When I wrote this story last month, the North Drinkware people were still fulfilling orders from their way-successful Kickstarter campign in February. Leigh Capozzi of North Drinkware recently sent me this update: last Friday we completed fulfillment of the 12,250 Oregon Pints to 5,620 backers who backed our project in February.
On November 16 we will be launching our website with our Oregon products, and launching new products The Washington Pint and the Mt. Rainier Coaster. All products will be available for direct sales and limited inventory will be available (100 or less pieces) at three retail partners in Portland and Mt. Hood. Glasses will sell for $45/glass and coasters will sell for $20/two-pack. We are making glasses as quickly as possible but as you know the nature of our glasses (2 days and 15 steps to every glass), we will likely only have around 1100 units total at launch and will release an additional 500 glasses each Monday. As with the Oregon Pint, the Washington Pint is handmade in Portland and uses the actual USGS data of Mt. Rainier.
Here’s the story:
You could fairly call the Oregon Pint – an elegant beer glass with a geographically accurate Mt. Hood molded in the base – a runaway success.
Last February, Matt and Leigh Capozzi and Nic Ramirez of North Drinkware went to Kickstarter to raise $15,000 to buy the tools and material to produce their dream glass, which Matt Capozzi said was originally intended to be a fun little side project. Apparently the public didn’t know that because the Kickstarter campaign met its initial goal in 5 hours and 15 minutes according to the North Drinkware website.
“We initially figure that some people will want a handcrafted beer glass,” says Capozzi, and then as things took off, we asked ourselves, ‘what if things go really crazy and we raise $50,000 or $100,000?’”
The answer would be, you start making glasses…a LOT of glasses, because the campaign raised more than half a million bucks from 5,600 investors.
Now, forty-five bucks seems like a lot of money for a beer glass – that is, until you watch a team of artisans transform a blob of incandescent glass into a beautiful, robust glass. The process starts in the hot shop of their production partners, Elements Glass in Northwest industrial Portland. It starts with the gather – Karley Golub pokes a four-foot-long blow pipe into a furnace to get a blob of 1,500-degree molten glass from the crucible. How big a blob? “That’s the thing,” says Matt Capozzi, “there’s no set recipe, these people are doing it all by feel and experience.”
The blowpipe is then cooled in water so it can be handled and Karley blows a small bubble into the glass, after which it’s heated again before marvering – preliminary rolling and shaping on a heavy, flat steel plate called a marver. She hands the blowpipe to Aaron Frankel, who runs the shop, and he continues to shape and expand the bubble while periodically putting the blow pipe into the roaring furnace of the glory hole, which keep the glass from cooling too much and shattering.
Satisfied, he steps on a low platform and inserts the glass into a heated cylindrical steel mold at his feet while Alissa Friedman swings the mold doors shut. Frankel blows into the pipe, forcing the glass into the mold. He taps his foot when experience tells him he’s done, Friedman opens the guillotine doors and together, they separate the glass from the blowpipe. They’ll repeat this closely choreographed dance of molten glass about 150 times in a good day – more than 550 times in a week, given vagaries of weather, humidity and temperature, all of which affect the process.
Not that the newborn glass is near ready to receive its beer baptism. First it spends a night cooling in the annealing oven. Then it goes to the cold shop, where it’s scored, then placed on a heavy roundtable where a micro torch heats the score and separates the top inch or so of the glass, which goes to the scrap bin. A bigger torch then melts the sharp scored edge into a generous rounded rim and the glass goes back into the annealing oven.
A day or so later, you can finally pour a beer into it and watch Mt. Hood come alive in the golden light. And you understand what Capozzi means when he says, “People pour their heart and soul into making great beer these days, and we wanted to give craft-beer drinkers a glass that we poured our heart and souls into designing and making.”
He and his North Drinkware partners – wife Leigh, and Ramirez, who’s a colleague at Portland-based Cinco Design, initially came up with the idea for the Oregon Pint last year. “Mt. Hood is perfect,” says Matt Capozzi, “because it symbolizes all of Oregon.” They soon will release another state pint for Washington, California, Colorado or Vermont – my bet’s on Mt. Rainier – and once they catch up with the 13,000 or so Oregon Pints promised to investors, and they’re well on the way, the glass will be available online at North Drinkware.com and at Timberline Lodge, Mt. Hood Meadows and locally at MadeHere PDX.
It’s a great idea, but it was a long way away from full fledged production last year. The trio started prototyping at night with plaster molds and different production methods. (They’ll keep their careers – Capozzi and Ramirez are industrial designers and Leigh Capozzi is in marketing — despite the vivid success of North Drinkware.) The molds are a good example of how Kickstarter made the dream possible. Clearly, plaster molds were a temporary expedient, but when they switched to graphite, they found the molds also wore out rapidly. The current machined steel mold is holding up well, but it’s about the eighth mold they’ve had made – at about $8,000 a copy.
“Kickstarter has been just that,” says Matt Capozzi, “we couldn’t have done this on our own. This project has taken over our lives in a way, but in a good way, because we’re good at balancing work and life, and I have great partners.”
By the time we get to the proof of the pint – splitting a bottle of pFriem Pilsner between two Oregon Pints, Capozzi is once again watching the dance in the hot shop. “It’s mesmerizing,” he says. “I could watch them blowing glass all day, “it’s like watching snow fall in the mountains…you just can’t look away.”
John Foyston is Oregon's longest serving beer writer, and wrote a
weekly beer column for The Oregonian until just recently. His
work has appeared on CNN, and in Beer Connoisseur, Celebrator Beer
News, Oregon Beer Growler, Mix Magazine and other publications and
will occasionally appear on these pages, at least until Angelo and DJ
get tired of him too...He can be followed on Twitter at @beerherejohnny.