By Jim McLaren
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The brown bottle on the low table in front of Hilda Stevens is labeled Westmalle.
“It’s Belgian-style tripel. In Belgium you have dubbels, tripels and quads. And the tripel comes from the fermentation process. It follows a traditional fermentation process; making beer and then double fermenting it — meaning they add more sugar to get the alcohol level up. In this case it is tripel fermented. So, right before they bottle it they add a little bit more sugar so it helps the alcohol build up. It helps in the aging process. In the case of tripels, for instance, you can age it for five, eight, 10 years if you want to.”
The popularity of Belgian-style beers has been on the rise in Portland for several years now. The flavors can tickle your tongue with a range of styles more complex than hop-heavy IPAs.
As for those flavors, Hilda explains: “Traditionally, in the case of Westmalle, because they’re a Trappist brewery, they use their own yeast. So, the yeast will have a lot in the flavor profile. They also add some candy sugar to it. In tripels you’ll pick up some caramels, some roasted notes because they’ll use more of a roasted malt in it as well. It’ll have a nice golden color. Usually, in the case of the bottles, you get a lot of the effervescence. Westmalle tripel has a really nice creamy head when you pour it in the right glass; it opens up more of the aromatics, too.”
It’s just after 3 p.m. on a quiet, drizzly March afternoon. Bazi Bierbrasserie on Southeast 32nd Avenue and Hawthorne Boulevard in Portland has just opened. There’s some music playing. The beertender is checking glasses. A couple wanders in, orders a couple of beers and hovers over them in quiet conversation. The drinks are undoubtedly Belgian or at least, like Hilda, Belgian-inspired.
Beer is not Hilda’s first job. After undergraduate and graduate work, she landed positions with high-tech companies and start-ups. Along the way, she did a lot of business traveling and during one of her stops in Philadelphia she first tried a Belgian beer. It was love at first sip.
The romance turned torrid during a vacation in Europe. On the advice of a couple she met while traveling through France, Hilda took a detour to Bruges, Belgium — an ancient city she refers to as “the Venice of the North.” Hilda began studying Trappist beers, appreciating and understanding their balanced flavors.
By 2011 Hilda was ready to do what would seem foolish to many people. Encouraged by her entrepreneurial father, she walked away from a six-figure paycheck and used a plan developed for her grad school thesis to open Bazi. Originally, she’d planned on operating a European-style bistro, but she soon realized she needed to find a market niche. Looking around, she realized what was missing — there were no Belgian-focused taprooms in Portland.
Something else was beginning to happen about the same time. Brouwerij Huyghe, a 111-year-old brewery based in Melle, Belgium was marking International Women’s Day by making a special beer. Hilda explains the idea was in response to Belgian women saying, “We drink your beer, but we don’t have a beer of our own and we want to learn more about making beer.” The event began slowly “with just women in Belgium; restaurateurs, homebrewers, everyday women who were interested in beer and learning more about it.”
Dressed in white lab coats and bonneted in white hairnets, dozens of women followed brewers through the Huyghe facility learning about and making beer they dubbed “Deliria.” It is the little sister of Huyghe’s best ale, “Delirium Tremens.” Both beers come in white bottles with blue foil cap wraps and feature ‘de roze olifant,’ a pink elephant, on the label. The name is also found on a bierbrasserie sign in Melle.
The “Deliria” event has been slow to open its doors to outsiders. At first it was only for Belgians. Then applications were accepted from other European countries. But finally through Wetten Importers, Huyghe’s U.S. distributor, Hilda heard 2017 would be “the first year they invited women from the U.S. and their goal was to send two women from the U.S.”
When Huyghe accepted Hilda’s application, they got more than a rookie brewer. She has done some collaboration brewing in Portland, surrounding herself with “people who are passionate about it ... I’ve brewed with Upright and Lompoc and Widmer. And any time you brew with somebody, everybody has a different way.”
In Belgium, Hilda learned more about the evolution of the brewery that has been working since 1906 — how it ferments and filters, but also how it is adopting eco-friendly policies such as using gray water from the brewing process for cleaning up and keeping plants hydrated.
