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News / Life / Clark County Life

Vancouver’s beer-tour Exobus new way to enjoy North Bank Beer Week

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian staff writer
Published: September 7, 2018, 6:02am
8 Photos
The Exobus wraps up its official launch tour on Tuesday night at Hopworks Urban Brewery in east Vancouver. The slogan is “Experience. Explore. Expand.” Business owners Beny Luca and Diana Niemann hope to expand into winery, coffee roasting and adventure tours around the area.
The Exobus wraps up its official launch tour on Tuesday night at Hopworks Urban Brewery in east Vancouver. The slogan is “Experience. Explore. Expand.” Business owners Beny Luca and Diana Niemann hope to expand into winery, coffee roasting and adventure tours around the area. Alisha Jucevic/The Columbian Photo Gallery

All aboard, but don’t get behind the wheel with your beer. Let a designated Exobus driver get you there safely.

Ben Luca’s new Exobus business is hitting the road just in time to carry beer lovers to many destinations of the third annual North Bank Beer Week, a celebration of Southwest Washington brewers, breweries and brews — all the way from Seaview on the coast to Carson and White Salmon in the Columbia River Gorge. Day after day, now through Sept. 15, individual breweries will draw the world’s attention to our thriving local beer scene — releasing new brews, hosting multicourse beer-and-food-pairing meals, convening just-for-fun contests (corn hole, Bingo, beer-can-derby races) and, of course, rocking out to live music.

Events were still being added right up to press time, so check www.northbankbeerweek.com for the very latest. And, visit www.rideexo.com to check out the options for taking the 14-seat Exobus to get where you’re going.

“North Bank Beer Week is our launch, and it couldn’t be more perfect,” said Exobus mastermind Luca.

Luca is a Vancouver native and beer booster who had the opportunity to take over the Laurelwood Pub in Portland, he said, or take his expertise up to Hopworks Urban Brewery in his hometown. He chose the latter — but his experience with beer tourism in Portland also sprouted a new dream. Luca said he watched the success of Brewvana, a company that hosts regular visits and behind-the-scenes educational experiences at dozens of Portland microbreweries. But when he suggested that Brewvana take the bridge over to Vancouver too, owner Ashley Rose told him that was a bridge too far.

Instead, she gave Luca the blessing to start his own sister beer-bus business on the North Bank, as brewers like to call our side of the Columbia River. Luca checked with his wife, who said go for it, and enlisted business partner Diana Niemann. The Exobus was set.

“The goal is not just drinking beer,” Luca said. “The word ‘exo’ comes from experience. We don’t want to be a glorified Uber. We want all the tours to be educational. We’ll go behind the scenes, meet the brewers, have some tastes of new brews before anybody else.”

If your secret shame is that you’ve never really grasped all that beer-insider stuff — why is this one ale, that one pale, this one sweet, that one “stout”? — the Exobus is for you. Plus, Luca said, he means to expand from tours of breweries to wineries and even coffee roasters. “Maybe we’ll learn to make latte art,” he said. Cannabis grower tours are probably in store, too, he said.

Visit www.rideexo.com to view tour options, which start at $89 per individual for a three- or four-hour tour that makes several brewery stops. The Exobus, which just launched this month, is scheduled to run Thursdays through Sundays — but Luca is eager to schedule more frequent tours as soon as the demand materializes, he said.

Both sides, now

On Sept. 15, brewers from the south bank will join us here on the North Bank to toast beautifully beery new friendships in the golden glow of sunset behind the Interstate 5 Bridge. Weather permitting, of course.

The “Brewing Bridges” Collaboration Festival is set for 3 to 8 p.m. Sept. 15 at Pearson Air Museum. “Brewing Bridges” will see the release of at least 20 new brews — each one concocted via a cross-river, pub-to-pub partnership. The event will work more simply than most beverage or food festivals: your $49 ticket is all you need for a souvenir glass and unlimited tastings. No tokens, no package deals, no fine print (except that security will be on the lookout for people getting smashed, and that food trucks will be doing cash business). The event is limited to 600 tickets.

“When North Bank Beer Week first started, the whole idea was, we had a number of breweries here making really good beer but getting overlooked,” said chief organizer Michael Perozzo. “We didn’t have our own community, and we weren’t really part of the community across the river in Portland, either. They had their own club … and there wasn’t a lot of communication with us.

