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 Aaron Brussat
For the Oregon Beer Growler
If you think of Portland’s beer scene as the sun, Portland’s beer festivals would be its solar flares, sunspots and cosmic wind. It’s always burning — exothermic blasts of molten malt, hops, yeast and beards swirling and bubbling with every new beer release party. A tower of foamy fire appears on the horizon; we shield our eyes and say, “Oh look, a beer festival!”
Every beer festival fills a niche, and many open beer drinkers’ eyes to what lies just beyond their experience, that errant bottle in the back of the fridge. Portland Farmhouse Weekend provides a city-wide opportunity for beer lovers to go deep into a largely misunderstood sect of beers. The “Weekend,” set for Friday March, 31 through Sunday, April 2, is an extension of the Portland Farmhouse & Wild Ale Festival, now in its fifth year, held at Saraveza Bottle Shop.
To say that founder Ezra Johnson-Greenough has a few beer festivals under his belt is an understatement. He’s been conceiving and organizing events in Portland for years. Johnson-Greenough started the Portland Fruit Beer Fest, and his fingerprints are all over Portland Beer Week and many other tap-related happenings. Some are annual; others spring up and are gone, not unlike styles of beer on a taplist suited for today’s fickle consumer.
Johnson-Greenough’s goal for the Farmhouse & Wild Ale Festival is to “make it the best fest of its kind. We’re increasing the size of tents, hours and beer. The last couple years have been more stagnant. There was no marketing budget for the fest.”
This says a lot about the popularity of the event; Saturday’s general session last year was packed shoulder-to-shoulder with people vying for tastes of rare beers from big names like The Ale Apothecary and Jester King Brewery.
In expanding the festival, Johnson-Greenough has also expanded the concept. On top of Upright Brewing’s eighth anniversary party, beer releases and educational seminars around town, Wander Brewing, from Bellingham, Wash., will bring its 25-barrel coolship to town for a collaboration brew with Breakside Brewery. The project will generate beer for the event in coming years.
The festival includes a beer release specifically for attendees. Last year, The Commons Brewery produced The Croze, a pale beer fermented in open-topped barrels (croze is a cooperage term referring to the groove at either end of the barrel that holds the head in place). This year’s very limited release is a lambic-style beer from Logsdon Farmhouse Ales. Brewer Shilpi Halemane, who’s been at the Hood River brewery a year-and-a-half, started a program of beers brewed in the “Methode van Lembeek” with veteran wild ale brewer Curtis Bain. For the festival, “We thought it might be nice to showcase and sneak preview a single barrel that tasted really good.”
The beer, Saraveza Sour, is brewed with Pilsner malt, raw wheat and aged hops. The brewing process uses a multi-step mash (raising the temperature several times to activate different enzymes) and a two-hour boil. The beer is transferred from the kettle to a coolship — a wide, shallow metal vat open to the country air. There it picks up a bevy of microscopic hitchhikers that will eat their way through the complex sugars in the wort. The inoculated wort is transferred to conical fermentors for two weeks before it is racked into used American oak barrels.
The final product is “in the 5.5% alcohol range. It is tart and Brett-forward with a funky aroma, very clear and bright. It has a classic lambic profile; that’s kind of the goal.”
More and more breweries in the country are experimenting with spontaneous fermentation. They pay homage to the classic Belgian appellation while showcasing the “terroir” of local yeast and bacteria. The wort can be produced in the same way anywhere, but it is the surrounding air that ultimately gives the beer its personality.
What Is Farmhouse Beer?
In our modern era of opaque, flesh-colored IPAs that taste like the Tropicana test kitchen, it’s easy to lose sight of the creative work being done with Oregon’s state microbe Saccharomyces cerevisiae (ale yeast) and its cousins Brettanomyces (a “wild” yeast), Lactobacillus (a common fermenting bacteria), and others — the fermenting family tree is more like a forest.
Most brewers will credit Saison Dupont as the godfather of farmhouse-style beers. It was first imported to the United States in the 1980s, and helped to usher in the idea of beer as a flavorful beverage. It defies accurate reproduction by way of its yeast, which some speculate to be a blend of strains. With a simple malt and hop regimen, the beer gets its particular spicy-fruity profile from unusually high fermentation temperatures.
The new, Americanized genre of “farmhouse” beers encompass a range of styles, flavors and colors, as their origins are multifarious and knotted in untold agrarian histories.
“I like how broad a term it is for the range of things you can use,” says Halemane. “I dislike it for the same reason. If I read a description and it says ‘farmhouse ale with cherries,’ that could mean anything.” At Logsdon, “By virtue of brewing it in a barn, we could make anything and call it a farmhouse ale.” Very tricky. Overall, the farmhouse flavor relies on the characteristics of fermentation and is augmented with the brewer’s choice of malt, hops, wood, fruit and/or spices.
