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Ninkasi is one of several Eugene breweries that have joined the Willamette Valley Sustainable Foods Alliance. Pictured here are Ninkasi founders Jamie Floyd and Nikos Ridge. The brewery’s communication director said they’re proud to support WVSFA for “promoting natural food businesses and sustainable practices.” Photo courtesy of Ninkasi Brewing Company
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Headquartered in downtown Eugene, the Willamette Valley Sustainable Foods Alliance (WVSFA) at first glance might not seem like an association for the craft beer industry. The word “beer” isn’t mentioned in the organization’s name, goals or mission. Yet the WVSFA has five members from the Eugene-area’s craft beer industry: Agrarian Ales, Hop Valley Brewing Company, The Growler Guys, Ninkasi Brewing Company and Oakshire Brewing.
The appeal is simple, says Ali AAsum, communications director for Ninkasi. “We are proud to help support the great work of WVSFA in promoting natural food businesses and sustainable practices within these industries,” says AAsum. “Their commitment to growing our community of like-minded businesses is outstanding.”
While the mission of the regional trade association of companies “promotes natural food businesses through relationships, education and sustainable business practices,” this is something of great interest to the craft beer industry as well, particularly at the local level. While the food organizations and beer organizations offer different perspectives and can have different needs or face different challenges, they also find far more in common when it comes to the value of sustainability in supply chains, distribution networks, relationships and other issues.
“We’re all working to establish the Willamette Valley as a premier source of natural foods and delicious beverages,” explains Alyssa Lawless, director of sustainability at Mountain Rose Herbs and current board president at WVSFA.
WVSFA members include food and beverage retailers, manufacturers, restaurateurs, distributors, farmers and nonprofit organizations. With such a range of businesses and organizations, says Lawless, one way the WVSFA brings common purpose is to ask all members to annually commit to a Sustainability Pledge that outlines principles to guide sustainable business practices. By signing the pledge, members agree to uphold sustainability principles pertaining to land use, climate change, sourcing, water use, labor, education, waste reduction and more.
Members also work together on the WVSFA’s various goals not only for sustainability, but also for improved operations and profitability of the member businesses. Goals include working with the City of Eugene and Lane County on issues affecting the viability of natural foods businesses located in those areas, mentoring new businesses, and educating the public about the health benefits of natural and organic foods.
The education component is one that brings members together regularly. “As a member, we’ve partnered with WVSFA on events such as Fun with Fermentation,” says AAsum, describing an annual showcase of local fermented foods and beverages that recently drew more than 700 attendees.
The WVSFA was founded in 2009, with membership open to all relevant food and beverage businesses that were interested in pursuing sustainable business practices. “At that time, Hop Valley Brewing Company, Oakshire Brewing and Falling Sky Brewing were among the first members, and they are still members today,” says Lawless. “These businesses saw value in joining a local group and networking with other environmentally- and socially-conscious companies.”
Members also meet for Educational Forums to discuss challenges, identify issues and brainstorm solutions. “We tackle topics such as distribution, sourcing, marketing, employee benefits, the Food Safety Modernization Act and regional food branding,” says Lawless. “One recent issue that will impact the food and beverage industry is the Food Safety Modernization Act. Last year we held two Educational Forums on the topic. Congressman Peter DeFazio attended the second forum to hear our members’ concerns.”
One larger goal the WVSFA has in its sights is developing a regional brand around foods produced in Eugene and Lane County. It would be something akin to the Napa Valley branding for its wines. “Our brewery members have provided excellent feedback in the process of developing the regional food brand,” says Lawless. “Craft beer is also one of the many industries contributing to the development of this area as a source of quality natural foods.”
Backed by a five-year strategic plan, the WVSFA has “a main goal of growing the regional food brand: ‘Willamette Grown & Crafted,’” explains Lawless. “This year we are expanding our social media presence and developing a new website. These and other goals are directly impacted by member feedback and the issues they deal with in their businesses.”
