Alex McGaw, head brewer and owner of Two Kilts in Sherwood, stands in front of his shiny 15-barrel Practical Fusion system that replaced the homemade 7-barrel original system he pieced together before opening in 2011. McGaw is focusing on increasing production, exposure and distribution in the new year. Photo by Patty Mamula
By Patty Mamula
For Oregon Beer Growler
With new craft breweries opening on what seems like a daily basis around the state, a brewery that’s been around for five years is considered an established commodity. That’s the case for Two Kilts, a brewery in a semi-industrial area of Sherwood that Alex McGaw opened in 2011.
McGaw, the head brewer and owner, gave a strong nod to his Scottish heritage in choosing the name. He also developed a solid reputation for making excellent Scottish beer, winning the gold medal for Scottish Ale in 2014 at the World Beer Cup in Denver.
Still, McGaw is quick to point out, “We make all different kinds of beers.”
His winter seasonal beers include an oatmeal chocolate stout and a wheat.
McGaw arrived in Eugene in 2004 from the small, rural town of Dassel in south central Minnesota and immediately fell in love with craft beer. From landscaping he transitioned to delivery work for McMenamins in 2006 when he moved to Portland.
Naturally, he was interested in brewing. “I was in and out of different breweries and locations. I knew all the managers and all the brewers. By the time I started shadowing some brewers, I was also doing some homebrewing.”
One year later, he was a McMenamins brewer. After a three-week training stint at John Barleycorns in Tigard, he moved to the Fulton Pub in Johns Landing. During his four years there, he discovered he had a real knack for brewing beer.
“I like cooking and baking,” said McGaw. “I became pretty good at brewing. I was what you might call a technical, mechanical brewer.”
Eventually, he moved on to a larger McMenamins facility — the Crystal Ballroom with its numerous bars and spaces for live music. There he worked with several different brewers and gained more firsthand brewing knowledge and experience. “I learned the business of brewing. A lot of people were enjoying my beer,” he said.
On his own time, he started assembling a brewing system. Everything came together for him to start his own brewery when he found the Sherwood location in 2011. For two hectic years, he worked two jobs, sometimes around the clock. During the day he brewed for McMenamins at the Crystal Ballroom and at night he brewed at Two Kilts and ran the taproom.
“I thought I was going to get a break with the Crystal Ballroom gig, working four days on and three off, but it didn’t really turn out that way. Still, it was fun. I loved having my own place, working for myself and brewing beer,” said McGaw.
In 2013 he was able to leave McMenaminns and devote himself full time to Two Kilts. “I was finally able to pay myself a livable wage,” said McGaw.
Last summer, he took some Fermentation Science courses at Oregon State and gained a thorough overview of the process. In addition to online work, he spent a week at the Corvallis campus. “I learned the science behind beer and found out how to set up a lab. That’s very important, especially when you start to package your beer,” he said.
Until McGaw gets his own lab up and running, he has turned to fellow brewers for their assistance. “One of our best supporters is Jeff Edgerton at Bridgeport. He takes our samples to his lab to check.
“I love this business because it’s such a supportive community, competitive, yes, but supportive in learning the skill. We’re all trying to make us look good,” he said.
In the past year, McGaw has increased production and marketing. His beers are available around the state, but in small doses. “We’re trying to cover more territory,” he said.
Bottles and cans are available at New Seasons and Plaid Pantry stores, about 100 in all. Right now Two Kilts IPA, Crystal Sunshine and Scottish Ale are available in 12-ounce cans, and the Pale Ale, IPA, Scottish Ale and Cocoa Porter are available in 22-ounce bottles. “We’re trying to expand locally and working on increased distribution to growler shops and other outlets,” he said.
His full-time sales manager, Michael Fiaschetti, has really pumped up sales. “Everyone knows him. He’s made a nice mark for us,” said McGaw.
In addition to a whole new system — a 15-barrel Practical Fusion system with 30-barrel brite tanks, McGaw is adding new beers to the lineup and packaging more for retails sales.
The Crystal Sunshine, popular this summer, he describes as especially crisp and drinkable. “Our Scottish Ale is standard. I’m revamping the IPA to make it bolder. We had a fresh-hop version in the Oaks Park festival this fall,” said McGaw.
He’s thinking of adding an IPA series and a seasonal kettle sour.
With the goal of increased exposure, McGaw has entered Two Kilts in many of the state’s beer and food festivals, including the Bend Brewfest, Feast Portland and the recent Holiday Ale Festival. This was a first for the December fest, which requires brewers to make something that’s not on tap anywhere else.
The Two Kilts contribution was called the Earls of Orkney, a wheat wine with the following description: “A very big mouthfeel is present due to the insane amount of wheat malt that goes into this beer.”
McGaw is brewing three to four times a week. Last year the production topped out at 1,000-plus bottles and he’s planning to double that in 2016.
