Yachats Brewing + Farmstore recently added to its 7-barrel brewhouse, including a six-head bottling line and wind machine that will power the glycol chiller. Pictured, left to right, assistant brewer Aaron Gillham, director of brewery operations Jenna Steward and head brewer Charlie Van Meter. Photo by Michael Kew
By Michael Kew
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Brewer on the roof: “I’m snowblind whenever I first walk up here.”
We squint in the glare. Sunday afternoon. Over there is the ocean. We’re at the beach, but we’re not.
In shades and a black hoodie, Charlie Van Meter sips fresh kolsch from a glass. From his downstairs brite-tank tap, of course.
“It’s nice being right on 101,” Jenna Steward, his wife and director of brewery operations, says. She’s on the kolsch, too. “Even if people don’t expect to stop in, they see our sign and decide to take a break and see what we’re about.”
Third story — technically the flat, white roof — of Yachats Brewing + Farmstore. This used to be a bank. Look 30 feet down: Highway 101 and the somnolence of Yachats, population 700. Look up: clear sky. Look west: blue Pacific forever. Look south: the Yachats River estuary, shadowed by Cape Perpetua — the fabled green fist of rock, knuckling the white waves.
“The dream,” Van Meter says, “is to put a third-story taproom right here so we can all have this epic view. Yachats is beautiful in the sun — and in the rain and wind. It’s great for storm watching, too. People will sit and watch the chaos around them.”
In 2015, Van Meter and Steward (both 28) relocated from Hood River at the wish of Yachatians Nathan and Cicely Bernard. Three years earlier, the Bernards flipped the old bank into a farmstore hub, selling local meat, produce, fermented food and all sorts of cool garden gear. The bright, helpful space was crafted with salvaged Oregon wood and wine barrel furniture. It became an intersection for this tranquil community.
“We’ve got a ‘coast time’ outlook on things,” Van Meter says, exhaling, admiring the view. “It’s Yachats Time, like ‘island time’ in the tropics. A nice, relaxed pace.”
Unfortunately, the Bernards are not here today. They’re likely eight miles upriver, tending to their sunny permaculture homestead. Here at the brewery, they’ve left the proverbial gate ajar for their young yeastmaster; Van Meter and Steward (with assistant brewer Aaron Gillham) are taking full advantage. New additions to their 7-barrel brewhouse include a six-head bottling line for 500 milliliter glass with “limited release sales, hopefully by Thanksgiving,” Steward says before pointing at a roof next door. “And over there is the proprietary wind machine that’s going to power our glycol chiller.”
Van Meter is an anomaly. Just a few years into his wort-wrangling, he stood onstage at the 2014 Great American Beer Festival, fist-bumping Charlie Papazian and sporting a shiny silver medal for a peach saison he helped brew at his (now) alma mater, Logsdon Farmhouse Ales. That happened after he’d dovetailed jobs at Portland U-Brew and Uptown Market into his first pro-brewing gig at Sasquatch Brewery in Hillsdale. This was in 2012, the birth year of Yachats Farmstore. Logsdon’s Chuck Porter — colleague of Van Meter and an old friend of the Bernards — then cameoed to mash a few farmstore ales with Bernard’s 20-barrel pilot system.
But the system had to grow. Logsdon again pollinated the Yachats fold, this time via Van Meter/Steward.
They fit in.
“Yachats is an eclectic collection of people who very intentionally decide to live in this town,” Van Meter says. “It has a weird magnetism. People with all kinds of crazy skills and backgrounds end up here. I like to say Yachats is a collection of wizards.”
It’s getting hot here on the roof. More kolsch, anyone?
On draught downstairs in the bustling eatery/store/bar are 13 house beers. There are three kombuchas, seven guest beers, two meads, three ciders and two wines. There’s a saison with Szechuan peppercorns, a saison with plum and lavender, a saison with sage, a saison with lemongrass and rosebud….
“We like to keep it fresh, keep it new, keep it tasty,” Van Meter says. “Farmhouse ales are close to my heart — probably my ‘traditional’ beers. They capture my imagination in terms of the history of the style and the romanticism of oak and its charms and attention to the simple ingredients.”
