Craft Beer Issue 2017
When the best beer event in town is a charity event, you know you are doing something right. Created in 2012 as a benefit for nonprofit New Avenues for Youth, Brews for New Avenues has rapidly become the premier beer event in Portland.
It’s a beer fest, it’s an auction, it’s a fundraiser, and it’s a really good time. Fueled by donations from beer geeks and a cadre of both local and international breweries, Brews for New Avenues is nothing like a traditional beer festival. The financial leeway provided by these generous donations has enabled it to forgo the traditional beer fest profit model and transcend expectations, all with the goal of raising funds to help New Avenues for Youth achieve their mission of helping youths exit or avoid life on the street altogether.
Now in its 20th year of operation, New Avenues for Youth has been focused on helping Portland youths exit street life and embark on a road towards productive and healthy lives. From a spacious building on Southwest 9th and Oak, New Avenues for Youth provides the traditional elements of a shelter, such as daily meals and short-term beds to kids in need of assistance—but it’s their programs aimed at helping these youths exit street life that make the non-profit unique. These programs include work placement, internships, GED and continuing education, and services for mental health as well as drug and alcohol counseling. New Avenues takes a comprehensive approach to helping some of our community’s most vulnerable citizens take a step forward during a very difficult time in their lives. It’s pretty admirable stuff.
But it’s tough to run a non-profit without money, and a mission this ambitious requires a lot of funds to keep it moving forward. So how did New Avenues for Youth get tied up with a beer festival?
Unless you are a prominent lawyer, doctor, or other moneyed citizen, you might be unaware of the tour de-force of the local fundraising scene: the Oregon Classic Wines Auction, which has raised more than $40 million benefiting a variety of non-profits since its inception in 1982. The rapid evolution and maturation of beer culture made it perfectly poised to take a similarly civic-minded approach and offer something back to the community. Drawing inspiration from the Classic Wines Auction, the idea for a beer-centric fundraiser began in 2011 when New Avenues board member Scott Gallagher, Development Director Jessica Elkan, and Ambassador board member James Bruce were looking for a signature fundraising event that New Avenues could call their own. In what would later be seen as an excellent piece of recruiting, the team quickly partnered with Jeremy Herrig as a co-founder, and Andy LoPiccolo and Don Lowman followed as co-chairs.
Strictly speaking as a beer event, the thing that sets Brews for New Avenues apart is the high level of knowledge and the quality of connections contained in the brain trust of its co-chairs. Utilizing a vast network of beer-related connections “earned” over many a pint, they sallied forth and solicited donations from their favorite local breweries and the brewing community responded with unprecedented generosity. Notable local breweries such as Upright Brewing, the Commons, de Garde, and many others made sizable contributions.
Hosted at the Green Dragon in Southeast Portland on October 13, 2012, the first Brews for New Avenues was a decidedly more relaxed affair than the Classic Wine Auction’s black-tie gala atmosphere. Dress code notwithstanding, the inaugural event was a success and raised $17,000 to benefit New Avenues for Youth. Subsequent events have moved to the larger confines of the Leftbank Annex building on Northeast Weidler, and the fundraising has increased in scale as well. Last year’s Brews for New Avenues raised a staggering $150,000, nearly three times the previous year, and was attended by over 600 people.
First and foremost, Brews for New Avenues is a rare beer auction, and to be able to auction high-end items, one must first acquire them. When Don Lowman moved to Europe in 2014, he became the event’s secret weapon. From his perch near Belgium (the Shangri-La of the rare beers) he provided a direct line to some of the world’s most sought-after breweries, enabling the event to secure bottles and kegs that would otherwise be impossible to procure outside of Belgium. The remaining donations are sourced from sought-after breweries in Oregon and a long list of beer-nerd patrons from across the country.
While the initial Brews for New Avenues was limited to a single session, this year the expanded fundraiser includes a series of special events that span several days, culminating in a beer festival and live auction for the most valuable bottles.