The Farmhouse & Wild Ale Festival has one rule: only U.S. farmhouse-style beers.
“There’s no reason to discriminate if it was made on a farm or not,” says Johnson-Greenough. “It matters how good it is. I’m looking for yeast-forward, Belgian-inspired beers from breweries known for their farmhouse beer — mostly. It’s a very exciting year because there’s more and more options.” Some of the breweries making their debut this year include Alesong Brewing & Blending, Astoria’s new Reach Break Brewing, Wolves & People Farmhouse Brewery and Yachats Brewing.
Learn more about Portland Farmhouse Weekend at portlandfarmhousefest.com.
By Jim McLaren
For the Oregon Beer Growler
“This is a man's world, this is a man's world
But it wouldn't be nothing, nothing without a woman or a girl”
Erika Huston has a good, throaty laugh, and on a sunny April afternoon it’s bouncing around the empty Logsdon Barrel House & Taproom on Fourth Street in Hood River as she says, “I knew you’d ask me something like this.”
The question is — what does a woman bring to the beer business that a man doesn’t? “Without sounding sexist,” Huston begins, “I think women bring a maternal instinct, a maternal quality, of wanting to take care of people and make sure they’re happy. I also think we’re used to cooking, so our palate is a little better.”
How Erika Huston worked her way into managing the Logsdon Barrel House has to do with her history with Oregon beer. “I started drinking beer when I was (mumble) years old,” she said with another hearty laugh. “I was canvassing for OSPIRG (Oregon Students Public Interest Research Group) in Eugene. Henry Weinhard’s was considered craft beer back then. I tried my first taste of Blue Boar and I was, WOW, I didn’t know beer could taste like this. My dad drank mostly Old Milwaukee and Hamm’s.”
Huston moved to Portland in the early ‘90s and her palate took another jolt. While Widmer Brothers Brewing, Pyramid (formerly Hart Brewing) and Portland Brewing Company were growing fast, Huston was finding something with a different taste than what they were offering. “What really did it for me was when I had my first taste of Belgian beer. I have an older brother who is very passionate about beer as well. He’d been to Belgium and we went to Belmont Station and bought a few bottles. I tried a Duvel and it just blew my mind. I was like, ‘This is not beer. What is this?’”
The strong, golden ale would fire a passion taking Huston to the front door of her beer career. In 2004, the Concordia Ale House opened in Portland and Huston knew where her future lay. “They were very Belgian-centric at first. I thought, I have to work here.” Quickly, she took her beertending skills from Concordia to County Cork Public House and on to Saraveza. She found her way to Saraveza, the North Portland temple of all things beer, because a friend worked there. She hung around so much that it was just logical to ask for a job. Impressed by Huston’s background, her growing knowledge of beer and her passion, Saraveza owner Sarah Pederson immediately hired her.
The job became Huston’s graduate school, a place where beertenders do more than just pull you another draft. “Definitely, yeah, you have to be very knowledgeable about all of the things coming out. It’s overwhelming because – especially if you work in a craft beer bar that has rotating taps – there are things coming from out of state, there are constantly new breweries opening in Portland and Oregon. So, yeah, you have to be on top of your game. And, you also have to really get to know your customers; what their taste is, what they would like to see, like to try.”
Huston’s six-year stay at Saraveza was a golden time for the shop. As beer buyer, she helped it earn national attention as one of the 100 Best Beer Bars in the country as chosen by Draft magazine. She says selecting which beers fill the Saraveza coolers and come from its taps “is a constant balancing act. I refer to it more as a Tetris game. You’ve got these spaces to fill and you’re trying to make sure they all fit together like the pieces of a puzzle. You don’t want to have all of one style that you’re sticking with. You want to try and satisfy as many palates as possible.”
This is when those maternal instincts come into play. You have an audience you want to serve, but you can also serve the beer makers, especially the new ones who need to get into your shop.
“That was the biggest challenge for me, the biggest hurdle to overcome” she says. “You could smash someone’s dreams. It’s a very personal thing, to make beer. You have someone who is just starting a brewery. They’re coming to you and want you to try something. So I just learned to be very constructive and just be honest and say, you know, ‘I think that this could be good if you maybe tried a different variety of hop.’” Huston’s philosophy builds loyalty with the beer makers and the beer drinkers.
Looking at it from outside, it seems obvious now. Huston and Saraveza couldn’t last. As Sarah Pederson says, Huston made a lifestyle choice, but also a beer-style choice.
“I have roots in the area,” Huston says about Hood River. “I have a lot of friends who work at the breweries out here and I was coming out here to go camping or visit them it seemed like every other weekend during the summer. In the back of my mind I always wanted to move. But until I was offered this job, I didn’t have the fire lit under me to make it happen.”
