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For the love of brewing: For the next wave of Oregon brewers, brewing is an art and a lifestyle

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Oregon has over 200 brewers, 80 in Portland alone. Predictions of market saturation have been made for years. Yet, new breweries open regularly. The number of breweries in the US passed 7,000 in 2016, with over 1,000 new ones in 2016 alone. What drives this next wave of brewing entrepreneurs?

We talked with three breweries that are part of the next wave. Each of these three has a different origin story, but for this group, brewing is a craft, a lifestyle and a family and community-based business. In some cases, owning and operating a brewery comes first and in others, brewing beer comes first, but for all of them, if the brewery can grow to be self-sustaining, it’s all the success they need.

Gateway Brewing – Commitment to the local community

Founded in 2015, Gateway Brewing is based on a shared passion for beer brewing, family and community. Karen and Joel Sheley, the owners and brewers of Gateway, saw a shortage of breweries in their Portland Gateway neighborhood east of I-205, and a shortage of family-friendly breweries city-wide. Veterans of the early days of craft brewing in Portland, Karen and Joel each have of years of experience working at breweries. Joel and Karen even met and married while working at craft brewing pioneer Widmer Brothers.

Joel, whose father was a home brewer, had always been interested in brewing. After a trip to Germany, Joel came home with a recipe for banana wine. Wisely, his father pointed him back to brewing. Good thing – the world still may not be ready for banana wine.17951450_1871154439831170_107767640390767468_n

Joel started his career in the beer business at Nor’wester Brewing. He started at the bottom – cleaning kegs – and over time, learned all about the brewing business from the production side, attended brewing school, and eventually wound up at Widmer.

Karen’s love of brewing also came from a trip to Europe. She visited the hops growing region of the Czech Republic, and began her business career helping to transition state-owned Czechoslovakia-era brewers to private ownership. After briefly working in health care in Kentucky, Karen chose to follow her interest in brewing and relocated to Portland. Landing a job in production management at Widmer, Karen met Joel.

Joel and Karen soon drifted away from brewing. Joel, who missed the entrepreneurial spirit of the early days of craft brewing, started a bicycle delivery service, riding up to 80 miles per day hauling packages and ferrying the couple’s young daughter back and forth to school. Karen continued to work in production management outside of the brewing industry.

In 2015, Karen and Joel made the commitment to convert their garage in the Gateway neighborhood of Portland into a brewery. They missed the beer industry, and determined that a brewery that was family-friendly and emphasized neighborhood ties would resonate in their neighborhood, which is home to many young families. Joel chose to devote full time to developing the brewery; Karen also works in the family brewery business while maintaining her job at a technology company.

13510770_1724550064491609_7161255818461738076_nKaren and Joel consider themselves “beer people” and members of a close-knit community of Portland craft brewers. Part of the allure of the business is the people they meet in the industry, especially other brewers. Even with the competitiveness of the market, Joel and Karen know they can count on other brewers for expertise or even if they need to borrow some ingredients. It’s a big extended family.

Gateway Brewing beer is currently available in five restaurants in Portland. Joel and Karen also continue to explore new ways to bring their beer to more taps, especially in their Gateway neighborhood. For example, in summer 2016, Gateway sold beer through a pop-up at a local bike shop, and Joel and Karen are also active supporters of the under-construction Gateway Skatepark.

 

Leikam Brewing – Community-Supported Brewing

For Theo and Sonia Marie Leikam, brewing is all about family. Leikam Brewing is Portland’s first community-supported brewery (CSB) – think of a farm share program, but for beer. It’s also the only kosher-certified brewery west of New York.

Before starting Leikam, Theo and Sonia Marie were looking to gain more control over their lives. Theo, an accountant, traveled frequently for business, and they had three small children. Sonia Marie comes out of the non-profit world. Tired of the travel required of many accountants, and tired of working on other people’s finances, Theo and Sonia Marie considered several alternatives. For Theo as a home brewer, starting a microbrewery was an attractive option, allowing him to develop his craft brewing expertise, while permitting the couple to be close to their growing children.13268590_1107235882655671_5450285294665805200_o

Although it started as a part-time venture, Leikam has become a full-time business for Theo, while Sonia Maria still divides her time between the brewery and a local non-profit. Like many nanobrewers, Theo and Sonia Marie divide the responsibilities of the business. Theo is the principal brewer, while Sonia Marie is responsible for sales, social media and branding.

Theo has always had neighborhood support for his brewing, and it seemed almost natural for the couple to build a brewery in their backyard. Early on, they introduced a Community-Supported Brewing program which allows their subscribers to pick up beer at the brewery. It’s a good way for Leikam to forecast at least part of their sales in advance and even out their cash flows. The CSB also builds the sense of community that is integral to their business. Customers pick up beer at Leikam’s backyard brewery, and sometimes will even just leave an empty growler as a not-so-subtle hint that it’s time for a refill.

15027542_1244066908972567_8235372076985256556_nLeikam also sells beer through more traditional channels. With a passionate customer base, Leikam’s reputation has grown beyond their community. Customers have spread the word, and Leikam’s beer is available at restaurants and taprooms across the Portland area. Their ability to brew small batches of beer has helped too, and they have been asked to create custom beers for John Gorham’s Mediterranean Exploration Company and Shalom Y’All.

Theo and Sonia Marie also cite support from the Portland craft brewing community as being critical for the success of their business. They have found the other brewers to be willing to meet and to share their successes and failures. Sonia Marie has found brewers who are women to be especially supportive, and was part of the Pink Boots Society of women beer professionals from an early stage.

Leikam is meeting the plan they set for their growing business, and they are looking at what’s next. Given the competitive brewery landscape in the Portland area, they know it will take time to become the next craft brewing success story, but they’re committed to it.

De Garde Brewing – It’s About the Beer

Trevor and Linsey Rogers’ award-winning De Garde Brewing is proof that craft brewers can be successful and maintain a balanced lifestyle. De Garde sells beer mostly from their brewery, hidden away near the Tillamook Airport, with limited distribution outside of the area. Their wild fermented beers are sought after by beer connoisseurs and despite the location; there’s frequently a line of de Garde fans at the door when they open their taproom to customers. De Garde was recently named seventh-best brewery in the world at the RateBeer awards, alongside top breweries from across the US and the world.

The brewery has become so successful that de Garde is opening a second tasting room in downtown Tillamook, where it will be easier to find them, although that’s never been an issue for devoted De Garde drinkers.Screenshot 2017-05-21 21.21.31

For Trevor and Linsey, De Garde started out as being all about the beer. Trevor was working as an Assistant Manager at the original Pelican Brewing in Pacific City, while Linsey was in business management at Tillamook Cheese. With his work at Pelican as inspiration, Trevor became an avid home brewer. He and Linsey tried lots of different brewing styles, but wild fermentation was the one that they liked the best, and they committed de Garde to making the best wild fermented beer around.

Trevor and Linsey opened de Garde Brewing in 2013. After testing locations up and down the Coast, they carefully selected Tillamook as the best site for brewing their wild fermented beer. Whether it’s the salt air, the moisture or the nearby Tillamook Dairy, their natural yeast grew better there. De Garde’s wild barrel-aged ales became immediately popular. The beers are sessionable, with low alcohol content. De Garde’s wild barrel-aged ales became immediately popular, and Trevor and Linsey never looked back. Linsey stayed at her prior position for another year, but as demand and the brewery grew, she took the leap and started working at the brewery full time. They now employ six people.

With success came new challenges. Early on, funding for the brewery was scarce. Despite their best efforts, Trevor and Linsey were unable to obtain outside financing, and de Garde was launched through a lot of personal debt. Those days are fortunately behind them. But the brewery’s growing fame raised the question of what’s next.

The beer’s distribution has been limited regionally, with availability only in Oregon, Washington and northern California. Trevor and Linsey have chosen to keep prices reasonable, so that their beer that doesn’t have to be reserved for a special occasion.

17342509_1574205745953554_6594047386455690380_nTrevor and Linsey enjoy brewing beer and operating the brewery, and it’s important to them to be actively involved in the process. De Garde beer is critically praised, and the brewery could develop to be another in the long list of Oregon breweries that have been bought by larger companies. For the time being, Trevor and Linsey are simply committed to making the best beer they can and doing what they love – working in the brewery.

The three breweries – Gateway, Leikam and de Garde – have different origin stories and different trajectories. Yet all three share a passion for good beer and the benefits to family and community that a smaller brewery can bring. Their next steps might differ as well, but all are dedicated to the proposition that, with focus and hard work, they can balance their values with the success they seek.

For more information visit, www.leikambrewing.com, www.degardebrewing.com, and www.gatewaybrewingpdx.com.

The science of the soil: The Abacela story

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Earl and Hilda Jones — medical scientists with a predilection for research — never thought their explorations would lead them to studying grapes. But sometimes, that’s how curiosity and creativity work, especially here in Oregon.

The hypothesis that drove a winemaker

Earl Jones grew up in the Midwest and graduated from Tulane University in 1965. Engaging in a career of Academic Medicine and research at Emory expanded Earl’s worldview through conferences; travel expanded his discovery of food and wine. Exploring European wine culture was mesmerizing, and Earl gravitated toward the Spanish varietals that he found compelling.

