By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Wrangling yeast can be as easy as moving it from one fermenter to another. Unless you have four yeast strains in regular use and a tight production schedule that can’t always wait for the yeast to be ready. That’s why, earlier this year, Eugene-based Ninkasi Brewing Company brought online a dedicated system of yeast propagation and storage tanks.
“Yeast is the only raw ingredient we supply ourselves,” says Dr. Daniel Sharp, director of brewing process development. “In addition to beer, we also make yeast, so having dedicated vessels for making and storing yeast is no-brainer, especially due to the amount of beer we make and how many yeast strains we use.”
Originally championed by Ninkasi’s in-house lab and quality control teams, the propagation system (“prop” for short) arrived earlier this year. “Before having this system, we were all doing this with our current brewing and tank setup, trying to fit it in and make it work,” says Sharp, “but that’s challenging when you have all your fermentation vessels full. But you need vessels to make yeast to make more beer. It was an easy ROI, and it makes yeast production easier for the whole team.”
The custom-made system was fabricated by W.M. Sprinkman, a dairy, food and beverage equipment manufacturer in Wisconsin. The system is comprised of three 10-barrel brinks and one 5-barrel brink for storage as well as 20- and 30-barrel props. Controls include gravity, gas composition (vessel atmosphere), agitators to aid cooling and homogeneity, and temperature. For oxygen, “we used to use a standard dosing rate, like most brewers, added at the beginning of fermentation,” says Sharp. “Now we can add oxygen based solely on how much the yeast needs to grow, instead of how much it needs to ferment. We’re still working with it to figure out the optimal amounts, but playing with the oxygen levels for the yeast is helping us grow healthy yeast faster.”
A positive displacement pump, great for moving thick liquids while being gentle on the yeasts, is used for transfers. After yeast is grown in the lab, it’s added to the prop and then pitched into wort during knockout. One 30-barrel batch of yeast can pitch a full 550-barrel fermenter. Instead of pitching by volume, the tanks are connected to load cells, so Ninkasi’s brewers know how much yeast is being pitched down to the pound. “We also don’t like to waste things, especially yeast,” says Sharp. “Nailing in exactly the amount we need when we need it, that’s the goal.”
Installed and tested during March and April, Ninkasi uses the system for the full yeast propagation process. The benefits have been immediate. Yeast propagation used to take 14–21 days. Now it can be done in 10–12 days.
“The shorter time helps us be flexible and work with the yeast while it’s in a happy state,” explains Sharp, “while also working with the other needs of the production schedule. We look out weeks in advance, and the shorter time is a big win.”
Parallel environments ensure optimal conditions for both beer and yeast. “Fermentations are great for making alcohol but aren’t good conditions for yeast growth,” says Sharp. “The conditions for growing yeast are bad for beer, such as needing oxygen. With the props we can grow a healthy supply of our own yeast without compromising beer flavor. Also, by controlling the conditions of our yeast growth and health, we can better control the subsequent fermentation profiles.”
Depending on the schedule, now yeast can be taken straight from one fermenter to another, or it can be stored in a brink and used for up to 10 fermentations. With four strains in regular use (Helles Lager, English Ale, Chico Ale and German Ale), plus a house yeast library for special projects, it’s also easier to maintain the “yeast pipeline” so that yeast is at an optimal state for pitching. For example, the English Ale strain — used in flagship beers such as Total Domination IPA — is a “juggernaut” that has adapted well to Ninkasi’s brewery and higher-IBU and ABV beers, while providing softer blending aromas and flavors.
“We don’t do delicate yeasts that need coddling,” says Sharp. “We need tough yeasts.”
On the flipside, for a beer such as Hop Cooler IPA, the Chico Ale accentuates individual characteristics, and the German Ale yeast used in Sleigh’r Dark Double Alt Ale is less flocculent, so some residual yeast remains for a thicker mouthfeel.
