2021 Summer Beerchasing Miscellany – Part I

Now That Really is a Dirty Shame!

While I’m happy for my friend, John Runkle, the owner of the World Famous Dirty Shame Saloon in Yaak, Montana, I lament for the rich history of legendary dive bars, that John has sold the bar – the new owners take over in late August.  Originally there was talk that they would change the name, but that appears to be a false rumor.

After reading about the history of the bar in Joan Melchers’ two books “Montana Watering Holes,” I called John and arranged a visit and stay in 2019 at the Yaak River Lodge, which John also owns – located on 7.5 acres along the beautiful Yaak River.

I stayed for two nights in the Moose Room (the Wolf Room was already occupied) – waking to John’s home-cooked breakfasts of bacon, hashbrowns and blueberry pancakes.  In the near term, He will continue to operate the Lodge – a rustic retreat shown below which is about one mile from the Saloon.

My enthusiasm for the Bar, John and his staff as well as the entire Yaak community of about 250 people, is evidenced by the four blog posts I wrote – necessary to adequately convey John’s and the “Shame’s” amazing stories. 

The last one entitled “Thebeerchaser’s Final Thoughts on the Dirty Shame Saloon,” published in October 2019, contains only some of the tales I heard there.  Check it out and the others to understand some of the reasons why this remains my favorite bar in ten years of Beerchasing.

So what’s in store for this soon to be father of three kids under six after his wife Dallas Runkle’s projected delivery date in September.  They live much of the time in the Tri-City area in Washington where Dallas is completing her graduate studies in education and counseling.

A conversation this week with John went like this:

Beerchaser: “Are you going to sell the Lodge at some point?”

Runkle: “Yes, we’ve temporarily taken it off the market, but when Dallas finishes her educational requirements in about a year, we’ll probably move to Texas.”

Beerchaser:  “What are you going to do, John – Run another saloon, run for office, run a marathon…” (John is a staunch conservative and we had some great debates about politics and life during my two days in Yaak while we drank beer.)

Runkle:  “Since Dallas will be working and at sixty, I’ll be the oldest dad in the world with three kids under six, I’ll probably be taking care of my offspring.  (Laughing) Joe Biden’s child-care credits will help me do that!”

John hasn’t met the new owners of the Dirty Shame yet, but they are a group of radiologists from San Luis Obispo, California, who also bought the Yaak River Tavern across the street from the Dirty Shame and evidently acquired the nearby  Overdale Lodge as well.  Does this seem a little like the premise of the series “Yellowstone?”

Regardless of the name change, the bar will not have the same character as when John was the owner and what he has made of this legendary watering hole since he bought it out of foreclosure in 2013. 

John’s humor, great heart and sense of community, have made this a focal point for the community and miles around for events such as the Sasquatch Festival, the Crawfish Festival, the Adult Easter Egg Hunt or the “Yaak Attack.”  After the two previous owners failed, John’s business acumen prevailed and the saloon has increased revenue every year except in 2020 with COVID.  It has never been more profitable.

He ended our phone call by saying, “Don, don’t forget that on July 31st, we will have the last staging of Female Cream Wrestling (last year it was canceled because of COVID) and the farewell party with live music will be on August 28th.”  

Let’s see – it’s 520 miles or 8 hours and 29 minutes from my house to Yaak.  And, if I hurry, I might be able to get a reservation in the Moose Room again…..(See the end of this post for another photo album of my visit to the Dirty Shame.)

Back to Beerchasing but Farewell to Some Favorite Haunts

With vaccination rates at a good level and restrictions lifted in Oregon, Thebeerchaser is back in business – visiting new bars and breweries to add to the total – now approaching 400 – since starting this retirement hobby in August 2011.  My most recent post related my four great visits to Corner 14 – a wonderful community watering hole in Oregon City which opened in February of 2020.  Stay tuned…..

