Celebrating 10 Years of Great Beer!Aug 12, 2016 Comments (4)
We're celebrating 10 years of great beer and killer company. What better way to celebrate this milestone than reflecting on memories from the people who made Ninkasi what it is today. For the next 10 days on Twitter, we'll be sharing some of our favorite stories and memories and encouraging fans to do the same using the hashtag #N10. Post your memories with Ninkasi on Twitter for a chance to win limited edition N10 swag. Cheers to 10 years and many more!
A Nerdy Love of Craft
Jamie Floyd, Founding Brewer & Co-Founder (Self-proclaimed Nerd, Foodie, Jam Cruiser)
I brewed my first batch of beer when I was 17 as a college student at the University of Oregon in 1990 at a co-op house called The Lorax. There was no Internet or much in the way of books to read about brewing. I read the Joy of Home Brewing and later Designing Great Beers. My roommate and I began brewing with kits; producing our first batch: a Stout followed by an IPA then a Pale Ale. Back then the Craft Movement was just getting going in many ways. I was a nerd but there wasn’t really that many beer nerds back then. Though we could sample breweries like Sierra Nevada, Widmer, Redhook, and North Coast many craft breweries were not bottling yet. We explored the U.S. beers we could find but found it easier to track down Import Beers in Eugene. I fell in love with the diversity of flavors found in beers from around the world.
After college I got a job at Steelhead Brewery in Eugene as a kitchen manager. After about a year I was offered a job in the brewery as an assistant. At that time, it never occurred to me that I could be a professional brewer. I discovered quickly that brewing offered a lifetime of learning a knowledge base that is too large to consume as one person. I also realized that as a brewer I would get to teach others about beer and I became the instructional brewer for the chain of brew pubs teaching new brewers the ropes before they went to work at other locations. I saw that I could own a brewery of my own some day and spent the following decade learning as much as I could, meeting as many people in the industry as I could as well as started working on my Sensory focus. I studied world recipes and was active in Brewers Guild work and Legislative action for beer. I kept working hard until the time was right and I met the right partner Nikos Ridge. Ten years later Ninkasi is a great community of folks who are all passionate about beer. We are very lucky!
Making it Metal
Jazz, Metal Fabrication Specialist (Friends with Ninkasi CEO, Nikos Ridge since middle school, Burning Man “Burner”, Artist)
It all started with the tap handle. The tap was the first thing I was able to contribute to the Ninkasi look, and it was something that was, for a while, the face of Ninkasi. The tap handle helped set some kind of precedent for Ninkasi's hard goods; it was nice to have a sense of quality for the tap that matched the quality of the beer. No matter what we do, we as humans are mostly visual people. In so many ways having the interesting graphic design, and metal design work helps lock in a memory and understanding of what the beer is.
Beer to the People (by handtruck, bicycle, cart, or truck)
Troy, Regional Manager/New Markets (Employee #4, Dead Head to the Extreme, Creator of the First (and only) Tie-Died Ninkasi T-Shirt)
In the very early days before Ninkasi was well-known I spent most of my time explaining to accounts “what” and “who” Ninkasi was. This was a time before craft was popular. I had people laugh in my face and say “no thank you”, then I would pop open an ice cold Total Domination IPA and pour a sample for them, sit back and watch the expression on their face go from one of disdain to one of pure enjoyment. Once word started to get around about this new, exciting, and amazing tasting IPA let’s just say that my job got a lot easier. We would do everything we could seven-days-a-week, 12-hours-a-day to get our beer to the good people.
In those days I delivered beer through the Whitaker Neighborhood on hand trucks, the back of a bicycle, I had Hollis pull kegs on a trailer with his electric wheelchair. I delivered around town in Nikos’s beat up Ford Ranger pickup truck. I spent many days in the Isuzu box truck often eating lunch while rambling down the street sometimes with my son next to me for the day because I could not afford a babysitter. Everyone pitched in for the common good and our teamwork was amazing. We did whatever it took to make our accounts happy I always remember all the hard work our team put into getting Ninkasi out there.
A Little Punk Rock
James, Experiential Marketing Director (Head of Ninkasi Studios, First Member of Ninkasi Marketing, Former Bassist for the 90’s Band The Flys)
Coming from a guerilla “do it yourself” music marketing background in Los Angeles I was a big fan of Shepard Fairy’s street art. His designs were seemingly everywhere in Hollywood back in the 90s. A few times, I found myself side-by-side with him in Kinko’s in the middle of the night—him working on his OBEY stuff and me with my band flyers. Seeing Fairy rise to international recognition from essentially only guerilla marketing tactics was influential on me and my approach to the early days of our marketing.
Back then the Ninkasi marketing mix was band and event sponsorships, sticker and chalk street campaigns (including using a “bat light” to project our logo on city buildings) donating beer to causes –what we now call our Beer Is Love program. Since then, we have built an in-house, full-scale team of marketing specialists to keep our brand authentic and continuously pushing forward. I am so proud of the work we’ve done to take our marketing from regional to national!
Growing the Business
Nigel, Chief Financial Officer (Friends with Ninkasi CEO, Nikos Ridge, and Jazz Since Middle School, Former Commercial Pilot, Molecular Gastronomist)
The last 10 years were exceptionally challenging and rewarding. We grew from nothing to producing over 100,000 barrels in 2015. Everything from purchasing materials to reconstructing our facilities. I remember ordering fermenters and selecting the provider based on how quickly we could get them shipped to the brewery. Once we would temporarily solved an issue, it was right on to the next weather that was order keg shells, upping our inventory or our next large construction project. To say this has been stressful you be an understatement, but it has also been incredibly rewarding. The story of Ninkasi has been about the journey and not the end point. We continue to improve every day, strive to continually create value for our customers and overall work to perpetuate better living.
