These suds aren't duds

Fort George brewers buy Lovell Building, reveal expansion plans

The Daily Astorian

Beer is business and business is good.

It doesn't hurt to have really good beer either.

The success that the Fort George Brewery has experienced over the past 2 1⁄2 years has inspired its owners Chris Nemlowill and Jack Harris to take a chance and try to grow.

The business partners (under the business name Big Beams LLC) completed the deal Wednesday to purchase the Fort George Building, the Lovell Building, the old Ocean Crest Chevrolet alignment shop and the Hertz lot all from Robert Stricklin. The properties make up almost a city block.

The brewery owners hope their expansion will help them extend their business into neighboring states and nearly double their workforce.

In its brief time at the Duane Street location, the brewery has enjoyed tremendous success.

"We've had some pretty rapid growth. Locals have really accepted Fort George Brewery as a place they want to come to, hang out and have a beer at," Nemlowill said.

Large groups had inquired about renting out the entire pub, but the business owners didn't want to close the pub to locals and regular customers. They have 150 members in their Mug Club, who they didn't want to ever have to turn away. They knew they needed a bigger space to rent out for large groups or events.

Harris said the obvious next step was to buy more room, "because it's expensive to rent." Though he praised Stricklin as a generous (former) landlord.

Harris said they never considered purchasing all the buildings until Stricklin told them it was package deal.

"It just opened our minds to new possibilities and new opportunities," he said.

They are purchasing enough equipment to triple in size, and want to increase their production capacity. They employ 23 people now, and anticipate the number to grow rapidly with expansion.

Fort George has 26 accounts in Clatsop County. Its beer is enjoyed as far away as Portland.

"We really haven't worked on pushing beer up to Portland," Nemlowill said. But 60 kegs head that far east every month. The brewery has reached its capacity. As the brewery expands, Nemlowill and Harris would like to package some of their products in pints.

The men intend to distribute their best-loved beers throughout Oregon and into Washington, Idaho and California. To reach their goals they need lots of room to expand.

Big beams indeed. And also very big buildings. The second floor of the Fort George Building is nearly 6,000 square feet. Large windows face out of the space on three sides. The brewers hope to open part of the space for customers and to use part to "barrel age" some of their beers in wine barrels. Last year they produced a Bourbon Barrel Stout, and a beer they called South. South was a Belgian-style beer aged on raspberries and "conditioned" in pinot noir barrels.

"Stuff like that is a lot of fun to produce," Nemlowill said.

As big as it is, the Fort George building is dwarfed by the Lovell Building.

In all, the Lovell Building is a massive 30,000 square feet. Its huge old-growth beams are similar to the 400-year-old Douglas Fir beams in Fort George.

The old buildings represent history. Perhaps none more than the Lovell Building, which survived the Great Astoria Fire.

The Lovell Building, built in 1921, was like a second home for Astoria resident Martha Dahl. Dahl's grandfather, Sherman Lovell, had the building constructed for Lovell auto Co., his automotive dealership.

Dahl believes the building was the first in Astoria to be built for the express purpose of housing an automotive dealership.

"This was a state-of-the-art dealership," she said.

But the year following completion of the building, tragedy struck when the Great Astoria Fire destroyed many of the wood buildings that once occupied downtown.

Legend has it that when the fire reached as far east as 14th Street firefighters wanted to blow up Lovell's building so there would be a fire break. Sherman Lovell refused, and stood on top of the building firing warning shots at them.

Dahl said her family has its own lore about the building. She said Lovell had ordered a number of fire extinguishers for the new building. But when the shipment arrived there had been a mixup and instead of a number of individual fire extinguishers, he received that number of cases. Lovell hadn't had a chance to send the extras back.

"His employees got up on the roof. Every time an ember flew, they snuffed it," Dahl said. "The mistake of ordering too many saved the building."

Regardless of how the structure was preserved, after the fire, with so many businesses burned out of their buildings, Lovell moved his dealership to its previous location and opened his new building to other retail businesses, and called it the Lovell Arcade.

"Several of the displaced businesses in town moved in there," Dahl said.

Like her father, Dahl and her siblings worked in the dealership. She eventually managed it until the family sold the business in 1994.
Chris Nemlowill, co-owner of the Fort George Brewery and Public House, plans to have his kegs flowing inside the newly purchased Lovell Building, on 14th and Duane Street in Astoria Oct. 31 when the brewery hosts Halloween Hellorium. ALEX PAJUNAS — The Daily Astorian
Jack Harris, co-owner of the Fort George Brewery and Public House, will have more room to roam and stairs to conquer as the Astoria brewery expands its production and distribution beyond the Fort George Building. ALEX PAJUNAS — The Daily Astorian
•  Brewery customers are going to have a chance to get a first-hand look at the Lovell Building starting at 9 p.m. Oct. 31, when Fort George hosts Halloween Hellorium. The event is intended to coincide with the Gallagher concert and the annual Halloween cyclocross held at the Clatsop County Fairgrounds.

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