By Andi Prewitt
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
It only took three sentences at the bottom of a press release to set off a frenzy of theories on Facebook.
When Thirsty Monk announced in late October that it would be purchasing a “well-known Portland beer bar,” seemingly every blogger, author and industry insider in town leapt to their social media accounts to pile onto the mound of ideas in this guessing game. Could it be Horse Brass? No way would a brewery fit in that basement. The ill-fated Tugboat? Maybe, but rehabilitating the fire-damaged building made it a longshot. Produce Row? APEX? Blitz Ladd? The debate eventually fizzled after a few weeks came and went without a leak, an official announcement or a correct answer.
“I was reading what everybody was speculating and it’s amazing how everybody always assumes that it’s the bar that’s not doing well, you know?” said Hilda Stevens, owner of Bazi Bierbrasserie, the well-known Portland beer bar in question that no one suspected was up for sale. “Where people should really think about, like, maybe there’s a bar that is doing really well but they have a business plan and they have some priorities.”
What few people knew was that Stevens’ priorities had shifted with time and that she actually never intended to remain at the helm of the business that’s become a Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard headquarters for Belgian-style ales and soccer-viewing parties.
“When I opened this place, I knew it wasn’t something that I was going to do the rest of my life,” Stevens explained, which might sound like a friend just broke it to you that they weren’t really in it for the long haul. It’s all too easy to get attached to our favorite bars, and Stevens admits she’s become synonymous with Bazi, another factor that likely contributed to the surprise surrounding the announcement Thirsty Monk would take over in mid-December.
“I didn’t realize that I had become as much of a brand of this place,” Stevens described. “It’s like, I’ll go to place and people might not remember my name, but they remember Bazi. They associate me with the brand.”
That’s due to six years of cultivating relationships across the bar and around the neighborhood through her involvement with the Hawthorne Boulevard Business Association. Bazi has become her home, its kitchen filled with kegs and living room overflowing with rowdy soccer fans watching a match on any given day, and her home is conveniently located just blocks from Bazi. The bar was a result of Stevens’ conservative planning, but even the most thorough proposal can sometimes benefit from a boost due to fortuitous circumstances. Those happened to take the form of a layoff from Stevens’ well-paying job in the tech industry, the arrival of Major League Soccer in Portland and the space Bazi opened in suddenly becoming available. Stevens also points out that the business ended up filling a need few realized existed at that point in the city’s beverage scene.
“I love the fact that we were the first Belgian beer bar to come into Portland in a time where people were like, ‘What is she thinking? A Belgian beer bar isn’t going to make it in hop-centric Portland,’” Stevens said. “It was all about catering to the right community and knowing our audience — knowing there’s a lot of people in this town who have traveled all over Europe and really appreciate Belgian beers.”
Stevens had a target: Bazi’s fifth anniversary. If she could build a clientele and become successful by that milestone, it would then be time to challenge herself once again by either expanding or selling. And when that five-year mark arrived, Stevens wasn’t ready to let go. The search for a second location was underway until, much like the founding of Bazi, unexpected factors intervened. Last March, the neighboring bicycle shop that shared storage space with the bar, which was primarily occupied by hundreds of empty boxes that once contained the two-wheeled rides, vacated the premises. Even before the clutter of cardboard was cleared, however, Stevens had envisioned the perfect purpose for that site.
“Nobody knows that there’s all that space unless you have worked here. And people who have worked here know that,” Stevens said. “And they know that I’ve always joked around and said if the bike shop ever moves out, a brewery needs to open up here.”
But the decision to look for someone else to acquire the business was solidified when Stevens realized it was simply time to go home. On Bazi’s fifth anniversary, her parents’ residence in Houston flooded, which would happen again when Hurricane Harvey pounded southern Texas with record-breaking rain, and Stevens couldn’t help. The distance during their crisis still pulls tears from her eyes; the ease with which she’d talked about Bazi suddenly halts as her voice grows unsteady and laden with sadness.
“And it was really hard, you know, not being able to be there. And … that’s, that’s the part — that’s the part that’s really hard to talk about,” Stevens said. “I can talk about the business side, no problem. But my family, it hurts. And watching how much they slow down, and you’re always missing out.”