Regional experts said that there was only one region that can properly grow Tempranillo grapes, and the underlying reason was the soil. World Tempranillo experts said the grape couldn’t be grown anywhere else, only in a specific region of Spain. It had been this way for centuries. However, during one of their trips to Spain, Earl met Alejandro Fernandez, a wine expert whose grandfather made Tempranillo 100 miles from the region where the soil was said to be perfect.

That wine was excellent, yet not in the same soil area.  World wine critics raved about this wine in 1982.

Earl tasted the first bottle in 1986 and was enchanted.  Earl was intrigued about this outlier, a good wine from a different soil in a country where a very specific soil was attributed to the best Tempranillo – and yet he was experiencing a wonderful bottle from a different soil base.

That was what convinced Earl that there was opportunity elsewhere, that the soil wasn’t the only contributor to good wine. If there are other variables such as climate that could enable another location in Spain to grow terrific Tempranillo, why not similar climate elsewhere?  Earl formed a hypothesis that he wanted to test; the climate was the actual key to great Tempranillo, more than a single soil type that wine experts extolled for years.

This was a turning point in Earl and Hilda’s lives; they loved medicine and science but were becoming disenchanted with the business, politics and systems emerging in medicine at that time.  Their passion for wine and for research supported work on their evolving hypothesis that they could grow great Tempranillo beyond one small area of Spain.

Earl and Hilda and their family made a tremendous leap based on his hypothesis. It was a big decision to move away from solid positions in medical research and move with their family, whereby uprooting their lives to plant new roots for themselves and the Tempranillo grapes.13501842_10154515837267697_3217463125475619899_n

Climate Science is the Key

Guided by science, Earl started collecting data and knowledge. Grapes are fastidious, needing a correct growing season and the proper amount of solar generated heat, and Tempranillo grapes needs hot weather for their 6 1/2 to 7 month growing season.

Earl investigated locations knowing that Tempranillo had been grown in California, but had not performed well. The wine was inferior in CA, often blended; no one had produced a single bottle of Tempranillo that says “vintage” on the label. Earl also looked into the Southern Regions of Spain where it’s hot too long, and Tempranillo doesn’t do well. Armed with that knowledge, he was confident that he could find a similar ideal climate such as Spain’s Ribero del Deuro.

In Earl’s mind there was always  a major professor’s mentoring: “When you get an idea the idea enables you to develop a theory, read everything you can…but don’t make the mistake of trying to find the answer. Do the experiment.”

With his mind full of data and science Earl started with New Mexico but there were too many undesirable variables like high levels of frost, a short growing season, too much heat in the middle of the summer, and a suboptimal altitude level.  They read about Colorado and the Pacific Northwest, and although the South of France was an early candidate, Earl and Hilda didn’t want to leave their family of five children far away and move overseas.

Their son Greg wanted to study climate science and aspired to a PhD in hydrology. Greg changed his focus to atmospheric science in part because of the passion his dad had about climate.  Decisions about climate and soil characteristics were dichotomous; books were available, but not helpful. So Greg became the first viniculture climatologist, which proved to be  pivotal during the early data collection. With Greg’s help they found the perfect plot of land in Roseburg, Oregon.14258212_10154737794462697_7185350856267408466_o

Finding a home in Douglas County

The climate envelope is a near perfect match in Douglas, Jackson and Josephine counties, east of mountains. The question was where, within that climate envelope, was the best piece of land.

Earl delved into the problem systematically with topographical maps in order to learn where there would be minimal fog. He realized local airplane pilots knew the climate better than most, and he hired them to fly him over the areas where it’s always sunny, and the fog clears in the morning.

Armed with both topographical maps and his recently acquired knowledge from the flights, Earl drove to find the perfect location- a plot of land near Roseburg, Oregon.

In the early 1990’s, due to the economic conditions, land in and around Roseburg was more affordable than Earl had anticipated. Thus, he purchased more than initially planned, which was great, but they arrived operating on a shoestring. The shoestring budget was a result of the 3 year discovery into the right growing region, plus the additional 9 months to identify the land, all the while having no income. Yet they drove on, based on a great deal of belief that they were on the right track based on the tremendous amount of research they had done.

With the location acquired, Earl turned his focus to finding the perfect vines.

The only source of Tempranillo grapes was California, a place where the grapes had not grown well. Earl asked a winery for all the Tempranillo cuttings they could sell him. And since no one wanted them, he secured them all – 4 acres’ worth in the first year.  It was a great accident of timing that the vines were available. Earl increased his planting to 12 acres, and then added 3 more.

Starting small, they nurtured each vine, learning as they grew.  It is said that entrepreneurs work 100 hours a week or more, and Earl, Hilda and their children can certainly attest to this.  But the land and vines they cared deeply about allowed them to start a new chapter in their life.14560207_10154827370052697_7664395588902437960_o

Building a Winery

With the vines planted, Earl began to focus on developing the winery.  They were welcomed as the 7th winery in the Umpqua valley and the 13th winery in Southern Oregon. Many wineries were starting blends, and some made wine from their own grapes or purchased grapes.

No one but Earl grew Tempranillo at the time, and they chose the name Abacela. Few in the area had heard of Tempranillo, much less grown the grapes.

Coming from the Eastern US, Oregon was new to the family, but from a wine standpoint they were early founders in Southern Oregon. They dove in by learning all of the different valleys and varieties specific to each area in Southern Oregon. In the early years, the land and the winery drained the money reserves, and as with all new wineries, didn’t give back a return on the investment for several years.

To ease the financial burden, Earl secured a part time job practicing dermatology in Roseburg. There wasn’t much managed care and private practices, like the partnership he joined, were still available. Balancing a job while nurturing the vines to a point where they could produce enough grapes to make wine, and bringing this new wine to potential buyers, was tough going.   Eventually the demands of balancing both the medical career and the growing winery led to  Earl making the decision to devote all of his time to the Abacela.

The town of Roseburg was very accepting of Earl. His patients loved him and it was a bittersweet time at noon on July 22, 2004, his last day in practice, when a particular patient wanted to be the last patient he saw. That person is currently 97, and still remains in contact with Earl.

By their third year on their land in 1995, and all the vines were in the ground. In 1997 Abacela produced 238 cases of Tempranillo, and that wine was excellent.  Earl had planted vines that for 100 years didn’t produce good wine in California, but by bringing them to the right climate, his original hypothesis was validated.14100518_10154697759957697_1742172008539755320_n

Chances and Challenges

There were obstacles and difficulties along the way. When they first planted, people couldn’t pronounce Tempranillo, not even the wine people who thought Earl was “temporarily” planting something. At Abacela he also planted Albarino, a Spanish white, as the climate is permissive for those vines as well. In Spain the Albarino is grown in cooler climates than Tempranillo.  Recognizing that the hills on his land have a north side that is cooler, they chanced planting Albarino on the North side of the hills, and are now gathering acclaim for their Albarino wine.

The operations side of being a vintner was new to Earl and Hilda as well. They had to learn business, make hundreds of decisions, study and learn from experts and trial and error. The Abacela exclusivity provided a cash flow allowing them to learn the business.  The winery was also unique at the time, and continues to be.  They did some marketing for Abacela and the wines, however sadly a big potential opportunity for publicity was missed as Earl’s parents passed in 2001, the same summer Abacela entered a SFO international competition and took first place for all Tempranillo. Earl and Hilda could not take advantage of the accolade.

As of last year there are 57 Oregon wineries that grown Tempranillo, Earl started the Oregon Tempranillo alliance and 45 of the 57 vintners have joined. A new national association has over 100 members ,and currently there are about 250 Tempranillo producers in the USA.  Earl and Hilda host interns from US, France, Spain, and New Zealand that come to Abacela for harvest and to work the summer.

As elder statesmen are heralded in medicine, in wine, Earl is the grandpa.  Abacela has 5 interns now from Burgundy, Bordeaux, the Aranda del Deuro, a Sister city to Roseburg, and students from OSU and UCC.  While 57 producers mean a lot of competition, the increased knowledge and collaboration are big positives. Organization members get together in growing numbers to talk about the wine, network and collaborate. Greg travels to wine conferences and educates vintners while he runs his own consulting business, and teaches at Southern Oregon University.

Decanter magazine in December 2016 listed the 50 most influential people in wines, and Greg Jones was given accolades in many issues. Someday his son Greg will take over the business of Abacela, keeping it a family corporation. The experiment is an ongoing learning process, and a wonderful success. That sip of wine from an outlier winery in Spain led to the question – why was the wine so good in a different soil?

That question and the eventual answers led to a life change for Earl and Hilda, but one that has led to a remarkable success in the Umpqua Valley.

For more information, visit www.abacela.com, like them on facebook and follow them on twitter12705166_10154139485167697_1601066802562160725_n

A hive of creative ideas: The Portland Bee Balm and Cascadia Candles story

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The origins of Portland Bee Balm and Cascadia Candles came out of necessity – Brad Swift’s wife Anika ran out of lip balm.

That simple need started him down an entrepreneurial journey that has led to the creation of a successful consumer brand that has traction in retail outlets throughout the United States and Japan. But as with many founders, there is a constant pull to keep evolving and pushing to do something new and unique.

The building of a consumer product brand

As hobbyist beekeepers, the Swifts had accumulated plenty of beeswax. Brad started to make lip balm for Anika and their friends. While the simplicity of plain beeswax offered many of the benefits people want from a lip balm, Brad experimented with a plethora of different recipes until he finally hit on what would become the Portland Bee Balm product line.

