By Kris McDowell
For the Oregon Beer Growler
With more than 80 breweries in the Portland metro area and 183 in the state of Oregon*, one might think that all the niches have been filled. BTU Brasserie proves that incorrect and brings a solution to a long-standing problem: finding a place that makes great Chinese food and craft beer.
BTU, which opened Aug. 2014, is located on a triangular corner on the south side of Northeast Sandy Boulevard. If you frequent the area just east of Laurelwood Brewing you may recall this building used to be a Chinese restaurant, and one that was vacated rather abruptly. But it was still a property that business partners Chris Bogart and Nate Yovu saw as promising. Their vision required extensive renovation due in large part to the installation of the brewery as well as a reimaging of the dining space. The focal point is a 13-seat bar with tables lining the perimeter of the room and an adjacent private room designed to accommodate groups.
The brewery contains a 7-barrel system heated by a steam boiler that was created by local fabricator Portland Kettle Works. By Nate's own admission, the installation of the boiler was an additional expense, but one that the duo felt was important to the soul of the operation. Both beer and Chinese cooking require massive amounts of heat, the extent of which can be expressed as Btus, or British thermal units. Most of BTU's beers fall in the range of 5 to 6 percent ABV, a range that includes lagers. Customers should know that the brews are designed so that more than one can be enjoyed during a sitting and they are meant to be paired with the food.
Chris comes from a restaurant background, having worked in classical Chinese restaurants before relocating from the East Coast and taking a position at Burnside Brewing. Nate represents the brewing half of the equation, with a background that includes graduation from the American Brewers Guild and time at Captain Lawrence Brewing in New York. While his focus is on brewing, he commented that "Food is a huge emphasis for us." To that end, they convinced Dusty Berard, who worked for Chris's father's restaurant in Vermont and for Ming Tsai in Boston, to head their kitchen. The menu offers many familiar dishes – dumplings, sesame noodles and spring rolls – from a kitchen focused on turning out food that will leave you wondering which was more carefully crafted, the food or the beer.
As 2015 begins, BTU will call upon their Chinese influence and release a doppelbock to recognize the Year of the Goat on the Chinese zodiac calendar. The bock style was originally brewed in the German town of Einbeck and was later adopted by Munich brewers who, due to their Bavarian accents, pronounced "Einbeck" as "ein Bock," or billy goat. In addition to the doppelbock release, the kitchen is gearing up to celebrate Chinese New Year with a prix fixe menu. The weeklong celebration begins Feb. 19 and comes on the heels of a big celebration here in Oregon: Zwickelmania. Along with many other breweries, BTU will be swinging open their doors and inviting the public in for a closer look at the setup.
Whether you enjoy a comforting bowl of peanut noodles, which pairs nicely with their single-hopped Polaris Wheat, are looking for something more assertive, like the dry-fried green beans whose smokiness intermingles deliciously with the roasty qualities of Dark Helmet Schwarzbier, or are craving a decidedly different place for weekend brunch, BTU has you covered.
*As of October 2014. Provided by the Oregon Brewers Guild.
[a] 5846 NE Sandy Blvd., Portland
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.