By Andi Prewitt
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
It wasn’t that long ago when the dirge for the American family business began to crescendo. Big box stores and transnational corporations had pushed and prodded small mom-and-pop operations ever closer to the grave. But there’s at least one industry where the family-run model has thrived — craft beer.
The business of brewing has long involved kin. For instance, Anheuser and Busch were joined by a hyphen only after the families joined in marriage. Closer to home, the most well-known relatives to start a brewery — Kurt and Rob Widmer — also helped launch the craft revolution in the 1980s. But they’re not the only brothers who’ve decided to make beer under the same roof. That duo is joined by the Hughes behind ColdFire Brewing; the Coombs, founders of Alesong Brewing & Blending; and Three Mugs Brewing Company had the Jennings (before the older brother departed); just to name a few.
While siblings seem abundant in the beer industry, one type of family pairing is rarer to find: the father-daughter team. Much of that is likely due to the fact that men still outnumber women employed in brewing. But that doesn’t seem to bother Lisa Allen, who joined her father Rick Allen at McMinnville-based Heater Allen in 2009. In fact, working closely with each other on a near daily basis in physically demanding roles has only strengthened their relationship over time. And while there certainly have been challenges along the way, right now both are more focused on Heater Allen’s big accomplishment — 10 years in business.
Lisa Allen never pictured herself hovering over her dad’s brew kettle or cleaning tanks as a full-time job. In fact, she didn’t even have full confidence that his mission to make good, local pilsner on a commercial level would ever take off.
“I remember thinking when my dad first started kind of like, ‘Yeah, we’ll see how long this lasts,” she recounted. “When he first was working on recipes and stuff like that, I would come and brew a couple of times and that sort of stuff. I was interested in the process and I’d been interested in craft beer for a while, but I never really thought that I would actually be brewing.”
Instead, she was focused on a different fermented beverage: wine. Lisa Allen spent several years living the life of a vineyard vagabond. It’s not unusual to jump from tasting room to tasting room and even follow the harvest from the West Coast to the Southern Hemisphere since regular positions can be hard to come by. Lisa Allen guesses she moved at least once a year after finishing college, including stints getting grapes off their vines in California and New Zealand. Even her dad thought she was bound for a career in that industry.
“I have to admit my first thought was that she was going to dominate in another male-oriented field, and that’s wine,” said Rick Allen. “Because she’s always had a terrific palate and always been someone who basically could detect flaws and, you know, really kind of understand the whole sensory analysis side of things.”
But after a while, Lisa Allen discovered that brewing was more fulfilling than winemaking. The seasonal downtime with wine didn’t keep her as busy as she liked to be, so the year-round nature of the beer business was one plus. Another is the more hands-on nature of brewing — providing assistance to those microorganisms that complete the crucial task of turning sugars into alcohol.
“The thing that I really like about brewing is that you’re not just relying essentially on nature. You actually get to create something,” described Lisa Allen. “I mean, the one thing I always found coolest about wine was the fermentation process. I wasn’t actually as interested in the growing process and stuff like that. I was much more interested in the actual fermentation.”
Lisa Allen’s experience with winemaking helped her easily transition to the brewhouse. However, there were still obstacles.
“When we first started out, there was a certain amount of yelling and screaming and people going away mad,” said Rick Allen. “In the past, there have been a few times where things were thrown. I don’t think anything’s been thrown for a while,” he added with a laugh.
Aside from hurtling objects, working with a family member has several hazards — there are hurt feelings, head butting and moments of miscommunication. Not everyone would work well with a relative, particularly a parent or offspring. But with time, the Allens figured out how to pull it off.
“When my dad and I first started working together, I would say it took about a year to kind of know how we work together,” explained Lisa Allen. “I think part of the problem is that we are pretty similar in our personalities. We both kind of like being in control and doing things a certain way. And I still sometimes have to tell myself I take things too personally.”
Rick Allen said they’ve both become more sensitive to the way they give and receive feedback. And their similarities began to work in their favor. Rick Allen noticed areas where his daughter could improve were some of the same issues he once struggled with.
“It’s always easier to encourage them to spread their wings and understand their weaknesses or the things they need to work on a bit better,” Rick Allen said.