Using the resources and skills he had on hand, Brad set out to get his product to market. but as anyone who has launched a new consumer product can attest – gaining initial market traction is a slog.

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The bee balm displays

But rather than be too daunted to move, they took the creative approach to get the bee balm on the shelves, all while Brad was still working full time at an elementary school.

“An artist friend and I spent an evening drawing up a label that included the city skyline, Mt. Hood and a giant honey bee. We had this shrunk down and printed on kraft brown stickers. Once the brand was designed, I got creative with display case building. Using a bundle of cedar shingles and hours of work in the basement of the shared house we lived in, I would build many different designs and offer them to stores for free. I would also offer to take measurements and custom build a display for any space in their store. People were very generous with their time and knowledge. They were the experts in this area and I would say, “You know your store best and I am good woodworker. I’ll build you anything you want to fit any location in your store for free; do you have any ideas?”

This personal outreach and engagement provided the initial market traction for Portland Bee Balm, but the true value was discovered through the conversations he had with store owners and buyers, as the display experiments and conversations with them would prove invaluable as Brad learned how the world of retail operated.

“My market research was mostly conversations with store owners and body care buyers. I tried not to do too much talking, I asked a ton of questions about how the industry works, how their department worked, what sold well, why did they think it sold well, what was the most valuable real estate in the store, and on and on. I would listen for as long as they were willing to talk – eventually they would have to get back to work. A little honesty went a long way – I told them I was new at this and had no idea what I was doing. Any advice they could give me would be greatly appreciated.”

But even with such an outward approach, there was the lack of confidence and knowledge so often felt by first time founders.

“I was rightly afraid that I was coming across as someone who had no idea what they were doing. I felt like people were doing me a huge favor every time they bought my product. It took me a long time to gain the confidence that I was providing something of significant value and they needed me as much as I needed them.”

In addition to the sense of fear of the unknown, there were production issues that created their own challenges and opportunities for knowledge gathering.

“We also had many production issues; a label that didn’t stay on the tubes and displays that did not function correctly.  Luckily I was able to encounter and solve these problems while Portland Bee Balm was still very small because when you are forced to recall all your product because your labels are coming off, it’s nice to only be in three stores. “

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Raw beeswax – each one of these weighs hundreds of pounds.

Brad started to hone in on an initial sales strategy as these early issues were ironed out. He’d would get on Google Maps and walk the street view guy down Alberta, Hawthorne, Mississippi, NW 21st avenue, and NW 23rd avenue. From the look of the storefront, he’d decide who might consider selling Portland Bee Balm and then drop them a cold call with the very soft ask of “Can I stop by and give them some free samples of the lip balm I make?”. As with anything new, it was pretty intimidating the first few times, but like anything it got easier and he got better.

As the number of stores started to grow, the product sourcing started to become a focus of the business. Brad started out using the beeswax from his own hives, but quickly surpassed what he could harvest from those sources. But as a beekeeper himself and the fact that the word ‘Bee’ was right on the label, it was important to have an authentic connection.

“To start with, most balms don’t want to use much beeswax because it’s such an expensive ingredient. But I wanted the recipe to have as much beeswax as possible and to this day, every tube of balm is over one third beeswax.”

In addition to the amount of beeswax in each tube of balm, there also was the fact that their tag line when they started was ‘supporting local bees and their keepers.’ By placing bees first in the tag line, it was a clever way to put the focus on them. A focus that Brad knew had to be more than just keeping his own hives and buying wax from other local beekeepers, because if that was the extent of that belief, it would feel more like marketing as opposed to the truth.

But the truth won out, and started a program they hope to grow as the company does.

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Brad beekeeping

“We started giving away hives each spring. We partnered with Bee Thinking to buy the hives, then we get beekeeping equipment and a package of honeybees with a queen. We give these hives away to people in the community that want to be beekeepers, but can’t afford the significant startup cost. We gave away 4 hives this last spring, our most ever. We don’t do a great job of publicizing and getting press about the giveaways, but it makes us feel good and we know we are not BS’ing anyone when we tell them we support local bees and their keepers. “

Scaling up production and retailers

As the number of retailers grew, there was a conscious effort to not jump up too many rungs on the ladder too soon.

The independent gift shops prepared Brad for the Co-Ops, and the Co-Ops prepared him for New Seasons. He realized there was so much to learn; from lingo, jargon and acronyms to expectations regarding terms, legal, insurance and labeling requirements.

“If you jump too far, it will show and they will probably not want to work with you as it will be clear to them that you are out of your depth and holding your hand through everything will be a huge time sink. The co-ops and New Seasons were great, they helped me through a lot of things, but it had to be clear that I had a base level of knowledge and experience before they brought me onto their shelves.”

But more than just getting on the shelves, Portland Bee Balm became one of the top sellers in  the health and beauty category within the stores it was featured. Safe to say Brad and Anika were very surprised.

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Custom retail display

“I just had my head down and was focused on getting a little bit better with each iteration of displays or labels or production processes. When I looked up we had something that was working pretty well and people were responding to.”

The heads down approach to building a product proved to be the right model for growth, but in terms of personal growth, reaching out to the Portland area entrepreneur and maker world for feedback, support, and advice was critical, and that community was helpful in a myriad of ways.

The community provided a consistent push to keep evolving, evaluating, iterating, exploring and taking risks, which has helped keep Brad moving forward onto the next challenge – challenges that include more than just product refinement and scaling.

“The emotional support has been helpful as well. I’m a solo founder so there is no one at Portland Bee Balm with whom I can share large scale hopes and fears. A group of other founders can fill that role, as there are so many similarities across companies and industries.

The community’s most valuable contribution has been the expansion of perceived possibility. Everything looks impossible until you see someone else do it – like breaking the 4 minute mile. I did not come from a world where people started, owned, bought and sold companies. Successful company founders were generous with their time and advice. I was able to see that there was almost infinite room for growth and increased positive impact. Bringing these large aspirational goals into the realm of possibility has been the greatest gift from this community.”

The development of Cascadia Candles

As Portland bee Balm continued to grow, there was the constant noise around expanding the product line, and the never ending product ideas from outside voices. But much of Brad’s success with Portland bee Balm can be attributed to the ability to resist taking on too much advice, and concentrating on trying to continually improve on what they do best.

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Cascadia Candles packaging

Creative energies, however, do need an outlet. With the need to tweak the design and product slowing down, Brad got restless, and the restless mind led to the latest product line.

“Candles are an obvious choice; we are surrounded by towers of beeswax in this office, as it’s a main ingredient in our balms. However I could never find myself inspired to make beeswax pillars, tapers, votives or tealights – there are already many great companies doing this very well.“

The restless creative energy continued to burn within Brad and at some point he began to think that maybe the shape of the candle could convey the identity of the brand. He thought about releasing a Portland Bee Balm candle, which led to ideas like a raindrop, a tall boy beer can and Big Pink. And while those ideas would have no doubt created some noise and traction on shelves, his mind eventually settled on a more iconic representation of the brand and the Pacific NW.

“Eventually I thought about Mount Tabor and it’s reservoirs. I thought the reservoirs could be in blue wax and it would look striking. As I started thinking about creating a 3D model of Mount Tabor, it became clear that Mount Hood would be a much more recognizable choice. Once I started going down that route I was overwhelmed with the possibilities of modeling and printing 3D geographic features. I felt this new company would be limited if it was under Portland Bee Balm and it needed to be its own entity – Cascadia Candles.”

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Mt. Hood candle

Once the direction was set, Brad set out to do what he does best: do simple things really well.

He dived into learning about every aspect of candle making, including elements most people take for granted when lighting candles and navigating the intricacies of 3D modeling and printing. What seemed like a simple idea quickly became something that consumed his creative energy and led him to not just simply create a candle, but actually learn how to make a unique product.

“You have no idea how many different wick materials exist out there; each with their own burn properties, and how many different sizes they all come in. We tested wicks for days and days. For the candles themselves there are a lot of steps and each one is an opportunity to make mistakes. The topographical data gets transformed into a surface – that surfaces get transformed into a 3D digital model – that 3D model gets edited and sent to the 3D printer. Once the model in printed and exists in the real world, it has be carefully prepared and then cast in silicone. You have no idea how many different types of silicone exist out there! The silicone mold is then removed, and prepared to receive the beeswax. Don’t forget to adjust for the pour temperature and shrinkage of the beeswax as it cools. How do you get the wick in there? These were all great problems and I was able to come up with creative solutions that I am proud of. There will be way more problems to tackle going forward; they never end, but this is what makes the work interesting.”

With the candle design dialed in and production ready to begin, Brad is turning to Kickstarter for support of the project, instead of reaching out to the network of retailers he has built up through Portland Bee Balm.

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Mt. St. Helens candle

Kickstarter offered the best platform to not only share this new product with a large and diverse audience, but it also allows him to gauge if there is truly enough interest in the concept to take the next steps.

Backers generously agree to wait months for their rewards. This will allow us to build out our production capacity to be roughly in line with demand. These candles also feel much more at home on the internet than lip balm. People are online looking for a new, unique gift or object that speaks to them.”

And if the candles do speak to a large customer base, Brad knows that will come with new challenges and opportunities for both brands.

“I think the biggest challenges will involve people. Making sure everyone is communicating, on the same page and feeling supported is happening right now in our 4 person Portland Bee Balm team. If things grow very quickly and we need to add more than a few people I think the biggest challenge will be to maintain the culture we have created. It’s a flat hierarchy with open books and no secrets. Everyone knows everything that is going on with the company and we are all in it together.”