The decision was easy at that point. It was time to pull out of the expansion plan and find Bazi a good owner so that Stevens could move back to Houston after nearly two decades in Portland. She put the business up for sale in July and quickly drew the interest of multiple companies. That included Thirsty Monk, an Asheville, N.C.-based brewery that uses Belgian yeast in all of its beers — from the more traditional tripels and wits to the somewhat unconventional combination of Northeast IPAs or chocolate stouts. CEO Barry Bialik said he put Bazi under contract nearly as soon as he heard it was available and without even seeing it, flying out a few weeks later to meet with Stevens and take a tour. That personal touch was impressive and helped her feel confident about entrusting what she’d built to Thirsty Monk.
“Definitely the fact that it was the CEO was the one out there looking for the location — that in itself says a lot about an organization,” Stevens added.
Bialik also wanted to be involved in making the announcement to the team at Bazi and remained tight lipped about the deal with media until they knew.
“We’re so sensitive to that and how we talk about news and how we share it to make sure we deliver it right,” he said. “There was no other way to even think about it. Of course I wanted to be there to share with the employees. I want everyone to feel comfortable that, yeah, their jobs are safe. They’re going to be part of the transition and we’re all going to help this grow together.”
The CEO had been scouting out possible sites in Portland earlier this summer, but found the perfect match for the company’s ethos in Bazi. The way he describes it, the two could’ve been set up on a beer bar dating app and there wouldn’t have been a more complementary partner out there.
“What was so great about walking into Bazi for the first time is it felt just like walking into a Thirsty Monk,” Bialik recounted. “It had the same kind of energy, it had the same kind of community, it had the same kind of family-pub feel. And they’re on the same top 100 beer bar lists we are. They specialize in Belgian beer just like we do. It just felt like such a natural fit.”
There won’t be many immediate changes—the Bazi name will stay in place until Thirsty Monk’s Denver brewery can supply the Portland spot with its beer. Even then, they’ll stay true to Stevens’ model of offering a wide variety of Belgian-style offerings, with about half of the taps reserved for a rotation of other producers. Bialik’s brother Opus is in the process of moving his family from Seattle to Portland to serve as the new general manager. And as for that storage space housing a brewery, it’s still too early to tell. Architects need to survey the room to determine if a small system could be installed. If not, Bialik said he will either purchase an existing brewery elsewhere in the city or contract brew with another business. Either way, Thirsty Monk will eventually make beer in Portland. Until that happens, Bialik is focused on the ownership change and grateful for Stevens’ assistance.
“I’m so happy that Hilda is going to have the time to stay around and help as long as she’s available to help Opus with the transition and to learn about the community she’s created there and how we can honor and continue that.”
It’s a legacy she hopes will be remembered each time a crowd gathers there to drink Belgian beer as a soccer match plays on the business’s big screen.
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
When Alesong Brewing & Blending opened its 2,500-square-foot facility in an industrial area of west Eugene in 2016, it was just the beginning.
“The dream since we all came together to start Alesong has been to have a brewery in the country, somewhere we can brew beer that reflects this little piece of the Willamette Valley,” says Doug Coombs, who founded the brewery along with his brother Brian and former Oakshire brewmaster Matt Van Wyk. In its first year, Alesong has acquired accolades, including a 2016 Great American Beer Festival gold medal, and now distributes throughout Oregon and the San Francisco Bay Area.
In July, the founders’ dream became real. Alesong opened its newly constructed 3,500-square-foot hilltop tasting room and wild fermentation and aging facility, located on 5 acres next to King Estate Winery on Territorial Highway southwest of downtown Eugene. With eight taps, beer to go, and views of the surrounding valley — not to mention air filled with microbes influenced by the agricultural and winemaking areas surrounding Alesong — the new space serves both as the public face of Alesong, but also represents the brewery’s wild side.
At the core of Alesong’s brewing philosophy is a dedication to unique, limited-release beers — no flagships or regular offerings here. Focused on oak aging and Belgian-inspired techniques, Alesong brews both wild and non-wild beers, using locally grown fruits, herbs, special yeasts and other microbes. Since the brewery adopted techniques similar to those used by artisan winemakers and lambic blenders, the owners believe their products will appeal to wine lovers too.