“We are a yeast farming facility that makes good beer,” says Sharp. “Our job is to make good yeast, or we can’t make good beer.”
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 Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Whether a Eugene/Springfield local or visiting for a University of Oregon (Go Ducks!) home game at Autzen Stadium, it’s nice to have a pregame or postgame stroll … with beer, of course. The walking portion of this 1.5 mile route can be done in around 30 minutes. In addition to watering holes and restaurants, you’ll also take in an iconic cinema spot and go from near downtown Eugene to the heart of the UO campus.
Sam Bond’s Brewing Co.
540 E. Eighth Ave.
After parking your car in one of the city’s downtown garages (free on weekends), make your way east on foot, by taxi or by bus to our starting point. Nestled in between downtown and campus, Sam Bond’s is a natural evolution from its namesake, local favorite Sam Bond’s Garage. The iconic bar always has a good tap list, so it only made sense that the owners (also behind the scenes at both Plank Town locations and Cottage Grove’s The Axe & Fiddle) would want to dip their paddles in their own wort. You’ll start your tour with an excellent beer in a mellow setting: Think of it as the warmup stretch for the day’s stroll. Founded in 2013, Sam Bond’s Brewing supplies the Garage, and their 10-barrel brewhouse pumps out Northwest favorites, such as Sam I Am Beer (amber, get it?) and Crankshaft IPA, along with up-and-coming beers of interest: 50-Stone Scottish Wee Heavy, Accelerator ISA, Pre-Klassic Kolsch, and a stellar Filbert Brown made with hazelnuts. If your appetite needs food in addition to excellent beer, a full menu offers pizza, salads, paninis, pastas and more. Vegan and gluten-free options are available.
Beer Nut Mix: Mixed nuts slowly caramelized in butter, brown sugar, spices and Filbert Brown
Foundry Sampler: Seasonal assortment of cured meats, cheeses, tapenades and marinated vegetables with toasted bread
Elk Horn Brewery
686 E. Broadway St.
She’s from the Willamette Valley, he’s from Mississippi. When wife-and-husband team Colleen and Stephen Sheehan decided to step up from food cart to brewpub in 2014, it was only natural that they combine the Northwest’s food and drink sensibility with warm and welcoming Southern hospitality. The whiskey bar is well stocked, but the main event is Elk Horn’s 24 taps, pouring their own beers, ciders and sodas brewed by Rogue veteran Nate Sampson. (Lemon Pils just took home bronze for American- or International-Style Pilsener at the 2017 Great American Beer Festival.) The family-friendly space has racks for board games and plenty of big screens so you can catch the big game. If it’s nice, sit outside at least a little while: the comfortable, spacious screened patio quickly and surprisingly makes you forget that you’re near busy streets. The Northwest touch of Elk Horn’s food combines with a solid Southern pedigree, including hearty bowls, burgers, sandwiches, plus some salads and wraps to keep a few light touches.
Hushpuppies filled with jalapeno cheddar, served with chipotle aioli
Bayou Gumbo: chicken, shrimp, andouille sausage, okra, celery, bell pepper and onion, served with rice
Cafe Yumm! - On Broadway
730 E. Broadway
Just down from Elk Horn, our next stop brings us to a healthier, home-grown option. While waiting for your food, Ninkasi is on tap (with other wines and beers by the bottle). Raise a glass to Cafe Yumm! on Broadway, which recently celebrated its 10th birthday. Taking home The Register-Guard 2017 Readers' Choice awards for Lunch Bargain and Vegetarian (no easy feat in a former hippie town renowned for its veggie and vegan fare), Cafe Yumm! started in Eugene. Today, the Oregon benefit company has 20 locations in Oregon and Washington. Since you’re walking today, the six electric vehicle charging stations aren’t of use, but it’s good to know that you can charge your ride for free while you eat — and that this is the first restaurant in the country to offer solar-powered EV charging. Back to that food. Wraps, sandwiches and soups are available, but you are here for the Yumm! Bowl — and specifically, the magical, mysterious Yumm! Sauce. What’s in it? How does it get its savory yet tangy flavor? You will never know. You won’t care either, because this is the sort of vegetarian food that others aspire to (though chicken is available). Cafe Yumm! elevates humble rice and beans to satisfying, sumptuous fare, with organic ingredients, generous helpings of Yumm! Sauce, plus cheese, avocado, salsa, olives, sour cream and cilantro. It’ll fill both your body and your soul.