That said, the pandemic and lockdown were brutal to hospitality establishments and some of my favorite bars and a few breweries didn’t make it.  And while we lost a number during the pandemic, it exacerbated an already tough economic environment.   An 4/4/21 Oregon Live article entitled, “Brewers Were Soaked by the Pandemic” stated in part:

“Oregon breweries were already undergoing a generational transition in the months before the pandemic hit.  In 2018 and 2019, Lompoc, Bridgeport, Portland Brewing and Widmer Brewing all closed restaurants and/or bars.  Alameda Brewhouse, Columbia River Brewing and Burnside Brewing shut their doors too.”  (Click on the links to see Thebeerchaser reviews.)

“Oregon breweries shed 1,000 jobs between the summer of 2019 and the pandemic, nearly 12% of the sector’s employment.  Then 3,500 jobs vanished in the spring of 2020.

Employment….tumbled 43% in the first months of the pandemic.   While many of those jobs bounced back over the summer as the state gradually reopened, brewery jobs remained down nearly 29% — a greater fall than at restaurants and bars, overall.”

Ironically, liquor sales jumped 20%, last April, during the first month of the pandemic to a record high. But there is good news on the brewery front. 

A number are expanding their locations including Pelican Brewing in Lincoln City, Lake Oswego’s Stickman Brewing and Baerlic Brewing in NE Portland.  Chuckanut Brewing of Bellingham, known for its lagers, has filed to open a SE Portland beer hall.

I’m very excited to check out a new Portland brewery.  Steeplejack Brewing is scheduled to open in an historic church building (112 years old) in July.  (Soft opening on 7/16 and grand opening on 7/31.) .  Two University of California – Santa Cruz college buddies – Brody Day and Dustin Harder are partnering to restore this wonderful NE Portland landmark  (Willamette Week 2/20/21)

Demolition and rebuilding is underway as crews are digging up a section of the main hall of worship for a sunken brewery, but Steeplejack plans to keep many of the most iconic and timeless elements of the building intact.

William Howard Taft, the 27th president of the United States, actually laid the cornerstone of the church at a ceremony in front of thousands of onlookers back in the day. But the primary feature is the 65’ ft. high steeple and bell tower from which the brewery gets it’s name.”  (“Steeplejack Brewing drafts All-Star Team for upcoming Portland brewpub in restored church.”  (The New School 4/20/21)

I  had a good telephone conversation with co-owner Brody Day and challenged him on the headline of the second article above asking, “What makes your team of the All-Star caliber?”  His response was good.

Steeplejack’s Head Brewer and Lead Brewer, Anna Buxton and Anne Aviles both have extensive experience in the brewing industry.    Anna at the  innovative Modern Times Brewing and Anne in the Experimental Brewing aspect at both DeGarde Brewing on the Oregon coast and Portland’s award-winning Breakside Brewing.  

The pent up desire to socialize with friends and family over a good beer portends a robust summer and fall for Northwest watering holes – that is if they can find adequate help.  The new Pelican pub in Lincoln City advertised a $2,500 signing bonus for cooking staff.

A late June visit one of our favorites on the Central Oregon coast – Depoe Bay’s Horn Public House and Brewery – had a big crowd, but the upstairs section of the pub was closed because they didn’t have enough kitchen help to accommodate the demand.

I’m also pleased to see the ill-conceived recent plan of a few Oregon Legislators in House Bill 3296 to raise the Oregon beer and wine tax by 2,600% and 1,400% respectively according to Willamette Week, died a well-deserved death before it even got out of Committee during the 2021 Session.

That said, I was saddened to see in a visit to Lincoln City that a favorite community dive bar for decades – the Cruise Inn, which I reviewed in 2014, appears to have closed its doors. Although I haven’t found any formal notice, the furniture, equipment and “library,” including the complete set of American Jurisprudence Legal Forms are gone and the phone disconnected.  

Check out a few photos from my posts on the Dirty Shame Saloon.

