By Holly Amlin and Pete Dunlop
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The little beasts have been unleashed. In this case, little beasts are the tiny critters that do the arduous work of fermenting Charles Porter’s Old World, barrel-aged specialty beers.
Porter, co-founder of Logsdon Farmhouse Ales and creative force behind many medal-winning beers before departing two years ago, recently launched Little Beast Brewing in Beaverton. The beers, like those at Logsdon, will feature mixed-culture fermentations as well as Oregon produce and plants.
“I suppose I always knew I would do my own thing,” said Porter, who started his brewing career in Indiana before moving to Oregon to work at Deschutes, Full Sail and, eventually, Logsdon in 2009. “Little Beast was on the drawing board before I left Logsdon. I knew that was my future.”
The initial Little Beast beers have hit select beer bars and shelves in premium grocery stores around the Portland area. Bes and Fera are examples of the types of beers Porter will be creating as Little Beast evolves.
“Bes and Fera are both entry level beers,” he said. “Bes is a sour beer with training wheels. Fera is super dry. Neither is particularly tart. Fera is so dry, that the hops come through a little. Some IPA fans will like it. But we don’t intend to cater to the IPA crowd. That’s a numbers game we really don’t care to tap.”
Planning Little Beast took some twists and turns. Leery of making the substantial investment required to build his own brewery, Porter initially planned to buy wort from various sources and do fermentation and packaging in a then-to-be determined location.
“The reality is, we struggled to find a space,” he said. “We didn’t want to pay retail price for square footage that would be used mostly for production. Finding a space probably would have been easier had it not been for recreational marijuana, which was competing for spaces we were interested in.”
Things took a fortunate turn when Porter stumbled on an available turnkey brewery next to The Westgate Bourbon Bar & Taphouse in Beaverton. The equipment had previously been part of Brannon’s Pub & Brewery, which closed its doors in 2015.
“It was a fortuitous find,” Porter said. “Coming across a turnkey arrangement in our situation was a brewer’s wet dream. It solved a lot of challenges and allowed us to get started without making a huge upfront investment.”
The Westgate location isn’t forever. Porter hopes to find a permanent location in Portland, a place where he can have a taproom and do some production. Even now, the tiny brewing space behind the Westgate is crowded with barrels and brewing equipment.
“We’ll stay here upwards of two years,” he said. “We’re looking for storage space now because this place is jammed. But we’re also looking for a taproom and production space. We may end up with separate production and retail spaces — not necessarily a bad thing.”
The arrangement with Westgate was a meeting of shared values. When Brannon’s folded, Dave Heinsch, who also operates The Fireside Grill in Beaverton, signed a lease for all of what had been Brannon’s. He wasn’t sure what to do with the attached brewery, but he wanted the location.
“To be honest, I wasn’t that interested in the brewery,” Heinsch said. “I was after the space. I figured we’d stash the brewery, let people forget about it while I shopped around for the right brewer. I thought that might take some time.”
Heinsch, whose vision for the Westgate was a destination for high-quality food and drinks, was pleased to discover Porter was looking for a brewery.
“I knew of Charles from his work at Logsdon,” Heinsch said. “I’m thrilled to be a part of this venture, even if it’s just a stepping stone to something bigger. The guy makes great beer. Plus, having him here takes the brewery off my hands for a year or two while I focus on Westgate. It’s definitely a mutually beneficial relationship.”
Porter is subleasing the brewery space at The Westgate, operating as a separate business. So he’s not partnering with Heinsch. But Porter does have a partner in the Little Beast venture. That would be his wife, Brenda Crow.
Crow has a lengthy background in sales, marketing and branding connected to food. She was national sales manager at Olympia Provisions and currently manages sales of several artisan cheeses in the Northwest.
“Brenda is a spreadsheet queen and a great communicator,” said Porter. “Her strong food background and extensive contact list is helping us get our beers into restaurants, which is great for us. She also played a key role in our brand development process.”
When it came to branding, Crow and Porter hired Andy Morris of Chandelarrow Design Co., a Portland-based studio, after vetting several local artists. Morris has a background in food-and-drink packaging, having done work for Stumptown Coffee Roasters, Widmer Brothers Brewing and The Woodsman Tavern, among others.
Morris’ style appealed to them, though it did take several rounds of logo concepts to get what they wanted. The end result is a modern look that gives nod to the sophistication of Old World-style beers, mixing subtle blackletter with strong visual elements.
“We were initially worried that the logo might come across as too cartoonish,” Crow said. “Andy’s response was that it would work well embossed on a label. He was right. The logo looks amazing when embossed on the label.”
The result is an image that’s bold enough to be recognized from across a room, while at the same time containing enough intricate detail to provide a fairly complete story of what the brand is all about — the sort of thing consumers have come to expect from premium beers.
Goodies far beyond the description of the beer occupy the back side of the bottle. Look for the bottled-on-date coding, batch information, when to drink and suggested glassware (if that isn’t obvious from the goblet in the lion’s mouth in the logo). It’s elements like these that demonstrate Porter’s dedication.
“I felt strongly about including bottled-on dates,” Porter said. “Not enough breweries are doing that, in my opinion. The drink-by dates will vary by beer. Through the labeling, I can go back and know exactly what I was doing with each of these beers. I’m tracking everything.”
As a final, personal touch, Porter added his signature to the label. In a market where there is increasing competition among premium brands for the hearts, minds and dollars of consumers, Little Beast offers a quality product in a finely tuned package. This will likely turn out well.
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.