing beer styles,” explains Brown. “We have favorite hops we use; techniques we use. So our process is more the Barley Brown style process rather than trying to create the perfect IPA. We want our IPA that we’re going to drink.”
There are no special competition beers either. The beers that will be judged by experts have already been reviewed by customers at the brewpub or nearby taproom. It has become a Barley Brown tradition to pull those kegs and use them to fill bottles that are shipped to events like GABF. Although the locals taste the beer first, Brown says they won’t pay much attention to the fancy titles or shiny awards that adorn the taproom wall. But you might chalk that up to a rural Oregon mindset of not making a fuss about things. Brown points out that’s why some famous retired pro baseball players choose to call Baker City home. They can sit at the bar without being bothered.
These days you can get Barley Brown’s beer on tap just about anywhere in Baker City, including the VFW. yes—a VFW that in almost any other town would offer up Budweiser or Coors for $2.50 a pint gives patrons the option of a craft beer for the same price. But 16 years ago when the brewery started, Brown says his best-selling beer was Bud Light. He worked to prime palates by having servers offer craft beer samples to customers at the door before they even had a chance to sit down and order a mass-produced lager. It took two to three years for his beer to catch on, but now regulars never veer from some of their early favorites, like Coyote Peak Wheat and Tumble Off Pale Ale. In fact, the brewers say it can be challenging to get them to try new brews.
“I think it’s more of a local beer culture than a craft beer culture,” says Brown. “They know us and they know where it’s made and they like it, so they drink it. But they’ve probably never heard of most of the breweries in Portland.”
There is still a tap dedicated to Bud Light at the brewpub and it speaks to Brown’s nature. He’s loyal to enduring relationships and quite giving. The tap exists because of one devoted customer and a likable beer salesman. If they weren’t there, the Bud Light would probably get taken out of the restaurant. you could say that Brown is saving Baker City from bad beverages in general. Last summer, the city was under a boil order because of a cryptosporidium scare. The brewpub was able to keep operating because of the brewing equipment. Water was boiled in the hot liquor tank and cooled in a fermenter. When the nearby Powder River Correctional Facility found it had no way to easily prepare enough water for inmates and staff, Brown didn’t hesitate to help. The brewery cut back on production a bit and processed about 1000 gallons of water for the prison every other day. But while Baker City worried about water, others who heard about the boil order were concerned about Barley Brown’s beer.
“It was so frustrating hearing phone calls from some people in Portland,” says Dickison. “‘Is the beer safe to drink?’ It’s like going back in time 100 years. The beer is good.”
“The beer is the only thing that’s good,” added Brown.
While Barley Brown’s gears up for another year of competitions, additional medals could be on the horizon. The awards do carry significant meaning— to a point.
“With something like World Beer Cup and Great American Beer Festival you get to put your beers up against other beers, double-blind, and your peers judge it. And so when you get a medal, it’s pretty cool,” says Brown.
Sometimes the brewery even picks up memorable nicknames with victories—like the time a San Diego brewer said he knew Barley Brown’s as the “Wookey Slayer” for beating Firestone Walker’s Wookey Jack at the World Beer Cup. Ultimately, winning medals and the respect of fellow brewers is rewarding. But Brown says it’s generally not going to help sell anymore beer. The one exception, he notes, is placing first in the IPA category. What matters most, though, are the consumers whose feedback can be just as meaningful.
Brown and Dickison recently got a little surprise from a satisfied drinker. The two were unloading bags of malt and milling when Brown noticed a broad smile spread across Dickison’s face. He’d found a piece of candy—a Nut Goodie—tucked in the load from Brewers Supply Group in Vancouver, Wash. The treats come with almost every delivery. Dickison figures it’s because they know it’s going to brewers who need some sustenance to balance out all of the beer. But this time, the Nut Goodie had a note that read “Hand Truck Pale is my fav!” It wasn’t flashy. It didn’t come with national recognition. And it certainly won’t make headlines. But somehow it was a little bit sweeter than that stuff.
“You get a medal and you hang it there, but it’s not personal. But somebody had to stick that sticker on there, write it, and know those pallets were going to Barley Brown’s. Aw, that makes you feel good. A Nut Goodie,” Brown says with a smile.
CAPTION: In Ascending order, Tyler Brown, owner; Eli Dickison, brewer, and Addison Collard, cellerman, make up the core of Barley Brown’s winning brewery team .
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