A Craft Beer Boom Hops Up

The Register Guard | Aug. 5, 2013 6:36 p.m. | Updated: Aug. 6, 2013 1:36 a.m.

Contributed By:

Serena Markstrom

If the current trend continues, a future economist may someday look back to this time as the beginning of “the Ninkasi effect.”

The overall boom in the craft brewing industry locally has led to increased profit margins for other businesses and cleared the path to new opportunity, with big dog Ninkasi Brewing Co. leading the way.

Vendors of T-shirts, hats and graphics printing have benefited directly from the growth in local breweries with increased sales. Mobile cooks have found new places to park their food carts. Makers of anything from beef jerky to seasoned nuts find their products go well with a hoppy brew. Beer-related companies that don’t make their own beer have found a beer-savvy clientele interested in their products. Even limousines and party buses have added brewery tours to their itineraries.

Steve Sutton, co-owner of The Ink Well, a Eugene printing and graphic design firm, said his company prints something for Ninkasi every day. He is getting ready to add an employee to the seven he already employs, in part because of the money coming in from the brewing company, he said.

“Ninkasi has definitely been a growth client for us and caused us to look at that industry for future growth,” said Sutton, 33, whose digital printing jobs are used in tap handles and tasting room cards. “We’re busier, and some days we do work longer hours.”

Sutton said The Ink Well has about 300 clients — many of which are in the recreational vehicle, medical and banking industries — and that Ninkasi is in the top 20.

McKenzie SewOn produces merchandise for 20 or so beer-related companies, including Ninkasi, Oakshire and Hop Valley. Its president, Tyler Norman, 29, said his company several years ago saw breweries as a new market and planned accordingly.

“We have lined up our processes to fit what they need,” Norman said.

About 10 percent of McKenzie SewOn’s 40,000-square-foot warehouse space is dedicated to brewery merchandise and the company, which employs 50 people, fulfills orders from the breweries’ individual online stores. When brewery tasting room managers need more of the prepurchased merchandise, it’s already printed or embroidered and can be delivered instantly.

“The breweries own the stock and we do small runs so they don’t have a large risk,” Norman said. “Ultimately what they do is make and sell amazing beer and we want to make the marketing and apparel part really easy.”

He said that two years ago, breweries accounted for about 4 percent of his company’s business, and now it’s closer to 10 percent.

“As they continue to grow and succeed, we will grow with them,” he said.

People who like microbrews are willing to pay more for a higher-quality product, Oregon brewery owners have said. They tend to be more interested in details of how that products is made than customers of large, mass production breweries — including where the water used in the beer comes from and where the hops are farmed.

Local farmers’ market managers said they have noticed a direct connection between interest in locally grown food and interest in locally made beer, and have capitalized on that link.

NEDCO, a private, nonprofit community development corporation, runs Springfield’s farmers’ market, Sprout!, on Fridays. NEDCO’s LocalWorks Manager, Laurie Trieger, said it has helped all the vendors at the market that Agrarian Ales, a Eugene hop farm and brewery, is at the market each week.

“People who might not have otherwise come show up,” Trieger said. “They are an activity as well as a vendor.”

There is a set of values associated with wanting to meet the grower and meet the brewer, and the market creates an atmosphere for “cross-pollination,” Trieger said.

The owners of Plank Town Brewing Co., a Springfield microbrewery and restaurant, are Sprout! customers, buying food that will appear on customers’ plates that evening.

A sense of adventure is another trait of the craft brew customer, according to industry experts. Chip Hardy, who owns The Bier Stein, a Eugene beer shop, with his wife, Kristina Measells, said his business has grown in part because local breweries have helped educate consumers. In addition to the dozens of beers The Bier Stein has on tap, the shop carries more than 800 bottled beers from all over the world.

“Overall, in general, people in Eugene are becoming more educated about what craft beer is,” Hardy said, noting that his shop opened the year before Ninkasi, and there already was a small craft beer scene before that. “Any time the population becomes educated, it’s great for the entire industry.”

Joining established bottle shops such as The Bier Stein, Cornucopia and 16 Tons is a new incarnation of a century old concept — the growler filling station.

