By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
When Waltz Brewing opened in Forest Grove two years ago, owner Adam Zumwalt envisioned arriving after work at his day job, opening the taproom, casually talking with a few friends, filling growlers and closing early in the evening. The first day went pretty much like he imagined, but 60 people showed up the second day and that casual pace he wanted quickly disappeared.
“We didn’t plan for that kind of success,” said Zumwalt. “We didn’t have enough chairs, tables or even glasses. I immediately called my son Noah and asked him to come help.” Noah has been managing the bar ever since.
It’s a familiar story. Zumwalt and partners Karl Glatz and Michael Duron were serious homebrewers working out of Adam’s garage with a 1-barrel system and 60 or more pony kegs. Family and friends agreed: the beer was good. They decided to turn their passion into a commercial brewery.
“Our community has taken it over,” said Zumwalt. “They love it.”
It’s a popular spot, he said. People have family parties here to celebrate special occasions like birthdays, graduations and retirements. They bring food from home and gather friends. There’s even been a women’s fashion show in the cozy, rustic bar.
“We have had bottle shares here. Halloween is always crazy. Fridays are insane. We have regular groups come in. This is the social circle for the town,” said Zumwalt.
“The success turned out to be more than we ever imagined. My motto now is: Let it Happen,” he said. This laissez-faire attitude has limits. Not allowed — TVs, video poker machines, movie nights and kids.
When the three homebrewers decided to take the leap into starting a licensed business, they couldn’t find the right location. Zumwalt, a longtime resident of Forest Grove who lives in his grandparents’ house, wanted to stick close to town. After a couple false starts, they settled on a location. Deep into negotiations and close to finalizing the four-month deal, the owners suddenly decided to sell the building.
Zumwalt said, “I was done.” They were ready to abandon the dream. The same day he met a friend who owned a warehouse and offered it to them. The location turned out to be perfect, right in the heart of town in the industrial district, one block off the main street and three blocks from Pacific University. The building had been used for industrial supply storage and required a near total renovation. It took them two months to empty the building before they could discover what work needed to be done.
“We did all the build-out ourselves. We reclaimed materials that were here, reusing anything we could. We took a bold warehouse and made it into a pub,” he said.
The finished space is definitely informal and comfortable. From the outside, it looks like an old warehouse building, but half of the front wall is an expansive “garage door” that opens, extending the space outside. The 3-barrel brewhouse is set up in an area off to one side, yet it’s still visible to customers.
The mash tun they found at an old dairy and had to help tear down a barn to get it. They are in the process of building a bigger 10-barrel system and rearranging so they can put all the grain and kegs in the storage area to free up interior space. The capacity inside is 49; with the outside seating it’s 91.
Glatz, the head brewer, basically brews when they’re not open on Sunday and Monday. Duron is currently brewing at Vertigo Brewing in Hillsboro.
“Our beer just keeps getting better and better,” said Zumwalt. “I’m proud of everything we serve.” They make beers that customers request. Their current tap list includes several IPAs, a dark rye saison, oatmeal stout, an amber, a kolsch, a porter and a pale ale. They now have 21 taps and seven or eight are theirs. That’s steady growth for a business that opened with five taps, none of which poured their beer.
From the beginning, live music has been a regular part of the Waltz Brewing experience. Acts play 7-9 p.m. on Thursdays, and July is Blues Month. Other genres can be heard different nights of the week, including the occasional bluegrass jam on Wednesdays. Outside of Oregon, musicians have traveled to Waltz from Alaska, Tennessee and New Jersey.
“People want to play here because it’s so intimate,” said Zumwalt. “Right now we have a Facebook campaign going to get Willie Nelson here.”
(a) 1900 A St., Forest Grove
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.