By Jim McLaren
For the Oregon Beer Growler
“This is a man's world, this is a man's world
But it wouldn't be nothing, nothing without a woman or a girl”
Erika Huston has a good, throaty laugh, and on a sunny April afternoon it’s bouncing around the empty Logsdon Barrel House & Taproom on Fourth Street in Hood River as she says, “I knew you’d ask me something like this.”
The question is — what does a woman bring to the beer business that a man doesn’t? “Without sounding sexist,” Huston begins, “I think women bring a maternal instinct, a maternal quality, of wanting to take care of people and make sure they’re happy. I also think we’re used to cooking, so our palate is a little better.”
How Erika Huston worked her way into managing the Logsdon Barrel House has to do with her history with Oregon beer. “I started drinking beer when I was (mumble) years old,” she said with another hearty laugh. “I was canvassing for OSPIRG (Oregon Students Public Interest Research Group) in Eugene. Henry Weinhard’s was considered craft beer back then. I tried my first taste of Blue Boar and I was, WOW, I didn’t know beer could taste like this. My dad drank mostly Old Milwaukee and Hamm’s.”
Huston moved to Portland in the early ‘90s and her palate took another jolt. While Widmer Brothers Brewing, Pyramid (formerly Hart Brewing) and Portland Brewing Company were growing fast, Huston was finding something with a different taste than what they were offering. “What really did it for me was when I had my first taste of Belgian beer. I have an older brother who is very passionate about beer as well. He’d been to Belgium and we went to Belmont Station and bought a few bottles. I tried a Duvel and it just blew my mind. I was like, ‘This is not beer. What is this?’”
The strong, golden ale would fire a passion taking Huston to the front door of her beer career. In 2004, the Concordia Ale House opened in Portland and Huston knew where her future lay. “They were very Belgian-centric at first. I thought, I have to work here.” Quickly, she took her beertending skills from Concordia to County Cork Public House and on to Saraveza. She found her way to Saraveza, the North Portland temple of all things beer, because a friend worked there. She hung around so much that it was just logical to ask for a job. Impressed by Huston’s background, her growing knowledge of beer and her passion, Saraveza owner Sarah Pederson immediately hired her.
The job became Huston’s graduate school, a place where beertenders do more than just pull you another draft. “Definitely, yeah, you have to be very knowledgeable about all of the things coming out. It’s overwhelming because – especially if you work in a craft beer bar that has rotating taps – there are things coming from out of state, there are constantly new breweries opening in Portland and Oregon. So, yeah, you have to be on top of your game. And, you also have to really get to know your customers; what their taste is, what they would like to see, like to try.”
Huston’s six-year stay at Saraveza was a golden time for the shop. As beer buyer, she helped it earn national attention as one of the 100 Best Beer Bars in the country as chosen by Draft magazine. She says selecting which beers fill the Saraveza coolers and come from its taps “is a constant balancing act. I refer to it more as a Tetris game. You’ve got these spaces to fill and you’re trying to make sure they all fit together like the pieces of a puzzle. You don’t want to have all of one style that you’re sticking with. You want to try and satisfy as many palates as possible.”
This is when those maternal instincts come into play. You have an audience you want to serve, but you can also serve the beer makers, especially the new ones who need to get into your shop.
“That was the biggest challenge for me, the biggest hurdle to overcome” she says. “You could smash someone’s dreams. It’s a very personal thing, to make beer. You have someone who is just starting a brewery. They’re coming to you and want you to try something. So I just learned to be very constructive and just be honest and say, you know, ‘I think that this could be good if you maybe tried a different variety of hop.’” Huston’s philosophy builds loyalty with the beer makers and the beer drinkers.
Looking at it from outside, it seems obvious now. Huston and Saraveza couldn’t last. As Sarah Pederson says, Huston made a lifestyle choice, but also a beer-style choice.
“I have roots in the area,” Huston says about Hood River. “I have a lot of friends who work at the breweries out here and I was coming out here to go camping or visit them it seemed like every other weekend during the summer. In the back of my mind I always wanted to move. But until I was offered this job, I didn’t have the fire lit under me to make it happen.”
The job offer also brought her back to the beer style she loves. “Logsdon makes all Belgian farmhouse-inspired beers,” she said. “We have a Flanders red beer. We do spontaneous fermentation, so some stuff that’s more on the tart side. We secondary ferment some stuff with fruit. Almost everything is barrel aged. And it is actually on an operating farm. The brewery is inside of a barn.”
For now, Huston is happy where she is. Such a job was one of her goals. Managing a barrelhouse allows her to be the link between beer maker and beer drinker to the benefit of each. She can take beer drinkers to places they might not otherwise go. And she can help the beer maker understand why people like — or don’t like — what they are doing. It’s a good role for a beer mother.
Logsdon Barrel House & Taproom
[a] 101 Fourth St., Hood River
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.