And that begins to touch on the unique benefits of working alongside a family member — you witness improvement and mastery over time. Few parents have that opportunity once their child reaches adulthood.
“You’ve got your own flesh and blood that you’re working with and they’re taking over and they’re taking more responsibility, and you get to see the growth up front and personal that you don’t normally get to see with your children,” Rick Allen described. “I don’t get to experience that with my son who’s off doing something else. But I can see that with Lisa.”
Both father and daughter take pride in the fact that they work a little harder and care a whole lot more about a brand that doesn’t just stand for quality beer. It also represents their family.
“It’s a family product, so I do think I have more investment in it than someone who would just work at a random brewery,” said Lisa Allen. “You know, it’s my name on the label as well, so I want that product to show really well.”
Lisa Allen is marking eight years with the brewery, and she knows she’s fortunate to have bypassed some of the discrimination other female brewers face — particularly those outside of Oregon. That’s not to say it never happens, though. There’s always the salesperson who wants to talk to a man at the brewery, the vendor who will only address Heater Allen’s male buyer instead of the woman who will actually make the purchasing decisions about equipment. And even getting singled out as a “woman in beer” can be a bit exhausting.
“I mean, it would be nice to just be seen as a brewer and not a woman brewer,” Lisa Allen said. “But because it’s a male-dominated field, that is going to happen. You are going to be seen as a woman brewer because there’s not that many of us.”
One way she’s reached out to support that industry minority is by participating in a group meetup that includes other female brewers from the Portland-metro area. They invite new women to join in order to share, learn or just seek camaraderie. While Lisa Allen described Oregon’s overall beer community as encouraging and helpful, she said meeting solely with women provides a safe space that’s free of judgement.
“It’s good for women to have a support group in a male-dominated field,” she said.
Many of those women are likely to pay the Allens a visit on Saturday, May 27 for the business’s 10th anniversary party. There will be a special zwickel beer tapping, a release of their kolsch in 500-milliliter bottles, commemorative half-liter ceramic mugs and possibly even a cake. Neither Lisa Allen nor her dad are ones to go on bragging about their milestone. But it has sunk in that they’ve done something pretty special in an industry that’s grown increasingly competitive.
“To think that it’s been 10 years is pretty amazing,” said Rick Allen, “because I really had no idea where this was going or how far it would go. But it’s gone further than I ever thought it would.”
“And I will say that even the impact on the Oregon beer culture too — no one else in Oregon made a craft pilsner before we started our Pilsner. And now there’s a bunch,” Lisa Allen said. “It’s really cool to think that we’ve been around for 10 years, so hopefully 10 — maybe 20 more.”
Heater Allen Brewing
907 NE 10th Ave., McMinnville
By Andi Prewitt
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
Not a day has gone by in the last two years where somebody didn’t ask Jerome Grant about what was happening in the old restaurant perched above the water in Depoe Bay.
Construction doesn’t go unnoticed in this town of about 1,400 people, particularly not on a building that once housed the community’s beloved hangout. The Spouting Horn was shuttered in late 2014 after the owner decided to retire. But the nearly century-old building didn’t stay on the market for long. As soon as Grant saw the “For Sale” sign, he jumped at the opportunity. Not only would he end up restoring the historic property, he’s also injected the city with renewed enthusiasm by installing a brewery.
It’s no wonder, then, the questions kept coming.
“When they found out what we were doing with it, they were just thankful that we didn’t tear it down,” Grant said. “And then for the last year it’s been, ‘When is it going to open?’”
The answer to that came in early December when The Horn Public House & Brewery, its name a nod to the previous occupant, hosted locals for a few invitation-only soft openings. The general public debut followed later that week. And while the brewery hasn’t started production just yet — the auger is set to arrive this month and federal paperwork was pending as of press time — there’s much to admire in the revamped space.
When the project began, Grant actually wasn’t sure he was going to preserve the building, which has been everything from a sandwich shop in the 1920s to a Coast Guard barracks during World War II. Years of neglect, though, almost doomed the restoration.
“We just tried to make the decision of what we wanted to do: save the building or not,” Grant recounted. “After I put on the new roof, then we were committed to the project — started cleaning out everything. All hundreds-of-thousands-of-pounds of everything.”