The first special event is a Brewers Dinner on Thursday, August 17, adding some high-end dining to pair with all of those high-end beverages. The Brewers Dinner will feature special guest Pierre Tilquin of Belgium’s Gueuzerie Tilquin, Portland’s Breakside Brewery, and local chef Connor Martin of Tournant. While the Brewers Dinner has been a staple of previous events, inviting a foreign brewer or blender is a first for the festival.
“We’ve always wanted to have international guests at Brews,” says Herrig. “Through co-chair Don Lowman and his European knowledge and connections, we invited Pierre Tilquin as our first international guest because he’s arguably the best commercial lambic blender in Belgium.”
The Oyster and Gueuze Social on Friday, August 18 brings together local oysters with rare bottle pours from Brasserie Cantillon in Belgium and showcases the unique and delicious relationship between these seemingly disparate elements.
The main event takes place on Saturday, August 19, and is split into two sessions. An early VIP session, featuring pours from rare kegs and a silent bottle auction, starts the action, and the general admission session follows directly after. This second session features special kegs and the “Wall of Beer,” from which patrons can purchase a random beer for $10 a piece. The main session climaxes with a live auction for rare and highly sought-after beers that can sell for thousands of dollars. These high prices are evidence of Brews’ evolution—once the organizers were thrilled to auction off a package of Westvleteren beers for $300, but last year, single bottles of rare Belgian gueuze sold for more than $3,000. If dropping the rent money on a beer isn’t your thing, though, the Wall of Beer is a great way to get in on the action and pick up some great brews.
The reputation of Brews has soared internationally, and when tickets to the Brewers Dinner, Oyster and Gueuze Social, and VIP session went on sale on June 1 they sold out almost instantaneously. If you were one of the many that didn’t have a firm grasp of the refresh button on June 1 (raises hand), then you will have to wait one more year for another chance to attend the special events as they are very sold out. Tickets do remain for the general admission event, but even these sold out last year and are likely to do so again. The word is officially out on Brews for New Avenues and the days of being able to casually secure a ticket are likely gone for good.
Beer festivals are typically hedonistic and somewhat selfish affairs, but knowing where your money is going creates an amazing and welcoming environment.
While some early and eager supporters of the festival voiced frustration at the instantaneous sellout of the special events, New Avenues’ James Bruce sees the upside.
“We all gathered to watch the ticket sales and had Don on Skype from Germany,” he says. “We were humbled by the response. We couldn’t believe how fast they sold out. We know that with this success we need to respond by continuing to raise the bar for ourselves and this means focusing our efforts on making the general admission portion of the event the best it can be.”
“From the start, one of the main goals of this event has been to raise awareness for New Avenues for Youth,” adds LoPiccolo, “so in that respect, the more attention we can get, the more people will learn about New Avenues and want to help out. We’ve always tried to put on the best event we can from the beginning.
“We try to keep quality high and our attendees comfortable,” says fellow co-chair Don Lowman. “The increased spotlight from an international perspective can only be a good thing for helping New Avenues’ mission of ending youth homelessness in Portland become a reality.”
While the quality of the libations is undeniably top-notch, it’s the spirit of generosity that provides the biggest difference between Brews for New Avenues and your other typical beer events. It isn’t just a beer fest—it’s a fundraiser for a very worthy cause, and partying with a purpose feels really good. Beer festivals are typically hedonistic and somewhat selfish affairs, but knowing where your money is going creates an amazing and welcoming environment that’s not typically associated with such indulgent behavior.
Tickets to the general admission portion of the event (featuring the live auction) went on sale June 15, and as of the time of publication, there are still some available. Get on that.
Tax-deductible donations of bottles and kegs are accepted year-round by Brews for New Avenues, and the deadline for this year’s event is August 1. Vintage beers and bottles that are not distributed in Portland are typically the best items to contribute. To donate to Brews for New Avenues, visit brewsfornewavenues.org and select “Get Involved” to begin the process.