By Andi Prewitt
Following a day spent pedaling up grueling inclines, tearing around hairpin turns, and hurtling downhill on a two-person bike, few things sound better than a frosty craft beer. That’s exactly how Carl Crume and Todd Heinz would end their rides near the Oregon-Idaho border—sampling different brews at a favorite pizza place in Boise. Now the two can find that liquid relief a lot closer to home. Crume started making his own beer, which has gone from a hobby that he’d share with friends and family to one of the state’s newer nano-nano operations named Tandem Brewing after his love of the outdoor sport. The move has also given the Eastern Oregon city of Ontario another much-needed option when it comes to local beer.
Tandem is likely one of the most unique brewery spaces that you’ve never visited. Ontario is a town some folks only notice on road signs or spot as they whiz by on I-84. But the charming setting and interesting array of beers is a good reason to pull off the freeway. Tandem actually shares a space with Jolts and Juice Co., a coffee house and bistro owned by cycling partner and friend Heinz. The former bank building, erected in 1899, is nestled along a street dotted with other historic structures and small businesses.
Inside, you could spend at least an hour marveling at all of the fun details and décor. Old bike parts are given new life as door handles. An Army field phone near the register isn’t just there for show and can actually be used to communicate with the event space on the second floor. And a functional stoplight lets customers know when the toilet is available or in-use. Even the bathroom is a playful work of art. The centerpiece there is a Ford fender-turned-sink.
The brewing area isn’t glamorous, but it gets the job done. Crume’s 20-gallon system fights for space with a baking station, freezer, and storage for the coffee shop. Crume brews there once or twice a week and is reluctant to grow at this point.
“Some people, when you start getting bigger you lose that quality of your beer. And I don’t want to lose that,” explains Crume. “You stick to small batch and you have more control, and I think it makes a better beer.”
Heinz, who is also a brewer—just of coffee -- started selling guest beers out of his bistro initially. Crume ended up moving his brewing equipment out of his home and into the back of the shop in 2010. The two friends encouraged each other during that expansion, with Crume pushing Heinz to start offering beer at the bistro and Heinz nudging Crume into becoming the in-house brewer.
Both agree the addition of craft beer has addressed a need in the area. Crume enjoys introducing the Keystone-loving crowd to his beers. Often consumers are reluctant because they’re worried the brews will be too bold. But Crume has found that his Crankentater is a great introduction to craft. The brew is light-bodied, lightly hopped and 20 percent of the mash contains grated Yukon Gold potatoes for an interesting twist. Others who get confused or intimidated by different styles of beer are walked through the samples. Heinz says those customers are encouraged to forget about the names and simply focus on what tastes good to them.
Crume has always wanted to brew beer and finally got into it when his wife brought him home a kit and a book dog-eared by homebrewers everywhere: Charlie Papazian’s “The Complete Joy of Homebrewing.” He has since evolved from bathtub fermenters and boil-overs on the kitchen stove, but likes to keep things simple. That doesn’t mean a lack of variety, though. Crume brews IPAs, reds, and stouts, just to name a few. A bourbon rye stout that’s being aged in barrels from Joseph’s Stein Distillery will debut this fall. Crume gets a kick out of brewing them all and developing new recipes.
And the other thing—I like it when I put a smile on somebody’s face and they say ‘Wow, that’s a good beer,” adds Crume.
Brewing beer and coffee won’t keep Crume and Heinz away from their first shared interest, tandem racing. The friendship goes back 20 years after striking up a conversation about mountain biking at the Malheur County Fair. They moved from individual bikes to a tandem for competition after catching a demo at a bike show in Las Vegas. Their first spin on the contraption ended with a crash into a sticker bush, but it’s an experience they can laugh about now. Of course, the name “tandem” seemed like a perfect fit once the brewery began.
“If you think about it, you’re always having a beer in tandem—having it with a friend or something,” says Heinz. “You’re not generally drinking alone.”
In addition to the social aspect, tandem is also about teamwork—a lesson these friends know well through biking and business.
“It’s gone real well. We have our disagreements. We get on the bike and go get them resolved,” says Heinz. “But it’s been a good ride.”
(a) 298 S. Oregon St., Ontario
Owners: Carl Crume and Todd Heinz
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.