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.
By Pete Dunlop
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Some partnerships are meant to happen. That’s certainly the case with Hopworks Urban Brewery and Patagonia Provisions, the result of which is Long Root Ale.
Released in October 2016, Long Root Ale is a Northwest-style pale ale that incorporates organic hops and barley alongside the perennial Kernza grain. The beer is named for the deep-rooted Kernza plant, which produced the grain. It was developed by Patagonia Provisions and the Kansas-based Land Institute as part of efforts to push sustainable, regenerative farming.
Hopworks became involved in the project more than a year ago, beginning with a phone call to founder and brewmaster, Christian Ettinger. Well aware of Patagonia Provisions’ efforts in transforming agricultural systems and practices, Ettinger was flattered and humbled.
“It was a surreal moment for me,” says Ettinger. “It was hard to believe a company I look up to as a business owner had dialed my number and inquired about making a beer with us. Within days, we met with them and my team learned about Kernza for the first time. Soon enough, we were thinking about brewing the beer.”
Long Root Ale is light amber in color and features a touch of nutty maltiness up front. It finishes with a burst of tropical hops and a hint of spice similar to what you find in a rye beer. At a little more than 5% ABV, it’s a nicely drinkable beer.
“Long Root is doing well for us,” Ettinger says. “I can’t provide numbers on pints sold, but we’re brewing it regularly and it serves as the primary pale ale in our pubs. It’s been well-received by our pub patrons and is selling well in packaged form. I also understand it’s doing quite well in Japan.”
Long Root Ale is made with organic two-row barley, organic yeast and a blend of organic Northwest hops. The addition of 15 percent Kernza brings a mild spiciness to the dry, crisp finish. Long Root Ale represents the first commercial use of Kernza grain. Integrating it into the beer was not without challenges.
“We soon discovered that the size and shape of the grain is problematic,” says Ettinger. “It’s long, thin and small, making it difficult to malt because it defies standard screens, bags and sieves. As a result, we’ve not been able to successfully liberate fermentable sugars from the grains.”
Which means, at least for now, the Kernza is behaving like unmalted wheat or barley. It contributes color, body and flavor, but no measurable sugar. Ettinger is searching for a solution and hopes to increase the percentage of Kernza used in the beer at some point.
“We’re working on finding or designing a malting bin that will accommodate the Kernza,” Ettinger says. “If we can do that, it will be a full player in this beer and we’ll be able to increase how much of it is used. In fact, a bin like that might hold other unconventional grains, which would be a nice development.”
The environmental advantages of the Kernza plant are many. As a perennial, it doesn’t need to be replanted each year, reducing fuel use and topsoil loss. Because it grows 6-8 feet deep, compared to annuals like wheat and barley that grow only 6-10 inches deep, the Kernza requires significantly less water, fertilizer and pesticide. The roots of the plant extract nutrients from deep in the soil, improving soil biodiversity and trapping carbon, good news for the planet.
“For a lot of reasons, we are extremely proud to be part of this project,” says Ettinger. “It’s one of the most spiritually satisfying things that we’ve been involved in.”
For its part, Patagonia Provisions saw a unique opportunity in teaming up with Hopworks to showcase efforts the company has made in developing environmentally sound farming practices.
“Beer holds a critical role in society and history. It’s the center of many tables, uniting us with its common language,” said Patagonia Provisions’ Birgit Cameron in a press release.
“We saw an opportunity to use a widely influential product to help tell the story of organic regenerative agriculture, via Kernza, to a wide swath of people. All it takes is a small tweak in the way we make our beer to effect big change — we’re hoping this message reaches the big brewers of the world.”
Long Root Ale is available in packaged form at Whole Foods stores in Oregon, Washington and California, as well as at Hopworks locations in Portland and Vancouver, Wash. But don’t look for the iconic HUB logo. Artwork on the 16-ounce cans features Patagonia Provisions branding.
“The Patagonia brand is super clean, minimalistic,” Ettinger says. “Any artist will tell you restraint can be a good thing. Sometimes less is more. We hope to get some Hopworks logos on Patagonia apparel in the near future. We are still in the early stages of this partnership.”
The complementary values of Patagonia Provisions and Hopworks run deep. Both are B-Corporations, a type of for-profit corporate entity committed to making a positive impact on society, workers, communities and the environment. B-Corporations are currently authorized in more than half of the U.S. states.
“I think there’s a lot of interest in sustainable practices,” Ettinger says. “Our partnership with Patagonia Provisions has actually helped us refine and sharpen our vision. Part of that is sharing what we know, because awareness leads to experimentation, which leads to action.
“Baby steps are fine. That’s how change often happens.”
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
In 2016, there was pizza. In 2013, there was a deli. But before all of that in 2012, there was just a brewpub called Falling Sky located in a downtown alley in Eugene. Throughout five years of change, there has been a constant:
“We want to be the most Eugene brewery in Eugene, the most representative of Eugene’s culture,” says co-founder Jason Carriere.