Lawless sees opportunity for other Lane County and Willamette Valley craft beer organizations to join the Alliance. “Throughout the year, members are promoted on social media, the WVSFA website and in a quarterly e-newsletter where they are able to advertise job openings and share news. Networking with other members and suppliers at Educational Forums, our Annual Banquet and community events is another benefit for craft beer organizations.”
The Growler Guys chain of Oregon, Washington and Idaho became a WVSFA member a year ago, due, in part, to its participation in Fun with Fermentation. In addition to volunteering for many WVSFA-sponsored events during the past four years, Shannon Turner manages The Growler Guys flagship store in Eugene. “This was really good exposure for our company to have face time with lovers of craft beer, cider and kombucha,” explains Turner. “The WVSFA promotes many causes that help ensure that we have fresh, safe ingredients, and clean drinking water in the Willamette Valley, so that brewers can keep making great beer.”
Willamette Valley Sustainable Foods Alliance
[a] 1430 Willamette St., P.O. Box 101, Eugene
By Gail Oberst
Can we expect a hop shortage in the near future, driving Oregon IBUs down and prices for your pint up?
That was certainly the buzz a few months ago, when an article in the Wall Street Journal, followed by a lemming-like response from other writers, heralded gloom and doom for “small” brewers – producers of less than 15,000 barrels per year, thus, all but about seven of Oregon’s 170 breweries. Suggesting that a hop shortage is looming, the article warned that our beloved hoppy beers would soon cost too much for anyone to drink or give way to – Baccus forbid! – low-hop beverages like lagers or lambics or even meads and ciders.
But is there truly a nationwide – possibly world- wide – shortage brought on by your intense love of hoppy beers?
Psych! No there isn’t!
In a word, no, there’s no hop shortage, according to national and local experts.
Or to be more precise, there is no shortage of hops in the real sense, as it was in 2007-2008 when – for various reasons both environmental and economic – we suffered a real shortage, making the current situation far too mild to be called a “shortage.” But without a doubt, demand for hoppy beers has changed the market and brewers would be smart to plan.
Growers are doing their best to respond to a heavy demand for aroma hops, especially Cascades, the workhorse of the IPA and other hop-centric beers, said Nancy Sites, executive director of the Oregon Hop Commission. And they are doing a great job of it. Oregon’s potential harvest this year is nearly 800 acres more than it was last year and more than 570 of those acres are strung up with Cascades, the mother of aroma hops. Centennial, Chinook, Citra, Golding, Crystal, Mt. Hood, Perle, Sterling and Willamette all saw increases in acreage this year in Oregon. If you were a brewer counting on Nugget – currently Oregon’s largest acreage hops – you might be looking at a tight market, as acreage fell by just under 300 as demand shifts to other types. But replacement hops were plentiful. And Washington, which has 29,021 acres in hops this year (to Oregon’s has 5,559), has grown by nearly 2,000 acres since last year. “Shortage” is a word you would use when hop acreage falls from 17,000 acres to 5,700 acres, as it did in 1954. Even Idaho, with its 3,812 acres of hops, is up by more than 400 acres this year. Hardly the numbers of shortages, points out Chris Swersey of the Brewers Association.
So where does the Wall Street Journal get its idea that there’s a “shortage” of hops?
The word is sometimes used when prices rise, which they are apt to do as demand and values increase. And there has been a drop in the number of acres devoted to bittering or alpha acid hops – Galena, Nugget, Millenium — as brewers replace them with the aroma hops – Cascades and Centennials. And, as large brewers follow the consumer demand for aroma hops, those may quickly disappear from the open market, making contracts even more important for the small brewery.
The Job’s Not Done Until the Paperwork Is...
Perhaps those local brewers who chose not to enter into contracts or those newer brewers who haven’t established relationships with hop growers and distributors may find themselves short in some cases, Swersey said. More than 90 percent of Brewers Association members maintain contracts for hops, guaranteeing them product and reducing the chance of “shortages.” Many brewers establish hop contracts long before they even brew their first professional beers. These agreements are safeguards for big and small breweries, Swersey added.
In Oregon, some varieties are in short supply, but these are mostly privately licensed varieties where owners are maintaining higher prices to avoid oversupply, Sites said.
