2018 saw a lot of closures, but luckily the year was not the bloodbath it could have been. Only one Portland brewery went out of business (Alameda Brewing), though the greater casualties were in the taprooms and pubs of many established and new breweries. Most have already been written about, countless digital bytes spilled all over beer geeks’ screens, leaving many to wonder if the sky was falling. The answer to that is no; this will be a test of the strong willed, better organized, and yes, just lucky, among the industry to ensure their own survival.
Royale Brewing Is For Sale and May Close
The latest brewery to join the sad list of struggling breweries in need of a savior is North Portland’s Royale Brewing. Founded in 2014 by the three founders of successful mobile bottling company Green Bottling, Royale now operates the former St. Johns taproom The Garrison Room as a cocktail bar, with a brewery tasting room recently opened at their N. Portland facility. Royale beer is also available in bottles and on draft through Point Blank Distributing and has also pulled off the neat trick of winning back to back Gold Medals at the Oregon Beer Awards for Strassen Katze berliner-weisse. Unfortunately, a parting of the ways of ownership and a company under-capitalized from the beginning is looking for a way out.
“With the market shifting more towards cans and running 3 businesses (Green, Royale , & the taproom as a separate entity), we found ourselves spread too thin to timely and enthusiastically react to that change & saw the bottom dropping out of our operating capital to meet production demands necessary to bring in enough income to run the necessary overhead costs,” says managing owner Paul Bastian.
Royale Brewing’s brewery and tasting room in N. Portland
15bbl Brewhouse at Royale Brewing
A listing on ProBrewer for Royale Brewing is for a 2-year-old 15bbl Practical Fusion brewhouse, with seven 30bbl tanks and one 20bbl, one 30bbl brite tank and a 5bbl grundy tank. It includes pretty much all the brewhouse equipment you would want from a forklift, to keg washer, keg shells and even a burgeoning barrel program.
It actually could be a pretty good deal for someone wanting to get into the brewery business or expand from a nano operation. Swift Cider will soon be opening a taproom next door, which will bring more people to the neighborhood, and a new lease is about to start. With any luck, Royale Brewing is and will remain open and in operation through a potential sale, but it’s unclear for how long.
“We would like to continue operation, and will continue to revisit that issue and evaluate on a weekly basis,” says Bastian. “Right now the plan is to renew the license for 2019 and keep the tasting room open winter hours Friday/Sat/Sunday at the brewery.”
Even if Royale finds a buyer before shutting down, I wouldn’t imagine new ownership would continue with the Royale Brewing brand.
East Fork Brewery + Pub – Joseph, OR
This brewery–which began life as an answer to Terminal Gravity Brewing called Mutiny Brewing–was founded by ex-TG employees but quickly went out of business, and ironically was sold to Terminal Gravity. TG reopened it as East Fork Brewing + Pub in the summer of 2017, a separate pub under the Terminal Gravity brand but with its own brewery to make smaller one-off batches. East Fork did well in the summer but did not have the business during the off season to justify its existence. Terminal Gravity announced the closure in October without any further details about a seasonal reopening. but TG marketing manager Kevin Harlander tells me the company will re-evaluate the brewpub’s status in March of 2019.
Formerly known as Stung Fermented, the rebranded Oregon Mead & Cider Co. lasted for five years next to Culmination Brewing before an internal shareholder conflict closed the doors in August. Oregon Mead and Cider was one of only two meadmakers in Portland and also marks a struggling hard cider industry that may have outgrown itself.
After 24 years, Portland Brewing closed its NW industrial district taproom in November. The beautiful restaurant and bar had a view to the copper kettle brewhouse, a great patio, private banquet rooms, and pretty good food. The neighborhood, however, is all blue collar daytime businesses, warehouses, and offices in a neighborhood with no foot traffic that’s completely dead after 5pm. Though it had a strong lunch crowd from the local workers, the brewery finally called it quits on the taproom.
“We had a really solid lunch crowd during the week, but the neighborhood is largely an industrial area. As the city’s craft beer scene grew, people had more reasons to stay closer to home and enjoy fresh craft beer in their neighborhoods after work,” said Bruce Kehe of North American Breweries (Portland and Pyramid Brewing’s parent company).
With Sasquatch Brewing opening a brewery and tasting room nearby and Great Notion Brewing’s new NW facility and soon-to-open brewpub in the area, competition was getting tight, but these developments also have the potential to draw more thirsty crowds to the area. Recent news of a possible Portland Major League Baseball stadium being constructed in the neighborhood could also revive things.
“We are looking at all angles to relaunch the pub in a model that works as a showcase for our award-winning beers but have no definitive plans to announce in the near term,” says Kehe on the possibility of a taproom revival. “The potential addition of a baseball team in the neighborhood would be amazing and one we eagerly anticipate not just for Portland Brewing but for the entire city.”