And that “everything” included unsalvageable equipment, dusty furniture and even a bit of history. While pulling up the kitchen floor, Grant stumbled across a newspaper from the 1930s. That little piece from the past didn’t make it into the finished restaurant, but other more valuable items did. For instance, if you peek under the bar the redwood paneling should look familiar to anyone who patronized The Spouting Horn when it was open. The strips used to hang on the walls and were gathered on the beach by the family of owners — Grant figures it must’ve been in the 1960s — after they got word that a lumber barge overturned.
A mix of new and old shapes the interior: smooth planks that once lined the floor of a bowling alley now have a second life holding pints of beer on Grant’s tables and upstairs bar while the ground-level countertop, crafted especially for the pub, is a slab of Oregon bigleaf maple with grain mimicking tiger stripes. Every handpicked feature is a point of pride for Grant, who will lead you room to room in the sprawling 7,500-square-foot space with the zest of a new homeowner. And then there’s the view. On a busy summer day, it’ll be tough to come by a window seat overlooking “The World’s Smallest Harbor,” where seal heads bob up and down in the choppy waves, their slick bodies darting among charter boat traffic that passes under the neoclassical arch bridge.
The setting alone helps set The Horn apart from the scores of other breweries located across the state. But Grant said the ambition of his brewer will be another distinction. Chris Jennings, who also writes Oregon Beer Growler’s Homebrew Hints column, left his position as Alameda Brewing’s cellar master to take the new role late last year.
“And he’s really confident in his ability to brew a variety of beers,” Grant said, “and I’m going to give him free rein back there. When I said, ‘Oh, I’d like to just have four handles for our own beer out of the 12,’ he said, ‘Why not 10 or 11?’”
Grant’s response to that: “‘Oh, I like the way you think, Chris!’”
Jennings’ journey to head brewer is a story that’ll surely be the envy of every home cook out there, because that’s where he started and gained most of his experience.
“I don’t have any formal training,” he described. “Self-taught, as it were. I’ve probably read every brewing book that’s ever been printed.”
And he made time to apply that knowledge. In 2010 alone, for example, Jennings said he produced 700 gallons of beer, 10 gallons at a time as he helped run Brew Brothers, his family’s homebrewing supply shop in Hillsboro. They later opened Three Mugs Brewing Company in the same storefront, where Jennings began brewing commercial batches. He sold his portion of the business to his brother when Alameda brought him on. And while he was learning new things working for another brewery, he also lost the autonomy and creative freedom he was used to. Once The Horn’s equipment is finally all in place, which couldn’t happen a moment too soon for Jennings, he’s eager to develop his own recipes once again.
“I’m going to get back to the experimenting I liked to do when I was brewing at Three Mugs, because that’s all it has ever been for me is experimentation,” Jennings said.
He also feels vindicated, to a certain sense, by the promotion after experiencing some disdain for his lack of brewing credentials. Jennings didn’t just interview for the Depoe Bay job; he was put through a series of math and science questions selected by brewery consultant Marc Martin from the UC Davis brewing program — questions that Jennings would go on to easily answer and pass the test. That’s the side of brewing, he contends, almost anyone can learn in the classroom or the brewhouse. But the key to becoming a great brewer can’t be taught.
“Brewing is like cooking to me,” Jennings explained, “or like art of any kind. You either got it or you don’t. Sure, you can go to school for it, but if you don’t have it you’re going to be good at it to a point. And then you’re never going to get past that point because you don’t have the capability to move past that point in your head.”
Though confident in his capabilities, that doesn’t mean the new responsibility comes without pressure. When asked about one thought that’s been on his mind since being named head brewer, Jennings’ response was, “Don’t fuck up,” which he followed with a big laugh. To avoid doing just that, he’s been researching the town’s palate — asking locals what they like to drink and surveying which kegs tend to drain at area bars. To start, he expects a lineup of five stable styles and five taps where he’ll let his imagination shape the offerings. One unique idea he’s already considering is a gose with a salt content that mirrors the neighboring bay.
As residents await the first beers from Jennings’ Practical Fusion system, Grant and his wife and co-owner Clary are getting accustomed to operating a restaurant in its infancy. The pair have owned the venerable Gracie’s Sea Hag since 2006, but taking over a decades-old establishment isn’t quite as challenging as founding one.
