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 Jim McLaren
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Alex Kurnellas remembers the first time he and Shawn Stackpoole said “I do.”
“I think, she was hesitant. I was really gung-ho … then I got really, really scared — like ‘Oh my God, what if this doesn’t work?’”
At the same time, Shawn was thinking this was the last chance to back out.
“Yeah, I couldn’t see what was in his mind. The idea he had. The passion. Not that I doubted him, but I doubted if it was going to work or not. You know, there’s so much beer already.”
On a January afternoon, there is a light snow dusting Southeast Division Street in Portland. Despite steel-gray skies, the glass-walled Imperial Bottle Shop & Taproom is bright and comfortable. And Shawn and Alex are telling their love and beer story.
Their “I do’s” involved signing a lease for their shop space.
“There was really only one moment when we looked at each other — right before we signed the lease and thought, we could back out now. That’s the only time we ever talked about it.” But they decided, “We’re so close, let’s do it. You live once. If it doesn’t work, we’ll learn from it. If it does work, we’ll learn more from it.”
Shawn and Alex were a reluctant couple to begin with. They met through friends while living and going to school in Santa Barbara, Calif. Their friendship was built on similar interests and liking the same music. But romance took longer. After several years, despite the prodding by friends, Shawn thought, “Why ruin a good friendship?” Eventually, she relented. “We enjoy each other. He makes me laugh and that was six years ago…”
The change in relationship status included the move to Portland; the couple was a little bored by Santa Barbara. The beer lovers also thought the Rose City beer scene was more diverse. That, along with Alex’s childhood, should have been a clue about what would come next. Raised in New Jersey, he had seen both his father and grandfather open and run diners.
“I grew up in a restaurant for the most part,” Alex says. His intuition for operating the taproom impressed Shawn and most likely led her to follow him willingly into an arrangement that can be treacherous for a personal relationship. People often advise against mixing business and love. But think of this way: the business is like marriage, the store is like a child.
Shawn admits, “It’s been a challenge, as is anything in life but…”
Alex, as what often happens with couples, picks up the thought. “Because not only are you working with that person, but all of sudden you got in an argument at work and you take that home because you are with that person. So it’s your whole life. At first it was hard for us. I was working 100-hour weeks, Shawn was working 60-, 70-, 80-hour weeks, so all the time we spent together was at work. Our relationship really suffered. We had a work relationship, but not much of a loving relationship. But after a year, a year-and-a-half, we started to find time for us. I started learning to not talk about work when we went out to dinner.”
“But we’d get about 30 minutes into dinner and something would come up. We’d have to reel it back in,” Shawn adds.
Both credit their long, pre-romance relationship with laying the foundation for how well they work together. Alex says, “I could not imagine doing it without Shawn.”
Shawn sighs and says, “You’re going to make me cry.”
Success with the 4-year-old store has added something else to their lives.
“We are lucky,” Shawn says. “We’ve been accepted by the neighborhood. I enjoy hanging out with people I’ve met at the bar.”
Alex continues, “It’s been a really enriching experience for both of us. A lot of the people that are our friends, that we see on a daily basis, are people who we met here as customers — are people we would never have met because they are different ages, have different interests. But we got to meet them through the business.”
So, you’re probably asking — what about saying “I do” at the altar? Well, Alex says he’s ready. But Shawn? “I can’t commit to what I want for a wedding. Do I want to just run off? Do I want to have a big party? I can’t decide.”
*** When you go to Imperial, ask about the “Star Wars” mural inside the front door.
Imperial Bottle Shop & Taproom
3090 SE Division St., Portland
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Stay on the nice list of the beer lover in your life by giving the gift of a special bottle that is worth a spot in the cellar. The picks here were curated by Mike Coplin, owner of 16 Tons in Eugene, and Ryan Fosbinder, purchasing manager at Belmont Station in Portland. One tip: “gift” an extra bottle to yourself.
