Into the wild

For almost 17 years now Portland’s Hopworks has been grafting for positive local change. Today, its impact can be felt across the Pacific Northwest and beyond


Christian Ettingher is a fascinating character, when you can get a hold of him. When he’s not leading the charge at Hopworks, the brewery he co-founded and runs with family, Christian can be tough to find. The Ettingers spend most weekends off grid, skiing, hiking, and camping in remote parts of Oregon, USA. Christian’s upbringing, which looks a lot like the upbringing he’s given his own two teenage children, has a lot to do with this awareness of the sublime, awe-inspiring power of nature. Just an hour west of Portland, where Hopworks is based, is the Pacific Ocean, and an hour east are the Cascade Volcanoes. Nature dominates there, in the form of vast mountains, ravines and river basins. “Growing up somewhere like this just leaves an indelible mark on the young mind,” says Christian. 

He continues, pointing out that “as you get into business, you really try to figure out how you can weave your passions into your business. My passions were all outdoors activities, and I love cycling, so when we opened the brewery, we really leaned into connecting with the cycling community right away. My dad's an architect and contractor, so green building is a big part of what we're doing here. As a family, we personally shop organically in the market, and so it felt obvious that we should source a lot of ingredients for the beer and the food organically too. 

“Growing up in this beautiful spot, I think making these kinds of decisions are almost part of your DNA, but equally, it really positions you to be critical and questioning of, you know, why can’t we swim in the Willamette River at certain times of year? Or if you tune into news from around the world, you know, why is Shanghai so polluted? What's the deal with LA?”

The Ettingers

To say “green building” is a big part of Hopworks would be an understatement. The brewery and taproom’s interior is made almost entirely of materials that have been reclaimed from the original building, which was an unused 1948 tractor showroom before the brewery moved in. Christian and his father literally took the old showroom apart nail by nail, and reused them in the construction of the brewery. 

“When you hand demolish the interior of a building, you can create these recycling piles that are really detailed,” says Christian. “You can’t do that with the machine. It took us about three weeks but we were able to get all the wires and the ductwork, we de-nailed all the wood by hand, and made these beautiful piles of material that we were able to reuse to build our furniture.” 

Sure, Christian’s father’s credentials as an architect and construction worker allowed the finished brewery to be both beautiful and incredibly energy efficient, but I think an important takeaway from this anecdote is that Hopworks took an economical approach to construction — Christian says reusing materials and not using demolition machinery saved them so much money — and used the skills of the community around it, to make the brewery what it is today. 

Christian says that a really wonderful part of pursuing B-Corp accreditation was that it gave Hopworks a new language and framework in which to think about its achievements. Economical, DIY remodelling — carried out with the environment in mind, of course — suddenly had a quantifiable impact, and afforded the team credit that motivated further action. 

For example, where Christian used to seek out Certified Organic produce for use in the brewery — and don’t get me wrong, he still does — he identified locally sourced produce with the Salmon Safe label as having a more specific purpose and more concrete outcomes. Salmon Safe is a non-profit eco label dedicated to managing watersheds and runoffs from large properties, with the aim being to protect storm water from pollution so that salmon can spawn and thrive. Christian has now been on the board of Salmon Safe for the last eight years, and is particularly passionate about supporting hop farmers in the Yakima Valley to manage waste and use fertilisers in a way that won’t pollute nearby rivers and harm salmon. 

Prior to Christian’s involvement in the organisation, he’d done a lot of research into the history of his area. He learned about the region of Cascadia, a stretch of land not defined by state or county boundaries, but by the presence and history of Native American peoples for whom salmon were and still are an essential part of life. 

“If you google it, you'll see this very enlarged state, almost the size of a country by any European standard, that goes from Jefferson County in Northern California all the way up to Alaska,” he says. “That band, called Cascadia, was historically home to a lot of different tribes that didn’t lean on trails as much because the rivers were so available that they would use the waterways for their travel, and their food source. Salmon were the backbone of Native American life, and in that zone, the salmon runs were just teeming and amazingly abundant.”

You can see where this is going. Pollution generation and irresponsible land management over the last century has befouled water in the region to the extent that the salmon population has been badly affected. Being on the board, Christian says he can see how much work Salmon Safe still has to do on the fundraising and government side of things to keep the mission going, but he can also see it growing. 

“We just got this huge EPA grant that's going to allow us to scale Salmon Safe into other areas, and we’ve got this really cool seat at the table with our local tribes, so we can try to address their issues as well,” says Christian. “We’ve been thinking a lot about what we can do as a nonprofit [Salmon Safe] and with beer [Hopworks] to help create an economy for these tribes as well? So there’s some really neat work being done at Salmon Safe so the organisation can be an environmental steward, but also be a social steward by leaning into some of these Native interests, too.”

Something Christian is really keen to point out about operations at Hopworks, is how imperfect they are, for all the good they do. He says that he often doesn’t know how to tackle an issue — like how to advertise jobs to a more diverse workforce? How to ensure, in a business where margins are tight, that employees are adequately compensated for their labour, and that they have access to the benefits they need to live safely and comfortably? How can women in brewing be better supported? What responsibility do we have, as both business owners and individuals, to help our fellow citizens get back into work after a period of unemployment? 

“I think the whole premise of sustainability, be it social or environmental, is having tough conversations and not being afraid to have those conversations. Only then can you try to figure out as an individual, or as a business, what our role is,” Christian says. “I guess the nice thing about being a brewery and a brewpub is that these kinds of spaces have always been a town hall. They’re where people get together to have those discussions, whether they’re comfortable or uncomfortable.”

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