Written by Capital Bureau
For the Oregon Beer Growler
You might think you can't throw a rock in Oregon without it landing in a locally brewed IPA, but growth opportunities remain for the state's craft beer industry.
The outlook for very small breweries seems generally bright, state economist Josh Lehner said in remarks prepared for a Nov. 30 presentation to the Oregon Brewers Guild.
For medium to large breweries, though, exports from the Beaver State will likely be key to continued success.
"The path forward really is about reversing the Oregon Trail," Lehner wrote. "There is just too much competition and market saturation to be able to reach large production numbers by relying solely on Oregon consumers alone."
That includes international exports. Almost half of Oregon's international exports of beer go to Canada. And a strong dollar means that Canadians will pay more for an Oregon brew. That's also good news for those Oregonians who prefer a can of Sapporo: imported beer costs less in the U.S.
Lest you chuckle, the state's penchant for alcohol production and consumption isn't to be taken lightly.
Lehner also pointed out in his remarks that job growth in Oregon's "alcohol cluster" — breweries, distilleries, wineries, as well as distributors and retailers of alcoholic beverages — since the recession has been greater than growth in the state's software industry.
In 2015, Lehner, through his work at the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis, found employment in that cluster jumped 46 percent since 2008.
Lehner also pointed out that the Oregon Legislature's boost of the transient lodging tax means that the state has more revenue to spend on marketing the state's tourist draws, which could include the promotion of its hefeweizens, pilsners and porters in far-flung markets.
By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Another brewery in Bend? Sounds foolhardy. A risky business decision at best. But don’t jump to conclusions. What it you offered something no one else did? That’s the case for Immersion Brewing — the ONLY place in town where you can brew your own beer.
Sean Lampe, co-owner with his partner Amanda Plattner and her sister Rachael Plattner, said, “We felt like Bend was perfect. We’re focused on the highest-quality beer and experience. If you don’t have people around challenging you, you won’t make great beer,” he said.
According to the Bend Visitor Center, the city has plenty of challengers. It has more breweries per capita than any other city in Oregon; as of last June, the Oregon Brewers Guild listed 26 in Bend.
Immersion opened last summer after many construction delays. “We signed the lease in December of 2014 and have been working on it for a couple years,” said Lampe.
The idea for the BIY (brew-it-yourself) business originated 18 years ago in Lampe’s college dorm room at the University of Colorado where he was homebrewing. New Belgium was a small local brewery then and Lampe quickly latched onto craft beer’s flavor, which was so distinct from domestics. While still a student, he worked as an assistant brewer at Walnut Brewery in Boulder, Colo. for two years. After graduation, he continued homebrewing in Tokyo where he worked as an IT recruiter for large financial companies. “There wasn’t much of a beer culture in Tokyo,” he said.
When the market crashed in 2008, so did his job and he returned to the states for work. Once again, he started homebrewing. “It was difficult in such a small space and hard to get the ingredients. I was always disappointed with the results,” he said.
Frustrated and dissatisfied with his beers, he realized there was a business opportunity in the failures. He wrote a plan for a brew-it-yourself shop where customers would have professional equipment, plenty of space to work and the best ingredients. Fellow UC alum Amanda Plattner suggested launching the idea in Bend, where she had family.
“We wanted to be more than a homebrew store,” Lampe said. “We wanted a place where you could come and have a great beer and food experience, where you could relax and enjoy yourself, and make some beer, if you were interested.”
Immersion is conveniently located between the Old Mill District and Downtown in one of Bend’s best known landmarks, the 100-year-old Box Factory — a long, red building that’s home to about 30 businesses. When you walk in, the first things you see are the shiny brite tanks, positioned in a semi-circle behind the bar. The five vessels are part of a 10-barrel JVNW system. Lampe wanted exposed tanks and said Immersion is one of the first to get the manufacturer’s rose-gold stainless steel version.
Josh Cosci was hired as the head brewer. Previously with Three Creeks Brewing Company and Worthy Brewing, he was originally in the wine industry in the Willamette Valley. While the lineup of regular beers is still evolving, Cosci likes to barrel age those that become mainstays in order to accentuate different characteristics.
