image credit https://streetsdept.com/
The late, great Don Younger (founder of the Horse Brass Pub) used to encourage beer competition by saying that a rising tide raises all boats. If that’s true, thae 2017 may be the year those boats began taking on water. In our annual report on breweries that closed in 2017, we count more than ten, almost twice as many as 2016 and with a few others still for sale or changing ownership. That said, we are being liberal with our count, as some like Lompoc Brewing’s Hedge House did not brew on-site, and Amnesia Brewing is located in Washington (though it was founded in Portland). Still, it’s clear that the craft beer boom is coming to an end, or at least a hurdle in the road as increased competition and slowing growth is making for a tumultuous time for some.
Here is our annual reprt on the breweries and taprooms that closed, changed ownership, or are for sale in Oregon and SW Washington.
Portland U-Brew/Unicorn Brewing – SOLD
Homebrew shop and brew-on-premises place Portland U-Brew opened in May of 2011. The business also produces its own beers that are sold in-house and at local fests under the name Unicorn Brewing. Founder Jason Webb and his father have sold the successful operation in the Sellwood area of southeast Portland. The sale will allow Webb’s father to retire and Jason to become the brewer at Underdog Kombucha in Estacada, OR. The new owner of Portland U-Brew/Unicorn Brewing is a Portland 5th grade teacher and homebrewer. He plans to remodel the outside of the building, improve the kitchen, stay open later hours, and add karaoke and trivia to the bar.
Drinking Horse Brewing – FOR SALE
Little-known Drinking Horse Brewing opened in 2014 in a non-descript business park in Clackamas with a 7bbl operation and industrial tasting room. The operation is run by three homebrewing friends and is distributed through LGM, but may have a cash flow problem. Recent postings on craigslist and probrewer traced back to Drinking Horse say the business has been moderately successful but needs a substantial investment to keep growing. In a later post on probrewer, the owners are offering to sell the whole brewery as a turnkey operation, but will retain the name Drinking Horse Brewing Company and their cooperage. We reached out to Drinking Horse co-owner Emerson Lenon for confirmation, but he declined to comment, neither confirming or denying our conclusions. Interestingly, the classified listing on probrewer has since been deleted.
Ross Island Brewing – CLOSING/FOR SALE
This Portland brewery has sadly only made it through about a year in business due to astronomical build-out costs and a much delayed opening due to city permitting that erased its operating capital. Factor that into a space with no foot traffic and bad parking options and it was in trouble from the beginning. That’s not to say that owner and experienced brewer Carston Haney has not been making good beer; from tasty rye ales to cask beer and old school IPAs, the lineup is solid across the board, but perhaps not the trendy buzz-worthy styles that beer geeks are lining up for. Ross Island Brewing is basically now closed but is entertaining offers for new investors or an outright sale. Hit them up if you are interested!
The Commons Brewery – CLOSED
The most high profile closure of the year was of Portland’s beloved The Commons Brewery. Luckily founder Mike Wright may find a new lease on life for his farmhouse brewery, though the details have not been worked out. One thing is for sure, though–the brewery and tasting room on SE Belmont is closed and has been leased to San Diego’s Modern Times Beer, which will reopen the space as its own in 2018. More info and the full story on the closure and what Modern Times is planning is here.
Amnesia Brewing photo from camaspostrecord.com
Amnesia Brewing – CLOSED
Predicted in last year’s annual story on brewery closures, Amnesia Brewing tried unsuccessfully to sell its operation for over a year. Originally founded in Portland on N. Mississippi Avenue where Stormbreaker Brewing now sits, the brewery made an ill-fated move to Washougal, Washington, where its distribution business dropped out and the taproom was not as busy. The pub and brewery are now closed, possibly with a new brewery taking their place.
Tugboat Brewing – CLOSED
Equally beloved and reviled, Tugboat Brewing was a Portland institution since 1989, and was often referred to as Downtown Portland’s oldest brewery. The tiny bar in the alleyway across from Baileys Taproom made beers on a small 4 barrel homebrew type setup using plastic buckets. The beer was sometimes OK and sometimes piss poor, but most went there for the ambiance. It was the type of dimly lit and dusty space in which to quietly read a book, chat with the bartender, and smoke a pipe (before that was banned). Sadly, the owners and staff actually looked down upon beer geeks, refusing to participate in any beer events or festivals and bemoaning the beer geeks they referred to as “beer sniffers” who lined up next door at Bailey’s Taproom. Earlier in 2017 the ghetto apartments above them had a fire that briefly shut down the brewery and eventually lead to its final closure, partially possibly because the ownership was tired of moving kegs. I only ever went in there a handful of times, but I will miss knowing that it was there.
