Almost three months after announcing that it would close its first pub in the Hollywood District, Pono Brewing is ceasing all production.
The company shared the news with its social media followers on Sept. 14. Its owners say the lack of traffic at the bar and restaurant at 1728 NE 40th Ave. and high operating expenses were simply too much for the brewing side of the business to bear.
“When we made the decision to shut down Pono Brew Labs, it was and still is a very costly process,” the online post stated. “Pono Brewing was supporting our Pono Brew Labs location and, unfortunately, it took too much of a financial toll.”
Pono became a professionally licensed brewery in 2016 and, until last year, was one of the few producers in town that didn’t have some sort of pub or taproom where people could regularly pop in and expect to find its product. That didn’t seem to deter customers. The brand quickly became a hit at beer, wine and cider festivals, winning multiple people’s choice awards over the years, helping it gain a following.
Head brewer Larry Clouser first launched Pono as a contract brewery, using equipment at Zoiglhaus in Lents to churn out the company’s many tropical-themed beers. In 2018, Pono purchased two of its own custom-designed, 20-barrel fermenters from Practical Fusion and ultimately worked to change state laws, which allowed the business to operate as an alternating proprietorship with Zoiglhaus—an arrangement where the companies take turns using the premises.
When the Pono team acquired the Hollywood pub in 2022, they also inherited the 7-barrel, copper-and-stainless-steel brewhouse that belonged to previous occupant, Columbia River Brewing. They planned to use it to test new hops from Crosby Hop Farm in Woodburn and St. Paul’s Willamette Valley Hops while continuing to make the bulk of their beer at Zoiglhaus.
Oregon’s beer industry has experienced turbulence this past year.
In July, Hillsboro’s Ambacht Brewing, best known for its matzo beer, and Brewery 26 in Southeast Portland both announced they were calling it quits. Then in late August, Laurelwood Brewing closed its only remaining pub on Northeast Sandy Boulevard. That move came three months after it scaled back to counter service and pared down the menu—high operating costs were cited as the primary factor.
Industry uncertainty is far reaching. In Medford, 11-year-old Opposition Brewing—a business that reflects the area’s State of Jefferson mood, complete with a Gadsden flag on the wall—shared in early August that it would shut down for good by Sept. 30. The owner took to social media to explain that “contraction in the marketplace” had made business unsustainable. Climate City Brewing, located in Grants Pass, shuttered its restaurant in early September—at least temporarily. That company said that it was going to refocus on brewing and give the pub a “much-needed face-lift.”
Out in Boardman, the Eastern Oregon town that sits along the last stretch of Interstate 84 that follows the Columbia before the river bends north and the road veers south, Ordnance Brewing announced in mid-August that it would be permanently closing. The business is named after a nearby ghost town—brewery founder Craig Colman owns both. The former community was populated by Umatilla Army Depot workers and their families during World War II and several of the buildings still remain, including the schoolhouse.
The Colman family has a long history of farming in Oregon—fruit from Craig’s plot of land ended up in one of our favorite Ordnance beers: Bloops Blueberry Wheat ale. While that brew may no longer be available, you will still be able to visit the brewery’s Wilsonville outpost. The brand plans on keeping that taproom open—it just won’t be pouring anymore Ordnance beers.
If you look at numbers indicating that the demand for beer fresh from the tap is declining, it’s no surprise that breweries are being forced to make cuts or close altogether. According to the Brewers Association, nationwide draft sales are down nearly 30% from before the pandemic.
If statistics improve, however, Pono Brewing could return. The owners stated that they would be interested in reviving the company at some point, if possible.
“We hope in the future to bring the brand back if the market supports it once we have recovered financially,” its social media post continued. “Thank you all for your support and the great times.”