Photo Credits 

*1. Pelican Brewing Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/PelicanBrewingCompany/photos/10158384649633435

*2. Stickman Brewing Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/stickmenbeer/photos/a.254878121231579/

*3.  Baerlic Brewing Facebook Page  https://www.facebook.com/baerlicbrewing/photos/1360228664170193

*4.  Steeplejack Brewing Facebook Page (https://www.facebook.com/SteeplejackBeer/photos/106659551525747)

*5.  Steeplejack Brewing Facebook Page (https://www.facebook.com/SteeplejackBeer/photos/a.107641808094188/

*6. The Horn Public House and Brewery Facebook Page (https://www.facebook.com/thehornpublichouse/photos/878078125931167

*7.  The Horn Public House and Brewery Facebook Page   https://www.facebook.com/thehornpublichouse/photos/a.221404098265243/

A Plea for Common “Cents” …..$

A  number of recent Beerchaser posts have chronicled the challenges faced by Oregon bars and breweries over the last year because of the pandemic.  Demonstrations/riots in the City of Portland, which have made national news and wildfires which ravaged the State, exacerbated the virus-caused lockdowns – all economically adverse.

Another unfortunate victim – closed indefinitely

Then most recently, a once-in-a-lifetime ice storm caused widespread power outages and again shut down business just as many had gotten the green-light to reopen.

For example, the innovative Oregon Public House closed its doors in November and the excerpt from its website is typical:

“This choice, made by our Board of Directors, reflects the reality of where we are after many months of reduced sales and related challenges….In this moment of ‘freezing’ restaurants and other businesses, we hope that you choose to support small and local businesses in whatever way that you can, because many of them have been struggling in the same way that the pub has.”

Well, I’m amazed and appalled to report that a new – avoidable specter – now rears its ugly head.  It’s one that could throw another wrench into the efforts of the beverage and hospitality industry to survive.  This one was originated by some sorely misguided, myopic and, quite frankly, apparently mindless individuals – mindless at least given the economic context.

Just as the virus has invaded our daily existence, it seems like common sense has often concurrently evaporated.  A number of times during the pandemic, I have uttered the phrase, “What were they thinking?” – the most recent involving a Cancun getaway, but there have been many others and not just those which make us laugh when we read the annual Darwin Awards.

Even those with a net worth of $87 billion sometimes make crazy financial decisions….

Like Philadelphia Eagles Coach Doug Pederson’s decision to give a third-string quarterback playing time in a game with playoff implications for other teams.  Then there was Vice President, Mike Pence visiting the Mayo Clinic without a mask in May 2020 and Mayo Clinic officials not challenging this action.

A leading stock market newsletter even questioned the legendary investment guru recently with an article entitled, “Berkshire Hathaway: Respectfully, Mr. Warren Buffett, What Were You Thinking? “(BRK.A) | Seeking Alpha

This time – and in one of the most egregious – it’s several Oregon Legislators (Rep. Tawna Sanchez (D-Portland) and Rep. Rachel Prusak ( D-West Linn) and an Oregon non-profit – Oregon Recovers – led by its Executive Director, Mike Marshall – who are proposing an extreme increase in alcohol taxes.

“Marshall said businesses could pass the increase in cost to consumers, arguing that the tax hike is the only way to curb harmful consumption and binge drinking.”  (emphasis added)  (KOIN.com 3/2/21)

As reported in this Fortune.com article article excerpt, they are proposing to raise $293 million over the next two years by this tax increase.

“Oregon brewers and vintners could see a dramatic rise in the cost of doing business if a new bill making its way through the state legislature passes. Oregon House Bill 3296 seeks to increase the state’s beer tax by 2,800% and wine tax by 1,700%.

Officials in Oregon’s wine industry say the bill would result in a $2 or more price increase on every bottle of wine sold in the state. Beer and cider could see even bigger jumps.”

Beer tax – from $2.60 per barrel to $72.60 in one fell swoop

Currently the Oregon tax on each barrel of beer is $2.60.  House Bill 3296 would increase that tax by $70 to an astounding $72.60 a barrel.  For beer, this would amount to about thirty-one cents per pint.