Original Yumm! Bowl
751 E. 11th Ave.
By now you are likely ready to walk and digest — a great time for an odd detour. Strolling south down Alder Street, we’ll turn right onto East 11th Avenue for the sake of seeing something that doesn’t exist anymore. Really, we’re paying some respect. 751 E. 11th Ave. is where parts of the 1978 zany classic “Animal House” were filmed. Home of the Psi Deuteron chapter of Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity from 1959-1967, the house fell into disrepair and was demolished in 1986. Today, perhaps as a sign of fate or irony, the site is now home to the School of Education and Counseling for Northwest Christian University. Head to the parking entrance and look for a boulder: it has a plaque that commemorates the Delta House location. Next time you watch “Animal House,” keep an eye out for other Eugene spots: much of the film was shot around the UO campus, the parade and road trip took place in Cottage Grove (and the marching bands were from Eugene’s own Sheldon and Churchill High Schools), and it’s thought that Greg and Mandy’s scene in the MG was filmed on top of Skinner Butte. Much of the movie’s wardrobe is local too: since John Landis had such a small budget, his wife Deborah thrifted for costumes at area secondhand stores. Nearly 40 years later, please stop and take a moment to reflect: No more will anyone dump a whole truckload of fizzies into the varsity swim meet. No one will deliver the medical school cadavers to the alumni dinner. And no more will Halloween see the trees filled with underwear. Oh well. “Grab a brew. Don't cost nothin’.”
Mashed potatoes and cheap lager
1214 Kincaid St.
After stopping to reflect on what was and no longer is, it’s time to turn around and head back to Alder Street. We’ll continue south, going past a row of little shops and eateries that continues as we turn left and head east on East 13th Avenue. Turning left onto Kincaid Street, it’s time for a classic. Right across the street from the eastern edge of the UO campus and located in the historic John Rennie house (built in the 1920s), Rennie’s Landing is a favorite watering hole. “We love our Ducks,” they say at Rennie’s, “but opponent’s fans are welcome too.” Fair enough. Also open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, sports of all kinds are showing on six TVs throughout the interior (and one more on the upper deck). Nine craft and specialty beers, two domestics and 2 Towns hard cider are pouring, but also check out the trademark Rennie’s Lemonade. Locally made art is sprinkled throughout the second floor, including sculptor David Thompson’s metalwork of a McKenzie River boatman, and paintings by George Von Der Linden (who also carved a signature whale over the fireplace). Over the front door hangs a large aerial photograph, taken in the 1930s, to help plan the site for what is now the Knight Library.
Breakfast and a Bloody Mary until 1 p.m.: ‘nuff said
Falling Sky Pizzeria & Public House
1395 University St., Room 46
Now we cross into campus itself, walking amidst the old brick and stone buildings and towering trees that give UO the world-apart feel unique to college campuses. Our final destination is at the heart of campus in the newly renovated Erb Memorial Union. The Pizzeria & Public House is Falling Sky’s third location (and part of why they expanded their downtown brewery). No stranger to local acclaim, Falling Sky recently was named one of the Best Microbreweries in The Register-Guard 2017 Readers’ Choice awards. Pouring 11 house and guest beers and ciders, Falling Sky offers a mix of seasonal, limited-release and flagship Northwest, Belgian-style, British-style, and German-style ales and lagers. Be sure to try Polar Melt Pale Ale, made with Glacier hops and a new yeast strain they’re experimenting with. This third location builds Falling Sky’s pizza menu that consists of house doughs, cured meats and produce that you’d find at the pizzeria’s sibling sites. Calzones, Italian sandwiches, soups, salads, bowls, wings and a kids menu are also available.