Being transparent and open are the core values that Brad has built Portland Bee Balm on, and will continue to do so as Cascadia Candles comes into the brand fold.

And what would he say if he could go back and give his former self some advice?

“Quit your job sooner, it’s going to work out. Try to relax. Don’t compare yourself to other people that founded a better, faster, cooler, sexier, bigger company. Your instincts are good, Brad’s Bomb Balm would have been a dumb name.”

For more information, visit the Cascadia Candles Kickstarter page and visit Portland Bee Balm at www.portlandbeebalm.com and follow them on facebook,  instagram and twitter

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Stein Distillery takes the journey from fields to bottle

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There has been a large increase in the number of craft distilleries over the past few years, and new ones can be seen from Ashland to Portland.

But there aren’t many whose roots run three generations deep in Northeast Oregon, and are linked directly to the raw materials that go into making exceptional spirits.

The Stein family settled in Joseph, OR in the late 1890’s and relied on the land and wildlife for survival. They became wheat farmers, and for many decades, the focus was on traditional crop growing and selling.

But the agriculture business is never easy.

Grain prices started to fall and the family was looking for ways to produce crops for alternate means, and with the ability to grow really good wheat, rye, and barley, the idea for a distillery was hatched, and enter Austin and Heather Stein.Combine with Austin

Austin and Heather are 4th generation Steins, both of whom wanted to carry on the hard-working tradition of their families and small town communities whose residents share some core values, and with many of them running family owned businesses.

They both achieved engineering degrees in college, and eventually wanted to use them for the greater good, and as Heather points out, they saw that opportunity present itself in 2005.

“We noticed 2 lots on Joseph’s main street for sale, and decided it was now or never. We had the know-how in the family to distill, to build, to manufacture and to manage. All the pieces were there to run a business. “

As with many small town families, the Steins also had a construction business, which gave them the wherewithal to know how to develop these lots into something that could bring new jobs and resources to the community.

So the plan was launched with the ability to develop the property, and the engineering backgrounds to assist in the distillery setup.

But Heather and Austin were focused on creating craft spirits that were both representative of their family’s farming heritage, and world class in taste from the start. This led them down the knowledge and education path.

“ We went to a distilling class in April 2006, offered by Bavarian Holstein, and learned how to distill using manufactured equipment. We decided to order the equipment after 3-years of obtaining licensing from both state and federal governments. After receiving the equipment in March 2009, it took 4 months to perfect the grain to starch conversion process. Once perfected, we distilled vodka right off the bat and then cordials, and then started distilling and barreling whiskey for aging.”

The ability to distill high quality vodka and cordials from the outset allowed them build the brand. The team did tastings, worked on distribution, and started to create the story around Stein Distillery. A story centered around making high quality spirits from their own grain – truly farm to bottle distilling.

The vodka and cordial sales also brought in much needed revenue to this young craft distillery. But, as Austin states, there was always a goal on producing another product line.

“ The vision has always been aged whiskey. We needed to get unique vodka and cordials to the market first to start making a name for ourselves and bring in revenue. But the ultimate goal was always aged Oregon whiskey made from true-Oregon grain. “23-Bottles Front of Still

In addition, the Steins had the intention to set themselves apart from other micro-distilleries in Oregon, as well as bring back some famous cocktails of yesteryear. To do this, they decided to grow their own rye for use in the vodka, and whiskey as an addition to their family grown wheat.

But the focus on uniqueness didn’t end there. The Steins knew they could distinguish their whiskeys even more by adding another unique grain, and so they started growing barley as well. Even with the ability and knowhow to grow wheat, rye, and barley, they were still in need of one other ingredient, an ingredient they would need to source – corn.

“We knew we couldn’t and shouldn’t compete with Hermiston corn so we decided to source corn from a cousin already growing it in Hermiston. Knowing exactly where the raw material is from and how it is grown, and knowing careful and meticulous Stein hands have been in the process from start to finish, ensures a consistent high quality product to our consumer.”

And getting the product to the consumer started in Joseph and Wallowa County – not necessarily the center of the craft spirits movement. To the Stein’s knowledge, the closest distilleries to theirs would be in the Tri-City area, Spokane or Boise – over 3 hours away. But being the sole distillery in a large area did create opportunities for not only the business, but also the community.

Screen Shot 2016-05-05 at 9.49.42 PM“ We would say that having the distillery in Joseph has created talk/interest for alternate uses for grain/agriculture in general, as there are still many family farms on the Eastern side of the state. Our distillery has brought additional tourism to Joseph which is a major industry for Wallowa County, and we hope to continue to attract people to this beautiful area.”

With the tasting room thriving, raw materials growing and a mix of products that includes vodka, rye whiskey, whiskey, bourbon, cordials and “steinshine” (based on a family bourbon recipe), one might think that the Stein Distillery would be content.

Not so much. It’s time for expansion.

The distillery is currently in the early stages of designing a barrel aging warehouse to their distillery in Joseph. This will not only allow more space for the barrel products to age, but will also free up manufacturing space to increase production.

In addition to the expansion in Joseph, they recently opened a tasting room in the Progress Ridge are of Beaverton. A move they know helps to build the brand equity in new areas.

“ Having a tasting room allows the consumer to be able to sample the spirit before making the decision to buy. It gives us the opportunity to educate the consumer on how spirits are made, what they should be tasting and why they should care about it. We find consumers are also interested in our story and our supportive of our small family business.”

And this growth has led to some new challenges and opportunities in the business.

“ Being of engineering and manufacturing brains, we are not naturally the first ones to market/advertise/sell but obviously these activities are critical to any business, and so we will be looking to add expertise and opportunity in these areas. These actions will help us continue to move nationally and internationally with our products. Meanwhile, we do foresee the current demand picking up in 2016, therefore expanding our production capability will also be critical.”

With a hard working legacy of 4 generations of Oregonians supporting their efforts, the Stein family is well prepared to weather the entrepreneurial storm, but offer this simple bit of advice for others making the leap.

“Be prepared for a long journey.”

For more information, visit www.steindistillery.com, like them on facebook, and follow them on twitter and instagramRye

Shifting the focus of economic development

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It all started with a letter from an innkeeper to a newspaperman in 1987.

Jim Beaver, the innkeeper of the Chanticleer Inn in Ashland, Oregon, had experienced adventure cycling and came away with a sense that the activity could spur economic activity in the small towns around Oregon.

Jonathan Nicholas, a reporter for the Oregonian, was focused on telling stories about the shifting economic landscape in rural Oregon that was occurring in the 1980’s.

Jim encouraged Jonathan to invite people to go for a ride to small towns, and in the process they’d get hungry and thirsty, leading them to buy pizza and beer in each place. Jonathan agreed to write the story, and with the support of area chamber of commerces and the generous backing of Travel Oregon who oversaw the event coordination, the first event was scheduled to take place in September of 1988 – covering 320 miles from Salem to Brookings.

Jonathan wrote the story and they both thought that somewhere between a handful and a hundred people would arrive.

Over one thousand people from 20 different states participated, generating $360,000 in economic activity for the participating regions. Cycle Oregon was officially born.6148518948_2e10abfb0e_o

Defining the experience and routes

As the growth of Cycle Oregon has extended out from its roots, the one thing that has not changed is the focus on a quality experience for the riders who participate, something Alison Graves, the Executive Director of Cycle Oregon, knows is critical.

“Cycle Oregon is renowned for its amenities and support. Our saying is, ‘all you have to do is pedal and we do the rest’,” she said.

But things weren’t always that way.

“The first year there were no porta-potties and after the first few days, realizing something needed to be done, Jonathan hired a local roto-rooter who also had porta-potties – they have been with Cycle Oregon ever since. Similarly, food used to be provided by communities. But after the fourth day of burgers and dogs, Cycle Oregon turned to a mobile catering company, OK’s Cascades, who also provides incident response catering.”

However, no matter the level of support and amenities, the core essence of the ride is still the route the ride takes throughout Oregon. In recent years Oregon, and primarily areas like Portland, Bend and the Coast, have become hot tourist destinations – and for good reasons.

But Oregon is a big and diverse state.

From the Painted Hills to the Rogue Wilderness and back up to Astoria and out to the Wallowas, the options for the rides are almost endless.

“We tend to make a rotation around the more remote parts of the state. Great bicycling means low traffic roads, so that tends to mean areas that are more out of the way. Plus, with economic development part of our mission, we work harder to ride through smaller towns. That doesn’t take too much work in Oregon with so many idyllic communities,” says Alison.

11224351_10153398895163283_4232298022079492787_oThe work, however, doesn’t end with the route selection. Engaging the communities around the state before the ride, as the event passes through each community, and after they have left are all important aspects of how Cycle Oregon works to promote economic development.

“We work closely with partners, like Travel Oregon and State Parks, to make it easy for riders to return. We promote Travel Oregon’s Bicycle Friendly Business program to the communities we ride in and also incorporate Scenic Bikeways into our routes wherever possible,” Alison adds. “Cycle Oregon actually started the Scenic Bikeways program as a way for anyone to create their own Cycle Oregon anytime. Plus, we are an ambassador for RidewithGPS, where we post our favorite routes and connect to Travel Oregon’s data that includes bicycle friendly businesses, campgrounds and other amenities to make return visits as easy as possible for past participants and those folks looking to head out on their own.”