Building Community Pint by Pint
Emilie, Beer is Love National Donations Manager (Beyoncé Fan, Bacon, Bacon, Bacon)
When Jamie and Nikos started the brewery, they could not wait to share the beer they were brewing. They gave it to everyone - to help non-profits, for a birthday, you name it! In 2012, we knew that it was time to create a program that reflected our desire to give back to the community in a greater way. This is when the Beer is Love Program officially began.
We went from donating locally in Oregon to donating to ten states over the past four years. The Beer is Love Program has donated to all kinds of organizations. Today, we focus on five categories: Arts and Music, Environment, Equality, Recreation and Women. Beyond beer, Ninkasi employees find themselves volunteering for organizations in their communities.
A few volunteer events include Women's Build Day through Sister's Habitat for Humanity, planting Oregon native plants with the McKenzie River Trust, and cleaning up the Oregon coast with the Surfrider Foundation. Of course, we finish all of these volunteer days with a cold Ninkasi beer. Those are some of our favorite moments.
The range of Beer is Love events have no limits. We have donated to SUP events to help wounded veterans, supplied beer for independent film festivals, and our biggest pride is supporting Pride festivals in Seattle and Santa Barbara. It's an honor to donate beer to organizations who need it and we can't wait to see where the Beer is Love Program goes next.
Cheryl, Chief People Officer (Continuous Improvement Nerd, Surfer, Dog Lover, Stealthy Pool Shark)
While I have the honor of playing a part in maintaining Ninkasi’s strong sense of culture, I cannot take credit for its success; it’s the dedicated, driven and passionate team of people that make Ninkasi’s culture so special. As a leadership team we are intentional about building a culture that fosters a community where people are excited to come to work, respect and care for each other and become all-around better people because of their experiences at Ninkasi. Here’s the thing about culture, though, it’s not something that can be owned or created by one person. Our culture has been built by everyone at Ninkasi working to Perpetuate Better Living every day.
Seizing the Opportunity
Jules, Quality Lab Technician (World Traveler, Beer and Food Lover, Urban Farmer)
I got to the position I am in today partly through a lot of hard work and studying, but also because Ninkasi encouraged me to pursue my interests and passions with beer. Early on during my time in the Tasting Room, I gave tours and found I really enjoyed teaching others about beer, the brewing process and fermentation. I joined Ninkasi's sensory panel when it was formed. I became a BJCP judge and started judging homebrew competitions. I was encouraged to cross train in other departments in production and then was given the opportunity to go through the Cicerone certification program. My role was eventually expanded to allow me to develop customer-facing sensory education classes, teach mini off-flavor classes for my coworkers, and cross-train weekly with our extremely knowledgeable Sensory Tech at the time. When a position in the lab opened up, I decided to apply. Luckily for me, I work with open-minded and supportive people who decided that my passion and conceptual knowledge were worth the on-the-job training I would need to put them to practical use. I am excited and grateful to work with people and for a company who invest in their people and who are constantly encouraging one another to learn, improve and develop.
Keeping the Quality Fresh
Ben, Quality Manager (Father of Twins, Reluctant Runner)
I’m an East Coast transplant to beautiful Eugene, Oregon. When I hear from one of my friend’s family members that they finally got their hands on one of the Ninkasi beers that I’ve been talking up so much, the last thing I personally want to do is eat crow. I would hate to hear that one of our babies (beers) made it across the country and wasn’t exactly what my friends and family, or any of our customers for that matter, expected it to be. This isn’t because of too much pride; it isn’t because of my rep as the head of quality; it’s mostly because it just wouldn’t make sense to me. We work incredibly hard at making consistently delicious beer that I have the unparalleled pleasure of enjoying each day. It’s our passion. We work very closely with our distributor partners to align with what our beer should taste like each and every time. We like to work with them to keep store stocks rotated and their inventory at a point where our customers here, on the other coast, and everywhere in between are getting something that tastes just like what I am enjoying here at the brewery.
Onward To The Next 10!
Nikos, Co-Founder & CEO (Business Brainiac, Kayaker, Paraglider, Cat Lover)
The community in craft beer is one of the best communities there is, and it is multifaceted in its existence. First, every craft bar, every beer event and every brewery public space creates its own micro community built around enjoying great people and great beers, and they are all unique, and always a good time. The industry itself has been built on a foundation of collaboration and community amongst businesses that in theory are all in competition with each other. This is something that I find uniquely amazing about the craft industry, and the single most important thing I think should be preserved as the transformation of our industry through consolidation and large brewer buyouts takes place.
We make beer at Ninkasi, we also make art, music, create social experiences, fun events, relationships, and work hard to add value to the lives of all the people we interact with. Having a recording studio, artists in residence, creative and talented staff, and coming to work every day to talk about how to do things differently to make them better is why I show up in the morning. One of our Core Values is “The Creative Pursuit of Mastery”. Stop doing that, and you might as well stop doing anything at all in my opinion.
We’ve come a long ways in 10 years, and I am very curious to see what the next 10 hold, I could not have predicted where we would be today, and can’t say I know where will be in another 10 years, but I am confident that wherever we are, we will be better than we are today, having more fun, and still incredibly excited to be a part of this awesome industry!