North Rim Brewing – Bend, OR
North Rim Brewing was started by ex-general contractors looking to retire into the beer biz in 2013. In January 2018 North Rim sold its brewhouse to Kobold Brewing and its tanks and space to expanding Bend Brewing Co., which has also recently come under new ownership. North Rim Brewing never seemed to have much of a reason to exist; when I wrote about it as the brewery was opening in 2013, the reasoning was mostly just that they could. In 2019, you can no longer operate a successful brewery unless it’s serving a strong purpose–either making great beer or serving an underserved area.
Lompoc Hedge House © The New School
One of my favorite pubs in town, a satellite location of Lompoc Brewing called the Hedge House, ended its 14 year run on SE Division in November 2017. The 1912 craftsman-style bungalow turned brewery public house was a cozy destination for classic ales and lagers, high quality pub grub and one of the best beer gardens in town. I would often walk the dog over there and sit on the porch with him and a beer, or, hit up the pub on Tightwad Tuesdays for $2.50 pints and really good nachos.
According to owner Jerry Fechter, building owner Steve Woolard had warned him a few years earlier that when the lease was up that he planned to demolish the building.
“Those last 2 years we would make money in the summer and lose money in the winter,” says Fechter of the Hedge House. “I figured we’d be done end of summer,” until Woolard announced that he would not be demolishing the building and the lease was up for renewal. Already having decided to move on, Fechter didn’t renew, which allowed Little Beast Brewing Beer Garden to move into the space.
The OG location of Lompoc Brewing was torn down in 2012 only to be reborn as Lompoc Tavern in a newly constructed condo and mixed use building on the white hot NW 23rd Avenue. Though Lompoc Tavern was almost nothing like the original location called New Old Lompoc, it still had the pub’s well known beer and food and great people watching.
“For the first 3 years of the new space we were really, really busy, better numbers than we did at the old pub,” says owner Jerry Fechter. “Then in the summer of 2015, two or three businesses moved, New Seasons Markets moved in for lunch, you had to pay to park. With all the construction, it was tough to park anyway.”
Within a couple of years, Fechter says the neighborhood lost about 1,000 jobs that moved out of the area.
“We dropped about 20-23% immediately. My theory was it will come back, but it never really came back.”
Cutting their losses, Lompoc Brewing closed the NW 23rd Avenue tavern in September with Fechter saying it was time to move on.
20+ year old Portland brewery Alameda Brewing abruptly announced its closure in October. Having gone through many seminal brewers, industry ups and downs, and an expansion to a production brewery and cans in southeast Portland, the bell finally tolled for Alameda. Founder Matt Schumacker is still not talking about what exactly happened, but word is a major investor who came on as co-owner when Alameda expanded had decided the investment wasn’t worth it. Without operating funds and a diminishing distribution and pub business, Schumacker called it quits. With any luck, the restaurant and original pub brewery will be sold and become a new brewery for the Beaumont neighborhood.
This award-winning Sherwood, OR based brewery very quietly shut its doors sometime in 2018 with scarcely a whisper. In fact, it wasn’t until some time later that the public caught on that it had gone out of business. This was a strange one, since Two Kilts had racked up a lot of goodwill for its multi-award winning Scottish Ale and had been planning a major expansion to Beaverton, but apparently after that fell through things must have gone down hill. No one from Two Kilts has commented and the business phone number has been disconnected.
After six years, Bazi owner Hilda Stevens sold the beloved southeast Portland European-style beer bar to Asheville, NC-based Thirsty Monk Pub & Brewery, which was looking to expand nationally. The sale was announced in November of 2017, but the transition didn’t really happen until this summer, and it took a while for the Bazi signs to come down and Thirsty Monk’s to go up. It’s always seemed to be a struggle to operate a Belgian-style beer bar in Portland, as shown by previous greats like the Belgian Embassy pub that closed a while back. Thirsty Monk is now contract brewing beer locally and trying to gain a footing in this market, though there has yet to be much buzz on the Portland location.
This Silverton-based brewery announced its closure on facebook in October. Seven Brides was an ambitious production brewery and brewpub that was marked by inconsistency and quality control issues. The closure, while sudden, was not completely unexpected. The original founders had disbanded, leaving brewer/owner Josiah Kelly solely running the show. Kelly has not returned any of our messages for comment. It will be interesting to see if the former production space and pub is taken up by another brewery or if the equipment will simply be sold off.
County Cork Public House – Portland, OR
Changing demographics and rising rents killed the famous Irish-style pub County Cork Public House in September. Once upon a time County Cork was known as one of the best beer spots in town, and later for always having the much sought after Pliny the Elder on tap all the time. It was a great place for Irish folk music and bluegrass, a lowkey neighborhood spot and great beer bar. The former County Cork Public House is now the buzzed about Rose City Book Pub.
The little Belgian bar that could, the original Abbey Bar & Bottle Shop on NW 21st has been open for four years and mostly flying under the radar. In 2016 the owners made the ill-fated choice to open a second, larger and newer space just a handful of blocks away. It didn’t take long to find that there wasn’t the business to support it, and that with multiple locations they were probably cannibalizing their own clientele.