“Simple grain bills and hop bills. A lot of the stuff I make is just a little bit of pilsner malt, a little bit of wheat, and combinations of yeast and adding fruit or spices to it. There is so much you can do with a small palette, like a painter’s palette. You can make a lot of things within the saison/farmhouse category with only a few ‘colors,’ if you will. It’s complex, yet it can be refreshing. There are lots of subtle flavors to come out of these combinations of yeast. Brewing is like being a yeast shepherd. You try to give it its ideal conditions and food and let it take care of itself. You’re just there to help it get into a package.”
I gape at the long wooden tap wall, a palette of choice in a place that is nothing but.
“This brewery is its own living thing,” Van Meter says. “We’re just letting it grow to what it wants to be.”
Yachats Brewing + Farmstore
348 Highway 101, Yachats
Organizers of the Selfie Fest Road Show gathered with brewers at Untapped in Portland in June. The series of events is being held to highlight smaller breweries who self-distribute. Pictured, from left to right: Rik Hall, Baerlic Brewing; David Lederfine, Awesome Ales; Jim Parker, Selfie Fest organizer; Ben Parsons, Baerlic; Alex Kraft, Feckin Irish Brewing. Photo by Jim McLaren
By Jim McLaren
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Traffic on North Interstate Avenue in Portland was crawling through a light drizzle when a guy on a Vespa motor scooter jumped the curb and squeaked to a stop on the sidewalk in front of Untapped, a self-described “craft beer fill house.” Sliding off the scooter, he pried the helmet from his head and headed for the door. Once inside he stood back from the bar and began scanning the big board menu hovering over 38 tap handles. He wasn’t paying any attention to the two guys sitting at a high-top table talking to a writer. And he wasn’t there for the Selfie Fest either.
Ben Parsons and Rik Hall are both wearing short-billed, black bicycle caps with Baerlic Brewing Co. logos. They’re the owners and they know something most people ignore: Oregon’s craft beer explosion is not just about making beer. It’s also about DISTRIBUTING beer.
“It’s a really big story,” Hall says, “but it’s one people don’t really focus on. They see a beer, they like it, they drink it, regardless of who distributes it.” While Parsons nods in agreement, Hall continues, “to us, self-distributing is part of the craft of beer.”
Self-distributing? Part of the craft of beer? Get comfortable and let me explain. Once Oregon craft brewers learned how to make good beer, their next problem was how to get it to you. Under the old three-tier distribution system, beer went from brewery to distributor to retailer and then you. Like most economically productive systems, this one was efficient, but also stifling.
Distributors often tried to influence what a brewer made because, they claimed, they knew best what would sell. The brewers listened because the law did not allow them to go out and fight for the limited space on store shelves or in taverns with limited tap handles.
In 2001 things began to change with a strong lobbying push for a series of bills defining who could distribute beer. Jim Parker, former executive director of the Oregon Brewers Guild explains, “The first nod went to breweries with very small production, up 500 barrels a year. The next session the limit was pushed to 1,000 barrels. The law now allows self-distribution for breweries making up to 7,500 barrels per year.”
The self-distribution law has democratized the beer industry. Big distributors still sell the most beer, but smaller breweries with hustle can work their way into places like Untapped. Owner Lisa McArthur says the benefit is that “their beer doesn’t get lost in the portfolio of the big distributor reps. It’s nice that they [small brewers] come in and tell me about their beer. And it’s nice dealing directly with the breweries. You get to know them, you kind of get to know the brewery’s personality … so yeah I like getting to know them.”
This past March, the Imperial Bottle Shop & Taproom took a chance on something else coming from a small brewery — the Selfie Fest Road Show. It was Jim Parker’s idea to draw attention to small beermakers who build their business on a foundation of self-distribution. Parker works for Baerlic Brewing, a five-person operation.
“They make the beer, they sell the beer, they pick up the empties,” Parker says by way of explaining long hours and a weak social life, “in that way people will begin to think about the small, independent breweries doing everything by themselves.”