But more important to Hilda was the social aspect of the one-day event. “I really enjoyed brewing with women from different parts of the world ... and the influence that a family-owned brewery, like Huyghe, can have on women brewing. What I loved about that experience, it wasn’t just industry related. They really cater to the community. We had some of the women brewing that day who were stay-at-home moms who wanted to have that experience.” The beer and how it’s made may be different, country to country, but the community beer creates seems to be the same wherever you go in the world.
Though she did taste the wort from the beer made that day, Hilda did not taste the Deliria she worked on until this Easter Sunday when she debuted it at Bazi.
Proost, de roze olifant!
This year was also not Hilda’s first time brewing in Belgium. Her house beer is Hofbrouw Tripel. “Two years ago I went to Belgium. A friend of mine owns a nano-brewery. We created a recipe and made 120 cases.” There are only 20 cases left. Hilda will go back to Belgium to make more.
By Aaron Brussat
For the Oregon Beer Growler
If you think of Portland’s beer scene as the sun, Portland’s beer festivals would be its solar flares, sunspots and cosmic wind. It’s always burning — exothermic blasts of molten malt, hops, yeast and beards swirling and bubbling with every new beer release party. A tower of foamy fire appears on the horizon; we shield our eyes and say, “Oh look, a beer festival!”
Every beer festival fills a niche, and many open beer drinkers’ eyes to what lies just beyond their experience, that errant bottle in the back of the fridge. Portland Farmhouse Weekend provides a city-wide opportunity for beer lovers to go deep into a largely misunderstood sect of beers. The “Weekend,” set for Friday March, 31 through Sunday, April 2, is an extension of the Portland Farmhouse & Wild Ale Festival, now in its fifth year, held at Saraveza Bottle Shop.
To say that founder Ezra Johnson-Greenough has a few beer festivals under his belt is an understatement. He’s been conceiving and organizing events in Portland for years. Johnson-Greenough started the Portland Fruit Beer Fest, and his fingerprints are all over Portland Beer Week and many other tap-related happenings. Some are annual; others spring up and are gone, not unlike styles of beer on a taplist suited for today’s fickle consumer.
Johnson-Greenough’s goal for the Farmhouse & Wild Ale Festival is to “make it the best fest of its kind. We’re increasing the size of tents, hours and beer. The last couple years have been more stagnant. There was no marketing budget for the fest.”
This says a lot about the popularity of the event; Saturday’s general session last year was packed shoulder-to-shoulder with people vying for tastes of rare beers from big names like The Ale Apothecary and Jester King Brewery.
In expanding the festival, Johnson-Greenough has also expanded the concept. On top of Upright Brewing’s eighth anniversary party, beer releases and educational seminars around town, Wander Brewing, from Bellingham, Wash., will bring its 25-barrel coolship to town for a collaboration brew with Breakside Brewery. The project will generate beer for the event in coming years.
The festival includes a beer release specifically for attendees. Last year, The Commons Brewery produced The Croze, a pale beer fermented in open-topped barrels (croze is a cooperage term referring to the groove at either end of the barrel that holds the head in place). This year’s very limited release is a lambic-style beer from Logsdon Farmhouse Ales. Brewer Shilpi Halemane, who’s been at the Hood River brewery a year-and-a-half, started a program of beers brewed in the “Methode van Lembeek” with veteran wild ale brewer Curtis Bain. For the festival, “We thought it might be nice to showcase and sneak preview a single barrel that tasted really good.”
The beer, Saraveza Sour, is brewed with Pilsner malt, raw wheat and aged hops. The brewing process uses a multi-step mash (raising the temperature several times to activate different enzymes) and a two-hour boil. The beer is transferred from the kettle to a coolship — a wide, shallow metal vat open to the country air. There it picks up a bevy of microscopic hitchhikers that will eat their way through the complex sugars in the wort. The inoculated wort is transferred to conical fermentors for two weeks before it is racked into used American oak barrels.
The final product is “in the 5.5% alcohol range. It is tart and Brett-forward with a funky aroma, very clear and bright. It has a classic lambic profile; that’s kind of the goal.”
More and more breweries in the country are experimenting with spontaneous fermentation. They pay homage to the classic Belgian appellation while showcasing the “terroir” of local yeast and bacteria. The wort can be produced in the same way anywhere, but it is the surrounding air that ultimately gives the beer its personality.