“And we just kind of kept [the Sea Hag] going. It was flawless in turnover of ownership,” Clary Grant described. “But this is totally different, because it’s like…”
“This is ground up,” Jerome Grant added.
But if anyone in Depoe Bay is equipped for such a massive undertaking, it’s this couple. They actually met at the Sea Hag when she was a bartender and he was a customer in “love at first sight” who over tipped for two weeks in an attempt to get her attention. They furthered their stake in the community when Jerome Grant began to pursue roles in public office. Some races he won, some he lost. But his commitment to the well-being of Depoe Bay and the belief that a resolute voice can make a difference never wavered. Now with The Horn, the Grants have revived what urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg affectionately called “that place on the corner” or “the third place,” a public realm for civic engagement and casual socializing that exists between work and home.
“It’s like an anchor, a source of pride. It’s that especially for a small community that, you know, we do have some identity here with the commercial fishing, but that’s past,” Jerome Grant said. “I feel like they think Depoe Bay is actually going to produce something that people can take with them.”
Only time will tell, but this public servant may end up having a more profound impact on the community in his latest position as the local publican.
The Horn Public House and Brewery
[a] 110 Oregon Coast Highway, Depoe Bay
By Kris McDowell
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Love 'em or hate 'em, pumpkin beers are a fall staple that vary widely from pale, sessionable offerings to heavy, hearty brews. One of the best in Oregon falls in the latter camp and comes from 9-year-old Oakshire Brewing in Eugene. Big Black Jack Imperial Chocolate Pumpkin Porter gets a rating of 94 out of 100 on RateBeer, so while it might not be everyone's cup of tea there are plenty of people that enjoy the boldly flavored beer.
Oakshire's head brewer, Matt Van Wyk, brought the recipe for Big Black Jack with him when he started there six years ago. The first small batch was brewed the following year and started out as many specialty beers do — being a keg-only offering. Beer drinkers took to it quickly, however, and within a couple of years Oakshire began selling it in 22-ounce bottles as well.
The recipe has basically remained the same since Matt started making it, with only minor malt changes based on availability. He describes it as a hands-on beer due to the spices — nutmeg, dried ginger, whole cloves and cinnamon chips — that go into every batch. Similar in variety and amount to a premixed pumpkin pie spice blend, Matt's hand weighing ensures the beer comes out just the way he intended. After weighing, the spices are put into mesh bags, the equivalent of gigantic tea bags, which are then placed into buckets marked with the time each will be added to the boil. Just as "mise en place" allows a chef's process to flow smoothly, having the "tea bags" ready allows the Oakshire brewers a smoother brew day. Most brew days, the team is juggling three batches, transferring them from tank to tank, one after another. A delay with one batch could throw off the entire brew day. And even when Matt isn't leading the brewing, his process helps grease the wheels for the making of Big Black Jack.
In addition to the spices, each batch of beer gets solid dose of 70 percent dark chocolate and cacao nibs — 10 pounds of each. Unlike spices that might float to the top, these ingredients risk falling to the bottom and scorching the brew kettle. To avoid that problem, hot wort is poured over the chocolate and nibs in a separate bucket to create a sauce of sorts that’s then added to the boil. Lucky for the brewing staff, there’s always plenty of wort-chocolate to spare and Matt traditionally treats everyone to sundaes by bringing in ice cream the days the beer is brewed.
Pumpkin brews are often a point of contention for beer lovers because they tend to hit the shelves and taps before the pumpkins could realistically be harvested most years. But Oakshire plans ahead while using pumpkins from Stahlbush Island Farms in Corvallis. The team roasts, purees and freezes pumpkin every year, so the puree used in this year's batch of Big Black Jack actually came from last year's pumpkins. It's a method that eliminates the unpredictability of the growing season and allows the beer to be brewed in August, well before any local pumpkins could be harvested and processed, with the finished product reaching craft beer drinkers' lips in early September.
Being a spiced beer, Big Black Jack is one that is best when it’s fresh in order to experience the full spice profile. But the fact that it's also an imperial porter, coming in at 7.5 percent ABV, the beer can hold up to a bit of aging. Its flavor will change after a couple months, with the spice notes retreating, allowing the chocolate and roasty characteristics to become more assertive.