A growler is a container, generally made of glass or ceramic, that holds four pints of beer. They allow customers to buy beer fresh from a keg and take it home.

Growler Nation on Coburg Road was the first to open in this area with this specialty, although other businesses also fill growlers.

Growler Nation owner John Stanford, 44, said he first saw fill stations in Bend. When the furniture store he was managing closed, he was looking for something else to do.

“I’ve always had a passion for (craft beer) myself, and going to those places,” he said. “I got to thinking about it. There is nothing like this here. I’ve been pleasantly surprised. There are a lot of people who have their own growlers.”

Folks bring in their own containers, Growler Nation employees sanitize and fill them, and people go on their way. They can stick around and have a pint there, too, if they want.

In addition to the beer itself, Stanford and others linked to the local craft brewing industry have found a lucrative sideline in other items produced in the Northwest that partner in one way or another with beer, such as Doug’s Nuts from Eugene and Umpqua Indian Foods jerky from Canyonville, not to mention locally produced stickers, shirts and other merchandise.

Stanford said his business, which opened in June, already is profitable, allowing him to pay down his initial infrastructure investment.

“People like to support local and that was my big thing, to make sure the local breweries are represented,” Stanford said.

Like Stanford, Brian Bourdage, his father and uncle were inspired by the growler stations in Bend and, in couple of months will be opening a similar outlet, the Steel Pail, in north Eugene.

With the brewery district in the Whiteaker neighborhood, numerous choices for craft beer lovers downtown and in south Eugene, the Bourdages decided that there was a void in north Eugene so they opted for a spot at the intersection of Delta Highway and Green Acres road.

The Bourdages do not have a background in the food or beverage industry, but all three love beer and wine and said they see the interest in both beverages expanding.

New liquor rules allow for wine to be sold from kegs in the same fashion as beer, so Steel Pail will sell beer, wine and cider, said Bourdage, 35.

“It just seems like a cool opportunity with all the excitement around it,” Bourdage said. With craft beer still occupying a relatively small share of the beer market, there’s a lot of growth opportunity for his business, he said.

“You look at the (beer) businesses popping up, you’re not seeing any of them going out of business and a lot of them are in peculiar spots,” he said,

He sees fill stations as helping the smaller breweries by getting their names out there.

“It opens access to stuff you normally can’t get,” he said. “We’re the bridge to these smaller breweries.”

Another business taking a page from Bend’s beer book is the Pacific Pub Cycle, which recently got permits to group brewery tours on a specially made, pedal-powered vehicle for 14 people. The tours, $300 for two hours, start at the Fifth Street Public Market.

Melissa Finn, 42, invested in the $40,000 “bike” with her partner and another couple. Both couples live in Eugene, but they first started operating in Corvallis because permitting here took much longer than anticipated, she said. They got their permit a week ago, after new permitting conditions were written to accommodate their business.

“We are huge fans of microbrews,” Finn said. “We all like to go to Falling Sky and Oakshire and try the different beers. We wouldn’t be starting a business that didn’t interest us. If those places didn’t exist, we wouldn’t be doing this.”

Brewery tours are mutually beneficial to the brewery and the private company giving the tour, tour operators say.

My Party Bus owner Sean Lee said he has seen a 10 to 20 percent increase in his business since it started offering brewery tours. Wine tours by far still overshadow beer tours as far as demand, but having local craft breweries available as destination has been a real draw, particularly for males, he said.

With Agrarian Ales out in a rural area in Coburg, paying $20 to $30 for a seat on the bus has proven popular among those who want to taste those beers and not drink and drive or pay for a more expensive cab ride, he said.

Generally a tour has three stops. Plank Town in Springfield is a stop on the list, along with Viking Braggot and Claim 52, which have joined the Whiteaker area breweries — Falling Sky, Hop Valley, Oakshire and Ninkasi.

Lee said his tours are mostly reserved by people from out of town or by locals hosting guests.

“The breweries are definitely happy we’re bringing people around,” Lee said. “They are buying things and they are not driving away drunk.”

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