What Is Farmhouse Beer?
In our modern era of opaque, flesh-colored IPAs that taste like the Tropicana test kitchen, it’s easy to lose sight of the creative work being done with Oregon’s state microbe Saccharomyces cerevisiae (ale yeast) and its cousins Brettanomyces (a “wild” yeast), Lactobacillus (a common fermenting bacteria), and others — the fermenting family tree is more like a forest.
Most brewers will credit Saison Dupont as the godfather of farmhouse-style beers. It was first imported to the United States in the 1980s, and helped to usher in the idea of beer as a flavorful beverage. It defies accurate reproduction by way of its yeast, which some speculate to be a blend of strains. With a simple malt and hop regimen, the beer gets its particular spicy-fruity profile from unusually high fermentation temperatures.
The new, Americanized genre of “farmhouse” beers encompass a range of styles, flavors and colors, as their origins are multifarious and knotted in untold agrarian histories.
“I like how broad a term it is for the range of things you can use,” says Halemane. “I dislike it for the same reason. If I read a description and it says ‘farmhouse ale with cherries,’ that could mean anything.” At Logsdon, “By virtue of brewing it in a barn, we could make anything and call it a farmhouse ale.” Very tricky. Overall, the farmhouse flavor relies on the characteristics of fermentation and is augmented with the brewer’s choice of malt, hops, wood, fruit and/or spices.
The Farmhouse & Wild Ale Festival has one rule: only U.S. farmhouse-style beers.
“There’s no reason to discriminate if it was made on a farm or not,” says Johnson-Greenough. “It matters how good it is. I’m looking for yeast-forward, Belgian-inspired beers from breweries known for their farmhouse beer — mostly. It’s a very exciting year because there’s more and more options.” Some of the breweries making their debut this year include Alesong Brewing & Blending, Astoria’s new Reach Break Brewing, Wolves & People Farmhouse Brewery and Yachats Brewing.
Learn more about Portland Farmhouse Weekend at portlandfarmhousefest.com.
By Jim McLaren
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The pilgrimage was long and winding, but the pastor of pilsner has found his church. It’s in a former hummus factory on the backside of an old neighborhood, down a hill butted up against the railroad tracks in Northeast Portland.
Inside the brewery, Mike Weksler wants to get to the work of cleaning barrels, but takes time to sermonize about what he is making at Royale Brewing Co. “There are not a lot of people who make a year-round pilsner here. Upright makes one, Heater Allen makes an amazing Pilsner and pFriem makes one.” He continues, “It is my favorite style. I like a crisp, clean beer.”
That is all well and good, but — and this may seem sacrilege — Royale does not make an IPA (gasp). “I think by not doing an IPA you set yourself apart,” Weksler says. “We’ve done two IPAs, but we’ve done them as one and done. Don’t look for us to do it again.” In fact, he says he’ll fire his salesman if the heathen breaks that commandment.
But, tempting fate, I push back — No IPA???
“Think about this,” Weksler says patiently, “you throw a handful of tacks over there and they’re all IPAs. Can you find my tack real fast? But throw a handful of tacks with all the pilsner makers here and there’s only five or six of us. So I’m easier to find.” He elaborates, “I think you need to find the style you like best, and I really like Belgian ales and I really like pilsners, I like European beers. The Northwest style is amazing — I mean we’re fortunate to live up here, but the best way to differentiate yourself is to not do what everyone else in your neighborhood does.”
It’s not likely Weksler’s done much the way others have. Start with his college job. He was 19 and working as a busboy in a Louisiana bar. The owner required all employees to be ordained ministers. So, Weksler became a mail-order minister and has done three weddings. (There’s more on the weddings later.)
Before finishing college, Weksler left the Bayou State for Oregon and did not immediately fall in love. He thought the place was too gray and too damp. But he was too stubborn to tell his family he wanted to come home.
Eventually, Weksler turned to the bottle; not to drink from it, but to put beer in it. He is part owner of Green Bottling of Portland. The company has mobile bottling lines that can be trucked to small breweries that can’t afford their own.
