Located at 15th and Duane Streets, Fort George Brewery is taking local brewing to a whole new level. In a way the brewery sits on sacred ground, this spot is where the first settlement on the West Coast was located.
The lead brewers in the project are Chris “Nimz” Nemlowill, the former brewer at Astoria’s Wet Dog, and John Harris of Bill’s Pub in Cannon Beach. They actually were both brewers at Bill’s for a short time where they started tossing around ideas of starting their own.
Their idea for Fort George has been discussed for over 2 years and that dream will become reality in the next 10 days.
History of Fort George
The Fort was originally founded in March 1811 by Captain Jonathan Thorn. It was first named Fort Astoria and was the Pacific Fur Company’s primary fur trading post in the Northwest. In 1813 the Fur company sold it to the British. Even though it was already under British control, a British ship named the Racoon seized it in late 1813 and immediately named it Fort George.
Today there is said to be a green line where the Fort was originally located, but can’t always been seen and the old Fort faced a bit more toward the West in order to look down the Columbia.
Equipment for the Brewery
Fort George has 6 brewing vessels that all serve a different purpose. All the equipment was purchased from a Brewery on the East Coast and had to be trucked all the way to Astoria. On the way back the truck had to drive through a tornado, in which both Chris a Jack thought they were going to lose everything. But luckily they made it through with everything intact.
The process of brewing beer has typically 5-7 steps, with the first called “mashing”. At Fort George a lawn-mower size machine sits above the brewery where barley is fed. The machine takes it and sends a consistent stream of barley down a tube and into the first vessel. Here hot water is added to crack the barley. Enzymes break down the starch in the grain into sugars. Whether the beer is darker or lighter, depends on the temperature of this process. Higher temperatures equals darker beer.
The next step is lautering, this basically involves separating the sugars from the spent grain. Fort George uses a Lauter Tun with a false bottom which allows the liquid to filter through, but not the spent grain.
Boiling follows this stage, this is where the liquid, AKA “Wort” is boiled and hops are added. This lowers the PH and causes the proteins in the wort to coagulate.
The next step is fermentation, this involves adding yeast. At this stage the “Wort” is metabolized into alcohol and carbon dioxide. This usually takes one to two weeks to become fully digested.
After the fermentation the liquid is conditioned and filtered, which involves removing the yeast and other left over particles from the beer. This process takes the longest and 4 of the 6 tanks at Fort George are used just for this.
It is now ready to drink, or store in kegs and holding tanks.
At Fort George they built a special cooler for the storage where 4 giant tanks fill the room. Each tank has a hose that leads to a CO2 apparatus and this leads directly to the tap behind the bar.
Local, Local, Local
From the start “Nimz” and Jack wanted to keep everything as local as possible.
Much of the wood is form local sources. For example the bar table itself is partially made from a fallen walnut tree from the Elk Refuge. The vents that were left over by the previous owners for ventilating the auto painting booth, now have the cooking grill directly underneath to send the smoke outside. The window booths are made from scrap wood from a old boat East of Astoria and much of the wood needed for paneling in the entryway was cut and plained at the Olney mill. If this wasn’t enough, I knew this Brewery was as local as it can get when they commented on how much of a help some guy named “Barefoot Bill” was on the project.
The Future of Fort George
In a breath of fresh air, the owners are very careful about turning this into a big money maker. They view it as more of a public service and a spot for the locals to hang out and drink some good-quality beer. According to them, the most important part of this operation is to keep everything as affordable as possible, while still making payments on some rather large loans.
Opening, Hours and Events
The hours are not set in stone yet, but at the moment they will be “11 to 11” Mon-Sat and “Sometime in the late afternoon” till 11pm on Sunday. 11 to 11 was chosen because “it has a nice ring to it”. Every Sunday will also feature a live band. A stage was built on the East wall of the bar and bands can leave the sound equipment at home, because the whole bar is wired with a sound system.
The food menu has not been decided yet, but will feature many of the goodies you will find at other Brewery Pubs. And down the road they hope to offer a variety of smoked products as well.
The opening date is very fuzzy. The owners feel that the bar is creating so much buzz, that an advertised “Grand Opening” would fill the 100 seats available and they would have to turn people away. Chris already had to do this once when KMUN hosted a Reggae Party at the unfinished Brewery a few weeks ago and doesn’t want to turn people away ever again.
So in Chris’s words “we will be open sometime during the week of the 12th…..when we sneak over and turn the open sign on”.
I’d say this looks to be one of the ever increasing success stories in the revitalization of Downtown Astoria.