“Our desire is to capture the terroir of our little piece of the world through a combination of local ingredients and microbes,” says Coombs. “We also believe in the parallels between what we're doing with barrel aging and blending and what our neighbors in the wine industry are doing. There's a good opportunity for crossover between customers, both those that love beer and those that may not yet love beer because they haven't been exposed to some of the more unique styles that we make that could be more approachable for someone who's more into wine than typical craft beer.”
Surrounding the tasting room are extensive grounds where Alesong plans to have lawn games, child activity areas, “nooks and crannies” for hanging out, and crop and orchard space to grow produce that will end up in Alesong beers. A patio with 10 picnic tables wraps around the front and one side of the building, with space at the back for a small stage for live music. Food carts and in-house small plates are available, but picnics are welcome too. Inside, a large, bright common area houses comfy chairs and a couch. Alesong also is planning on holding onsite educational sessions for the public, plus special events for people on the brewery’s mailing list.
Currently Alesong brews wort at Block 15 Brewing in Corvallis, then brings it to the Eugene location on Conger Street for fermentation and aging. Now the wort’s final destination will depend on whether it’s going clean or wild. Throughout the rest of 2017, Alesong is moving some of its fermentation tanks, barrels and other equipment to the new Territorial Highway location, which will serve as the wild fermentation counterpoint to the “clean” facility that Alesong retains at Conger Street. (Future plans may include an onsite brewhouse at the Conger Street site for access to municipal water and wastewater infrastructure.)
Beers bound for spirits barrels will be fermented, aged and blended at Conger Street. The goal, says Coombs, is to prevent exposure to “wild bugs” such as Brettanomyces. “The new facility will look a lot like the current in-town facility, with stainless fermenters and blending tanks, an open-top fermenter for some more wild experiments. The barrels and packaging equipment for our ‘wild’ beers will move out there as well,” explains Coombs. “Having the separate facilities helps us focus on and control our wild and sour program better, and the distance gives us peace of mind that our ‘clean’ beers won’t get contaminated.”
While Alesong says they haven’t had any cross-contamination issues so far, Coombs notes, “There's always a little more stress than we'd like that comes along with doing testing on all of our clean blends.”
After a fast-paced year that involved a lot of founder-aided construction, painting and other work related to getting the tasting room up and running, the team’s collaborative roles are solidifying. Each founder is blending his own expertise with the brewery’s operations. “Matt and Brian work pretty closely together to manage production, with Matt leading the charge on the hot side and Brian claiming responsibility for the cellar,” explains Coombs. “I’m the point on most of the sales, marketing and admin, but those are all team efforts as well.”
Two new employees manage the tasting room. However, Coombs says that he, Brian and Matt will be there regularly, “bartending, bussing and just hanging out and chatting with people. We love being out there and love sharing our process and story. It's a big part of why we're all doing this to begin with.”
With construction finished, Alesong is refocusing on what matters most: the beer. “We're looking forward to more experimentation with spontaneous fermentations,” says Coombs. “The native microbes out in the country are a lot more exciting than what we might've been able to pick up on West 11th [Avenue].”
Alesong Brewing & Blending
80848 Territorial Hwy, Eugene
Dogs, minors and picnics welcome
By Jim McLaren
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The brown bottle on the low table in front of Hilda Stevens is labeled Westmalle.
“It’s Belgian-style tripel. In Belgium you have dubbels, tripels and quads. And the tripel comes from the fermentation process. It follows a traditional fermentation process; making beer and then double fermenting it — meaning they add more sugar to get the alcohol level up. In this case it is tripel fermented. So, right before they bottle it they add a little bit more sugar so it helps the alcohol build up. It helps in the aging process. In the case of tripels, for instance, you can age it for five, eight, 10 years if you want to.”
The popularity of Belgian-style beers has been on the rise in Portland for several years now. The flavors can tickle your tongue with a range of styles more complex than hop-heavy IPAs.
