By Alethea Smartt LaRowe
For the Oregon Beer Growler
One of the first questions that visitors to this Southeast Portland brewery often ask is, “What does Grixsen mean?” While the word is a mashup of the three partners’ surnames, it also symbolizes the communal focus of the 4-month-old brewery. Scott Petersen, who handles business operations and branding, says “We wanted to come up with a name that encompassed what we had as an ideal. The model of Grixsen is someone who works hard, does the right thing and celebrates together.”
That theme shaped the brewery’s evolution and was part of the founders’ ethos even before they knew they wanted to start a business together. DJ Moxley, Grixsen’s head brewer, met Petersen through a family member in 2012 when he was still in college. Their recommendation landed him a summer internship at Petersen’s strategy and design firm in Portland. Moxley had already been homebrewing for several years, and he quickly became Petersen’s collaborative partner for all things beer. They brewed their first batch together, a Scotch ale, at Portland U-Brew in Sellwood as part of a team-building exercise with Petersen’s employees.
When I ask Moxley why he started brewing, he replies, “Wine is romantic, but I think beer is just as romantic. I got into beer because of American history. I was a huge history fan throughout school and learned that our country was pretty much built on breweries and pubs. I wanted to be part of that somehow and create something that can have that big of an impact.”
As Moxley completed his studies and graduated from Gonzaga, he and Petersen continued making test batches of homebrew in Petersen’s garage. Eventually, their collaborations led to discussions about opening a brewery together. While it was tempting to seek out investors to expedite their new business venture, they ultimately decided to personally fund the entire operation, which allows them to retain full control over the company. Petersen explains, “We wanted to experience the bootstrapping that’s required to launch a new brewery.”
They immediately began looking for a building to house the business. “Our goal was to find a location that would be affordable plus would allow us to grow into it in terms of production,” Petersen states. Giving credit to serendipitous circumstances, they signed a lease on a 6,000-square-foot warehouse in December 2014.
The build-out process took longer than expected due to changes in building codes as well as the overall physical labor required to turn the space into a brewery and tasting room. Enter Kurt Gritman, the third business partner. The team refers to him as “a workhorse within the operation” and mentions that the majority of the work on the build-out was done by himself, Moxley and Gritman, with the exception of electrical and plumbing.
Moxley is now brewing on an American Beer Equipment system that was originally designed for another company, but fits the Grixsen space perfectly. It’s a 10-barrel, 3-vessel operation, which means they can do continuous brewing cycles. They have two 20-barrel fermenters and two 20-barrel brite tanks with two more 20-barrel fermenters already ordered.
When asked about the beers he is brewing, Moxley mentions Funkwerks in Fort Collins, Colo. as the inspiration for his Hopped Saison, along with The Commons Brewery in Portland. Petersen elaborates, “We want to embrace the craft movement in terms of the craft over the experimentation side of it. For the most part, we’re brewing standard variants of traditional styles, but with a Northwest take on it.”
The tasting room, which welcomed the public during this year’s Zwickelmania while still under construction, officially opened in April. The design melds perfectly with the brewery’s focus on sophisticated craft and American heritage. The walls are made of reclaimed wood from a friend’s fence. If you look closely, you can see pellets and BBs that were embedded in the boards during their previous life. Petersen’s dad built the bar, which showcases 12 taps plus two nitros. They also sell wine.
The tasting room seats 30 and has a 52-inch flat screen TV, which is only on at low volume for live sporting events. Otherwise, you’ll be listening to the bartender’s choice of streaming music, which will soon be played on a new Sonos sound system. An adjacent private room seats around 10 people and features an 80-inch flat screen TV, making it the perfect spot for fantasy football or other friendly gatherings.
Kids and dogs are welcome in the brewery area, which already has a few tables and chairs as well as a pool table, but will soon have more games like cornhole. Currently they do not serve food but coordinate with a food truck to park near the brewery entrance. Outside food is welcome.
As for future plans, Petersen says they are hoping to sign with a distributor this month and plan to start packaging in 22-ounce bottles. They’ll be making more beer styles and have already started barrel aging; first up is a bourbon barrel imperial stout. While they have just hired a taproom manager, you’ll continue to find all three partners alternating shifts in the tasting room. After all, they are still busy building the Grixsen brand which embodies “giving an honest effort, following the righteous path and celebrating the uniqueness in everyone.”
Grixsen Brewing Company
[a] 1001 SE Division St., Suite 1, Portland
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.