Shaun Kalis, founder of Ruse Brewing, has a temporary home at Culmination Brewing. He met Culmination owner Tomas Sluiter at Old Market Pub & Brewery. A trust developed and Kalis found himself in a unique situation: he’s part of the Culmination team and uses that system for Ruse between production times. Photo by Kris McDowell
By Kris McDowell
For the Oregon Beer Growler
By definition a "ruse" is a trick or an act that is used to fool someone, according to Merriam-Webster. In some cases, there is malicious intent behind it. In other cases, like with M.C. Escher's impossible constructions, it is a way to play with the mind. In the case of Ruse Brewing, one of the newest to debut on the Portland brewing scene, it speaks to the mystery of the word and is a drinkable expression.
Shaun Kalis is the founder of Ruse, a transplant from Michigan whose resume includes six years at Old Market Pub & Brewery as well as stints at Cascade Brewing Barrel House and Two Kilts Brewing Co. which bookended an education at the American Brewers Guild. Like many, he remembers the beer that opened his eyes to what beer could be beyond the yellow, fizzy swill he had previously known -- a stout from Michigan-based Bell's Brewery, Inc. Known for the vast number of stouts they produce, it's no wonder that the beer had such an impact on the young Shaun and was part of what drove him to begin down the brewing path. What started as homebrewing, and self-described as "minimalist" at that, evolved into something much greater after his relocation to Portland.
The location of that move was somewhat of a random decision based on his desire to get into brewing. And while multiple cities would have sufficed, he could not have landed in a better location than Portland. Not only does the area have an incredible brewing culture, but it has the added bonus of a vibrant live music scene. Although he’s played since he was a kid, Shaun got more serious about music as an adult — taking the time for lessons and then using his skills as a guitar player in a Portland bluegrass band.
When developing the concept for Ruse Brewing, Shaun knew he would incorporate music as he feels it parallels brewing in that a song is written to speak to a particular feeling and experience in the same way that brewing a beer, for him, is speaking to something. Ultimately, Shaun would like to have a brewery/music venue where he can work with artists and musicians to create beers. In the meantime, he has found a fortunate situation and temporary home at Culmination Brewing. Shaun met and worked under Culmination founder Tomas Sluiter at Old Market and their relationship has deepened as Shaun's brewing has evolved. Rooted in their time together at Old Market is a trust that has allowed Shaun to step into a very unique situation: he is both part of the Culmination brewing team as well as an independent brewer utilizing the Culmination system between production times. As collegial as the relationship is, there are designated spaces within the Culmination facility for ingredient, empty keg and cooler storage of beers as well as a 10-barrel fermenter Shaun owns. For anyone that has experienced living with a roommate, allowing someone to have intimate access into one's personal space requires trust and communication. That is taken to a higher level when that sharing of space is in the place that houses one's livelihood and is something that speaks to Shaun's integrity as a person and competency as a brewer.
So what about the beer that Shaun is making? To begin, his year-round offerings will be Translator IPA, a citrus-forward beer with a soft mouthfeel from an English yeast, and Architect Saison, an approachable, session beer (4.8% ABV) that is dry and light in body. He wants to focus on fewer styles out of the gate so that he can be more creative with them. In addition, Shaun is adamant about quality control and committed to dumping out anything that doesn't meet his standards. As part of his role with Culmination, he is also taking over the brewery’s quality assurance/quality control (QA/QC).
Year-round beers may be a solid foundation for any brewery, but it's often the one-off and seasonal beers where brewers really get to have fun. For Shaun that fun is creating barrel-aged beers, saying "something about the oak is so romantic." At first blush, delving into barrel-aging so early on might sound limiting, but as Shaun explains it, "it gives me a buffer — time to focus on the IPA and the saison."
He anticipates the barrel-aged beers will sit for at least nine months, only being released when they're ready and if they meet his standards. The barrels he's sourced, to date, are pinot noir and Burgundy barrels from Walter Scott Wines in the Willamette Valley and spirit barrels from McMenamins and Bull Run Distilling Company. Shaun's first two barrel-aged beers will be MultiBeast and Red Saison. MultiBeast uses Ruse's own Brettanomyces strain (banked at Imperial Organic Yeast) and is dry hopped with Mosaic. Nearly ready, Shaun may debut it at Saraveza's Farmhouse and Wild Beer Festival in March, in addition to bottling it. The Red Saison won't be ready for months as it just went into barrels in December 2015, but a young sample of it shows great promise, displaying a pleasing licorice aroma with hints of leather and oak in the smooth, saison flavor.
Those looking to try out Ruse Brewing for themselves need not look far, starting with the taproom at Culmination where at least one of his beers will be part of the lineup on an ongoing basis. Beyond his home base, the new management at Great Notion (formerly Mash Tun) in Northeast Portland took a shine to Ruse, buying the first available keg in December 2015. And as a 10-year veteran of McMenamins (in a non-brewing capacity), his connections there ensured that beer can be found at some of their locations, including the Market Street Pub near Portland State University. Going beyond beer-centric spots, he's started the process to get both his IPA and Saison into Bamboo Sushi locations. He plans to be in 10-12 businesses around Portland and will be bottling the IPA and saison in 22-ounce bottles in the near future. His barrel-aged beers will be available in a 500-milliliter format.