As for those flavors, Hilda explains: “Traditionally, in the case of Westmalle, because they’re a Trappist brewery, they use their own yeast. So, the yeast will have a lot in the flavor profile. They also add some candy sugar to it. In tripels you’ll pick up some caramels, some roasted notes because they’ll use more of a roasted malt in it as well. It’ll have a nice golden color. Usually, in the case of the bottles, you get a lot of the effervescence. Westmalle tripel has a really nice creamy head when you pour it in the right glass; it opens up more of the aromatics, too.”
It’s just after 3 p.m. on a quiet, drizzly March afternoon. Bazi Bierbrasserie on Southeast 32nd Avenue and Hawthorne Boulevard in Portland has just opened. There’s some music playing. The beertender is checking glasses. A couple wanders in, orders a couple of beers and hovers over them in quiet conversation. The drinks are undoubtedly Belgian or at least, like Hilda, Belgian-inspired.
Beer is not Hilda’s first job. After undergraduate and graduate work, she landed positions with high-tech companies and start-ups. Along the way, she did a lot of business traveling and during one of her stops in Philadelphia she first tried a Belgian beer. It was love at first sip.
The romance turned torrid during a vacation in Europe. On the advice of a couple she met while traveling through France, Hilda took a detour to Bruges, Belgium — an ancient city she refers to as “the Venice of the North.” Hilda began studying Trappist beers, appreciating and understanding their balanced flavors.
By 2011 Hilda was ready to do what would seem foolish to many people. Encouraged by her entrepreneurial father, she walked away from a six-figure paycheck and used a plan developed for her grad school thesis to open Bazi. Originally, she’d planned on operating a European-style bistro, but she soon realized she needed to find a market niche. Looking around, she realized what was missing — there were no Belgian-focused taprooms in Portland.
Something else was beginning to happen about the same time. Brouwerij Huyghe, a 111-year-old brewery based in Melle, Belgium was marking International Women’s Day by making a special beer. Hilda explains the idea was in response to Belgian women saying, “We drink your beer, but we don’t have a beer of our own and we want to learn more about making beer.” The event began slowly “with just women in Belgium; restaurateurs, homebrewers, everyday women who were interested in beer and learning more about it.”
Dressed in white lab coats and bonneted in white hairnets, dozens of women followed brewers through the Huyghe facility learning about and making beer they dubbed “Deliria.” It is the little sister of Huyghe’s best ale, “Delirium Tremens.” Both beers come in white bottles with blue foil cap wraps and feature ‘de roze olifant,’ a pink elephant, on the label. The name is also found on a bierbrasserie sign in Melle.
The “Deliria” event has been slow to open its doors to outsiders. At first it was only for Belgians. Then applications were accepted from other European countries. But finally through Wetten Importers, Huyghe’s U.S. distributor, Hilda heard 2017 would be “the first year they invited women from the U.S. and their goal was to send two women from the U.S.”
When Huyghe accepted Hilda’s application, they got more than a rookie brewer. She has done some collaboration brewing in Portland, surrounding herself with “people who are passionate about it ... I’ve brewed with Upright and Lompoc and Widmer. And any time you brew with somebody, everybody has a different way.”
In Belgium, Hilda learned more about the evolution of the brewery that has been working since 1906 — how it ferments and filters, but also how it is adopting eco-friendly policies such as using gray water from the brewing process for cleaning up and keeping plants hydrated.
But more important to Hilda was the social aspect of the one-day event. “I really enjoyed brewing with women from different parts of the world ... and the influence that a family-owned brewery, like Huyghe, can have on women brewing. What I loved about that experience, it wasn’t just industry related. They really cater to the community. We had some of the women brewing that day who were stay-at-home moms who wanted to have that experience.” The beer and how it’s made may be different, country to country, but the community beer creates seems to be the same wherever you go in the world.
Though she did taste the wort from the beer made that day, Hilda did not taste the Deliria she worked on until this Easter Sunday when she debuted it at Bazi.
Proost, de roze olifant!