Knowing his beer was suitable for aging, Matt went one step further last year and aged part of the supply in two Heaven Hill bourbon whiskey barrels. A recent sampling confirmed that as it has aged, the spice notes have mellowed out — almost to the point of being absent. In their place is a rich, wood flavor from the barrels that complements the imperial porter. Fans of barrel-aged beers will likely have to visit Oakshire's Public House in Eugene for a sample, although it's possible that a keg or two may escape and surface at a special event in the Portland area.
Big Black Jack joins a host of other pumpkin beers from Oregon breweries with fall availability.
Oakshire’s Big Black Jack Imperial Pumpkin Porter is made using pumpkins from Stahlbush Island Farms in Corvallis. The squashes are actually roasted, pureed and then frozen the year before in order to eliminate the unpredictability of the growing season. The method also allows the beer to be brewed in August.
Oregon-Brewed Pumpkin Beers
7 Devils Brewing Co. | Winter is Coming Pumpkin Porter | 5.4% ABV | IBUs N/A
Agrarian Ales Brewing Company | Cucurbita | 4.5% ABV | 10 IBUs
Agrarian Ales Brewing Company | Von Tassel | 6% ABV | 15 IBUs
Breakside Brewery | Sweet Potato Mole Mild | 4.2% ABV | 10 IBUs
Burnside Brewing | The Dapper Skeleton | 5.9% ABV | 11 IBUs
Cascade Brewing | Pumpkin Smash Sour Ale | 11.9% ABV | <10 IBUs
Climate City Brewing | Galloping Hessian Pumpkin Ale | 4.5% ABV | 35 IBUs
Ex Novo Brewing Company | Pumpkin Biere de Garde | 8% ABV | 20 IBUs
Fearless Brewing | Smoked Pumpkin Ale | 8.35% ABV | 28 IBUs
Fort George Brewery | Squash Buckler | 6.5% ABV | IBUs N/A
Great Notion Brewing | The Great Blumpkin Ale | ABV/IBUs N/A
Green Dragon Brew Crew | Bring Me Pie | 7% ABV | 25 IBUs
Griess Family Brews | PJ's Pumpkin Pie | 5.4% ABV | 13 IBUs
Ground Breaker Brewing | Squash Ale | 5.7% ABV | 30 IBUs
Hair of the Dog | Greg | 5.5% ABV | IBUs N/A
Laurelwood Public House and Brewery | Laurelwood Pumpkin Ale | 7.5% ABV | 25 IBUs
Lompoc Brewing | Bibbidi Bobbidi Brew | 5% ABV | IBUs N/A
McMenamins Edgefield Brewery | Duskbringer | 6.06% ABV | 14 IBUs
McMenamins Kennedy School | Pumpkin Porter | 6.19% ABV | 12 IBUs
Misty Mountain Brewing | King Under the Pumpkin Russian Imperial Stout | 8.7% ABV | 40 IBUs
Oakshire Brewing | Big Black Jack Imperial Chocolate Pumpkin Porter | 7.5% ABV | IBUs N/A
Opposition Brewing Company | Nickabod Cranium | 6.4% ABV | 37.9 IBUs
pFriem Family Brewers | Pumpkin Bier | 6.9% ABV | 15 IBUs
Portland Brewing | Rico Sauvie Pumpkin Ale with Spices | 6.5% ABV | 30 IBUs
Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery | Name TBD | 5.5% ABV | 25 IBUs
Rogue Ales | Rogue Pumpkin Patch Ale | 6.1% ABV | 25 IBUs
Seven Brides Brewing | Heiser's Pumpkin Ale | 6.7% ABV | 15 IBUs
Silver Moon Brewing | Twisted Gourd | 6.8% ABV | 25 IBUs
Stickmen Brewing Company | Imperial Sour Pumpkin Lager | 9.8% ABV | 11 IBUs
StormBreaker Brewing | Pumpkin Peddler | 7.3% ABV | 13 IBUs
Three Mugs Brewing Company | "A Clever Pumpkin Name" Ale | 7.5% ABV | 35 IBUs
Vagabond Brewing | In Gourd We Trust | 5.1% ABV | 25 IBUs
Vertigo Brewing | We Don't Know Jack III | 6.3% ABV | IBUs N/A
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.