The job gave Weksler a look inside a lot of breweries. “I’ve seen some really good breweries. I knew I could take the best of everything I’ve seen and make a very awesome brewery.” The pastor of pilsner began his crusade to be the best by contracting with Portland’s Alameda Brewing Co. The deal lasted a couple of years. All the while, Weksler had, as he still does, an eye on growing. “I would like to see myself be a regional brewery” he says without hubris, before adding, “I think the world is hungry for what comes from here. There’s a couple of epicenters in the universe for beer; fortunately we live in one of them.”
Royale Brewing is in an ancient brick building under a yoga studio. The old freight car parked on the tracks outside, with blue-and-white graffiti spelling out “Boosy” looks newer and in better shape than the dusty Royale delivery van tattooed with the brewery’s pig logo. Inside, the Royale (pronounced Roy-al) office is cluttered with barrels, posters and mismatched desks, chairs and tables.
The brewery has a 15-barrel system and six tanks with room for six more. There are three cold rooms, a new barrel washer and wooden barrels. Some of those are used bourbon barrels. One is a tequila barrel that has to be primed before it will hold an experimental batch of beer.
The man leading the experiments will be Paul Rey. The Siebel Institute-educated brewer moved to Portland just this year after spending time at Telegraph Brewery and Libertine Brewing Company in California. He immediately fell under Weksler’s pilsner spell. “It’s a glorious beer. Operations-wise, it is a nightmare because it takes so long because lager yeast ferments at a lower temperature and very slowly and typically creates a lot of sulfur compounds that take a long time to clean up. It’s just much slower in secondary fermentation, but the end product is a much more delicate, clean-tasting beer.”
There is integrity in the traditionalist approach Rey takes toward pilsners. He points out that American IPAs have moved a long way from what the British originally did. But, he insists with pilsners “you can’t stray from what the Germans and Czechs came up with. People do, but it ceases to be a pilsner once it’s a super bitter pilsner or a sweet pilsner. Once you start adding things to it, it’s not really a pilsner anymore.”
The Royale Pilsner — they also make ales, a porter and a wonderful coffee saison — is a clear golden color and has a floral aroma followed by a crisp, clean taste that makes you wonder what you ever saw in hoppy IPAs.
I’m converted to the church of pils. Amen.
One of the weddings Pastor Weksler officiated was that of Carston Haney, owner of Ross Island Brewing and former brewmaster at Alameda Brewing who was featured in the April issue of Oregon Beer Growler.
Royale Brewing recently opened a taproom, “The Garrison” at 8773 N. Lombard in Portland.
By Pete Dunlop
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Chris Ormand got an offer he couldn’t refuse. And it didn’t come in the form of a severed horse head.
After more than a decade of formative fun at Belmont Station, Ormand is moving to General Distributors, where he will be craft brand manager. He’s been the purchasing manager at the Station, responsible for what makes it into the coolers and onto the floor, for many years.
“I’m moving on for a combination of reasons, definitely not just for money,” Ormand said. “I wasn’t unhappy. There have been many offers over the years. This was the first that was strictly craft-oriented. I’m delighted that I’ll be focused on what I know best, which is craft beer. Plus, I’ll be working alongside [VP of Craft/Specialty Beverage] Bob Repp, someone I’ve known and respected for years. ”
General is hoping to tap into Chris’s experience in inventory control and sales trends at the retail level. He’ll help them smooth the gap between distributor and retailers. His collection of industry contacts may also come in handy.
“Chris understands ordering and forecasting,” said Tiny Irwin, general manager at General Distributors. “He’ll help us manage inventory more efficiently and ensure that the freshest product reaches shelves. I also think his relationships will help drive sales for current partners and attract new ones to our portfolio.”
Ormand’s time at Belmont Station dates to 2005, when it was just slightly more than an afterthought next to Horse Brass Pub. They sold novelties, specialty food and off-beat videos, most of it imported from the U.K. There was beer, as well. The Station stocked some 400 beers in those days.
“We displayed a bottle of each beer with a price tag,” Ormand recalls. “All the actual beer was stored in giant walk-ins. Customers would make a list of what they wanted and we would gather it for them. It was horribly inefficient. But you couldn't ask for better product storage conditions.”