This year was also not Hilda’s first time brewing in Belgium. Her house beer is Hofbrouw Tripel. “Two years ago I went to Belgium. A friend of mine owns a nano-brewery. We created a recipe and made 120 cases.” There are only 20 cases left. Hilda will go back to Belgium to make more.
By Gail Oberst
For the Oregon Beer Growler
There are lakes with landlocked salmon (they can’t get away!). There are huge fields of volcanic basalt and obsidian to explore. There are rivers that flow right through the middle of cities. There are unique Old West towns with horse rails. Best of all, any day/week/month in Central Oregon could include a visit to more than two dozen local breweries, many of which are expanding. Here’s an update on what’s happening in Central Oregon’s beer world this summer:
To the Sky and Beyond
Roger Worthington, Worthy Brewing’s owner, is watching his part of the universe expand — by 7,500 square feet, to be precise. The brewery and restaurant campus on the east side of Bend is growing to include a three-story observatory, topped off with a telescope that will connect the earthbound to the skies. The observatory is a silo-like structure rising at the edge of the brewery’s new covered outside patio on the ground floor. An open-air bar on a deck outside the second floor is also under construction and due for completion this summer.
Worthy Brewing’s expansion adds seating for at least 100 more patrons on the 2,400 square foot deck, according to Seth E. Anderson, architect at Ascent Architecture & Interiors. Details include custom furniture, lighting, circular staircases and unique bi-fold garage doors. A new banquet hall will also be a part of the $3.5 million renovation.
Monkless on the Move
Monkless Belgian Ales has moved their former 1-barrel, garage-based operation to a lucky space in Bend’s Northeast business district. The new location is not open to the public yet, but the building on High Desert Lane was once the home of 10 Barrel Brewing’s original shop. Chris and Jeremy Cox, former owners of 10 Barrel before it sold to Anheuser-Busch InBev last year, still own the building and have leased it to Monkless.
Monkless’ owner and head brewer Todd Clement, an organic chemist who graduated from University of California, Davis, spent the first 18 years of his post-college career missing his obvious connection to brewing, working instead in the pharmaceutical industry and then for a software company. His travels took him to Belgium, and his work brought him to Bend. “I grew to love Belgians,” he said. Clement started the brewery in 2014 with his friend Kirk Meckem, but recently purchased Meckem’s interest in the company. With a 10-barrel brew house in place, Clement in April gave up his full-time job and is now focusing on getting the expanded brewery online.
Demand for Belgians has increased in Central Oregon, as evidenced by presence of the style at other outlets like 10 Barrel Brewing, Bend Brewing Company and Crux Fermentation Project, Clement said. Already, Monkless has won kudos for its Pour Pour Pitiful Me, a high-alcohol quadruple fermented on cherries.
Watch for more Monkless in the months to come in Central Oregon brew pubs including Zydeco Kitchen & Cocktails, and White Water Taphouse in Bend. The beers are also on tap at The Abbey Bar & Bottle Shop in Portland.
Kobold Sells to More Outlets
How do you turn a quaint, Craftsman-style home in a quiet neighborhood into a quaint, craft-style brewery? Ask Steve Anderson of Bend’s Kobold Brewing. His 2-barrel system is tucked into an 800-square-foot building that looks like it came with his historic house, but was actually designed specifically for its purpose. Above the tight brewery is a second-story sales room with a small, sunny deck that looks like the perfect place for a cold beer on a hot day.
The shiny, new 2-barrel brewery is not open the public, but Kobold beers are on tap in the region. Anderson, a retired air traffic controller, originally got his college degree in architecture. He used those latent skills to design his brewery.
Anderson sold his first Kobold brews in December 2015 to Platypus Pub in Bend. Today, Anderson counts about a dozen outlets that carry his beer, including all three Baldy’s Barbeques, The Lot, Growler Guys, Broken Top Bottle Shop, White Water Tap House, Pour House Grill, Primal Cuts Meat Market/Growler Phil’s and Big Dog Growlers. By June, you may find any one of his three stouts, an IPA, a CDA, a blonde, a couple of red ales and an ISA on tap.
By Kirby Neumann-Rea
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Community is the fifth element in brewing to go with water, yeast, barley and hops, according to Oregon brewing pioneer Dave Logsdon.