Sites said there’s reason to believe aroma hop acreage, as opposed to bittering hops, will continue to expand in 2015. “We are also trying to get a handle on how many acres are being grown in other parts of the U.S., and are still working on surveying those growers,” she said.
Doubtless, she said, the market is tight. “It sounds like ‘spot market’ hops for some varieties are a little harder to find and the price is higher right now because there aren’t a lot of ‘extras’ out there that are not spoken for in the form of contracts. Many brewers now are contracting for their hops two to three years out to ensure they get the amount and varieties that they need. Brewers that do contract usually end up paying a little less than brewers that wait to buy on the spot market,” she said.
But enough shop talk, what about my beer?
Whether rising hop prices will impact the price of your beer will depend on what kind of a business your brewery owner is running. Rogue brewers without contracts (not the brewery, which smartly grows its own hops), might find themselves paying a lot for hops and passing the cost on to you.
But, more than likely, your brewer is like Jamie Floyd of Ninkasi or Irene Firmat of Full Sail, who stay in touch by visiting Sodbuster Farms and other growers each year with a busload of curious employees and beer drinkers. Or your brewery is like McMenamins, whose team of hopped-up brewers actually makes a tradition of picking up their fresh hops straight from the grower, called “The Running of the Hops,” aimed at getting the freshest hops to the brewhouse on the same day they are stripped from the bines.
Stuff like that is unlikely to happen anywhere near Wall Street.
Which might explain some of the disconnect (I’m being kind) between Wall Street and Beervana. Let’s just say they don’t know chit about where beer comes from. But now you do. It really is a Northwest thing.
Here’s Gail’s Wall Street hint for the day: Hops, my boy. Invest in hops. And by that I mean begin your investment by accumulating those delicious resins in your belly. If there’s going to be a hop shortage, it’s up to you, Oregon drinker, to contribute to it.
By Patty Mamula
McMenamins Old Church and Pub in Wilsonville weds old and new in an historic compound that forms a comfortable plaza oasis, screened by trees and landscaping from the bustling urban center around it.
The 1911 church is the focal point for one side of the McMenamins quadrangle, facing busy Boones Ferry Road.
A new 350-seat McMenamins pub, built using reclaimed lumber to resemble a historic hop barn, is the opposite side of the square that faces the shopping center parking lot.
Connecting these two is a grassy amphitheater, surrounded by native plantings, that descends to a courtyard area with tables and chairs, adjacent to the church basement bar and brewery.
The property seems to have organically grown on this spot, even though the church was moved here and the pub is only three years old.
Still, it’s already earned a reputation as a summer hot spot.
Brewer Justin Azevedo, who started here in November, has heard about the summer crowds. He expects the first week of July, when they will pour an IPA for Oregon Craft Beer Month, to be crazy. “IPA madness. I’m excited and nervous. I might have to brew the IPA three times a week.”
His regular routine is to brew three or four days a week. The Old Church brewery has four fermenters, and Azevedo said the average turnaround is eight to nine days.
A typical brew day for him starts at 9 a.m. and ends between 4:30 and 6 p.m. “A bigger beer like an IPA means a longer day because it has more materials,” he said. Likewise, the higher alcohol beers can take up to 12 days to develop, while a beer like Ruby usually takes about seven days.
Azevedo has worked as an assistant winemaker at Illahe Winery in Dallas, Ore., and completed viticulture courses at Chemeketa. He’s also
been home brewing for nearly four years. After completing an AmeriCorp assignment in Gresham, he started at the Highland Pub there and worked as pub staff before moving up to brewer here.
He compares winemaking to sculpting and brewing to painting. “Think of the grapes as a piece of stone with a will of its own. The winemaker’s job is to discover what’s best for them,” he said.
“Beer is a blank canvas where you add colors to make a picture, it’s more like cooking.”
When he came to the Old Church brewery Azevedo worked with the previous brewer for a few weeks. He was already familiar with commercial scale equipment and cleaning procedures. The
challenge was getting acclimated to a new system. “The other challenge is anticipating what kind of beer will sell here, anticipating demand,” he said.
