By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Sometimes newlyweds return from their honeymoon and immediately prepare a room for a baby. But for Kiley and Michael Gwynn of Eugene, they returned from their 2008 honeymoon/first anniversary trip to Hawaii with a passion for a new hobby: homebrewing.
“We fell in love with Maui Brewing’s CoCoNut PorTeR, and that started us because it wasn’t available in Oregon,” says Michael. What began as a way to keep a beloved beer in the pantry, though, became an extension of something else. “It’s one more way for us to be connected,” he explains. “There are very few things we do separately. This is one more way to collaborate with each other. Like with any couple, you have so much going on, you don’t always see each other during the day, so this builds that connection even more.”
The couple focuses their time on work, craft beer, homebrew, “beercations,” and their dog, a red heeler named Penny. Today that Maui porter is a regular homebrew for the Gwynns, but their hobby has grown far beyond one clone. They started basic, but a “good tax refund” coincided with information that someone in Salem was getting out of brewing. The Gwynns bought his 10-gallon, single-tier, all-grain setup (though they now use a 26-gallon brew pot to accommodate larger batches). Their garage houses four 60-gallon wine barrels and a full-sized bourbon barrel. They maintain one bottling line for standard yeasts and a second for beers made with wild microbes. Members since 2009 of Eugene-area homebrew club the Cascade Brewers Society, in 2015 Michael, a learning specialist at University of Oregon’s University Teaching and Learning Center, became club president. (The Gwynns also keep the club’s Flanders barrel, and various other member barrels, in the garage.) A social media strategist at Oregon Community Credit Union, Kiley has promoted Eugene Beer Week and runs the Eugene chapter of women’s craft beer group Barley’s Angels.
“We brew things that aren’t as easy to get locally,” says Kiley. “The last year we’ve done a lot of Belgians, saisons, more beers for their sour character. This year we’re doing lots of British beers — ESBs, milds, real ales on a homebrew scale. It’s not something we’ve done before.”
Every year Michael and Kiley brew a different beer for holiday gifts. For 2015 they brewed a Belgian breakfast stout, modeled after Founders Breakfast Stout from Michigan. The Gwynns developed a variant they called Vanilla Latte, brewed with coffee beans and vanilla beans. Kiley designed labels and Michael worked with a mobile canner out of Salem for canning.
The couple met in 2001 while attending UO. “We met at a party, slowly got to know each other over the course of a year,” says Kiley. “It wasn’t an instant thing, but grew over time.” Six years after meeting, Kiley and Michael married in 2007.
A love of craft beer has been a constant. “Growing up in Oregon, you’re more steeped in craft beer than other places,” explains Kiley. “The cheapest thing I ever drank was Henry Weinhard’s.” When Kiley turned 21, her “first legal beer” was a growler of Bombay Bomber IPA from Steelhead. The next day Kiley went to High Street and brought home a Mason jar of Ruby. “My father was a Coors Light drinker,” Kiley recollects with a laugh, “and he just talked about how bitter it was.”
Michael came to craft beer in part through his love of cooking. “I’ve never been an exceptional cook, but I enjoy tinkering with food and flavors and have the do-it-yourself mentality,” he says. Already wading the shallow waters of the growing ocean of craft beer, a barrel-aged stout “blew me away with the flavors,” says Michael. “We had it with a meal where everything just worked together perfectly. I was heading for homebrewing, and that got me there.”
As with the rest of their relationship, both Gwynns cite collaboration as key to their homebrewing. Brews begin not over the kettle, but over discussion, says Kiley: “What do we feel like? What’s in season? What do we have? What could be different from what we have? We talk about recipe formulation together — hops and yeast.”
From there, the couple goes into a mode of division of labor. One gets a yeast starter going, one goes to the homebrew store. Brew day is on the weekend, after a full work week. “He does most of the work on brew day,” says Kiley. “He does the manual labor while I get other stuff done around the house or run errands. Some days we have a brew day together, but we are involved in so many other things related to beer, that we find those brewing hours work best with him brewing and me cleaning the house.”
For other homebrewing couples, both Kiley and Michael suggest collaboration as a top priority.
“Make sure you’re doing something that works for both people,” says Kiley. “If you only brew one batch at a time and you don’t have multiple years of beers to rely on, make sure you brew something you both can enjoy.”
Honest feedback is also key, says Michael, who considers his “nose and palate” to be less refined than his wife’s. “I’ve gone to Kiley multiple times with beer ideas,” he says. “I can’t tell you how many times she’s shot me down. And I don’t take it as a slap to the face. With our relationship, we are each other’s best friends and we can be blunt with each other.”
They also make time to talk back and forth, bouncing more ideas off each other until they have a concept and recipe. Then, once the beer is in a glass, they compare notes and discuss the final product: Did it work the way they both intended? What worked well? What can be improved next time?
“Everyone has something to bring and be part of the conversation,” says Michael. “Things will work out.”
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.