By Nina Silberstein
Many people probably think of FH Steinbart Company as a beer-brewing supply store, given that their most popular selling items are the ingredients and equipment used for making beer, but this 100+-year-old business is much more than that.
In addition to beer-making, they carry supplies for making kombucha, wine, mead and cheese, among other things. As their saying goes, “If you can ferment it, we can help you do so.”
The company was founded by Franz Steinbart, who was born in West Prussia in 1854, and immigrated to the United States at the age of 25.
Steinbart lived in different places and worked at several jobs before moving his family to Portland in 1915. He founded the FH Steinbart Company in 1918 and in 1926 hired Joseph DeBenedetti, the father of current owner John DeBenedetti.
When Franz died in 1934, Joseph and another employee—Joseph’s cousin Angelo Curletto—bought the business from the Steinbart family. Joseph then bought the company outright when Angelo died in 1957.
John went to work for his dad in 1975 and sold the Steinbart wholesale business in 2005 to the company known today as Brewcraft, headquartered in Vancouver, WA.
FH Steinbart Company continues to thrive at its retail location, here at 234 SE 12th Ave.
Homebrewing has always been a big part of the Steinbart business. Most commercial brewers who are their customers today began as homebrewers who got to know the company when they were buying ingredients and equipment for their hobby and first getting started.
FH Steinbart has done installations of hundreds of beer dispensing systems for some of the biggest breweries and beer-serving venues in the region, including Deschutes, Widmer Brothers, Buoy Brewing, Hopworks, the Rose Garden, Green Zebra stores and Autzen Stadium in Eugene.
FH Steinbart attributes their longevity in business to passion, patience and people. John enjoys helping people make their own beverages and food and has hired staff who feel the same way.
Taking this to heart, their employees are well-educated in fermentations of various types. They follow what’s most intriguing, are constantly learning and they are encouraged to take time with customers to really help them find exactly what they are looking for. They will even suggest other places to find something if it’s more suited to their customers’ needs than what FH Steinbart carries.
The most popular items at FH Steinbart include beer-making ingredients like grains, hops and yeast, followed closely by wine-making equipment and ingredients. All-in-one electric brew systems have become very popular in the past couple of years, too.
They stock preparation and packaging equipment and special ingredients to help people make artisanal food products and beverages, including kefir, kombucha, pickles and cheese.
Nationally, homebrewing has been in a slow decline in recent years. The American Homebrewers Association (AHA) has tracked these numbers, along with the trend that a slowing economy leads to an increase in the homebrewing hobby.
FH Steinbart saw an increase happen during the last recession (2007-2008) and their homebrew business has been very busy so far during the current COVID-19 health crisis. With so many people staying at home, do-it-yourself hobbies are an excellent outlet for creativity and fun.
On top of all that, FH Steinbart knows very well how empowering it is to say, “I made that!”
Every year, the company usually helps host Big Brew, an event for local homebrewers, along with Learn to Brew Day that the AHA sponsors nationwide. They serve as the meeting place for the Oregon Brew Crew, one of the oldest homebrew clubs in the US, which they helped found in 1980.
Given the current circumstances, nothing is specifically planned to date, but the business is working on providing in-person classes and educational videos.
Proud to be longstanding members of Portland’s vibrant beverage and food scene, FH Steinbart sees themselves as creative, curious and hands-on. They enjoy helping and learning from others and that’s been the key to their business for more than a century.
As they’ve done for decades, the Steinbart company plans to continue to offer a unique blend of comprehensive inventory and vast expertise to help their customers achieve optimal results, whether they are making their next batch of beer, wine or other consumable product.
Look for another hundred years of fermentation from the oldest brewing supply store in the US.
FH Steinbart Company
234 SE 12th Ave.
Photo by FH Steinbart