For beer lovers who want to make their own concoction, there is a separate system made up of eight 5-gallon tanks. Ingredients are labeled on open shelving and there are recipe booklets with more than 30 options. IPAs are the most popular, with about half of all customers choosing to brew that style. “But, we get a good mix,” said Lampe. “They are all recipes that I have brewed and like.”
Reservations can be made online for sessions that are generally available Thursday through Saturday. Group size is limited to four people per kettle and an assistant brewer helps customers with the process, which typically lasts about two-and-a-half hours. Of course, it’s not all work and no play. Amateur brewers can order food and drinks to enjoy while they make their beer. Three weeks later, customers return for bottling and labeling, taking home approximately five gallons of beer or a case of 22-ounce bottles. The entire experience costs $180 to $220, depending on the recipe.
The beer lover in your life might enjoy a BIY session as a holiday gift. Or you could schedule your own brew day and give a carefully crafted beer with customized label to your friends and family this year. Whatever the reason or season, gift cards are available.
550 SW Industrial Way #185, Bend
By Ezra Johnson-Greenough
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Who’s afraid of the seasonal creep? It sneaks up when you least expect it with autumn pumpkin-spiced beers in August and malty, strong winter ales in September. The seasonal creep lures you in with your favorite summer seasonal when spring rain is still falling, but mysteriously disappears by August.
If you’re one of those people surprised to find 10 Barrel Brewing’s Jamaican Me Pumpkin available in the dog days of summer or Deschutes Jubelale before the first leaf hits the ground in fall, then you’ve been smacked by seasonal creep. Pumpkin beers are a controversial new seasonal hit, but usually debut in stores before pumpkins. As I write this, it’s a clear blue sunny day and there’s a bottle of 2016 Deschutes Jubelale on my desk. Ironically, this year’s Jubelale art is called “First Snow,” while winter still seems nowhere in sight.
Understanding why seasonal creep strikes is to understand consumer buying habits and the supermarket strategy. In many ways, craft beer has blossomed on the back of seasonal beer releases. Where bars and taprooms would once carry the same beers year-round, drinkers began craving diversity. Seasonals were the first rotating, specialty offerings before limited-edition one-offs were a thing. We grew accustomed to looking forward to our favorite seasonal all year. No doubt there is value in hanging a beer release on a holiday, but it’s a double-edged sword.
The quickest way to grow a brewery is by getting beer into bottles and onto supermarket shelves.
A store will grant a brewery a certain number of stock keeping units (SKUs) or how many varieties they’ll carry. These slots must remain filled because an empty row is lost revenue. It’s difficult to capture more than a few SKUs if you’re a small brewer, and if you can’t keep them filled, you’re out. As Jason Randles, digital marketing director for Deschutes Brewery explains it, “You can’t have empty shelves at retail, so you have to be ready to backfill with the next seasonal because they share the same SKU.”
Seasonals are often intrinsically connected to holidays. Breakside Brewery’s head brewer and former Oregon Brewers Guild president Ben Edmunds says, “We've found that brewing and rolling out a beer attached to a very specific season or holiday really shifts people's attention away from the beer and onto the season in question. And, unfortunately, this means that if you release beers "late" in a marketing season — say releasing a "winter beer" on Jan. 15 or a pumpkin beer on Oct. 20 — the beers don't sell as well as they would if they were released earlier.”
“Summer seasonals stop moving towards the end of August. Holiday beers like Jubelale stop moving on December 31st,” adds Jason Randles. “Another interesting point about seasonals is that the trends are very soft. In the past, consumers would go to seasonals for variety and change, but now change is everywhere. “
The McMenamins locations throughout the Pacific Northwest regularly tie their beer releases to holidays. Black Widow Porter is a rare McMenamins bottle that only makes an appearance around Halloween. McMenamins hopes that supply will be gone by Nov. 11 when the Christmas-themed Kris Kringle Traditional Yuletide Ale comes out.
“When should a winter seasonal be released? I'm not sure, but I do think that if you're putting a beer out marketed with snowcapped mountains, Santa Claus or winter landscapes on the label before Oct. 1, you're letting marketing drive a lot of your beer-making decisions” says Ben Edmunds.