Vegan & Loving It: Roasted vegetables, spinach, squash, garlic, vegan white bean and red pepper sauce
The Reubenator: House-cured turkey pastrami, sauerkraut, caraway seeds, Swiss cheese, Russian dressing
Now that you’ve reached the end of our walking tour, you still have options. If you want to venture some more, you are still a stroll, bus, or cab ride away from other restaurants, sports bars and more. Want to keep your walk going strong? Head to the nearby Ruth Bascom Riverbank Trail System. A riverside walk and one footbridge can have you at Autzen Stadium in minutes.
By Ben Waterhouse
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Our long, hot summer of sipping ice-cold radlers and macro tallboys in between wildfires has finally come an end, and I could not be happier to be returning to the big beers of winter. Fall is a time of rising ABVs and darkening malts as the temperature drops. The days grow shorter and we gather at the bar to salute the harvest. Here are eight season-appropriate beers to enjoy from the hop harvest through Oktoberfest and beyond — and not a one of them contains pumpkin.
Baerlic Brewing Company: Hellsner Helles Fresh Hop
5.0% ABV, 20 IBUs
As of this writing, the hop harvest was still in full swing, and few fresh-hopped beers had made it to bars. Baerlic, a 10-barrel brewery with a design-heavy taproom in Southeast Portland, was ahead of most, dropping three fresh-hopped beers in early September. The Pioneer Bitter, a gold medal winner from the 2017 Oregon Beer Awards, might be the most eagerly awaited, but my favorite of the bunch is this juiced-up Munich-style lager, which pours golden yellow. Flavors of mango and papaya mingle with floral aromas from a big dose of Santiam hops. It tastes like a bakery full of proofing bread with hints of apple juice. There’s no telling how long this one will stick around, but Baerlic’s lagers have been consistently strong of late, so if you can’t find Hellsner on tap one of its less-seasonal counterparts will likely suffice.
Hopworks Urban Brewery: Mt. Angel Volksbier Bavarian Session Ale
5.0% ABV, 40 IBUs
Hopworks released this limited-edition homage to Oregon’s largest Oktoberfest just in time for the event’s 52nd birthday in mid-September, when the Portland brewery’s beers were the only non-German offerings in the Biergarten. The mild, straw-colored brew owes its lightly spicy aroma to Hallertau hops sourced all the way from Bavaria — a radical allegiance to the Reinheitsgebot if ever there was one. The bready bitterness gains some floral and citrus notes as it warms, but overall it’s a pleasant ale to pound while you polka. It may not capture the imagination as well as Mount Angel’s own Benedictine brews, but it’s far more appropriate for all-day drinking.
StormBreaker Brewing: Stormtoberfest Marzen-Style Lager
5.1% ABV, 27 IBUs
The label for this Märzenbier features an anthropomorphized fermenter tank sporting a feathered cap, four-legged lederhosen and a single, baleful eye: an unsettling vision for a comforting beer. The latest lager from North Portland’s StormBreaker pours clear copper with no head and strong aromas of anise and bubblegum. Although the marketing copy brags of putting “heart, soul and lederhosen into every batch,” I taste no leather here. Despite the low IBU, this isn’t a barley bomb. It’s clean and classic, with a creamy texture and enough bite on the finish to offset its sweetness. It’s a beer for an Oregon autumn, inspiring visions of grey skies and damp denim. It would make a good companion to a plate of brats, but is even better suited for braising them.