The Selfie Fest, which went to the Uptown Market in April but was canceled in May before resurfacing in June at Untapped, is designed as a tap takeover by several breweries at the same time. Alex Kraft of Feckin Irish Brewing Company favors the concept.
“It’s cool to have these beers together. It’s not the easiest way to go, but in the long run it can help small brewers who want to go their own way. In the long run it can help a brewery — being self-distributed, you don’t have to brew a specific thing because the distributors told you we want you to make this particular style. Half of the fun of brewing is just trying something out.” Kraft doubts a large distributor would have taken a chance on Feckin’s Top o’ the Feckin Mornin’ porter. Now it’s a mainstay of what the 3-year-old brewery sells.
About that point during the interview, a few people wandered into Untapped. They’d gotten off work, survived traffic jams and were looking to relax. But because this was not a standard meet-the-brewer event or tap takeover, they didn’t seem aware of what was going on — the Selfie Fest.
Ben Parsons says social media hasn’t caught up with a selfie that isn’t about taking a picture. “This is an uphill battle because most people just don’t understand distribution. It is a very complicated thing. But I would argue that the beer industry is more about distribution, about power and quantity. We’re trying to celebrate the revolution”.
“I listen to my customers” says Lisa McArthur. And while those customers might not be ready for a Selfie Fest or understand distribution systems, they unwittingly appreciate what it’s done for beer. Lisa continues, “Being a small neighborhood bar, we get a lot of repeat customers, so customer recommendations I take very seriously. I’ll throw a keg on and see how it goes.”
The sun has followed the afternoon drizzle and more people are stopping in on their way home from work. Walking away from the bar, the motor scooter jockey tucks a small growler into his messenger bag, pushes his way through the door, squeezes his head into his helmet, climbs onto his scooter and fires up the hidden engine that powers him down the street.
The next Selfie Fest stops will be at McMenamins 23rd Avenue Bottle Shop in Portland in July and then Oregon City Brewing Company in August.
When Tyler Staples took over the brewing at Uptown Market in June he “skyrocketed our beer production,” said marketing director Liz Soucie. The former McMenamins Highland Pub brewer is seen here pouring beer at the original Southwest Scholls Ferry location. It’s marking its fourth anniversary this month. Photos courtesy of Uptown Market
By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Uptown Market had a very exceptional beginning; in fact, you might call it backwards. Unlike the majority of craft beer establishments that begin with an idea and progress to a place, this one started with an empty space and progressed with an idea.
Uptown Market started out as a real estate opportunity for three guys. They bought an empty convenience store, and then figured out what to put in it.
Brothers AJ and Chris Shepard and their friend Stuart Faris independently came up with the same answer to the question of what to do with their Southwest Scholls Ferry Road location — they all wanted a place where they would hang out and drink beer.
Four years ago this December, the Portland Uptown Market opened as a bottle shop with six taps. Since then, it has expanded. There are now more than 30 different brews on tap, including its own beers, a vast selection of bottled beers and wine as well as homebrew supplies. Almost from the beginning, the casual market developed a loyal following — a dedicated group who wanted to … what else? Hang out and drink beer. With the recent opening this spring of its new location in Lake Oswego, complete with a kitchen and new chef, Uptown Market is branching into brewpub territory.
The business model for the relative newcomer is certainly unique. “Uptown Market is a very expensive hobby that makes them [the owners] money and brings them together. It’s also a showroom for the kind of work they can do,” said Liz Soucie, director of marketing.
AJ and Chris Shepard also own and operate a successful property management company, Uptown Properties. AJ Shepard is a licensed contractor, both commercial and residential, and Chris Shepard is a licensed broker. Faris is the director of marketing for an engineering company. They did much of the design and renovation of the Lake Oswego space themselves, with help from Soucie. In contrast to other startup businesses that often operate on a lean budget, Uptown Market has plenty of capital, said Soucie.