Deschutes Brewery is the largest independent brewery in the state, the eighth largest in the country. Their winter seasonal Jubelale is one of the region’s most famous, now in its 29th year. But even a classic like Jubelale can struggle in the market. Jason Randles admits Jubelale has hit as early as late August to ensure sellout by the holidays. However, Deschutes is making attempts to release seasonals more in line with the actual seasons.
“We did our best to address this seasonal creep this year by introducing a fourth seasonal, Hopzeit, but it didn’t work out as well as we had planned,” Randles says. “Hopzeit was supposed to be available for about six-to-eight weeks in late August through early October, but Hop Slice went long and is still on the shelf in Oregon. Hopzeit was supposed to push the Jubelale release to its intended early October release date.” Still, October ain’t bad when compared to an August release.
At Breakside Brewery, they have found their own way to stay out of reach of the seasonal creep.
“Our solution has been to avoid attaching our bottled, rotating beers to a particular season. You won't see any of the seasons or holidays specifically mentioned in the marketing or imagery for our rotating beers. The exception to this is some draft beers” said Ben Edmunds.
So if you’re as afraid of seasonal creep as I am, do your best to support year-round beers and drink your seasonals fresh and in high quantity!
By Andi Prewitt
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
Not every homebrewer has a mass spectrometer to play around with. Or a gas chromatograph, which together can detect and identify chemicals in beer. Of course, not every homebrewer has access to the pros, advising them about quality control and assurance. That makes Adam Fleck the envy of every stove-top and back-deck-burner beer maker in Oregon because he has all three.
While a sensory panel for many a homebrewer consists of a “panel” of buddies heaping on praise while looking to score free beer, Fleck has the equipment and training to conduct sophisticated analysis of his own creations. He’s taken that methodical approach on the road to assist small and midsize breweries with the science aspect of the business. And while there are plenty of companies that provide data on everything from IBUs to DMS, what sets Willamette Valley Mobile Testing apart is Fleck’s ability to bring the lab to a brewer’s doorstep. There may be a growing number of portable canning and bottling services in the craft industry, but the notion of the traveling chemist is still new. A natural reaction to Fleck’s innovative approach might be, “That’s cool!” To which Fleck would respond: “Well, it’s either that or it’s really stupid because no one else wanted to do it because they weren’t crazy enough.”
While it certainly took some bravery to launch a business for which there was no model, the risk appears to be paying off. Fleck has a growing number of breweries from Eugene to Seattle he’s contracted with, including Ancestry Brewing, Black Raven Brewing Company, Culmination/Ruse Brewing and Diamond Knot Craft Brewery, to name a few. He offers multiple services, such as sterility and cleanliness checks, yeast viability assessment and cell count along with tests for everything from water chemistry to pH and hop aromas to off flavors. Shaun Kalis, founder of Ruse and brewer at Culmination, which share the same space, said Fleck conducted dissolved oxygen analysis for that facility to help ensure there wouldn’t be any oxygen pickup in the lines. Following that experience, he believes Fleck’s expertise can benefit brewers who don’t have a Breakside or Widmer budget to invest in expensive equipment.
“Having people like Adam who can do testing and can provide the benchmarks to your company’s standard operating procedures, I think, is a great thing for the brewing community — to make us better and consistent,” Kalis said.
Fleck’s arsenal of instruments is tucked away in what resembles a shiny, black toy hauler. Industrial straps and bungee cords secure his tools as he drives from site to site. One of the most important pieces of equipment looks like a cross between a giant copy machine from the ‘80s and a microwave. That is the gas chromatograph — what Fleck calls his “ace in the hole.” He got experience with it after taking a job in the oil fields of eastern Utah analyzing natural gas and petrochemicals.
“A gas chromatograph to a chemist is like a power drill for a carpenter. It’s kind of a multi-tool, depending on your columns, your injectors, software. [Those] are the bits on that power drill. You can do a lot of things with them. You can do buffing, grinding, sanding, cutting, drilling, screwing, whatever,” Fleck explained. “You’ve just got to change out the end. It’s kind of like a gas chromatograph.”