Occidental Brewing: Festbier
6.3% ABV, [Unavailable] IBUs
North Portland’s Occidental brewing is dedicated to classic German styles, and this very classic Marzen has long been a feature of its annual Oktoberfest party. Now that it’s available in bottles for the first time, it can become a fixture at yours, too. Festbier pours a clear Pre-Raphaelite red with unusually bright, fizzy carbonation. It smells Negra Modelo and tastes like fresh-baked biscuits. There’s no clever tricks or new concepts here — Occidental takes on the style and nails it. This beer is fresh, clean, mild and dangerously drinkable. Stay safe by downing it alongside an abundance of pork products.
Deschutes Brewery: Hopzeit Autumn IPA
7% ABV, 60 IBUs
Deschutes’ newest autumn seasonal is “Marzenbier-inspired,” which I take to mean that it’s an Oktoberfest beer for those who don’t much care for Oktoberfest beers. Hopzeit pours a rich coppery amber, the color of fresh apple cider, with abundant fruit-salad aromas. It’s got the sweet booziness of a classic Oktoberfest ale, but it’s balanced with a hefty dose of Herkules, Sterling and Hull Melon hops that lend a bitter bite and lingering peppery finish. It reminds me of nothing so much as Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Ale. I’m not sure who the target consumer might be for this hybrid, but it makes for a pleasant pint. Just make sure you serve it straight from the fridge — as Hopzeit approaches room temperature, it becomes unpleasantly syrupy.
Ninkasi Brewing Company: First Rule IPA
7.5% ABV, 60 IBUs
According to Ninkasi, the first rule of this new IPA is “Do not talk about this IPA.” Rules are made to be broken. This bright, fruity special release is the star of the brewery’s 2017 IPA variety pack and hardly seems like it could be the product of the same brewery that brought us Total Domination and Tricerahops. A clear golden ale with strong aromas of passionfruit and nightshades, it packs a huge tropical wallop of mango and papaya giving way to a smooth finish that leaves you wanting more. With a hop bill including El Dorado, Mosaic and Calypso, it reminds me a little of tropical punch. I want to sip it from a tiki mug with a tiny umbrella while basking under a sun lamp, but I’m more likely to schlep a couple of six-packs to the next neighborhood house party.
Wolves & People Farmhouse Brewery: Tractor Pull Tawny Old Ale
8.5% ABV, 32 IBUs
This hefty English-style old ale has been kicking around in bottles since early 2017, but there’s something distinctly autumnal about the vanilla and cinnamon that give this tawny brew its kick. Sold in sturdy 500-milliliter bottles with cheery yellow labels, Tractor Pull pours a deep nut brown and smells like an orchard after harvest, with hints of cocoa and coffee. It’s brightly fizzy and tastes of rye bread, molasses, cinnamon and subtle vanilla. It reminds me of pain d’epices and Dr. Pepper, and should probably be sipped alongside a plate of fresh-baked spice cookies. Looking for even more autumn? Watch for Trolley Pull, a version aged in Eagle Rare barrels made in collaboration with North Portland bar Interurban, coming out soon in 750-milliliter bottles.
Claim 52 Brewing: Bird Up Milkshake IPA With Strawberry
7.3% ABV, 30 IBUs
Strawberries don’t exactly scream “fall,” but, thanks to a late harvest, this strange beast of a beer dropped in September. Bird Up is the latest in a series of “milkshake” IPAs from this small Eugene brewery in recent months, brewed with lactose in the manner of creamy, fruity brews from Pennsylvania’s Tired Hands and Seattle’s Urban Family. This one, available only in cans, was made with strawberries and vanilla and pours an enticing peachy-pink with thick haze. Its enormously hoppy nose is heavy on grapefruit. The strawberries contribute tart acidity and a lingering floral sensation. It reminds me of an Orange Julius, or maybe a scoop of strawberry sherbet floated in a pint of Claim 52’s coveted Fluffy IPA. Stout floats are common enough — why not other ales? Bird Up is a limited release, but if you can’t get your hands on a can I bet there’s another milky fruit concoction coming our way soon enough.
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.
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