Local News

Fort George Brewery’s five o’clock whistle is an Astoria tradition

For years, Fort George Brewery blew a work whistle at its downtown brewery every day, audible in and near downtown Astoria. For some, it was a kind of connection during the pandemic. The whistle was moved earlier this year, but that’s not the end of the story. KMUN’s Jacob Lewin reports:

Ever since Fort George Brewery opened in 2007, there’s been some kind of five o’clock, steam-driven work whistle. Co-founder Chris Nemlowill says the idea came from the other Fort George co-founder, Jack Harris, and Paul Radú of P and L Johnson Mechanical:

They thought that we got a steam boiler, hey it’d be really cool to have a steam whistle, five oclock shift whistle. It’s a very blue collar kind of thing. Astoria used to have a lot of shift whistles back before the canneries and the plywood mill went away.”

But at first, the brewery’s boilers didn’t produce enough steam to get the job done whistle-wise and literally only dogs could hear it—and they weren’t happy about it. But bigger boilers produced more steam that needed to be vented, so why not turn a valve at the end of the day and send it to the whistle. Marketing director Brian Bovenizer says the City got involved:

There is a city ordinance that you can signal once a day either at the beginning of a shift or the end of a shift, so that’s why we did the five oclock whistle.”

When brewing operations moved from downtown Astoria to the waterfront, the whistle followed. But first Nemlowill says, it blew daily during the pandemic. If people couldn’t meet with each other, at least they shared the sound of the whistle, maybe a little reminiscent of the pandemic in Italy where people went out on their balconies and sang:

I quite often hear that people miss hearing the whistle downtown. In the worst days of the pandemic,

to some people it was like a beacon of hope, you know there was still something going on downtown.That was really great to hear from a lot of people. “

People living and working near the waterfront brewery still hear the whistle:

–Whistle sound——

But wait. Fort George is now rebuilding its downtown brewery and that will soon mean more steam and… Nemlowill says another whistle:

I think it’s really important for us to honor our heritage and our working waterfront here in Astoria.”

So two whistles?

I think a whistle in stereo would be pretty cool.”

For KMUN Radio, I’m Jacob Lewin