Josh and Annie Pfriem are preparing to expand their family brewery to the rest of the 20,000-square-foot Halyard Building in Hood River. The move brings extra stress and long hours, but finding time for themselves, along with a foundation of friendship, helps keep their relationship strong. Photo by Kirby Neumann-Rea
By Kirby Neumann-Rea
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Few beer names are worth a battle royal for trademark infringement, but you couldn’t blame Josh and Annie Pfriem for going to court if they really wanted to dub a beer “Headlamp.” It’s a name used by at least three American breweries. But there likely won’t be any legal battles anytime soon — the owners of pFriem Family Brewers in Hood River gravitate toward more traditional names rather than relying on puns, places or physical objects.
But if they did go another route, “Headlamp” should be theirs by any romantic right.
Their love started with beer and a headlamp-lit glacier and it continued to grow while helping develop two breweries. Now with a family and a business — a brewery of their own that focuses on Belgian-style beers and brings home numerous awards — life is more complex, perhaps. But it’s also more rewarding. However, their relationship didn’t start out on such strong footing.
The two worked together as ski guides in British Columbia, Canada and when they met, “We really clashed,” said Josh, now 35. “I was arrogant and young and she was loud and emotional.”
Annie confirmed the description and added, “We were really young and I had broken up with my college boyfriend, and I was like, ‘I don’t need you.’”
The guide work was “a couple-year commitment, and it was a tight-knit group of like-minded folks,” Josh explained. “And we were friends for the first couple of years we knew each other, but at the start we actually didn’t like each other.”
A mutual dislike gave way after a beer recommendation.
“That first summer, we kept away from each other. But when we came back to the U.S. we hit Boundary Bay in Bellingham,” said Josh.
“His hometown brewery, you know?” Annie interjected while elbowing Josh.
“And Annie and I happen to sit next to each other and she was having trouble deciding what to drink, and I said, ‘Do you need a beer recommendation?’”
"'Even though I drink craft beer," Annie said.
“But she was stuck,” Josh said.
So Josh recommended a Blonde ale. She liked it, and that led to talking about skiing, and coming out that winter to snowboard at Mount Baker.
"And that's when our friendship took off and it led to a relationship," Josh said.
Shortly after they started dating, the first mountain they summited together was Sahale Mountain in northern Washington. But as they descended in the dark, that’s when the headlamp entered the picture: Annie’s broke, requiring her to follow behind Josh.
“It was an epic day and we learned later that both of us thought later on, ‘If we ever have a little girl, Sahale would be a pretty awesome name,’” said Josh.
Their first child, daughter Sahale, is now 10. The couple also have 6-year-old son Watou, named for a beer center in Belgium. Their other child, the brewery, was conceived at least 10 years ago when Annie and Josh realized their mutual fondness for the craft.
“I'd get home from brewing, and fire up the homebrewing, trying recipes,” Josh said. “pFriem Brewery was the plan all along, and Annie’s been part of the process from day one; together we're talking, visiting places — including Belgium -- building a vision of what we wanted to have happen.”
Today, “our employees love to see us working together,” Josh said. As they sit next to each other in the brewery’s cozy upper room, decorated by Annie and termed “The Library,” something sparkles as clear as a pFriem pilsner — their mutual willingness to tease and be teased, and that they can seamlessly finish each other’s thoughts.
“When we're here in the office and Annie gets too loud and I tell her to ‘Be quiet, it’s very not corporate,’” he said. “We go to beer events together and people see us as a couple, it shows more and more of what we're trying to do here at pFriem.
“I’m soft at heart but pretty go-go-go during my day to get things done, and Annie's pretty good at letting people know the softer side — when they need the Mama when Papa's a little too gruff.”
In fact, in the early part of their marriage, Josh took to calling Annie “Brew Mama.” It’s a nickname she puts on her business card and illustrates some of her chief brewery roles — ensuring “the touch and feel” of place, making sure the customers are comfortable and the atmosphere is family-like. She’s also in charge of donations and community outreach while assisting with the business’ social media presence. “But touch and feel is the little things you see around pFriem that you don’t necessarily see in restaurants or, more specifically, breweries.”
Of course, with success comes new challenges. This year, pFriem is planning to take over the rest of the 20,000-square-foot Halyard Building, which is owned by the Port of Hood River. That will provide more space for storage, fermenting, bottling and the office. While stress and long hours accompany any expansion, creating something together has its rewards as well.
Josh adds, “It’s really romantic that we're building something together. It’s like raising children, there's a romance to that."
How are beer and romance connected? “It gives an opportunity for love and joy,” Josh answered.
Annie was more to the point: “Beer is sexy,” she laughed.
As busy as they are with running a burgeoning business, they manage to find time for themselves and family.
“We have little breaks, and our kids have grown up in the mountains — between skiing and biking and camping and nowadays we mountain bike quite a bit,” Josh said. “That’s another way we connect outside the brewery. We try to get out on mountain bike dates, rather than going out to dinner. Since we do so much for events, we try to do non-beer things. But there's usually a beer at the end.”
Referring back to the origin of their relationship, Josh said that “we were definitely just friends for a long time, which has helped these times — some of them hard when you have the brewery and this business and the children,” he said. “We have this cement foundation of friendship.”
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.