Rob Lutz has spent 18 years in the beer industry manning bottle shops, working for distributors and bartending at some of the best brewpubs and beer bars in Portland. But five years ago, he found himself begging for the worst job in the business – keg washer.
“I was trying to get a job at Laurelwood, and (former brewmaster) Chad (Kennedy) said, ‘You don’t want this job Rob. It sucks. It doesn’t pay well.’ I told him I’d do it for free,” Lutz recently recalled over pints at the newly-opened Stormbreaker Brewing. “They didn’t hire me. I was really good friends with all of the brewers there. I was super-bummed out, but they didn’t really think that I’d want to do it.”
Undeterred, Lutz dropped in at Amnesia Brewing Co., where owner Kevin King was hiring a keg washer. He also tried to talk Lutz out of the job.
“Kevin said, ‘I’ve had people walk out in the middle of the first shift. This job sucks,’” Lutz recalled. “I said, ‘Are you going to make me a brewer? No? OK. I’ll wash kegs until you do.’ So I washed kegs until he made me a brewer.”
Not only did King make Lutz a brewer – he sold him the brewery when he moved Amnesia’s operations to Washington. Lutz, along with friend and business partner Dan Malech, opened Stormbreaker in the North Mississippi space formerly occupied by Amnesia in February. They had about a month from the time Amnesia closed up shop until their opening date, and used it putting in 20-hour days and giving the space a makeover. A wall-length wood sculpture of Mount Hood looks over new tables and furniture crafted from salvaged wood. They got creative with storage to create more seating, stripped and refinished the bar and floor, and even replaced the filthy vinyl sheets that covered the insulation on the exposed ceiling.
“We want to have, not just a production facility, but a place where people want to be and where we can share what we make with them,” Malech says. “We want it to be a little cozier inside, a little more inviting, where you’d want to spend some time here for a while.”
That doesn’t mean they’re ignoring one of the spot’s best-known attributes – the patio. They’ve moved the grill out back to free up more space, and Malech hopes to turn the spot into a “world-class beer garden.” And speaking of the grill, Lutz and Malech also gave the menu a makeover. With the help of some friends at Portland-based Grand Cru Hospitality, they created a small kitchen in the brewery, and serve up a simple but refined menu including charcuterie, salads and gourmet burgers. On a recent evening, there were several groups who had dropped by to order dinner in the new space.
Stormbreaker also takes advantage of Lutz’s experience behind the bar with one of the most creative drink menus you’ll find at a brewpub. Many of the signature drinks take their cues from the beer world, incorporating ingredients like hop-infused vodka.
Stormbreaker is located at the corner of North Beech St. and North Mississippi Avenue in Portland. Visit them online at www.stormbreakerbrewing.com.