By Alethea Smartt LaRowe
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Midway between Clackamas and Estacada, and less than a half mile from the banks of the Clackamas River, you can find some excellent beer served out of a bright red barn near the back of a residential property. Nestled among bucolic pasture land and Christmas tree farms, Bent Shovel Brewing may require a little effort to reach, but you will be rewarded with a solid lineup of at least eight (and up to 11) different brewed-on-premises beers, along with a guest cider tap.
Rick Strauss, an IT professional by day, is the brewer, and his wife Shelly handles other aspects of the business. Their barn was originally a repository for “too much stuff,” but it eventually morphed into Rick’s man cave where he has homebrewed for nine years. After entering his brews in some local competitions, Rick cultivated a peer group that acted as a sounding board and helped him refine recipes and processes.
In 2011, Rick won Best in Show at the Cheers to Belgian Beers homebrew competition and was awarded an opportunity to scale up and brew his recipe as a guest at Block 15 Brewing in Corvallis. While brewing at Block 15, as Rick was shoveling out the mash, Nick Arzner, the owner of the Corvallis brewery, said “Hey, we’ve never put that much grain in the mash tun before” and Rick replied, “I guess I’m going to bend your shovel.” The idea stuck and the resulting beer was released by Block 15 as Bent Shovel Belgian Dark Strong.
Beyond that experience, Rick also gives a lot of credit to the Green Dragon Brew Crew, with whom he brewed for a couple of years — the organization ultimately serving as a launch pad for his brewery. “That’s where I got my first taste of bringing a product to market and I am thankful that Rogue pays for the program and supports the homebrewing community. That experience helped me get to where I am today.”
Rick is like many homebrewers who have gotten lots of positive feedback on their beers. “You say ‘What if I started my own brewery?’ I figured I wasn’t getting any younger. It’s pretty physical work. And if I’m going to do this, let’s do it now because you only live once.” When the decision was finalized in May 2014, Rick instantly knew what he wanted to name his new brewery. With Nick Arzner’s blessing, Bent Shovel Brewing was born.
Officially open since Labor Day weekend in 2015, the brewery consists of a 5-barrel brewhouse. Rick can have 20 barrels of beer in production at one time and he typically brews in 10-barrel batches. “At this point I’m brewing what interests me,” Rick says. “That’s the great thing about beer consumers in this area. They’re adventurous and they’ll drive across the county to find this little place. Our focus is to always put our best beer in front of the consumer!”
Many of Bent Shovel’s beers are “classic styles, exceptionally well-executed.” Their pilsner has been really well-received as has their Schwarzbier, which should be on tap again this summer. Other favorites are the Clashing Plaids Irish Red and CiPinON IPA, which was originally released last December. Made with orange peel with a hint of piney bitterness, the beer is light and refreshing, making it the perfect summer IPA.
Currently Rick is self-distributing kegs to about 20 accounts. The majority of his sales are in Sandy, Gresham, the Clackamas/Sunnyside corridor and Sherwood, but you can usually find a Bent Shovel beer at The Civic Taproom & Bottle Shop in Southwest Portland. Rick does not have any imminent plans to bottle or can, but definitely intends to bottle in the future.
Now Rick’s early successes in brewing have come full circle. At the dart throw for this year’s Cheers to Belgian Beers, the result was once again dark and strong. Rick decided to brew the same beer he made in 2011, but with the current yeast strain (58 Lioness). The stainless steel-fermented beer called Namesake is a limited release — the festival received one keg, several more kegs were delivered to a couple of key accounts and some was reserved for a tap at the brewery. The remainder is being put away until this fall and will be re-released along with a whiskey barrel-aged version.
The unique setting is only part of the charm of Bent Shovel. Drinking beer served directly by the owners/brewers is a “great opportunity to get acquainted with our customers,” says Rick. “People wouldn’t think twice about going out to a rural area for a glass of wine, especially a rare vintage that’s only available at the winery. We just happen to be a brewery that has a similar vibe.”
Bent Shovel Brewing has expanded its hours for the summer. You’re welcome to bring outside food to enjoy with your beers, as this is the perfect spot for a picnic.
Bent Shovel Brewing
[a] 21678 S. Latourette Road, Oregon City
[h] Fridays 3-8 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays Noon to 8 p.m.
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.