By Jim McLaren
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Seeing Tim Brinson standing in his Southeast Portland garage, his brewing system sparkling in the early winter sun, it’s hard to think Portland Brewing’s Ryan Pappe would be envious.
“I am,” he says, explaining he no longer has the freedom to do what Brinson, or any homebrewer does, “especially here where our brew system is a giant kettle. The smallest we can make, maybe, 80 barrels. That’s too much upfront cost to have that freedom.”
Which is why it’s hard to imagine head brewer Pappe doing what Brinson did to earn the third slot in Portland Brewing’s Home Brewer’s Series.
“I was actually brewing a Belgian dubbel — first time — and realized I could do a triple batch.”
Brinson, a professorial-looking fellow who works in IT is a rapid-fire talker when it comes to beer. He explains his three-way split:
“One, a Belgian dubbel. Then an English brown ale. And then the third one would be a brown IPA. I’d never done any of those before, using the same base malts and wort. From there, I split it out into different carboys and fermented it with different yeasts.”
The result is a joyous, complex, ale that tastes like a Christmas celebration in your mouth — light and fruity at the start, the flavors evolve into chocolate and coffee on the back end. Labeled “Tim’s Holiday Ale” Brinson’s masterpiece is the third collaboration in Portland Brewing’s inaugural Home Brewer’s Series, which has become a way for one of Portland’s oldest breweries to reconnect with the spirit, energy and creativity that put Oregon at the forefront of the craft beer revolution.
In 2015, the brewery set up a 2-barrel system and made some beers inspired by Portland neighborhoods. Pappe says the next step was to get in touch with the Oregon Brew Crew, a long-established and well-respected homebrewers club.
“We wanted to give them an opportunity to brew with us and have an exchange of information.”
The first beer chosen for the collaboration series was a witbier from Sander Hoekstra, which was not without its hurdles.
”I get his recipe and I try and convert it to our system and send it back to him, and he’s like, ‘Oh, yeah, except the water chemistry doesn’t look quite right. It looks like you added too much.’ So, it’s like, ‘OK, you’re on top of this.’ He did some stuff in his house to hit different temperature rests that we didn’t have the capability to do on our system. So then we had to get creative and figure out how to do that.”
Pappe got it worked out. But the second beer, a red rye ale from Alex Brehm, proved to be as big a challenge.
Pappe says, “He’s a passionate extract homebrewer, so he was excited that I wasn’t going to talk him into doing all grain. That beer was heavily based around every different kind of rye malt you could find.”
But that wasn’t the hard part of upscaling from garage brewer to the professional level.
“Rye is very hard to run off,” Pappe explains. “I didn’t really account for that in our mash — just scaled everything up to our system: more extract, more malt. Put it in our lauter tun. Well, Alex doesn’t run things through a lauter tun. He puts his specialty grain in a bag and steeps it, and then rings it out and makes up the rest with extract.”
So, Pappe says with a smile on his face, “Alex was bringing the spirit of homebrewing into what we are doing. We ended up having to do what he did: shoveling the malt out of the lauter tun into mesh bags and squeezing out what we could. It turns out a great beer.”
Back in Brinson’s garage, he admires how Pappe was able to upscale his beer. “They were very careful in matching, proportion-wise, to be true to the recipe.”
These are one-off projects for Portland Brewing. The beer is only available in its Northwest Portland taproom and, possibly, each brewers’ favorite tavern. But that doesn’t matter to Brinson. Like other homebrewers, including Pappe, the process is “something that makes my wheels turn.”
Proceeds from the sale of Tim’s Holiday Ale went to the Oregon Food Bank.
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.