The Ale Apothecary, Bend
House lactobacillus gives sour balance to malt and wheat structure. Added complexity from up to a year of aging in oak barrels, followed by a month-long dry-hopping — also in oak barrels. The result surprises with tropical and citrus aroma, with tart, earthy and herbal notes on the palate. 9% ABV
Captain of the Coast
Pelican Brewing Company, Pacific City
MacPelican’s Wee Heavy aged in Washington Wheat Whiskey barrels from Dry Fly Distilling in Spokane, Wash. Silky texture and complex flavor evokes creme brulee, dried apricots and sherry. 9.5% ABV
The Commons Brewery, Portland
Pucker up! Last released in 2012, this floral, earthy ale brings mild tartness and cherry notes from ale yeast, brett and 10 months of aging in a 60-barrel foudre. 6.3% ABV
Ninth Anniversary Peach Farmhouse Ale
Oakshire Brewing, Eugene
Released in 2015. A brett ale and wild ale each mingled with peach puree for two years before they were blended and spent another month on more peach. Fruit flavors hold strong. 6.2% ABV
Belmont Station 19th Anniversary Barrel-Aged Barley Wine
Ecliptic Brewing, Portland
Brewed for Portland’s oldest beer shop. Aged nine months in 12-year-old bourbon casks, this barley wine picks up rich barrel character: oak, caramel and heat. 12% ABV
Oakshire Brewing, Eugene
Oakshire snagged a recommendation each from Ryan and Mike. Oakshire’s sixth anniversary continued their Hellshire series with an imperial stout aged 12 months in Heaven Hill Rittenhouse Rye and Elijah Craig bourbon barrels. 12% ABV
Breakside Brewery, Portland
Gin meets hops meets brett in a blend of barrel-aged sour beers 16 months to 26 months old. Delicious now, but expect cellaring to further improve and refine its character. 7.7% ABV
16 Tons Sech 'n Brett
Logsdon Farmhouse Ales, Hood River
Session-style Szechuan Brett Seizoen brewed to commemorate the five-year anniversary of Eugene’s 16 Tons. Various yeasts influence spice and fruit notes, plus a crisp, dry finish. Pepper character enhances food pairings. Expect this bottle-conditioned beer to keep evolving. 6.5% ABV
Caldera Brewing Company, Ashland
Chocolate and bourbon step right up to the palate. Imperial porter conditioned on Maker's Mark-soaked oak spirals, then aged in Kentucky Heaven Hill bourbon barrels. 8.5% ABV
Conflux Series No. 2: Collage
Deschutes, Bend and Hair of the Dog, Portland
Both Mike and Ryan recommended this “artistic collage of cask-aging alchemy.” A blend of Deschutes The Abyss and The Stoic (each aged in pinot barrels) and Hair of the Dog Fred (aged in American oak and rye whiskey barrels) and Doggie Claws (aged in cognac barrels). Roasted accents and complex malt character underpin molasses, caramel and vanilla. Don’t be surprised if this beer improves after a couple more years. 14.3% ABV
By Erica Tiffany-Brown
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
If you’ve never had the chance to attend BridgePort Brewing’s Ebenezer Pub Crawl, you might be feeling a little bitter.
The brewery may have just hosted its eighth annual event in Portland’s Multnomah Village on Dec. 1, but if you missed it I’ve got just the idea that will lift your spirits.
Perhaps you’re looking to celebrate BridgePort’s seasonal Ebenezer Ale or to simply check out all the cheerful bars this neighborhood has to offer. The good news is, it’s never too late to recreate the pub crawl on your own!
Described by the brewery as “an appropriately rich and complex winter warmer,” Ebenezer Ale is quite the old guy — he’s been around for 17 years now. So it only makes sense that the 6.4%, 40 IBU seasonal comes from the self-proclaimed “Oregon’s Oldest Craft Brewery.”
Much like how “A Christmas Carol’s” Ebenezer Scrooge is tipped off that he’ll be visited by the spirits of past, present, and yet to come, I’ve outlined a (much less stressful) evening for you to get the most merriment out of bar-hopping this holiday season.