Serendipity landed Ormand at Belmont Station. He had moved to Portland from the Midwest in June 2004 and was living in an apartment near the business. Shortly after losing his coffee shop job at the end of the year, he ventured across the street to grab some bottles to celebrate his unemployment.
“Alex Ganum (who went on to found Upright Brewing) was working behind the counter. I mentioned that I was unexpectedly out of work. It turned out he had just accepted a brewing position at BJ's and was giving notice. He told owner Joy Campbell she should hire me. That led to several hours of chatting with Don Younger, who was a partner in the business, over pints. I agreed to start the next day, Jan. 5, 2005.”
He spent his first six months working in the bottle shop. When the buyer left to pursue another opportunity, there was little interest in the position. So it fell into Chris’s lap. Serendipity had struck again.
There have been a lot of changes over the years and Ormand has seen them all.
“Probably the biggest change was the relocation,” he says. “We were a small store with 400 beers and a bunch of novelties. In early 2007, we moved to the current space on Stark Street and became a true bottleshop, with more than 1,300 bottles and an attached beer bar. That was enormous.”
The best part of that story is that Belmont Station’s growth occurred slowly and organically, allowing them to build a customer base and beer selection while maintaining high standards of freshness and quality.
“I see new places opening nowadays with 1,000 beers right off the bat,” Ormand says. “I just shake my head because I know half of those beers will be stale before they sell. Our inventory here was built over time, which allowed us to mostly avoid that issue.”
Things have obviously changed a lot in recent years, during which the local brewery count and number of available beers has exploded.
“Demand for most imports has plummeted in recent years,” Ormand says. “That’s probably because we have local breweries producing great beers that are fresher and less expensive than their imported counterparts. Most people like local.”
The big exception to the import decline is sour and wild beers, which have gotten increasingly popular in recent years. Beers that were once “shelf turds” are now all the rage.
“I loved sour beers when I arrived at the Station,” says Ormand, “But we could hardly give the stuff away for years. We’d get Cantillon or Fantome and cases would sit for months. That flipped around 2011. All of a sudden, everyone was looking for those beers and cases would fly out to door.”
Portland being what it is, another big change is that consumers have gotten more sophisticated.
“Especially as it relates to freshness,” Ormand says. “I see more people checking bottled-on dates than I used to a couple of years ago. People have figured out that freshness matters. They won’t buy old beer, unless it’s something that’s going to be cellared.”
Belmont Station will carry on. With Ormand’s help, it has established itself as a world-class bottleshop and beer bar. Replacing him won’t be easy.
“There’s no way to fill Chris' shoes,” said Lisa Morrison, majority owner. “We aren’t just losing our purchasing manager. We’re losing our institutional memory, our historian, graphic designer, web designer and IT guy. He also has one of the best palates I've known. Fortunately, we have a great staff and we’ll get through this. But we’ll never be quite the same.”
Ormand looks forward to the excitement and challenges of his new role. He’ll be working with fewer products in higher volumes, shaping Portland’s craft beer landscape.
“Being able to choose what goes on the floor at Belmont Station has been awesome,” he says. “Being able to choose what potentially ends up in stores and on tap around the city is a step up. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
A large part of 10 Barrel’s success in Portland is due to head brewer Whitney Burnside’s unique beers. As far as the AB InBev purchase, she said, “There will always be those who frown upon it.” But she hasn’t had any issues with the acquisition and gets “complete creative freedom.” Photo by Patty Mamula
By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
10 Barrel Brewing Co. opened its newest brewpub in the trendy Pearl area of downtown Portland in February 2015. The opening was just months after 10 Barrel shocked the craft beer world by selling to AB InBev.
It seems the Portland location had been in the works before the sale, but there was much local speculation about how selling out to the corporate beer giant would affect business. Predictions were negative.
Surprise. The Pearl location has been busy from the day it opened.
A large part of its success is due to brewer Whitney Burnside and her unique brews.
Burnside said, “The original plan was that I would make new beers and one-offs for limited release. I have complete creative freedom here.”
The core beers, such as Apocalypse IPA and S1NIST0R Black Ale, are still brewed in Bend.