“Fast forward to now, and the idea of the North Bank being its own beer region has really taken hold,” he said. “There’s a new North Bank Brewer’s Alliance, and the breweries are collaborating with each other on a deep level. So we thought, let’s reach across the river too.

“It’s a gesture of, ‘Hey, let’s bring this whole brewing region together. We’re all making great beer.’ ”

North Bank Beer Week Schedule

Picture a taproom with more taps than you could ever get to, even with repeated visits. That’s how many events are happening as part of North Bank Beer Week. Following are selected highlights; a detailed daily schedule, including several new brew releases, is on the Facebook North Bank Beer Week page. Unless noted, admission is free but you buy your own beer and food.


 Washougal’s 54° 40’ Brewing Brewing hosts “Shougtoberfest,” noon to 10 p.m., 3801 S. Truman Road. Traditional German beer and food, games, prize raffle and oompah music by the Happy Wanderers at 2 and 5 p.m. and Festival Brass at 3 and 6 p.m. The $5 suggested donation benefits CDM Caregiving.

 Skamania Lodge hosts a Celebration of Beer, noon to 5 p.m. on the lawn at 1131 S.W. Skamania Lodge Way, Stevenson. For $25 you get a pint glass and five beer tickets, with more available for purchase. Wine, cider, tacos and burritos are for sale, too.


 Brewers Invitational Corn Hole Tournament, 1 to 4 p.m. at Trap Door Brewing, 2315 Main St., Vancouver. Refuting the myth that brewers tend to grow wide and soft around the middle, this contest will demonstrate that they are “prime specimens of physique and brawn,” said chief beer week organizer Michael Perozzo. The winner gets a special tap at Trap Door.


 Dogs and beers: Five-course beer-and-hot-dog pairings meal, 6 to 9 p.m. at Fortside Brewing Co., 2200 N.E. Andresen Road, Suite B. Three courses include dogs by Maddogs Gourmet Hot Dogs. Tickets are $40 via www.fortsidebrewing.com.

 “Brew Happy” at Ben’s: Ben’s Bottle Shop hosts Portland’s “Brew Happy” podcast while serving beers by Dwinell Country Ales, Little Beast, and Upright Brewing. Starts at 6 p.m. at 8052 E. Mill Plain Blvd., Vancouver.

 Award-winning beer and food writer Jackie Dodd, Seattle’s “Beeroness,” introduces cooking with beer and food-and-beer pairings, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., Final Draft Taphouse, 11504 S.E. Mill Plain Blvd. She’ll sell and sign books, too.


 Twisted Biscuits: They come in flavors like blackberry lemon and tomato basil Margherita. Final Draft Taphouse, 11504 S.E. Mill Plain Blvd., pairs beers with biscuits while the founders of the Twisted Biscuit company tell their story, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

 Beers and a meal: A fancy five-course dinner-with-beer pairings at Grains of Wrath. Mussels, pork tenderloin, steak, goat cheeses and coconut mousse, each paired with an appropriate brew. Tickets are $75 and include everything. Starts 7 p.m. at 230 N.E. Fifth Ave., Camas.


 Joshua Bernstein, beer writer: The Brooklyn-based food and travel journalist, author of “Homebrew World” and “The Complete IPA,” talks about the craft beer industry and signs books. The event starts at 6:30 p.m. at Final Draft Taphouse, 11504 S.E. Mill Plain Blvd.

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Sept. 14

 Beer can derby. Drain a can and make it race. With can purchase, you get two axles, four wheels and duct tape, Perozzo said. Starts 5 p.m. at Northwest Liquid Gold Taproom, 11202 N.E. Fourth Plain Blvd.

Sept. 15

 Yoga and beer. Amy Brock, a Vancouver yoga instructor and beer lover, combines her passions in a 75-minute yoga session at 9:45 a.m., followed by one pint at 11 a.m. Your $20 registration covers both; buy additional pints and food at Trap Door Brewing, 2315 Main St.

 “Brewing Bridges” Collaboration Festival. Just 600 tickets will be sold, $49 apiece, to this release of 20-plus cross-river-partnership beers at Pearson Air Museum, set for 3 to 8 p.m. Sept. 15. Visit northbankbeerweek.com for tickets. Age 21 and older only.