Instead of zigging before they zagged by focusing on territory, tap handles and shelf space, Falling Sky worked to grow a devoted local following. The business came together thanks to Carriere, owner of a homebrew store now named Falling Sky Fermentation Supply Shop, and Rob Cohen, who brought his experience with the restaurant industry. Ultimately, the two wanted a family-friendly neighborhood place.
But they did not expect what would happen next. The Falling Sky path has been different from other breweries, in part, because of the food. After barely a year in operation, Falling Sky had an opportunity to open a second location near other Whiteaker-area breweries. Expanding that quickly would be challenging, but the site was too good to pass up. It also gave them a chance to develop their food operation — the brewpub kitchen was cramped and constricted Cohen’s vision for the menu. The Falling Sky Delicatessen, which opened in 2013, elevated their fare: house charcuterie (the pastrami alone is worth a trip), pickles and fresh-baked breads.
In 2015, Falling Sky changed again. In addition to the popularity of the two locations, plus a few taps in the Portland area, the owners were in discussions with the University of Oregon about opening a space in what would be a newly renovated student union. Before that third location, a pizzeria, opened in 2016, Falling Sky expanded the brewery to meet demand.
“Both the deli and the pizzeria were surprises,” says Carriere. “The response we got from the community was great, and both of those were just opportunities that came along — maybe a little bit before we were ready for them — but we decided we had to take them anyway.”
After five years of massive — and sometimes not-entirely-expected — change, the Falling Sky team is looking forward to getting back to the basics of the day-to-day. The brewpub started with 25 employees and today has 75 across all three locations. With no more expansions or construction projects on the horizon, Carriere says he and everyone else is ready to focus on “investing time and energy into being one of the premier breweries in Oregon.”
Part of that is now dialing in the brewery expansion. “Because of the constraints of the building we’re in, as we planned we realized that if we wanted to put in additional tanks in the future, it’d be this huge ordeal,” explains Carriere. “We’d have to shut down the brewery and restaurant, because it’s challenging to get big equipment into the brewery.”
Falling Sky kept its current system but installed electrical and plumbing upgrades, along with other big equipment, such as a cold liquor tank, another whirlpool tank, four lagering tanks and two open fermenters. “Now we can do three turns in a day,” says Carriere, “where previously just trying to do two would have been a 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. ordeal.”
In 2012, Falling Sky produced 800 barrels and made an all-time brewery high of 1,111 barrels in 2016. Carriere estimates that the brewery could be on track to produce 2,000 barrels in 2017.
Not that they’re done adding new gear. An Energy Trust grant will help upgrade the brewery’s boiler. Automated grain handling is on the horizon along with installing a bigger pump for the brew system and adding an external grain silo. “We always hunted around for used brewing equipment that is interesting and cool, such as the Austrian-manufactured open fermenters,” says Carriere. “It’s part of our international theme to cobble together a little brewery museum back here.”
The upgraded brewery has also given Falling Sky the freedom to compete for more beer awards and take on new opportunities. As part of the grand opening for a new Whole Foods in downtown Eugene, the store approached Falling Sky about doing a beer. The final product, Retrograde Red, was available in 22-ounce bottles — a first for Falling Sky. “It was a good opportunity to test the waters more in a low-risk situation,” says Carriere. “It’s one of those things that we’d been meaning to look into, but didn’t have a reason — and then a reason came along.”
Now Falling Sky is pursuing limited bottle and can releases as part of a “presence of mind campaign,” instead of trying to compete for broader distribution and shelf space. “This gets our name out there so that when people see a different beer in a bar, maybe they’ve had our beer in a bottle, so maybe they try that other Falling Sky beer,” says Carriere. “We want to communicate to the state of Oregon that we are makers of quality beer, and that if you get one of our beers, any of our beers, it will be clean, drinkable and well-made.”
It’s about more than brewing beer and cooking food, though — it’s also about creating a strong culture. “What we’re building here is bigger than any one of us,” says Carriere. “People have worked for us, then left for other opportunities, and then came back. That speaks volumes about our family in the Falling Sky team.”
As local beer culture changes and the industry continues to grow, one thing surprises, humbles and motivates Carriere. “I’m amazed by the number of people locally who still, five years on, haven’t heard of Falling Sky. There’s still room for growth even in our own community, and that’s cool.”
Falling Sky Five Year Anniversary, March 1–31
Daily growler fill specials, brewery tours and tastings, special anniversary gear and apparel, brewer’s dinner, special-release and cellar beers, and more.
Falling Sky Brewing House
1334 Oak Alley, Eugene
Falling Sky Delicatessen
790 Blair Blvd., Eugene
Falling Sky Pizzeria
University of Oregon Erb Memorial Union
1395 University St., Room #46, Eugene
OBG Blog Archives
Welcome to our archive pages! Read stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler from June 2012 to January 2018. For newer stories, please visit our new website at: