The Further Dangers of Politics + Business

You may have heard that the Oregon legislature is having a spot of trouble right now. The end of the session is approaching, and majority Dems have been having a ball this session. Following the 2018 midterms, both chambers collected veto-proof majorities, and this has been a year of crossing off items on the wish list for them. Republican lawmakers are understandably unhappy about this and have twice played the only real card available to them: fleeing the state. Democrats need two Republicans for a quorum in the Senate, and if Republicans don’t show up, they can block any law they dislike.

At issue is a massive bill that would establish a cap-and-trade market to lower emissions in the state. The politics are mostly simple, but not entirely, and one local brewery managed to set off a tripwire that has both sides pissed at them. The co-owner of Astoria-based Fort George Brewery, Jack Harris, fired off a fulsome letter of support for the legislation on company stationary in February—apparently without consulting anyone else at the brewery. Fort George has been suffering the fallout ever since, but especially as the issue has come to a head in Salem (our capital).

Not such a big issue, you figure, in environmentally-oriented Oregon. Not exactly. The local newspaper explains:

Trade-exposed businesses like the Wauna Mill would receive free allowances the first year. Georgia-Pacific would pay an estimated $123,000 worth of allowances in 2022, with the expense increasing as the pollution cap lowers….

The United Steelworkers, a union representing more than 600 workers at the Wauna Mill, has raised fears the mill could close or relocate outside Oregon if the bill passes. Georgia-Pacific, owned by Koch Industries, has declined to comment.

Timber Unity, a group of regional loggers, millers, truckers and their families, formed to oppose the cap-and-trade legislation and state House Bill 2007, which aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by prohibiting the use of heavy-duty trucks with engines predating 2007 in Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties.

This is one of those classic local issues where the constituencies don’t cleave neatly to ideology or party (Astoria is a Democratic-voting labor town). And local issues often have more emotion behind them than national issues, which are more distant. In terms of pissing off someone who drinks your beer, it’s hard to imagine a better issue.

Harris admitted he was freestyling and has retracted the letter as a Fort George position—as has Fort George. Here’s a Fort George comment from the company’s Facebook page, where the issue continues to simmer:

That was a mistake on [Harris’s] part. He did not confer with the rest of the owners/employees. He admits it was a mistake. Asking to have our name removed was not due to any economic factors, Fort George has always maintained a neutral stance on political races and political issues like this. We are a public house. We welcome everyone, from all political parties, and with a wide variety of views. Fort George holds no position on HB2020.

I have no doubt this is true, which makes it all the more regrettable. Breweries that take no position on political issues might cause fans to grumble, but since most breweries also opt out of the political sphere, it’s hard to get very exercised. But now that Harris’s letter has gone viral, Fort George is getting angry blowback from both those who believe the brewery still secretly supports the bill and those who are mad the brewery isn’t standing up for what they believe.

All of which is to say: think incredibly long and hard before wading into politics as a company. (Private individuals are another matter.) There are times the issue is more important than the lost business, and times when a company’s voice may sway votes—so this isn’t a concrete rule. But it’s almost always more trouble than anyone thinks it’s going to be—and usually for less gain.

In Other Fort George News…

But hey, this is a beer blog. Wouldn’t you like to hear about Fort George’s latest edition of 3-Way IPA rather than politics? It is one of the few annual releases in the state that still commands must-try attention, and by happy coincidence, I was in Astoria ten days ago drinking it.

Three-Way is an IPA made with two collaborating breweries. The first year, it was nothing more than any collaboration—a fun one-time beer. But they reprised it again and again and at some point one of the versions was an amazing beer, perfectly timed for the moment. After that, it became a huge deal. Fort George invites two breweries that are at their apex of cool-kid fame, and they spend months working out a recipe and fine-tuning it. If you live in Astoria, you can try the various iterations throughout the testing period and offer opinions. This process has resulted in consistent excellence, and thus Oregonians look for the beer each year.

For 2019, the breweries were Portland’s Ruse and Seattle’s Cloudburst. It’s a bit of a fusion beer, with a hazy look and super-juicy palate, but quite a bit of bitterness to stiffen things up. (3-Way also has a talent for highlighting trends that have started elsewhere but have not yet become common—and this is an example.)

3-Way is on the left.

3-Way is on the left.

I give it very high marks. It is not my favorite of the 3-Ways, but that may be because past versions have now become outsized in my memory. The juiciness is distinctly redolent of orange sherbet (as is the flavor), and there’s a bit of something soft and creamy in there. But it’s the lovely bitterness, only stiff by hazy standards, which makes this beer sing. I was happy to find that the last swallow hadn’t collapsed into melted ice cream, as so many hazies do with warmth. I suspect 2019 will be another banner year for 3-Way sales—and might encourage people to forget about politics. pd

Update. Apparently there are going to be slightly different variations this year, and the current version is a Citra-accented 3-Way. Which explains why I like it. When the inevitable Mosaic-accented version comes along (pure speculation), I will take a pass.

Jeff Alworth2 Comments