“We’re trying to support our local community of Sherwood and participate in community events,” said McGaw. He’s looking for another location in Sherwood to expand and add a food menu.
“What’s grown this place is word-of-mouth,” he said. “We’re looking to get into a more visible spot and provide our customers with a great experience.”
By Jim McLaren
For the Oregon Beer Growler
For most of us, collecting beer simply means there’s a can or bottle in the back of our fridge we forgot about. Not the case, though, for the few dozen folks who lined up on a sunny September day outside the Portland Art Museum for a panel discussion on cult and collectible beers. Yep, a beer lecture, at an art museum — holy Manet!*
Held in a canopied space between two museum buildings, the “I’m in a Cult” drink and learn event was part of Feast Portland. A five-person panel did the educating and included three writers from the magazines Imbibe and Bon Appetit; Portland-based co-author of “Hop in The Saddle” Lucy Burningham; and Sarah Pederson, owner of Portland’s Saraveza Bottle Shop and Pasty Tavern.
Before the quintet pulled up their chairs and microphones, a squad of servers poured specially selected beers into wine glasses at each audience member’s seat. For our tasting pleasure:
To Øl Sur Citra, dry-hopped American wild ale (Denmark)
Crooked Stave Surette, wood-aged farmhouse ale (Colorado)
St. Bernardus Abt 12, quadrupel (Belgium)
Deschutes The Abyss, imperial stout aged in oak pinot noir barrels (Oregon)
Goose Island Bourbon County Stout, imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels (Illinois)
The richness of these beers had us licking our lips wanting more and asking the obvious question — why does anyone pass up drinking a beer so they can store it in a dark, cool place?
To answer that question, I head to North Portland’s Humboldt neighborhood, which is a cultural world away from the Portland Art Museum. There, art tends more toward graffiti, neon signs and music club flyers. I’m sitting at a table in Saraveza on North Killingsworth Street. Owner Sarah Pederson said, “the beer has to be good enough.” She continued to explain why people collect first and drink later: “People who really decide if it is going to be cultish or highly collectible are those people who are buying it. Those people — their value, the value of the beer is how they talk about it.” She said they are the ones who create the cult-building buzz.
Tyler Auton, a chef at Pasty Tavern, has a 200 bottle beer collection. “I tend to find the beer I like ages well and a lot of stuff I like is in such small quantities you really have to collect it to get it.” Auton began collecting when, at 21, he met the bartender of a Bellingham, Wash. tavern. “He was giving me tastes of these really limited beers and then invited me to a beer tasting where everyone brings two bottles and everyone shares things you can’t normally find.”
Beer is a social drink and, Pederson said, being social is how to start collecting. “Go get in line. Find a place that’s doing something special. They have a dock sale and go get in line. Talk to everybody who’s doing it. The other thing I would do is join a reserve society. Certain breweries have these reserve societies.”
The Bruery in California, as an example, releases limited-edition beers through their reserve club. De Garde in Tillamook is having a fourth-quarter release Nov. 21. Or you can get on the mailing list for a brewery like Block 15 in Corvallis. You can also build contacts online. For example, Auton managed to get his hands on a Founders Brewing Canadian Breakfast Stout by reaching out to others. “They used bourbon barrels that once held maple syrup. The first year they only made a thousand bottles. I traded a few things and got a first-year batch of it. It wasn’t that good but it was fun to connect with people.”
Once you collect, you have to store what you cherish. “I store them underneath my house,” Auton continued. “I have a system that is normally around 55 to 65 degrees. It is ideal. I think some beers, some sours, are less temperamental with aging because they have all that wild yeast in them. But something like imperial stout I’ll be careful with and, like, the higher the alcohol the more comfortable I am in letting it sit for a while.”
As Pederson peels a chart defining “vintage bottles” from the glass front of the Saraveza retro coolers, she explained what you should collect: “The collectible ones, historically, are the big malty ones. The big beers, the hop profile should be mainly used for preservative. The ones that have been collectible in the past are real malt-heavy barleywines, imperial stouts. That’s what everyone was looking for when they began barrel aging them. Over the past couple of years in America, this was always going on in Belgium, the sour beers have gotten bigger. Those are the other beers you can age and hold onto for a long time. The alcohol has to be high enough in it. The alcohol helps preserve it.”
You should also collect at least three bottles of these beers: one to drink now, one to drink in about a year and one to hold for, however long you want. The flavors will change. “They develop, they mature. They get more stone fruit, more caramel or the acid can mellow out. Some of the sour parts can mellow out,” Pederson assured me.
Recently as I considered buying bottles for long storage, I remembered asking Pederson about her favorite collectible. “That was Hair of the Dog Fred. The first batch. I saved it for 13 days.”
She has beers she’s kept longer, but will do the same with those that she did with the Fred; share with friends when she opens them.
*Edouard Manet completed the painting “A Good Glass of Beer” in 1873.
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.