With typically a 50/50 split in Oregonians and non-Oregonians participating in the ride, Cycle Oregon is reaching out to a broad mix of riders. Close to 75% on average are from OR, WA, and CA, while another 25% are from around the country and world.

And maintaining the uniqueness year after year through route selection has resulted in a high number of returning riders, as Alison points out.

“We have a high number of people who do the ride more than once. We have a handful of people who have done every single Cycle Oregon. This year we have 75 people who have done more than 15 rides and 175 people who have done 8-14.”

But as the ride has grown, the organization knows that there is a limit. The logistics in taking bike riders around Oregon, and the impact the ride has on these communities, is something Alison and her team always take into consideration.7998387698_418053684f_k

“We have found that the right number is around 2,000. With that number we need 13-14 acres and that can be hard to find in small communities.”

Also, as  Cycle Oregon has grown from its roots to what it is today, the team instilled a core focus on sustainability to ensure that as the ride grew, some of the potential negative effects would be negated.

“The focus on sustainability was a practicality issue and we are a ‘leave no trace’ event. We bring all of our own food and water that is consumed while riding, and we take away our garbage,”  Alison said. “We started by recycling the usual stuff and over the years it has evolved to include using compostable utensils and plates. We compost and recycle a lot so that we minimize what goes into the landfill.”

Becoming a voice, giving back, and continuing to grow

With an ever-increasing number of riders participating in Cycle Oregon, the economic impact continues to grow. But the staff and board of Cycle Oregon wanted to identify a way to create a more lasting and sustainable impact.

“The grant program started in 1996 (the organization started in 1988). The board wanted to set up a sustainable way of giving back and an endowment was a great vehicle. To date we have made 190 grants totaling $1.6M, and we have about $2M in the fund today,” Alison adds. “We focus our giving in three categories: Bicycle Tourism & Safety, Environmental Conservation & Historic Preservation, and Community Projects. We tend to have higher giving in the communities we have just visited but we accept proposals on a year round basis and from every part of the state.”

3948845230_2fd1c74e91_zIn addition to giving back, Cycle Oregon has evolved into an important voice for change too. The Policymaker Ride was born through a conversation between Jonathan Nicholas and longtime environmental advocate, Mike Houck, both of whom were frustrated with the slow pace of change in improving facilities.

They organized the first event to highlight the Scenic Bikeways project and invited policymakers to join in so they could experience the good, bad, and ugly in order to motivate them to make change more quickly.

And it worked.

To date the Policymaker Ride has helped launch the Scenic Bikeway program, shined a spotlight on regional projects like connections in Washington and Clark counties plus the Columbia River Gorge, and cultivated relationships among the participants.

Even with the continued growth of Cycle Oregon and the evolving positive impact it’s having in the state, there are challenges. An aging population, more traffic on the roads and less funding for bicycle safety are challenges that the team at Cycle Oregon know all too well.

But they also see a multitude of opportunities, including events that cater to new populations, creating awareness around bicycle programs and safety campaigns, and more strategic investment approaches.

And Alison knows that Oregon is a special place to do an event like Cycle Oregon, “There is a strong sense of history and community. The story of Oregon — the Oregon Trail, Lewis & Clark, native peoples — is the American story. And it’s still very much alive. So, while the roads and scenery are truly breathtaking, it’s the communities that welcome us with open arms and share their experiences with us, which makes Cycle Oregon such a unique and priceless experience.”

And by embracing the open roads and the sense of community around the state, Cycle Oregon has had an estimated direct annual economic impact of $660,000, and a total of $14,000,000 since its inception.

Which is truly putting pedal power to work.6164530450_13669fc16a_o

 

For more information, visit www.cycleoregon.com, like them on facebook and follow them on twitter.

Building a blog in Bend

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When people think of startup hubs, cities like San Francisco and New York immediately jump to mind, as do smaller startup communities like Seattle, Austin, and Boulder. But it’s rare for any Oregon towns to even register.

That, however, may be changing. Thanks to growing momentum in Bend, Oregon. And thanks to the BendTECH blog chronicling the stories of the startups who are putting Bend on the map.

“We wanted to create a way for people inside and outside of Bend to learn more about what’s happening in our tech and startup communities,” BendTECH blog cofounder and editor Kelly Kearsley said. “This was spring 2014. I think a lot of people felt like there’s definitely more than meets the eye here in terms of startup/tech activity, and to have one place where you could find that information would be valuable — both for people already here and looking for resources and connections, as well as people interested in moving themselves and/or their companies to town.”

A unique community

“We just had a guest blogger — an intern at one of the tech startups here — write a post. And she called out a small fact that I think actually really makes a big difference: People who are here really want to be here. By and large, the entrepreneurs here have lived and worked and started other companies in bigger places. They’ve chosen to be here. They want to succeed in Bend and they want others to succeed here too.”

And that commitment to growing in Bend creates strong collaborative tendencies among those residents and businesses.2674982280_7974b6bf08_b

“A lot of entrepreneurs here comment on that collaborative nature, they say it’s noticeable relative to other places they’ve lived and worked. I just heard an anecdote of one tech company sending resumes it received to another. People are giving of their time and interested in more than just their own success.”

“It’s cliche, but we’re at a point where rising tides lift all the ships — the more successful companies we have, the more talent we can attract, the more companies can be successful. People understand that. In terms of challenges, I think mature and startup companies here need more tech talent. And though funding has increased, more capital certainly helps accelerate growth.”

Chronicling the journey

While momentum and collaboration are important, communication is often the most critical—and oft overlooked—component of community development. That’s why Kelly and James Gentes founded the blog in 2014, to help provide a foundation for that communication to occur.

“Well the blog is just about a year old, so I wouldn’t say there’s been drastic change since its inception. But what there has been over the past few years is steady growth of the number of new companies here and more local funding available through groups such as Cascade Angels — though I think many would tell you there could always be more capital. Central Oregon startups raised nearly $16 million in mostly seed funding in the past year, and I think the assumption is that we’ll exceed that number in the next year.

“The people doing the heavy lifting in terms of building the startup community are the startup founders. They are the ones taking the risk to transform their ideas into businesses and doing it in a place that they love,” Kelly said. “I like to think that the blog has helped bring attention to what’s happening here and provide support to our growing tech and startup communities.”

Talking tech

Thanks in part to the efforts of the blog, the perception of Bend as a startup community is starting to change. And residents of more formidable and well-known hubs are beginning to take notice.

“What is rapidly changing is the idea that you can start or move especially a tech company here and have it thrive. We have some legacy tech companies that have been here awhile, but now we’re seeing Bay-area companies interested in moving staff to Bend or opening new offices. It’s not just doable, but for a few early adopters — like Kollective — it’s become preferable. There’s still challenges — finding technical talent can be tough. But I think that companies here are starting to make the case that you can be in Bend, have a high quality of life, pay less overhead and still be short distance away from major cities.”

Outside interests

“People might be surprised, but I would estimate that more than half of the blog’s readers are from outside of Bend. They’re people who are keenly interested in whether startups can succeed here and often it’s their dream to be here as well. I’d like to think that the blog shows people what’s possible when you start to think out of the box in terms of where you have to live and work.

And part of the reason for that is that — despite it’s name — the BendTECH blog isn’t just tech.

Screen Shot 2015-08-19 at 10.23.05 AM“We haven’t had any push back on BendTECH,” Kelly said. “We do primarily focus on tech companies, and I would say tech-related news easily comprises more than half our coverage. We’re mostly interested in startups that are looking for rapid growth, usually product companies, so we’re not really covering all new businesses in all new verticals. We don’t cover restaurants or a lot of service business. Bend has startups in outdoor gear, biotech and food manufacturing. Also if you have a startup and you’re hoping to scale, then there’s a lot of crossover in terms of resources and information that you’re interested in. Finally, we see lots of companies — think Cairn — that may not be software companies, but have a tech component.”

Nurturing a spark

“In terms of becoming a catalyst, I’ve been really heartened by the number of jobs posted on our job board and excited when I hear that companies have filled positions from people who heard about the jobs via the blog. That’s full circle stuff and it’s really gratifying. I get choked up! Going forward, I think we’ll continue to create content, raise awareness and start conversations about entrepreneurship in Central Oregon. We want to grow our readership and we also have ideas for events around our #50startups and other blog features.”

The concept for #50startups is part of an ongoing effort to highlight companies in the area.

“#50startups has been really fun,” Kelly said. “I thought of it shortly after we launched as a way to regularly introduce our readers to the various startups here. James and I made a list of startups we knew and felt pretty confident we would have 50 companies to profile, though they aren’t all tech-related. We’re currently in the 30s. They are always some of our best-read posts: the format makes it easy for readers to learn about a new endeavor and the entrepreneurs enjoy telling their stories.”

Finding a voice

“I think that blogging is a constant exercise in experimentation, refining your focus and learning what your audience wants and needs. You try new content and see what garners people’s attention and what really engages them. Sometimes it’s not always what you think.”

“For example, I thought readers would be more interested in advice and service type pieces around creating successful startups. But they’re far more interested in finding info on our blog they can’t find anywhere else — the daily happenings of Bend’s tech and startup communities. So we focus most of our resources on talking about companies, what they’re doing, who is hiring, who has raised money, etc.”