In addition to the home pub, you’ll find brews from the Old Church at the Sherwood Pub and the Mission Theatre in Portland.
McMenamins standards are always on tap but the rest of the taps are at the brewer’s discretion. “We make our own one-offs and some of these move faster than others,” he said.
“This is the greatest property. I have flexibility in schedule and freedom in brewing,” he said.
The Old Church
The classic white clapboard church was built in 1911 by the Wilsonville Methodist Society. It was located near the Willamette River and the historic Boones Ferry crossing, named after Daniel Boone’s grandson, Alphonso.
In the ensuing years, the settlement shifted further south and the church was purchased and moved to its current location off I-5 at Wilsonville Road. Today, the brewery and small bar are in
the basement but the main floor of the renovated church is available for special events such as rehearsal dinners, family reunions, business meetings, baby showers, weddings, political events, funerals and parties. The former church sanctuary will hold 100 people seated with tables and 200 reception style.
All the hardwood in the church – the flooring, stage and wainscoting, are original. The wood downstairs in the bar and floor area comes from the Crystal Ballroom. The stained glass windows are also original with new crystal pieces added to repair breaks.
Typical of McMenamins’ attention to local history, most of the Old Church artwork in the event space depicts crops that were originally grown in the area and people who were important to the town’s development.
The church is open to the public during McMenamins’ regular hours.
by Anthony St. Clair
As part of the kickoff for Eugene Beer Week and a new way to experience craft beer in Lane County, the Eugene Ale Trail launches Mon., June 2, 5-8 p.m., at the 16 Tons Café. Local breweries will be giving tastings of what people can expect to find on the Eugene Ale Trail.
The Eugene Ale Trail includes 10 Lane County breweries: Ninkasi, Oakshire, Falling Sky, Hop Valley, Claim 52, McMenamins, Steelhead, Agrarian, Track Town Brewery/Rogue, and the Brewers Union Local 180 (participants must be Travel Lane County members in order to be on the Eugene Ale Trail). Beginning June 2 at 8 p.m., the public can download a Eugene Ale Trail Passport from EugeneAleTrail.org or pick one up at participating breweries.
“We were inspired by other ale trails around the state and country,” says Molly Blancett, Public Relations and Social Media Manager for Travel Lane County. “We want to be a top craft beer destination, and this is our way of supporting that effort.”
In addition to working with a University of Oregon Ad Campaigns summer class, for over a year Travel Lane County collaborated with members of the Lane County brewing community to develop the Eugene Ale Trail. “We consulted with the breweries on nearly every aspect of the Eugene Ale Trail,” says Blancett, “from the name to the logo to the design to the map.”
One side of the Eugene Ale Trail passport is an easily navigable map with a list of participating breweries, their locations, and hours of operation. A panel lists where an Ale Trail traveler can fill growlers, such as at The Bier Stein, First National Taphouse, Growler Nation, The Tap & Growler, and 16 Tons’ two locations.
The other side of the passport includes details of how the Eugene Ale Trail works, how to redeem the passport for a prize, and alternative transportation options such as taxis and buses. There are also suggestions for other trip ideas, such as Hikes & Bikes, Wine & Dine, and Live Music.
Visitors present a passport at the breweries and receive a stamp or sticker. For breweries with multiple locations, only one site is required. Once a visitor has stamps from at least seven Eugene-area breweries, they can receive a free 16-oz. amber growler. For also visiting Brewers Union Local 180 in Oakridge, in addition to having stamps from at least seven Eugene breweries, visitors can receive a stainless steel pint cup (while supplies last). “The Brewers Union is surrounded by epic mountain bike trails, waterfalls, and unbelievable hikes,” says Blancett. “It’s more than worth the drive.”
Eugene Ale Trail prizes can be redeemed in person at the Eugene, Cascades & Coast Adventure Center in Springfield, or by mail (must include $5 for shipping).
“Travel Lane County developed the Eugene Ale Trail to give visitors an easy way to explore Eugene’s growing craft beer scene,” says Blancett. “Our breweries have an incredible product, and we want to help show that off. The Eugene Ale Trail gives us a better way of showing people how to find craft beer in Lane County.”
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