Michaeal LaLonde, the President and CEO of Bend’s Deschutes Brewery, stated;

“Unfortunately, a recent economic report from the Beer Institute and Brewers Association estimates 25% of those Oregon beer jobs will be lost by the end of 2020 because of the COVID-19 recession.” 

His 10/12/20 guest editorial in the Bend Bulletin responding to the proposal also asserted:

“Oregon is proposing to kick you when you’re down. COVID-19 has hit the restaurant, food, and beverage industry hard. In order to shore up state coffers, the Oregon Health Authority has released a proposal to raise $293 million by increasing the tax on beer, wine, and cider by 800%.  Not staggered, not stepped, but an instant 800% increase. The consequences would be simply devastating.” *

* Evidently the original Oregon Health Authority proposal in Gov. Kate Brown’s budget last October was for the 800% proposal and the more draconian increase followed in February by the Legislators in HB 3296.

Portland’s renowned Oregon Brewers’ Festival

As an example of the hardships, it was announced just this week that for the second year in a row, the Oregon Brewers’ Festival – Oregon’s largest and one of the longest-running in the nation – according to Willamette Week  is canceled this summer – again!

“Recovers” is a relative term…..

It is ironic when small business owners are wondering if they will survive and how they are going to recover after what they’ve faced in last year, that the Co-chair of Oregon Recovers stated:

“As we recover from the pandemic, it’s critical that we adopt strategies to protect our families and increase prosperity.” (emphasis added)

To ensure that those promoting the idea get the point, one more recent statistic – this one from Guy Tauer, an economist in the Oregon State Employment Division:

“Leisure and hospitality had 211,000 jobs in December of 2019 and by December 2020 employment fell to 129,400, essentially erasing the industry’s previous 25 years of job gains,” Tauer writes. “Of the 178,200 payroll jobs Oregon lost during that time, 81,600 of those, or 46.9%, were in the leisure and hospitality sector.”

There have been debates over the years about sin taxes – on alcohol, tobacco, gambling and more recently, sugary drinks, and there are pros and cons. There’s essentially a consensus, however, that sin taxes are regressive and the heaviest burden is on lower income individuals.

Will it accomplish its purpose in reducing addiction and underage drinking or just reduce consumption generally and hurt small businesses?  And how effective have Oregon’s addiction and recovery programs been to this point without adding substantial millions – especially since there is no infrastructure to handle the increased funding.

From the Oregon Recovers web page:

“Build A New System of Intervention:  ACRA will shift the burden of engagement and/or intervention in an individual’s substance use from the criminal justice system to the healthcare system by providing healthcare, social service, education and criminal justice professionals with the education and tools needed to engage patients earlier in their addiction.” (emphasis added)

It’s true that Oregon businesses have a stake in reducing alcohol addiction which is a drain on productivity and increases the cost of operations. I notice, however, that with one exception (Andrew Rowe) no one on the Oregon Recovers Steering Committee (Board) indicates having worked in the private sector or having a business background – nor does its Executive Director.

And the people of Oregon have been very generous in approving taxes for social causes – most notably in Portland where in May – during the height of the pandemic – a nationally innovative homeless service tax measure was approved.

It will raise $250 million annually for ten years towards funding behavioral health services, job training and other services for homeless people.

While it is true that the current tax on beer in Oregon is one of the lowest in the country and has not been raised since 1977, the approach in this legislation (HB 3296) is clearly not the way to accomplish it.  Oregonians are empathetic and will endorse reasonable ideas to address alcohol addiction and underage drinking.

The Oregon Beverage Alliance has started a petition drive entitled “Don’t Tax My Drink” to ask local Oregon lawmakers to oppose tax increases on Oregon breweries, wineries, cideries, distilleries, restaurants, bars and their customers.

To this observer, the tax proposal is brazen and arrogant.  Remember the pandemic slogan, “We’re all in this together?”  So I hope people will write to Mike Marshall and Reps Sanchez and Prusak.   You might start your communication by asking, “What were you thinking?”  And let’s hope that at least a modicum of common “cents” will prevail.

And Cheers to the Oregon Brewers’ Guild!