The technology has been around since the 1950s and is used to separate compounds. Oregon State University’s Environmental Health Sciences Center provides a vivid analogy: Imagine a race at a track meet where the runners begin at the same point — the starting line. However, they’ll finish at different times due to speed. In a gas chromatograph, chemicals are separated by volatility, with more volatile (often smaller) chemicals moving faster than those that are less volatile. The mass spectrometer will then identify the chemicals based on structure.
So, how did Fleck go from using a gas chromatograph in the oil fields to applying the instrument to beer? It all comes back to homebrewing. Turns out, his former boss made beer with a friend and they’d run it through a gas chromatograph to test the alcohol. Fleck decided to explore other uses and discovered the list is huge.
“There’s 2,800 different compounds in beer; 478 affect flavor. And I can get about half of them using my mass spec, so that’s pretty cool.”
When the price of oil plummeted in 2014, Fleck turned his layoff into an opportunity. He relied on the State of Oregon’s Unemployment-Self Employment Assistance, commending the program for providing him with a way to build Willamette Valley Mobile Testing without having to also search for jobs that likely wouldn’t match the wages he made in the oil industry. Another advantage was the unemployment payments that allowed him to pump all initial money made back into the business.
As of June 2016, Oregon had 206 brewing companies and 246 brewing facilities, according to the Oregon Brewers Guild. Those numbers will grow given the amount of applications the Oregon Liquor Control Commission receives for new producers. Plenty of them could use Fleck’s help. Breweries lack quality programs for multiple reasons. Some can’t afford the lab. Others simply don’t have space. And plenty say they don’t need it. But Fleck pointed out that just because brewers believe they’re replicating their processes, doesn’t mean batches will be consistent.
“Their equipment doesn’t always act the same way every time. Their inputs aren’t the same every time,” he explained. “If you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”
Fleck contends that “quality and quality control are the next battlefields for craft beer.” They’re factors that increasingly finalize distribution deals, since a quality program provides a better-guaranteed product. The average beer drinker is also more aware of consistency. Fleck said customers are drawn to craft because of the overall experience — part ambience, part novelty and part flavor. Not everyone can identify diacetyl or acetaldehyde, but they won’t hold back if beer quality was “hit or miss” after multiple visits.
“The customer will know when their experience changes. And you’ll hear about it,” Fleck said.
If distributors care and beer drinkers care, the next hurdle is getting more brewers to commit to investing in quality control/quality assurance. Testing services aren’t a tangible purchase like a gleaming new tank or colorful packaging for distribution. But it is one of the most important parts of the brewing process. Fleck is so dedicated to quality, he refuses to test beer submitted to him “because I don’t know how the sample was collected, when it was collected and what has happened to it on transport.” He goes to the source and then tailors a program to fit each brewer’s needs.
Fleck hopes that his one rig will grow into a fleet in the future. There are also plans to expand into distillates, wine and cannabis, the latter of which desperately needs better testing for potency and pesticides, post-legalization. The Portland State University graduate wants to reach out to students at his alma mater by bringing on interns who are majoring in chemistry. However, would-be lab-techs-in-training with spotless GPAs need not apply.
“I was not an A+ student. I don’t want A+ students. I despised A+ students,” he laughed. “I want a student that’s good, but lazy enough to find a better way to do it.”
In the meantime, Fleck will continue to build his client base by meeting new brewers and starting a discussion about quality control.
“The idea of the craft industry is kind of centered around quality. So, yeah. It’s a good product. Why wouldn’t you do it with consistency? You can’t just make great beer once.” Fleck said. “You have to make great beer every time.”
Willamette Valley Mobile Testing
By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
As the executive director of the Oregon Brewers Guild, one of Brian Butenschoen’s main responsibilities is publicizing and promoting the organization. Yet, he avoids publicity and promotion about himself. He prefers to stay out of the Oregon Brewers Guild picture and keep the member breweries front and center.
The Oregon Brewers Guild was established in 1992, originally named the Greater Oregon Brewers Association, and is the second-oldest nonprofit trade association for brewers in the U.S. Its mission is to protect and promote Oregon breweries.
With new craft breweries popping up daily in Oregon, the Guild continues to grow, both in size and influence. Membership includes 156 brewing companies, 125 associates that aren’t breweries but provide business services to the craft beer industry, and 3,500-plus enthusiasts called SNOBs — Supporters of Native Oregon Beer.