The job offer also brought her back to the beer style she loves. “Logsdon makes all Belgian farmhouse-inspired beers,” she said. “We have a Flanders red beer. We do spontaneous fermentation, so some stuff that’s more on the tart side. We secondary ferment some stuff with fruit. Almost everything is barrel aged. And it is actually on an operating farm. The brewery is inside of a barn.”
For now, Huston is happy where she is. Such a job was one of her goals. Managing a barrelhouse allows her to be the link between beer maker and beer drinker to the benefit of each. She can take beer drinkers to places they might not otherwise go. And she can help the beer maker understand why people like — or don’t like — what they are doing. It’s a good role for a beer mother.
Logsdon Barrel House & Taproom
[a] 101 Fourth St., Hood River
By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Dave Logsdon has been a key player in the craft beer world for more than 30 years. And for all that time, Hood River has been his home base.
His involvement with Full Sail Brewing Company is well known. He co-founded the brewery in 1987 and was the main brewer for a few years. But even before that in 1985 he founded Wyeast Laboratories, selling yeast cultures and other fermentation ingredients.
His newest brewing experiment is Logsdon Farmhouse Ales, founded in 2009. The 15-barrel brewery is in the barn on his rural property south of downtown Hood River off Highway 35. “The beer is influenced immensely by the terroir,” said Erika Huston, general manager of Logsdon Barrel House & Taproom. For example, The Conversion Northwest sour ale is brewed the traditional way by allowing the liquid to cool in an open, shallow vessel, resulting in spontaneous fermentation with wild yeast.
Huston said, “Our main challenge is to educate people to the palate about this style of beer. One of the first questions we hear is, ‘What is your IPA?’ We don’t have one.”
Logsdon characterizes these beers as Belgian saisons. Traditionally, they are malt forward with some fruit tastes and a dry, tart carbonated finish. Historically, they were brewed in the winter and served in the summer to farmworkers. Saisons have a very clean finish, but are complex to brew.
Last fall, The Logsdon Barrel House & Taproom opened in downtown Hood River. The idea for a taproom evolved as the reputation of the farmhouse ales grew. The brewery on his rural property was considered agricultural land and not eligible to host a taproom, according to Hood River zoning laws.
The Barrel House & Taproom was designed to resemble a Belgian-style brasserie café. Dave’s wife Judith Bams-Logsdon, a native of Flanders in Belgium, is in charge of the menu. Huston said, “She is very passionate about food. The menu was designed to be like what you would find in a Belgian cafe, and the beer and food share complementary flavors.”
The menu includes items like broodjes, Belgian sandwiches, and croque-monsieur, toasted ham and cheese on white bread. There are also seasonal entrees, such as a classic Flanders beef stew, Belgian waffles and crepes for dessert.
“We are definitely interested in spreading the word about the Belgian food emphasis here. It’s unique. There’s nothing else like it in Hood River,” said Huston.
The taproom has 12 rotating taps; one is a guest tap. “Logsdon beers are very unique. You won’t find them regularly in Portland. People are excited about our taster trays. They like sampling what they won’t normally see.”
The four core beers, available year round on draft and in 375-milliliter and 750-milliliter bottles, are Kili Wit, Seizoen, Seizoen Bretta and Straffe Drieling Tripel. “We’ll be adding the newest one, The Conversion Wit, like the regular but with wild yeast.”
Logsdon’s ales have won several awards, including a gold for the Seizon Bretta at the 2012 Great American Beer Festival, and are now available in local restaurants. Initially self-distributed, the ales are now distributed by Maletis.
“Many people have the idea that all Belgian beers are the same. The challenge is getting people to expand their horizons,” said Huston.
She has been a fan of Logsdon’s beer for several years. She previously worked at Saraveza in North Portland as a beer buyer and coordinator of the Portland Farmhouse & Wild Festival, usually held the last weekend in March. She met Dave and Judith in 2013 and loved their beer. When the opportunity came up to manage the taproom, she took it and moved to Hood River last October.
Last summer there was talk of a sale and move to Portland that never materialized. Logsdon and company are more firmly part of Hood River than ever before. Future plans are to “become a stronghold in the community,” said Huston. Logsdon is involved with Breweries in the Gorge, which is a nonprofit that promotes the beer makers in that region. The program is similar to the Bend Ale Trail, where customers can get stamps at each brewery they visit. And even though the founder hopes to step away from day-to-day operations, he will continue to oversee quality, develop new beers and participate fully in the Hood River community.
By John Foyston
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The Commons recently celebrated its fourth year as a brewery, not especially young by Portland standards, but still one of my favorite success stories thanks to its beginnings as Beetje – a one-man nanobrewery in owner Mike Wright's Southeast Portland garage.