Screen Shot 2015-08-19 at 10.25.52 AMLike many blogs, BendTECH blog makes sure it doesn’t take itself too seriously. They have their quirky side as well. One of their more popular features in recent history has proved to be something that the Internet does exceptionally well: fawn over pets.

“As for the dogs, that was way to insert some fun into the blog and feature the furry friends that keep startup founders and tech workers company. It’s Bend. People love their dogs — in fact, few offices don’t have dogs. So those have been well-read too.”

Only the beginning

“After one year, we have 800 weekly newsletter subscribers and that grows about 10% each month at a higher than 50% open rate,” Kelly said. “There’s definitely an appetite for what we’re providing. We want to keep people interested and answer their questions about tech and startups in Bend. I think we’ll also explore building our revenue through ads and the job board. We just want to keep telling the Central Oregon tech and startup story — and there’s lots more to say.”

For more information, visit the BendTECH blog or follow BendTECH on Twitter.

Shaping a new kind of snowboard

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They say you find a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but what do you find on the Rainbow Chair at Mt. Bachelor?

For James Nicol and Ryan Holmes, cofounders of Snoplanks, they found was a spark of inspiration to create a new kind of snowboard — one that connects the mountain to the waves.

“On the chair we were discussing board and ski design and looking for something that had a more surf-like feel than your everyday “all mountain” equipment,” Nicol said “Being a surfer, I was also hoping to bring some of the concepts from surf design to snowboards in terms of rocker profiles and side cuts.”

10906495_1033428906673912_9184266040313148061_n (1)The idea of Snoplanks would not remain a concept for long. James harkened back to his surfing past — one that included shaping boards — and started the process of creating the initial prototypes.

And in that process of shaping, James found clarity for the concept and, ultimately, for himself.

“In the past I had shaped surfboards. And what I found is the process itself is a very peaceful and insightful undertaking. Shaping is a lot like riding powder or surfing. It’s a completely mind clearing activity, and I always walk away from the shaping room feeling better than I did when I entered.”

Crafting the plank

So with a cleared sense of mind, the duo began testing both the shape and the materials.

“I started working with our first boards in my garage that winter by building extremely primitive shapes from plywood, bending them with steam, and glassing them like surfboards. The original boards were very basic,  but actually extremely fun in powder. These first shapes were the backbone of the brand that led to where we are today.”

11885704_1178084902208311_1724488971785787825_oNicol knew that birch plywood, e-glass, and resin could only take them so far. So he started to look for options that would not only perform better but allow them to scale.

“I built a homemade press in spring 2013 and started experimenting with maple and birch veneers, doing a variety of layups to produce different flex and strength. When I found bamboo, however, that… that was a game changer. The strength to weight ratio was unmatched and I knew when I stepped on the first bamboo plank that we had something truly unique.”

Bamboo enabled the Snoplanks team to hone both the supply chain and production. But the choice to use bamboo was not solely based on technical performance alone. Bamboo from a sustainability standpoint appealed to Nicol and Holmes, as well. They wanted to make every plank as environmentally friendly as possible, which includes using tung oil as the finish, donating all of the scrap materials to Hangr Supply, and donating a portion of every sale to Protect our Winters.

But as many craftsman know, being sustainable in your production does not result in a subpar product, and these planks are built to last.

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Photo Credit: Pete Alport

“Our boards our extremely durable. We provide a refinishing kit if you want to sand and re-stain the deck. As the boards are 100% bamboo and fiberglass, they do need a bit more care than your standard board, but they can take a solid beating and we have not yet seen one break to date.”

Lessons learned and opportunities ahead

With sales doubling year over year, and a brand that has received its fair share of press, you’d think James and Ryan had done all of this before, but in fact they are first time founders. Not unlike many entrepreneurs, they have maintained their other jobs and hustled to get to this point.

“This is the first startup either of us has ever been involved in. I still work another job to pay the bills and keep the company rolling. Of course, the dream is to grow the business and employee our local community,” Nicol said. “We’ve learned a great deal to this point in terms of branding, product development, and marketing. The key element is figuring out where the most bang for your buck can go on marketing yourself when you have no marketing budget to speak of. I think we have done a good job of that thus far and are taking time in every step to ensure that it is done the right way.”

Snoplanks is striving to be a reputable US manufacturer of snowboards and skis within the next 5 years, all while building a company and culture in the town they call home. That plan includes expanding operations and hiring local talent.

“We hope to grow and prosper right here in Bend, Oregon. One thing we decided early on is that we will never outsource our manufacturing abroad. We are a craft company making handmade boards right here in the USA, and that is how things will remain,“ Nicol said. “Bend in itself is a brand. Breweries, Mountains, Rivers, Art/Music… Bend has it all. We feel blessed to be able to have a business here and to be able to represent such an amazing community with our product.”

11822987_1169132113103590_1525954944984278470_oThat community of supporters and followers extends throughout the Northwest. They are looking to expand sales on the West Coast this winter through strategic outreach and collaborations; with one of those recent collaborations being with Bend based Deschutes Brewing, where they had the opportunity to build boards for their national marketing team.

With growth comes both opportunities and challenges, and the team at Snoplanks is focused on addressing each in equal measure.

“To grow we are going to need to upgrade our equipment so that we can fill larger orders and expand our distribution. This obviously requires capital and therefore we are going to be working on raising this capital for the 2016/17 season. ”

But with the hopes of El Nino bringing much needed snow to the NW, they do not foresee their fundraising slowing down their business trajectory nor distracting them from continuing their sales growth — growth that is best experienced in knee deep powder.

Photo Credit: Pete Alport

Photo Credit: Pete Alport

For more information, visit www.snoplanks.com, follow them on  Instagram, and like them on Facebook

For more information on the photographer, Pete Alport visit his Facebook page. 

Reed LaPlant Studio grows from the root up

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For a man who makes his living from wood, it’s no coincidence his business vision comes from his roots. Raised in Wisconsin with a deep love of nature and a respect for American-made products, custom furniture maker and designer Reed LaPlant routinely carries those early lessons and experiences into his business.

Even the business itself, Reed LaPlant Studio, emerged like a new shoot from LaPlant’s early work as an architect – his first foray into a business that combined both design and build. But before it was ever a plan for business, LaPlant’s values of sustainability and artistic interests served a practical purpose.

“As a very poor college kid, I rarely had the money to purchase materials for any projects for the neglected, roach-infested house I rented,” he says. “I made a bookcase from scrap lumber and some old windows I found in an abandoned movie theater in town. The windows had been brought as trash by someone not wanting to go all the way to the town dump.”

He didn’t know then that someday he’d make his living making furniture that, while decidedly more upscale, uses the concepts of sustainability of his youth. LaPlant, 46, says Reed LaPlant Studio uses only U.S.-grown and made materials and minimizes consumption and waste.

“This is not a marketing effort. It’s simply what we’ve been doing since the inception of our business,” LaPlant says. “I think my rural, blue collar, Wisconsin roots have always informed my choices. We also always used what was either found, dismantled, or cultivated on our property. My cousin and I built an A-frame fort cobbled from stashed plywood scraps, firewood, and used nails.”

LaPlant was a manufacturing “locavore” before such a term existed.

“I do feel very strongly about it, and this is my small, quiet way of trying to do something about it,” he says.

Both sides of design and build

Reed LaPlant Studio in Northeast Portland makes custom furniture in a unique way. Much like an architect’s process of designing a custom house for a client, LaPlant emphasizes his consultations with the client to develop furniture that expresses their tastes and best fills their space.image5
“Having been in architecture for so long, I really like to design for the space, and with a clear picture of the client’s aesthetic sense and lifestyle.”

LaPlant has seamlessly merged both his talents and interest in design and building throughout his diverse career.

“I made my first piece of furniture when I was about 15, under the guidance of the same industrial arts instructor that told me, ‘Kid, you need to be an architect.’ So I’ve probably always strongly associated the two.”

While starting out as an architect, LaPlant built his first pieces of furniture. Now, with a growing business largely focused on manufacturing, he still takes on the occasional architectural job, he says. The two remain intertwined just as they were when he started out.

“And, as many know, architects generally make very little money,” he says. “So I made my first piece of ‘sellable’ furniture out of construction site cast-off’s I accumulated during my design/build years.”

The evolution of a craftsman

Reed LaPlant Studio first opened in Atlanta as a spin-off from LaPlant’s first company, Blue Shoe, which he co-owned with a partner. Blue Shoe combined LaPlant’s design skills with furniture making. The furniture emerged as the strongest plank of the diverse business, he says. Eventually, he set out on his own and opened the studio.

As the Great Recession smothered the country’s economy, LaPlant had already set in motion a move to Portland, Oregon with his wife and two children. It turned out to be fortuitous timing.

“We relocated to Portland right when the economy tanked, so I had to rebuild my local identity anyway,” he says. “I can’t say I necessarily felt it, because I would have experienced it anyway. When you relocate across the country like that it is to be expected. It wasn’t too bad.”
The business grew through its normal fits and starts, with commissions widely fluctuating.

“I’d have four orders one month and 22 the next,” he says.

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 8.43.10 PMThe ups and downs of commission-based work remains a mystery, he says, though overall the business continues to grow. Seasonal factors come into play, people don’t spend much around tax time, and dining room tables sell better in the fall. But by and large he is content to ride the ebb and flow.

His best month came just as the grip of the recession eased, bringing in “a record-crushing 52 orders” that February.