Brian always refers to Guild activities in the first person plural construction, as in “We print 75,000 copies of the Brew-Ha! map, showing all the member breweries.” Or, “We put on a 900-person dinner for all our supporters and friends every year.” However, since Brian is the only full-time employee, he surely deserves most of the credit for any and all Guild activities. He is the third executive director, a position he’s held since 2005.
One of the Guild’s primary vehicles for promotion is special events and festivals. Probably the best-known and certainly the most popular is Zwickelmania. The one-day open house held on the Saturday of President’s Day weekend began in 2009 and attracted 6,000 visitors to 20-30 breweries that year. Compare that to 2016 when 45,000 people visited 120 participating beer makers who provide brewery tours and special tastings.
Brian said, “It started with six of us sitting around a table and someone came up with the idea of an open house. When would be a good time? We agreed that it should be on a holiday weekend when breweries were NOT busy, when they wanted to see more people visiting them. That’s how we came up with the Saturday of President’s Day weekend.”
Now most participating breweries are so busy on Zwickelmania, they schedule extra staff and often have to control the number of people allowed through the door at one time. The event takes its name from the zwickel sample valve on beer conditioning tanks that allows brewers to take samples during the fermentation process.
What does it take, behind the scenes, to put on this event? The Guild — as in Brian — does all the promotion, signs up the breweries, handles the public relations and marketing, lists the participating breweries on the Guild website and creates maps for the six regions of Oregon. Suggested itineraries are also posted, grouping participating breweries by location.
The Guild sponsors two other main events in Portland. Cheers to Belgian Beers started 10 years ago and was held in May in 2016. Then there’s the Portland Fresh Hop Beer Fest, which has happened every fall. Now in its 13th year, the harvest celebration is slated to take place Friday, Sept. 30 and Saturday, Oct. 1 at Oaks Park.
In addition to a few other collaboration events with The Portland Mercury newspaper, like the Malt Ball, Brian tries to make sure the Guild is represented at many of the other festivals around the state. “We have tables and booths at the Spring Beer and Wine Fest, at the KLCC Microbrew Fest in Eugene, at the Oregon Brewers Festival, the North American Organic Brewers Festival and the Great American Beer Festival in Denver,” said Brian.
Events, large and small, mean planning, planning and more planning. Each one starts with a budget. Next, participating breweries are lined up. A venue is selected. People are informed about the event through public relations campaigns and marketing sales and website updates. Food vendors are arranged along with infrastructure providers who set up tents, tables, chairs and the ever-essential porta-potties.
Again, Brian is the main person responsible for coordinating and arranging these events.
Brian’s interest in beer stems, in part, from his family’s background in homebrewing. Following his great-grandfather and uncle, Brian took up the hobby in 1999 and decided to enroll in the Beer Judge Certification Program that same year. Brian also served as vice president and president of the Oregon Brew Crew, Oregon’s oldest homebrew club. Around that time he also started working at Belmont Station. He was fortunate enough to snag shifts on Fridays — free beer tasting days — which meant face time with the brewers who attended these events. He stayed on there until 2006, overlapping with his start at the Guild.
Events and promotions, important in their own right, are only part of the Guild’s duties. The other responsibility is protecting the industry.
“The Guild participates in decision making at the local, state and federal level. We stay out of lobbying and leave that to our individual members,” said Brian. “But we alert members and our board, by email and meetings, to legislative issues and other concerns.”
Oregon is one of the few states where the entire legislative congressional delegation is part of the Small Brewers Caucus, he said. “They all support the lower excise tax for U.S. brewers. Last June, Sen. Wyden sponsored a bill to give all alcohol manufacturers some excise tax relief. It has 24 co-sponsors in the Senate and more than 100 in the House.”
Every June, right before Oregon Craft Beer Month in July, Brian holds a press conference about the economic impact of craft beer in Oregon, including information about the number of direct and indirect jobs created, number of barrels produced and sold here, the amount of charitable contributions and other economic indicators. For more information about the industry, upcoming Guild events or to learn how to become a SNOB, go to oregoncraftbeer.org.
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