Logsdon Farmhouse Ales’ founder recently gave an insider’s detailed, and often funny, history of brewing in the Columbia River Gorge and the rest of Oregon. He recounted the roots that were established by Full Sail Brewing Company along with the past decade’s rapidly growing brewing culture in Hood River and nearby scenic towns about an hour east of Portland.
“It is really a story of people working together,” Logsdon said to a room of about 120 people in February. His speech was part of a Sense of Place Lecture held at Hood River’s Columbia Center for the Arts. With him was his wife Judith Bams-Logsdon, a native of Belgium and his muse for beer styles and Belgian menu at their downtown Hood River tasting room.
Logsdon has the authority to re-tell the area’s brewing saga because he was there from the start — first as a leader in the homebrewing revolution in the 1970s and later as co-founder of three anchors in Oregon fermentology: Full Sail, Wyeast Laboratories and Logsdon Farmhouse Ales.
“Full Sail was the gathering point for homebrewers and other like-minded folks, and people saw it was successful,” he said. “When I think of the sense of place, to me it’s mostly about the people. Yes, we have a beautiful valley and river and environment to live in, but it’s the people who have lived here and shared their community to make things possible and make the community what it is. And that’s what I have to say about the brewing community,” Logsdon described. He added, “Even before craft brewing and Brewers in the Gorge (BIG), the large professional brewers had a tradition of working together about science and innovation in order to brew the best beers possible.”
Logsdon’s experiences during the last 40 years span from garage brewing to being a leader in the 500-employee, $50 million Gorge beer economy.
“I left the Midwest in the early 1970s and there were still regional beers with flavor, but as soon as I reached the West Coast, I noticed a distinct difference in beer quality,” he said. “They were all pretty much light lager beers. Working my way through school, I didn’t have the resources to enjoy the beers I wanted to drink, so I started brewing beer.” In 1985, he opened Wyeast Laboratories, which was then a small operation.
“Wyeast was a big part of my life here in the Gorge and part of what I did to bring the fourth element of brewing to the neighborhood. We have abundant hops on both sides of us, acres of barley and the best brewing water in the world, and it was nice to work with my family to bring this fourth aspect of it to the Hood River Gorge.”
He later jumped at the chance to help get Full Sail off the ground with Irene Firmat and Jerome Chicvara. Logsdon remained at the brewery until the mid-1990s.
“We pooled all the resources we could from family and friends and worked for a year to get it financed,” Logsdon said. He said it would not have happened without longtime Parkdale residents Jack and Kate Mills. “They believed in us, invested in us and also helped us raise another large chunk of money through the Oregon Lottery,” he said. What emerged was first called Hood River Brewing Company.
A building that protruded halfway into Columbia Street and a chain-link fence were both in the way of constructing the Full Sail facility. “We knocked it out to get the brewery going,” he said. “Things have changed a lot, and it started with a huge amount of energy. And many of the brewing community members were very encouraging of Full Sail, which became two blocks of Hood River.”
Craft beer, he said, “is here to stay and it has had a huge impact on everything we consume and our approach to life and the values we have in what we create.”
He was part of the “’86 Club,” as he puts it — the brewers who were there when it became legal to brew beer and sell it in the same location. Logsdon pointed to fellow pioneers including Brian and Mike McMenamin, Kurt and Rob Widmer, Karl Ockert, Fred Eckhardt, Art Larrance, Fred Bauman and Jack Joyce.
Logsdon presented a “family tree” of Gorge brewers, with Full Sail brewers moving on to either work for, or found, all but one brewery in the Gorge (Backwoods Brewing Company in Carson, Wash.) Standouts include Double Mountain founder Matt Swihart, pFriem founder Josh Pfriem and Solera brewer and co-owner Jason Kahler.
“The brewing community itself has very deep roots and strengths going back to big breweries working together in sharing knowledge,” Logsdon said. ”Overall, besides of all these good things we have, it’s as much to the credit of the open-mindedness and the progressive thinking you find in Oregonians. It’s the people and the energy putting those things tighter — the willingness to create and take a chance and do what you think is right and work together.”
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.