Once the first location was up and going with steady business, the three owners decided to add their own brewery. Actually it was their manager’s idea. Herb Apon, who is now manager for Portland beer hall Loyal Legion, pushed them to brew on-site. “Apon thought it would be a cool idea for Uptown Market to make use of its extra storage space in back and brew its own beer,” said Soucie.
They set up a 7-barrel system purchased from Two Kilts Brewing Co. When empty, the space looked fairly large. But with the brewing equipment installed, the 800-square-foot area filled up quickly.
“The original brewer helped create the brand,” said Soucie. “But Tyler Staples, our new brewer, has really grown the production and reputation of the beer.” Staples came from McMenamins Highland Pub and Brewery in Gresham at the beginning of summer 2015. “He’s skyrocketed our production,” said Soucie.
Staples is focusing on six production beers — from a pale ale developed for Portland Golf Club to a stout, along with seasonals and apple ciders. His two fresh-hop selections were very popular at this fall’s Portland Fresh Hops Fest held at Oaks Park. Soucie said they sell one-third of their fresh-hop kegged beer to other locations, and Staples’ relationship with distributor Willamette Valley Hops is a huge plus when it comes to ensuring seasonal supply.
Both Uptown Market locations feature special events and create a festive atmosphere by having something special “on tap” every weekend. During the summer, the shops often host tastings. “We enjoy bringing in guest brewers. One of their reps comes in. We put up to three or four of their beers on tap. They pour samples for our clientele to promote bottle sales,” said Soucie.
Once the Lake Oswego location opened, the chef started creating food specials to pair with the beer. The menu includes snacks, salads, sandwiches and sausages from Otto’s in Portland, along with burgers and daily specials/happy hour food. The Oktoberfest pork shank was such a hit, it continues be featured on the menu. “We did a special for Baerlic of a pineapple salsa and avocado burger and a beer brat with beer cheese and crispy shallots, using Baerlic beer,” added Soucie. Since the cozy pub is located in the midst of small businesses and professional offices, they also offer catered meals and boxed lunches. The Southwest Scholls Ferry Road location also has a food cart with a similar menu.
Recently, Uptown Market started a mug club for loyal customers. For a $10 monthly fee, members receive in-store discounts on pints, growlers, bottles, food and merchandise. Plus, they have the opportunity to purchase the hand-selected monthly 12-packs of hard-to-find beers and ciders. An optional benefit is your very own personalized mug.
Meanwhile, big plans are in the works for the fourth anniversary celebration of the original Uptown Market on Dec. 12. The fun will come in fours. Four bands, four guest tastings, four food specials, four variations of Uptown’s beer, four firkins and more.
Although the news this summer of a possible partnership with Logsdon Farmhouse Ales appears to be off the table, at least for now, the owners are on the lookout for a large scale production facility, most likely on the east side. As Soucie explained about the Logsdon deal: “The opportunity was brought to the ownership of Uptown Market and at this time it appears there are no plans to move forward with it.” Meanwhile future plans include finding a warehouse facility that’s around 4,000 square feet or so. The space would allow the brewery to can or bottle, build a large-scale pub and store an ample amount of supplies. Additionally, Uptown would like to buy a home and not lease, according to Soucie.
[a] 6620 SW Scholls Ferry Road, Portland
[a] 3970 Mercantile Drive #110, Lake Oswego
By Kris McDowell
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Six years ago the craft beer world was considerably different than it is today. Six years ago technology was considerably different than it is today. Both were less sophisticated, still children with unexplored potential.
That's when Kerry Finsand had the idea to put technology to work to create a product that would help craft beer drinkers find specific beers on tap. As a craft beer consumer himself, he was tired of calling places or finding outdated information on websites and felt he could create something that would make his life and the lives of other craft beer consumers easier.