“It’s like people had been holding on to their money for so long, they just finally let go and it came on like a tidal wave,” he says.

Until recently, LaPlant operated the business himself and would hire craftsman as needed. But as the company grew, he decided to focus his energies where he is best suited: making furniture. He hired an operations manager and a marketing manager so he can be making products “about 90 percent of the time”.

A piece can be made in as few as 15 hours,  but most require between 25 and 45 hours.

“I have spent as many as 200 or more hours on a single piece, but that’s pretty rare,” he says.

Like all artists, he has his favorites, a Pullman credenza and a Boochever bench.

“Each of these designs arrived in one of those rare moments when calm collides with notion, and pencil and paper happen to be in hand”.

Customer process

LaPlant noted his first step with a customer is to “invite myself over,” just as he has long done with architectural clients to get to know their tastes, the spaces they want to fill, and how his work can be compliment their lifestyle and style.

“I try to glean a sense of the potential client’s likes and dislikes, and of their personality,” he says.

With business increasingly coming via the website from non-local customers, LaPlant continues this personal touch through electronic connections.

“That’s a bit of a bummer for me, but the rest of the process is the same.”image10

Because of his growing portfolio, customers will often pick a piece directly from the website, which will still be made by hand and personalized as needed. The process typically takes between eight and 12 weeks. He is surprised that many customers prefer to choose a piece that’s already been made rather than have something personally designed, but believes it affirms the quality of the work.

“Although I love designing new pieces,” he says, “I have come to a point where I appreciate and find great pleasure in work of diminished brain strain and stress levels — work that comes with making pieces with which I am deeply familiar.”

And the greatest satisfaction? When the furniture fills the home of a satisfied customer.

“A client in New York sent an e-mail in which she quoted her husband’s immediate response to their new table,” he says. “He took the lord’s name in vain and dropped the f-bomb in the midst of dubbing the table ‘art.’ My joy and laughter hovered for a long time with that one. I still laugh and smile when I think about it.”

The rise of craft and maker movement

LaPlant is well aware that his long, hard business evolution has brought him into the middle of a dramatic business change. With the rise of the DIY (do-it-yourself) projects and increased demand for artisan craftsmanship, both competition and attention have grown dramatically in just the past couple of years.Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 2.12.56 PM

The Maker Movement, as it is called, has attracted any number of new budding entrepreneurial craftsmen.

“With so many people able to freely share ideas and spread inspiration across the web, makers are forming communities of their own, and more people around the world are becoming influenced to be makers,” wrote Brit Moran, founder of Brit+Co.

“I firmly believe there is this incredible creative energy that comes with this ‘maker movement,’ he says, “and there are a lot of makers interested in collaboration. And it’s great.”

The online craft selling company Etsy now has more than one million artisan sellers that generate nearly a billion dollars in annual revenue. The potential market for the maker movement and the expansive level of competition are evident.

For LaPlant, it’s emblematic of the pros and cons of any business.

“People are much more broadly aware, if not of the direct economic impact, of the presence and viability of purchasing or commissioning locally. And that’s great,” he says, “However, from the perspective of a father of two and an owner of a business in a notoriously difficult field, the new-coming competition is a little unnerving…that’s the struggle of every business.”

In the end, LaPlant knows he will stay true to his roots, his unique blend of both design and build, and a lifelong commitment to sustainability and to continued artistic work that affords him both a business and an expression of his talent. If LaPlant is anything, it’s rooted.

“I am a devout believer in the notion that everyone deserves, in every way, a crack at earning a living doing what they love,” he says. “I do it, and I wish this experience upon everyone who wants it.”

 For more information, visit Reed LaPlant Studio, follow then on twitter and instagram, or like them on facebookScreen Shot 2015-05-25 at 8.44.10 PM

A “really cool” mission drives Bob’s Red Mill

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After a full career in the auto business and launching an unlikely milling business in Redding, California, Bob Moore hit upon his true calling in Oregon — and in so doing made hundreds of millions of dollars after his 60th birthday — by selling flour and grains.

“I’m a good salesman,” says the man whose picture adorns Bob’s Red Mill products shipped to virtually every continent on earth.

But he doesn’t pull his punches when talking about the Bob’s Red Mill product he wishes you didn’t buy.

“Do you sell white flour?” he is asked over lunch among his customers at the Bob’s Red Mill Whole Grain Store and Restaurant.

“I do. I can’t get around it,” Moore says with a sigh. “We’ve made a high quality, higher protein white flour. It’s better. It’s unbleached and organic. But I still don’t think people should eat it. They should eat whole grains.”

The namesake of Bob’s Red Mill started this business venture with a simple passion to eat better and live longer — while helping others do likewise. He had no expectations that his small mill with a handful of employees would become a global company with more than a hundred million dollars in annual revenue against zero debt.

When you start a business nearing retirement age you really don’t think quite so grandiose, he says. He pauses at the memory to consider all the turns his life took.

“It’s pretty cool. I’m very lucky.”

Catch phrase

You can’t spend ten minutes with Moore and not hear words like “amazing” and “cool.” He brims with optimism and enthusiasm for everything around him. If Bob Moore, 86, has a catch phrase it’s oddly the colloquialism of a teenage Valley Girl.

“It’s really cool,” he says about everything from his new 1.2 million-dollar manufacturing machine to playing side-by-side pianos in the Red Mill store every Friday with his Sidekick, Institutional Memory, Keeper of the Schedule, and Executive Secretary Nancy Garner.

P1030056He says it so much that those around him say it too.

“It’s really cool,” Garner said about the plant’s technology during a tour earlier in the day.

Moore’s corner office is equal parts working office and museum. Piles of papers, proposals and the common detritus of a busy CEO co-mingle with knickknacks and memorabilia from his diverse life and interests in an eclectic mix of paperwork, memories, and passions that aides in the telling of his story. As Moore recalls the sixty-year business career that brought him to this point of wealth and acclaim, he routinely relies on visual points of reference on the walls, the shelves, the tables and his desk to aid in the telling.

He points to an old library book with the plastic cover and “property of” sticker still affixed. The book, John Goffe’s Mill by George Woodbury, remains a treasured artifact.

“That was the key to this whole thing right now. Honestly,” he says.

But his orderly mind doesn’t want to get ahead of itself. Bob circles back in his memory, further back before the mills, when cars were his thing. He struggled as a gas station owner early in his life, then worked as a manager for auto centers in the Sacramento area. He started reading other books, he says. He walks over to another part of the office where he has a small library of 1950s and 1960s health food books, including Let’s Get Well by Adale Davis.

“These people seemed to grasp the impact of devaluing food,” Moore said. Davis’ book, he says, motivated him to change his life entirely.

It was the 1960s, a full half-century before terms like “foodie” or “localvore” became commonplace. All of Sacramento had two health food stores, Moore recalls. But Moore’s wife Charlee “started cooking with that stuff, the whole grains, and gee, it was good.”

Moore quit smoking and became a closet health-food nut, a passion that grew as he moved his family to the then rural community of Redding, California. Health food options were “pretty slim pickins’” he said.

The first mill

JC Penney in Redding recruited Moore to run its auto center. Moore interviewed while Charlee scoured the area with the couple’s children. They met back up with mutual good news.

“I said, ‘I got the job.’ She said, ‘I got a house.’ It was just like God was speaking to us. It was pretty amazing,” Moore recalled.

While working for JC Penney, Moore read John Goffe’s Mill and was hooked.

“It was really cool,” he said, of the story of an archeologist who took over the family mill.

“He didn’t know a thing about it,” Moore says. “He didn’t know anything about selling, but I was good at selling, and then he didn’t know a thing about milling either. How much success he had, I don’t know. But he had a lot of fun.”

Moore decided to send letters all over the country in search of a mill. He sent 16 letters to various mill owners.

“I got a letter back from just one of them” he says, his hand slapping the table with excitement. “He just inspired me. He and his brother had a mill in Muncie, Indiana… his name was…”

His calls into the adjourning office for Garner asking the name of his “inspiration.” A man who has inspired hundreds around his plant has no shortage of inspirations himself.

“Dewey Sheets,” Garner says. Moore enthusiastically agrees.

Inspired by Sheets, Moore bought milling equipment from around the country, at a time when mills were not only out of fashion, but closing down.

Moore points to another photo, a picture of 2,000 square foot Quonset hut. Inviting two sons to join him in the business as equal partners, they launched Moore’s first mill.500_102293015513_6902_n

“We all worked other jobs,” he said. “I worked two more years at Penny’s. It’s crazy how it worked out. It was really cool.”

An old advertisement from the early days hangs on a cluttered wall, offering 3-lbs of 7-grain cereal for $1.49 and other “high-fiber foods” like Colorado Popcorn and Brown Rice.

That business continues under the ownership of Moore’s children to this day, in part as a vendor for Bob’s Red Mill.

“I’m very pleased with the boys,” he says.

A calling

In 1976 he and Charlee decided to retire and go to seminary together. They moved to Portland to study Greek and Hebrew at what was then the Western Evangelical Seminary.

One day while walking home he saw an abandoned mill, re-igniting his passion for milling.

“I just love this business,” he says, pointing to a photo of the first Red Mill before it was painted red.

Soon he bought it. Soon after that some of his fellow seminary students were helping him run it.