BTU Brasserie – CLOSED
Extensively covered by The New School and local media, BTU Brasserie offered a refreshing concept in Portland, a combination Chinese restaurant and brewery in one pub. Unfortunately, the two elements never fully meshed and the beer was hit and miss. The food was good and vegans loved it, but the atmosphere was not great and the place quickly fell off the radar. I wrote a full autopsy on BTU here while covering Second Profession Brewing that took over the space.
Widmer Brothers Brewing Pub/Gasthaus – CLOSED/REIMAGINED
Though the companyy insists it never closed, the Widmer Brothers Brewing empire did shutter its restaurant and brewpub this year to reopen it as a new concept for pilot beers showcase. The restaurant/kitchen part is closed for a remodel and the staff was laid off, with some able to re-apply for gigs at the reimagined innovation brewery tasting room. The full-service brewpub aspect is gone but you can now visit a smaller more tasting room type space for beers and snacks. Just don’t plan to eat any meals there.
Bazi Bierbrasserie – CLOSING/SOLD
The European-inspired bier bar Bazi Bierbrasserie has been a local Portland favorite for Belgian brews, Timbers and Thorns matches, street parties, and killer events like Cherry Festivus, but owner Hilda Stevens recently sold to Asheville, NC-based Thirsty Monk. While Bazi is not a brewery, it will become one when Thirsty Monk installs a brewhouse to complement its international beer selection. Paperwork is processing and Hilda will remain on staff for a limited time in the new year to oversee the transition to the new ownership, though it’s unknown when the pub will undergo a rebranding and presumably close for a refresh. At least we will still have a Belgian beer bar in Bazi’s place, even if it’s own by someone from Portland’s arch-nemesis beer city, Asheville.
Fat Head’s Brewing Portland – CLOSING
Though it has been successful, Cleveland, Ohio-based Fat Head’s Brewing is closing its northwest Portland location due to a licensing agreement ending with the Portland pub’s owner, Tom Cook. Cook had opened the Portland location with a licensing franchise agreement but will now break the operation off as its own operation unattached to Fat Head’s. So the brewpub will stay open, but with new branding, new beers, and a new menu, with some similar items to the established hits. The new operation is Von Ebert Brewing and it will replace Fat Head’s when it closes sometime in the first quarter of 2018.
Lompoc Brewing Hedge House – CLOSED
One of the oldest brewpubs in Lompoc Brewing’s small local empire was also my favorite. The Hedge House was located in a 1912 Craftsman bungalow-style house on southeast Division St. in Portland and had a lot of charm and some solid food and brews, though they did not actually brew there. I used to walk over there for $2.50 pints on Tuesdays and nachos on the front porch. It was a great spot to bring a dog onto the patio or let kids play on the front lawn. Blame it on rising rents, slower beer sales, and more of that lowering tide sinking all ships. The Hedge House closed at the end of December and our full story on that is here. It will be missed.
Swing Tree Brewing – CLOSED
Ashland, Oregon, is a great town that does not have enough breweries. Sadly, the nano-brewery and taphouse Swing Tree Brewing ceased operations earlier this year. The brewery had four year-round beers and a family friendly taproom with local distribution. On its website Swing Tree touted planned growth in 2017, with an expansion and remodel, but the company facebook page announced in February that it was closing. Swing Tree never reported why it was closing, but claimed to be successful and with a supportive community and enough popularity that it could not keep up with demand. So it’s anyone’s guess why this well-liked small brewery threw in the towel earlier this year.
Plough Monday Organic Brewing and Hops Farm – CLOSED
This was a pretty cool brewery out in the sticks of Veneta, Oregon. One of the things that made it unique was the operation was on a hop farm and it specialized in Organic beers and organic hops. Veneta is a small rural town outside of Eugene with very little traffic, and I would imagine it would have had trouble getting visitors even if the planned taproom had gotten open. Not to mention were the realities of self-distributing beer across the state and trouble sourcing and growing organic hops without pesticides or much money. One of the owners, Charlie Whedbee, was a veteran of the beer bar industry. He managed Uber Tavern in Seattle and had stints at Lompoc Brewing and Brouwers Cafe. Charlie moved with his wife onto the Plough Monday farm in 2006. I didn’t see a lot of the beers around, but when I had a chance to try them they were pretty good. Check out our full article about Plough Monday when it opened in 2013.
Juniper Brewing – CLOSED
This three-year-old, two barrel nano brewery and taproom in Redmond outside of Bend announced it was closing last June. The brewery was covered on The New School when it opened in our Rural Brewer series. Like many nano brewers, the owners found they had to maintain regular jobs and the demands of running a small brewery without any scale proved too much to bear. In an article in the Bend Bulletin, co-owner Curtis Endicott said, “There’s not enough time or money…We couldn’t quite get free from our day jobs to make this a full-time priority.” I never had a chance to try it out, but it definitely had some local fans.