The rough-hewn tables at Fort George Brewery & Public House are populated with locals and visitors alike; while Charlie the Tarantula looks out from her glass palace above the bar. Charlie, pictured below, was part of the inspiration behind Cavatica Stout, which is one of their three canned offerings.
Although the newly renovated and beautiful taproom in the adjacent Lovell building provides an equal opportunity for people watching, the large table at the back of the main pub space remains my first choice. Just outside the glass garage doors framing out the original brewery equipment for Fort George, the table has been an ideal vantage point since I first discovered Fort George Brewery in Astoria, Oregon a few years ago.
Beneath the hand drawn artwork on the blackboards above the tap handles, Jack Harris, head brewer for Fort George Brewery, stands chatting with staff and customers with equal ease. The relaxed atmosphere, delicious beer, and tasty food served by knowledgeable staff embody the mission of Fort George: to operate a public house that is open and “welcoming to all who may gather together.” Fort George’s Head Chef Dana McCauly ensures that patrons enjoy “fresh, local food and beer served with enthusiasm and a commitment to quality.” While the staff only takes three days off a year (Thanksgiving, Christmas & Labor Day), they live up to their goal of “great meals, outstanding beers and good company.”
Originally the 1811 settlement site of Captain Jonathan Thorn, Astoria was the Pacific Fur Company’s primary fur trading post in the Northwest. As Fort George Brewery reports on their history page, the brewery’s building and name are deeply rooted. “Under temporary British Authority, it was renamed Fort George after King George the Third. In 1924, the Fort George building was erected to house a Ford service station.” While Astoria’s zenith at the turn of the century yielded a somewhat dim existence through the 1980s, the renewed spirit of a community revival is captured in Fort George Brewery, now an icon of the rebirth happening in Astoria.
Conceived in the fall of 2005 by Harris and business partner Chris Nemlowill, Fort George opened with just 3,000 square feet in the Fort George building on March 11, 2007. The addition of a canning line and expansion with the installation of a 30 bbl system from Saint Arnold Brewing Company (Houston, Texas) took place in 2010. A brand new 120 bbl system succeeded that system at the beginning of 2012.
Despite doubling staff to accommodate the quick expansion and market growth, Fort George’s need for space seems insatiable. With a measured, long term plan for introducing their beer to new markets, Fort George is currently found in Oregon and SW Washington; with plans for Seattle coming soon.
Harris is thoughtful about the mission of Fort George and the sense of community that exists. “The Fort George Brewery & Public House stands on the shoulders of giants in this community who labored for years to pave the way for businesses like ours to flourish.”
Further, Harris explains that Astoria officials and residents have supported every effort from re-zoning to creative solutions for re-purposing old buildings. Acknowledging the tremendous support of the community, he concludes, “If we have come to symbolize the renaissance of Astoria, it is due in large part to the community wanting us to happen,” as much as the brewery’s careful management and plans for development.
Creative events, brewer’s dinners and community celebrations are a big part of the Fort George culture; Stout Month in February is always a treat, promising eight stouts from Fort George alone, with eight additional rotating guest taps. The annual “Festival of Dark Arts: A Carnival of Stout” features on-site tattoo artists, blacksmith demonstrations, tarot card readings, belly dancers, pirates, a fire eater, and fifteen special stouts reserved for the event.
Celebrating their fifth anniversary in March, Harris muses about the future. “It is really amazing to see where we have arrived in such a short time. I am always humbled and flattered when folks take notice and share in our enthusiasm and optimism. Sometimes it seems more like a wave I am learning to ride, rather than a business I supposedly run.”
Giving credit to the host of creative, enthusiastic and hard-working brewers he works with, Harris marvels at the constant pitch of new ideas and techniques; improving their standard selection or brainstorming completely new beers, his pride in Fort George Brewery is infectious. “Folks will be seeing new stuff from Fort George for a long while,” he says.
Emily Engdahl is the founder of Oregon Beer Country, a travel and tourism site dedicated exclusively to the craft beer culture of Oregon. As a craft beer writer, community events coordinator, and homebrewer, Emily encourages consumer education, community craft beer connections, resource building, informed craft beer choices, and keeping craft beer fun and accessible. Emily is also a self-taught graphic designer and trained mediator. Find her on twitter at @emilyengdahl and @ORBeerCountry.