The pub crawl is divided into five stops. Interestingly enough, Charles Dickens’ novella is also divided into five chapters, or staves. Coincidence? I think not.
Pro Tip: Although the below stops are listed in the same order as the official pub crawl, I’ve made a few suggestions that will please all the penny-pinchers out there. It isn’t called “happy hour” for no reason!
3535 SW Multnomah Blvd., 503-244-2617, johnsmarketplace.com
While you may have missed out on the special pouring of BridgePort’s 2011 Old Knucklehead Barleywine during the first stop of the pub crawl, I have a feeling this market’s massive selection of more than 1,000 different bottled beers “and a heck of a lot of cans” will help numb the pain. I’d recommend returning here to make purchases at the end of your crawl (they’re open until at least 10 p.m. every night). That way, you won’t have to drag your stash of rare and exciting bottles with you everywhere you go like some heavy chains.
0.1 mile, 3 minute walk to:
7771 SW Capitol Highway, 503-929-0229, multnomahvillage.org/listings/journeys
Since this cozy pub doesn’t open until 4 p.m., I’d recommend starting your crawl at Renner’s or O’Connor’s. But save room for happy hour at Journeys — which lasts until 7 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. The pub’s several variations of cheese bites (grilled cheese sandwiches cut into bites and served with dipping sauce) are so good, you’ll want to order more than just one kind. My favorite? The “Pickle.” Dill pickles, havarti cheese, spicy brown mustard and ranch are combined to make the perfect snack for a night of beer-drinking. If weather permits, be sure to sit by the fire pit on the ample patio.
295 feet, 1 minute walk to:
7819 SW Capitol Highway, 503-246-9097, rennersgrill.com
The oldest continuously operated business in Multnomah Village, Renner’s Grill was established in 1939 and is affectionately referred to as a “five-star dive bar.” It’s easy to see why — the bar may be unglamorous with a laid-back, no-frills vibe, but their hearty food, generous drinks and friendly service would put a smile on even the grumpiest of faces. All beers are proudly served in 20-ounce imperial pints, which feels like a steal when you order Full Sail’s Session as a $2.75 buffer beer during happy hour.
190 feet, 1 minute walk to:
7850 SW Capitol Highway, 503-244-1690, oconnorsportland.com
A lot has changed since O’Connor’s was originally located in a different area of Portland as a “service-to-men-only” establishment in 1934. Now in the Multnomah neighborhood for more 20 years, both men and women alike can saddle up to the bar and shoot the breeze. As soon as I sat down, I felt at home with the regulars. Maybe it was the beer, maybe it was some kind of premature holiday spirit. Between that and the abundance of $3 to $5 happy hour food specials, I wish I could have stayed longer. But alas, the night must go on...
410 feet, 2 minute walk to:
7827 SW 35th Ave., 503-244-7345, mvship.com
The building that houses this tavern was originally part of John’s Marketplace, and as with most stops on this crawl, has a long history. But like Ebenezer himself, it has gone through a lot of changes, especially since being purchased by new owners more than a year ago. There used to be only one beer on tap and a few in the cooler, and now there are 24 beers displayed on a digital menu (many of which are from Oregon). From the outside, it might look a little divey, but on the inside, it’s a lot of fun. End your pub crawl with some pool or Big Buck Hunter and order a half pint of one of the Oregon beers on tap (you’ll thank me later).
Once you’re all gamed-out, head back to John’s Marketplace next door for more supplies to keep the festivities going at home. As of press time, Ebenezer Ale was sold in both 22-ounce bombers and six-packs at the bottle shop. As BridgePort warns, “Make sure to stock up before the holidays. If you thought Scrooge was angry before, you should see him when he’s out of beer.”
Note: Every year, the pub crawl features a different charitable partner and encourages participants to donate. This year, the brewery partnered with LifeWorks Northwest, which promotes a healthy community by providing quality and culturally responsive mental health and addiction services across the lifespan. This is a friendly reminder to not be a Scrooge and to spread some holiday cheer this season!
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.”
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