Nowadays, The Commons is one of Portland's favorite Good Beer Hangouts. It occupies a 10,000-square-foot space, a windows-on-the world corner of Southeast Belmont Street. The building comprises a handsome, woody taproom, the original Commons brew system up front for display, the Cheese Annex serving artisan cheese and charcuterie, a 15-barrel JV Northwest production brewery in back and a crew of a dozen or more brewers and pubsters. It's three times larger than the previous location – and about 50 times larger than the garage in which Wright started Beetje Brewing in 2009.
Yes, other breweries have traced similar or steeper trajectories – Ninkasi, of course, which became a national player in less than a decade; Breakside, which quickly outgrew its brewpub beginnings to add a big new production brewery; Fort George, which now inhabits an entire block of downtown Astoria; Cascade, which brought sour beer to national prominence; and others.
But The Commons is a story I know well, having followed it since the garage days, and Mike Wright's philosophy is one that describes why I – and a lot of you, I suspect – love craft beer: “The important thing is not the beer itself, but the interaction and socializing that happen around good beer,” he said when he made the considerable leap from garage to industrial space; from a cobbled-together, 1-barrel nanobrewery to a professional, 7-barrel brewhouse; and from a one-man show to being an employer with a cellarman and brewer Sean Burke.
It wasn't until September of 2012 that he quit his day job, perhaps thinking back to what he said at Beetje (Flemish for “little bit” and a tribute to his wife Kaatje, who was born in the Flemish town of Roeselare) – “I know I won’t be supporting my family with the amount of beer I can make in my garage,” he said in a 2010 interview, “but I'm having fun and making beers that I want to make.”
“At the risk of being too romantic,” he said back then, “imagine a small, rustic farmhouse brewery in the inner city. The beers are everyday-drinking beers, not super-complex, monster bombs. Plenty of breweries make those. I enjoy spending time with friends and good food, and drinking a sessionable beverage is the driving force behind the beers I make.”
That philosophy was at the heart of The Commons, with its motto of “Gather around beer,” and was the reason that its tasting room was one of Portland's favorites — an intimate, woody space tucked away in the corner of a handsomely revamped industrial space, which had high ceilings, brick walls, tall windows and barrel-aging racks. It was a one-of-kind space, where patrons could drink in the brewery. People loved it, but it wasn't ideal: “It was a little too integrated with the brewery,” Wright said in 2014. “We could either brew beer or have the tasting room open, but not both. I had brewers all the time who asked, 'How did you guys get away with having the tasting room in the brewery?' And the truth is, we got lucky – it’d never get approved again.”
The new tasting room has a nearly identical feel thanks to lots of honest, unadorned wood, high ceilings, concrete floors, the original 7-barrel brewhouse up front and sightlines into the production brewery, but barriers now separate the spaces. “We wanted to recreate the aesthetic of our first tasting room on a bigger scale,” said Wright. “We want to keep people connected with the brewery, because there's nothing better than having people here enjoying your beer.”
Mission accomplished: the new brewery taproom opened in late March 2015, just in time for the thousands of professional brewers who trekked to Portland for the Craft Brewers Conference last April, and it has since become a favorite spot for townies and tourists alike looking for a pint of that brilliant Urban Farmhouse Ale, or Myrtle, or their beautiful Pils.
And those 13 taps are pouring a LOT of Commons beer these days. “We actually have walk-in customers now,” Wright says, “the old location was a true destination type place – only people who knew about us would visit. While that has a certain cachet for some, it wasn't a sustainable business model. We love the opportunity to introduce our beer to new people and the high-profile location offers us many more opportunities to do that. The new, purpose-built cellar and added storage have made a world of difference on the production side of the equation.”
The production side is well served. There was a day last February when the JV Northwest crew rolled up with a brewery on a truck and brewer Burke knew he could soon trade the tool belt he'd worn during months of build-out for his brewer rubber boots.
“They showed up at 7 a.m. with trucks and 12 hours later they had it mostly installed,” said Burke, who was excited as only a brewer can be about the versatility of the system. “I asked for a list of things and I got every one of them. We can do straight mashes, step mashes, decoction mashes, turbid mashes — the system is amazingly flexible. JV Northwest really delivered on the engineering, plus I think they wanted a showcase system on their home turf.”
Great beer, a coherent vision and the unassuming, homey feel of the tasting room make The Commons a true Portland gem: “Portland has a rich pub culture where consumers desire variety and a broad range of flavors,” Wright said. “That allows a niche brewery like The Commons to exist and thrive because we provide an alternative to Portland's many hop-forward beers. Could I have guessed we'd be here today when you and I met in the garage? No! No way. I had no idea the business would be where it is today. It's really amazing and gratifying to where we are. I'm very lucky.”
So is Portland, Mr. Wright, so is Portland.
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.