So far, Burnside has made a mix of ales and lagers. She likes to throw in unusual beers that incorporate different processes and ingredients. A few examples:
— A lychee sour made with the fruit native to Asia that has a white grape flavor
— A Belgian ale made with ginger, honey and hibiscus
— A gose made with Casper pumpkins (the white ones) and bay leaves
The day we met, she had just released a witbier. This style is often brewed with coriander and dried orange peel, but she used dandelion root, toasted cardamom, fresh zested Meyer lemons and true cinnamon.
“We’re slowly starting to put these beers out in the market,” she said. They’re available at the Bend and Boise pubs.
One of her most popular beers, the first one she ever brewed here, is the Pearl IPA. “We keep making it. People love it. It’s the No. 1 best seller,” she said.
Burnside’s path to brewing started in culinary school. The Northwest native from Seattle traced her interest in cooking to TV celebrity chef Alton Brown. “I watched his show all the time,” she said. He’s the one who got her hooked on cooking with his technical, “sciency” style. His shows often focus on a single drink, dish or snack — such as shortbread cookies.
She attended Johnson & Wales University’s College of Culinary Arts in Denver with plans to become a chef. During an externship at The Herbfarm restaurant in Woodinville, Wash., she started making artisanal cheese and homebrewing. She fell in love with brewing and decided she wanted to become a brewer. For her, brewing is similar to baking. They both require detailed measurements, fermentation and meticulous attention to detail.
With her culinary school diploma and a little homebrewing experience, she started looking for a brewing job. She was a tough sell, as much for her lack of experience as her size. Although she finds people in craft brewing are open-minded about female brewers, her petite size didn’t help. “I had a hard time. Finally, Chad Kennedy, the brewmaster at Laurelwood, gave me an internship,” she said.
That was the chance she needed. From there, she put in a short stint at Upright Brewing, a brewery near the Moda Center in Portland that specializes in farmhouse beers. Both of these opportunities were steppingstones to her full-time job at Elysian Brewing Company in Seattle. She stayed there for a year before moving to Pelican Brewing Company in Pacific City, where she was the head brewer for three years. She took the job at 10 Barrel in December of 2014, several months before it opened. That meant she was there for the buildout and installation of the brewhouse.
“The cool part about being here from the get-go was I was able to acquire parts I needed to make the system complete,” Burnside said. She was involved with decisions regarding the piping, plumbing and changes in water.
Burnside brews twice a week, making one 20-barrel batch at a time. Right now, the facility doesn’t have a mill and all the malt is ordered pre-milled. “Bag by bag, we (she has a part-time assistant) climb up the stairs and empty the bags, usually around 25 in all, into the mash tun.” The bags, by the way, weigh around 50-55 pounds. “We’re usually mashed in by 7:30 a.m., well before we open at 11 a.m.,” she said. On the days she is not brewing, Burnside is cleaning, taking care of cellar work, monitoring or doing something with the beer that’s in-process or finished.
The 500-square-foot brewhouse is open on two sides to the pub, separated by a low, black metal railing from the guests. “It’s compact, but works well,” said Burnside. One challenge is finding space for barrel-aging. Right now, she’s managed to squeeze three barrels in between the fermenters. The previously used barrels that once held merlot are now filled with a Belgian dark strong called Alton Bruin after the chef who inspired her.
The craft brew world has been a welcoming place for female brewers, but people who aren’t in the industry are often less so. Burnside said it’s not unusual for a delivery driver to repeat his request to see the head brewer when she appears. As far as the AB InBev purchase, she said, “There will always be those who frown on it.” Personally she hasn’t had any issues.
“I’ve never been told to make a certain beer,” said Burnside. Her only direct contact with the corporation is with one of the people who oversees hop growing and availability. She likes being able to get some of the newer varieties of hops. Ultimately, Burnside is happiest when her hand controls the finished product.
10 Barrel’s founders, Garrett Wales and brothers Jeremy and Chris Cox, continue to run the brewery, which has expanded to the tune of $10 million, six new 400-barrel tanks and an increased capacity of 120,000 barrels a day. So far, even with increased production and new facilities, the quality has remained consistently high and business continues to increase.
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.