By Kris McDowell
For the Oregon Beer Growler
In 2001 Tomas Sluiter was working on the production side of the evening news in Grand Rapids, Mich., and while not unhappy doing so, he and April, his girlfriend (and now wife) realized that if they didn't leave then, they might never leave. After visiting many places across the country they chose Portland for the reasons many do — beer, food, culture, small city feel with big city accommodations and ready access to the ocean, desert and rainforest. Back in those days, Seattle was the "obvious" choice, but since then Portland has become more attractive, in part because of people like Tomas and his brewery, Culmination Brewing. Originally, Tomas figured he would get another job in television but ended up taking an assistant brewer position at Old Market Pub & Brewery in Southwest Portland. At the time, the Old Market brewery was little more than a homebrew setup (something familiar to Tomas as a hobby he'd been practicing since high school) in part of the kitchen. Soon after he started, the owner approached Tomas to spearhead a transition to a more substantial brewery setup. He took on the project, finding a 15-barrel system in Kansas City and a local fabricator able to make needed modifications.
During the course of 12 years Tomas took the brewery from 250 barrels to 1,000 barrels annually, numbers which are made more impressive when one considers the number of styles that Old Market carries and the fact that the owner was adamant that they never run out of any beers. He greatly increased his brewing knowledge during that time, began to see ways to improve the layout of a brewery and, in time, realized opening his own brewery was what he wanted. As anyone who has opened a business knows, however, plans don't coalesce overnight.
While Tomas continued planning his brewery, including searching for an ideal location, he founded Brewery Consultant Group, a company that provides assistance regarding all aspects of opening and running a brewery, an endeavor that he continues to this day.
Eventually Tomas found the "perfect" site for his brewery in the Goose Hollow area of Portland, a building that was available for lease with the option to buy. As the saying goes, if something looks too good to be true it probably is and, unfortunately, it applied to this location. The new plumbing had been installed improperly and the expense Tomas would have had to incur was well beyond his budget.
Continuing his search, he found a place nestled in inner Northeast Portland, just south of I-84. While the site didn't have any hidden flaws, getting Culmination open there was not without its snags, this time with the city. For more than four months, the buildout of his fully funded brewery was put on hold as various factions within city government had disagreements about regulations. Once the waters cleared, it was full steam ahead to install and begin brewing on the 15-barrel, five-vessel system. Tomas specifically chose the system for its ability to produce smaller batches and, thus, more styles. It also makes it possible for Culmination to do a triple brew day just like big breweries do.
In early 2015, Culmination opened its doors to the public with a soft opening that was attended by nearly 100 people — double what they were expecting. Not only the culmination of years of planning, the name of the brewery came from the idea that Tomas and April wanted their brewery to be a place that was connected to the community, a place that embodied the coming together of great beer, food and music. That connection speaks to the relationship between his role as a brewer and his customers, which he described by saying, "When a customer comes in, they are entering a contract with the brewer. That person has worked X hours per day in order to buy the beer the brewer has made." It's an insightful view and one he takes very seriously.
Since opening, Tomas has put his certification as master brewer to work, increasing the ratio of house to guest beers and Carter Owen has gotten the kitchen up and running. Carter hails from Vermont and is the friend of an assistant brewer Tomas worked with at Old Market. Originally planning to open a food cart, Tomas convinced Carter, who he described as having a "perfect personality" and being a "phenomenal cook," to change his plans. He has given Carter complete autonomy about what comes out of the kitchen, dishes that start with local produce and meats to which Carter applies his culinary talents.
So what lies ahead for Culmination? Sake, for one. Tomas holds both a brewery license and a winery license, the latter of which covers sake production in Oregon. Tomas plans to start with hybrid beer/sake products, as traditional ones like those produced by SakeOne in Forest Grove, where he worked for two years. Those beverages require a specialized room where the koji mold spores work on the rice to digest the starch and convert it into fermentable sugar.
Culmination will also address a naming divide that exists in craft beer: Black IPA and CDA. From Tomas' perspective he sees the two names as different versions of the same style where there can be a lot of overlap, similar to the stout and porter crossovers that have existed for years. CDA is a Pacific Northwest specific name for the style that is bigger, sweeter, roasty and fuller bodied than the Black IPAs that are found in the Midwest and East. Tomas feels there is room for both and plans to have his version of each on tap at the same time.
Culmination also plans to have regular live music nights that will feature local bands playing original music. During the warmer months, they are utilizing a common space in the building but once winter comes they'll move into the brewery space that includes a back bar. Down the road, they look forward to pairing beer styles with music styles, creating custom labels and even phasing in a music studio. Tomas' plans are big, but no bigger than the time it has taken to formulate and begin to implement them -- a culmination of a dream he hadn't yet dreamt before his travels brought him to Oregon.
[a] 2117 NE Oregon St., Portland
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.