During that time he had been a regular attendee at Beer and Blog events at the Green Dragon. They were geared toward the technology crowd, and Kerry found three like-minded individuals who were interested in working on something he describes as "a fun side thing." With shared interests of craft beer and technology, Kerry, Ken Baer, Kevin Scaldeferri and Scott Wray created Taplister. Less than a year later their product, one that allowed consumers to both look up beers and submit beers into the searchable database, was ready to be launched. Kerry drew upon his experience working at Groupon and similar companies marketing their products to implement marketing for Taplister. A kickoff party was held at EastBurn, Taplister's first account, followed by a significant presence at that year's Oregon Brewers Festival. They secured a booth at the festival, hiring friends who were paid in beer tokens, to get the word out about what Taplister was and why it should appeal to the craft beer community. Following the festival, they brought on a group of Taplister ambassadors to visit establishments and ensure tap lists were up to date.
Fast forward two years and Taplister, now far more than the side project it had started as, was expanding to Seattle and beyond. This was also a time of restructuring for the group of four that had started the company.
Scott and Kevin were the first to leave Taplister and not long after that Kerry became sole owner when he bought out Ken. With the full weight of the company on his shoulders Kerry kicked Taplister into high gear, raising $100,000 to help fund the young company. That success was followed by acceptance into local business accelerator Upstart Labs, a now-closed entity that focused on early-stage development of technology companies. That opportunity provided Kerry with hands-on mentorship and business experience to draw upon. The initial money raised was then supplemented by Kerry's efforts that raised an additional $150,000, the majority of which went toward developing the technology to support his vision of Taplister. With things getting considerably more serious, Kerry left his full-time position to focus on Taplister.
Taplister founder Kerry Finsand kicked the business into high gear after becoming sole owner, but eventually found he needed a team with the knowledge to complement his. The search for help grew frustrating and Taplister actually shut down for a period of time. It’s now been revived with Finsand taking on the role of consultant. Photo courtesy of Taplister
Kerry eventually found that he needed a team of individuals who had skillsets to complement his. He worked with multiple people, but had difficulty finding those with the right mix of skills and passion. A bit frustrated and needing a break from devoting all of his time to the company, Kerry made the decision to shut down Taplister in the summer of 2014. The announcement brought forth multiple people who wanted to help out or even buy Taplister in order to keep it around. The unexpected positive response was heartening and prompted Kerry to reconsider the future of the company. It was important to him that Taplister remain a Portland-owned business, therefore he wanted to find someone who was more skilled in running the business side of the company he had created.
Enter Mark Meyer, a man who grew and ran a company for 22 years before selling it. His background was in computers, and after he sold his company he began working with the beer industry on the equipment and software side of things. He found the industry to be full of "nice, fun people," so when the Taplister shutdown was announced he was quick to contact Kerry. Not long after that, Mark purchased Taplister with Kerry remaining involved as a consultant. Then it was time for Mark to get down to business to figure out how to resurrect and improve Taplister.
The first step was to rebuild the entire platform, retaining the same functionality but improving its performance and adding new features. Beyond that, Mark focused on getting feedback from customers. Mark is proud to hear people say, "You give really, really good service," and it's something that is of the utmost importance for him to continue. He knows that listening to potential customer feedback is key improving and expanding Taplister.
The world in which Taplister exists faces increasing competition all the time, so finding the right niche, doing a superior job of filling that niche and working with customers to help them understand the power the platform provides when it's fully utilized is key to both customer and consumer satisfaction. Customers, like EastBurn, have four levels of engagement to choose from that range from the most basic, free listing of their establishment and tap list (The Six Pack) to a full package of capabilities (The Keg), which includes digital beer boards on-site, pushing information to social media accounts and even transferring digital beer listings into easily printed, hardcopy menus. Keeping tap lists up to date benefits Taplister's customers by allowing craft beer drinkers to find locations that have beers they are looking for, a win-win for both parties.
It has now been a year since Mark took the reins at Taplister. He's pleased with what has been accomplished to date, but not ready to rest on his laurels. For the last year, he's primarily focused on educating customers and being responsive to their needs. As he moves into the second year with Taplister, he'll take a closer look at the craft beer drinker side of the equation. There will continue to be challenges — figuring out how to better manage the listing of collaboration beers, keeping up with the new beers that craft brewers seem to be constantly be rolling out and finding ways to use the vast amount of analytical data they’ve amassed. But as a veteran businessman, Mark is excited by the challenges and looks forward to the future of Taplister.
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