By Jim McLaren
For the Oregon Beer Growler
“A big part of my job is going off and breaking things. I am used to thinking critically about processes. How things work and what is it supposed to be in the end,” explains Don Anderson. He’s sitting next to his wife Lin at a table in a Lake Oswego brewery explaining how being a tech geek has helped him start his own business in Wilsonville called Vanguard Brewing. When something does break “you dive down into it and dig that little nugget out and say this is why it’s broken, now go fix it.”
Don slowly rotates the glass of beer on the table in front of him and explains how being a quality assurance engineer helps him make beer. His example is the witbier he recently made: “A lot of the times I’ve made a witbier, I’ve used malted wheat and the traditional recipe calls for flaked wheat. So I wanted to see what that does in the barrel. Does it make it more sticky? Do I have a problem with the stuck mash? Does it affect the flavor? I know it affects the color already. We’ll see what kind of beer comes out.”
Lin smiles as Don answers. She has been listening to him talk and fuss over beer since she bought him his first kit in 1991. Back then, Don was fresh from a military tour in Germany and not happy that American beers came up so flat compared to their European counterparts. Within about eight months of getting that first kit, Don stepped away from extract brewing and “started doing all grain.” He says, “I brewed all the time, there was always beer on tap.”
You probably know where this story goes next. Don and Lin started thinking about their own brewery. But this is where high-tech geekiness comes into play again.
Don is an engineer. Lin’s background is as a project manager for a high-tech company and stay-at-home mom. Success at those jobs requires planning and preparation, so when they looked at the idea of a brewery they immediately knew what they didn’t know. They didn’t know how to run a commercial brewery or a business of any kind.
That’s where Lake Oswego’s Stickmen Brewery and a bakery come in to the picture.
“A few years ago my friends started the Stickmen and I’d come in every weekend and work in the brewery,” says Don. “Everything you can do in a brewery, I’ve done. I’ve brewed, I’ve done formulas, all aspects of brewing. And Lin ran a small business.”
“It happened in a very organic way,” explains Lin. “It was just something I loved doing and I had friends who would say ‘I love your cupcakes. Would you make some for me?’ So I would and they’re like, ‘You know, you should make this a business.’ And I heard that enough times that I thought it was worth trying.”
“I managed to get in with some good friends who helped to set up my bakery,” she continues. “It was actually in a trailer that I borrowed from a friend and it was parked on another friend’s business property.” From there Lin grew the business through word of mouth, appropriate for a cupcake business, and by hustling some accounts with coffee shops.
Meanwhile, Don continued brewing at Stickmen and discovering what he wanted to make. There was a “proud papa” moment when, on one warm summer’s day, he could look out on the deck at Stickmen and tell by the color of the beer how many people were drinking the first batch of beer he’d made.
Using their acquired business and brewing experience, Don and Lin will take the next step this summer and open a brewery in Wilsonville. “Our brewhouse is 15 barrels and our fermenters are 30s. So we can do double batches — back-to-back batches in one day when we need that capacity,” says Don.
The plan is to start with a small taproom attached to the brewery, but to focus on kegs sales to restaurants and taverns as well as growler sales.
Don and Lin have a couple of other goals. They want Vanguard Brewery to serve as an incubator where young brewers can earn a decent wage and learn the craft. They’d also like to see the brewery support their retirement.
But from the gleam in their eyes and the enthusiasm in their voices, you can tell Don and Lin don’t see retirement coming any time soon.
The Vanguard will be at 27501 SW 95th Ave. in Wilsonville. You can find out about their Founders Club on Facebook or at vanguardbrewing.com.
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.