It felt more like a calling than a job. For the man who retired to study Biblical languages, his calling was forged from the pressure of millstones grinding grains into healthy foods. He had to choose between studying scriptures or selling flour. He left school and returned to business full time. Bob’s Red Mill began.

“Everything was an inspiration,” he said. “It was so different. But ever since we started this thing we were successful.”

500_102293035513_7706_nThe business went well with its wood floored retail store and Moore still milling grain. An early photo of the first employees hangs on another part of his cluttered office. Two of those pictured still occupy offices in the plant, having grown along with the company.

That commitment to people met a stern test a few years later in 1988 when Moore’s thriving mill burnt to the ground after an arsonist set it ablaze. He could have cashed the insurance check and walked away, and even return to his Biblical studies if he desired.

He thought about it, he admits, but only briefly. The mission for both his customers and his employees and his passion for healthy food ended all thought of retirement. Bob’s Red Mill moved to a larger location just a few miles away—though the business was leveled, Moore was able to salvage the three stone mills from the fire—and the business exploded on the national, and now global, marketplace.

The first page

Moore said when he started Bob’s Red Mill he wanted to do one thing he hadn’t done in past businesses. He wanted to apply Biblical standards like The Golden Rule, The Apostle Paul’s teaching on money, or most importantly, the “first page of the Bible” that talks about the Earth’s abundance of seed and herb, all of which God deemed “good.”

“I began to take it seriously,” he says.

He describes how the industrialized food economy changed the basic nature of seed, and altered the grain by removing the bran, for example. He remains inspired by returning people to the food that God called “good” on the first page of the Bible.

“Of all the things I could do, that is something,” he said. “Being on the first page of the Bible is cool. That’s the business I am in… I’m cooking on some different kind of burners here. I’m producing whole grain food for a different kind of reason than I did when I was in Redding. It was more than a way to make a living.”

It was, and remains, a mission.10550047_10154376414815514_3129476389115831218_o

Grinding it out

Perhaps the earnest nature of Moore’s mission inspires his hands-on approach to the business. This is no figurehead. He shoves his hands into the bags of flour as they are filled, inspecting quality. He asks questions of employees with the intensity of a prosecutor, but greets them with equal enthusiasm.

Whatever can be done under Moore’s supervision, the better, it seems, from the in-house test kitchen where Moore samples gluten-free cookies, to the print shop that churns out labels in diverse languages like Farsi and Hindi, to the gluten-free testing lab where lab technician Ron Crippen tests every gluten-free product that comes into Bob’s Red Mill.

Moore stresses the company used to send samples to a lab for testing. It wasn’t fast enough or as reliable as he wanted, so he set up the lab, along with a sealed off processing plant separate from all the other products.DSC02991 (1)

Moore said they only take products from those who only do gluten-free.

“It’s not going to work if they do a glutenous product. It’s just impossible” he said.

Crippin tests roughly 200 samples a day.

“It doesn’t take much—one little dust grain—to make it spike,” he said.

If it needs to be done on a regular basis, Moore wants it done in his plant under his watchful eye. Even at 86 that hasn’t changed. His casual demeanor is nudged out of the way temporarily when questioning an employee about a sink for the kitchen that hasn’t yet been installed. No detail is too small for Moore’s intense interest and inspection.

This attention to detail explains why Meghan Keely now works at Bob’s Red Mill as the designated Safe Quality Food Practitioner, who ensures all standards across the globe are met and exceeded.

P1030066“It’s us saying no, we’re not going to maintain the status quo,” Moore said of recently creating the position Keely now holds, “but we’re going to go above and beyond.”

An entire room is designated for company uniforms which have the company logo of Bob on the left chest and the employees name on the right.

“I came from gas stations. I like uniforms,” Moore said. “I wanted the place to look nice.”

These details, the excellence, the focus is what has made the business thrive and profit, but the mission to promote healthy living—that old first page of the Bible that God called good–is never far from Moore’s mind.

“Bob has a passion about healthy foods for the whole world. That has led to prioritizing the education and outreach,” says Lori Sobelson, director of corporate outreach.

“We want to change the world,” Moore says simply, still very much a businessman and a missionary for healthy living.

“It’s pretty cool,” he says again.

Indeed.

To be continued…

For more on Bob’s Red Mill, visit www.bobsredmill.com, like them on facebook, and follow them on instagram, Pinterest , or twitter.  

Brewing the next great beer town

santiam-feature

For months, a group of guys in Salem, Oregon, would meet up on Thursday nights, jokingly calling it “choir practice,” but much of the time the talk turned to one topic: beer.

Most of them were brewing on their own and thought their beers were not only pretty good, but also better than a lot of the craft brews on the market.

“We were basically sitting around daring each other to do this,” says Matt Killikelly, now one of the owners of Santiam Brewing. “Eventually you run out of excuses.”

Santiam Brewing launched in July 2012 with nine locals as equal partners in the business, most of them also serving as employees.

The craft brewery, now one of six in Salem, makes many varieties of beer, as well as a number of cask ales and oak-barrel-aged beers.

Though the choir practice guys had drive and plenty of ideas, it was a quick process once they took the dare.

“It was about 18 months from when we decided to start a brewery to when we served our first glass,” says Killikelly.

As quickly as they started, they found success.

In 2013 and 2014, its Pirate Stout has won the Oregon Garden People’s Choice Award. Its the product of one of Santiam’s other specialties, barrel-aged beers. This one is aged in barrels that once contained Rogue Distillery Dark Rum and also has a “brief encounter” with some coconut before its placed in kegs.

Brew more beer

Santiam’s partners each have a role in the business, but basically each of them is an equal, whether they’re the head brewer, the manager of the tasting room, the legal adviser or, as Killikelly is, the sales manager.

eIMG_7906“There are some corporate titles, but only because running a corporation requires it,” Killikelly says. “They’re meaningless in a group of partners where all are equal and no one is anyone’s boss.”

The lack of titles may be seen as unusual, but it’s worked for them. Almost since its opening, Santiam Brewing has been in expansion mode.

“Once you start a brewery, it’s a neverending growth curve,” says Killikelly. “You make more beer, you get a bigger clientele, and bigger market share … so you make more beer.”

To that end, in October, the brewery converted to a ten-barrel system, and its three-and-a-half barrel system sits in its workspace off McGilchrist and 19th streets, waiting to be sold to a new owner. Meanwhile, the shiny new tanks reach toward the ceiling, dominating the space and serving as a symbol for the greater demand for Santiam’s brews.

“We started out as a brewpub that sold some beer on wholesale,” says Killikelly. “Now we’re turning into a production brewery with a tasting room.”

Their expanded space includes the tasting room, the physical plant containing the brewing equipment, and a grain room that’s walled off to keep the dust from the barley contained. There’s also a laboratory where samples are tested for yeast production, among other things. In another building across the way, Santiam has office space and product storage.

The art of the cask

But the real work is done in the tanks, and—for its most specialized brews—the casks and the barrels.

“The cask-conditioned ales and barrel-conditioned ales and sours are ‘beer geek treats,’ that is, things that make beer geeks happy,” Killikelly says. “We love beer, so we go the extra mile to make unusual beers.”

Santiam’s tasting room typically offers four cask-conditioned ales, and they’re the real deal.

“We create it the old way,” Killikelly says. “We put it in the cask with a little extra sugar and yeast and let it do its thing.”

eIMG_7899“Its thing” is a secondary fermentation that naturally carbonates the beer without having to force carbon dioxide into it and allows it to be served at 52 degrees instead of chilled down to numbing refrigerator temperatures.

Not everyone who claims to be selling such brews is telling the truth.

“It’s annoying to us that others are selling ‘cask-conditioned’ beers and then filling them with carbon dioxide in a bright tank,” Killikelly says. “If I just get clear bright beer, it’s not conditioned. You want to see sediment from secondary fermentation.”

Every bit of extra time and energy is worth it to create Santiam’s small, carefully attended batches.

“There is a differential, whether your taste buds appreciate it or not,” Killikelly says. “There is a lot of flavor for the same amount of product.”

Getting the chance to taste these flavors in all their many varieties is driving a change in the beer market — and not just the craft beer market, he adds.

Variety is the spice of life

“Craft beer drinkers want to try different beers, not drink the same thing over and over again,” Killikelly says. “Brand loyalty drinkers are going down.”

For proof, look no further than the supermarket shelves, where even Budweiser, Coors and Miller are starting to vary their products in response to this demand.

“They have the market share, for now, but not the future.”

Santiam’s own market looks to be continuing its growth curve.

“The next big thing is our Golden Sultan being accepted for the Portland Holiday Ale Festival,” Killikelly says of the event, which ran December 3-7, 2014, at Pioneer Courthouse Square. “It’s a very big deal to get a beer into that event.”

But on a larger scale, Santiam Brewing has a bigger dare in mind: to help build Salem’s reputation as a craft beer town.

“Portland has a great reputation, of course,” Killikelly says, “and then Eugene is growing and Bend, too. Salem didn’t, but now we’re getting the news out.”

One of the first steps is working with the other brewers in town to revive the Salem Brewery Association, which went quiet in the 1950s or so. The group started meeting again in early November.

Next is to create a Salem brew festival—to complement, not compete with the existing Cinco de Micro and Oregon Garden’s Brewfest—and to put the proceeds toward a “Drink Local” campaign.

“We’re trying to carve out that reputation here,” Killikelly says.

For more information visit, http://www.santiambrewing.com or like Santiam Brewing on Facebook.