If you’re trying to sell beer, the intersection of Northwest Flanders Street and 14th Avenue is a tough Portland neighborhood.
“I didn’t come to Portland thinking I was going to open a brewery, because there are so many,” said Andrea Lins, owner of BrewCycle.
On one corner, you have the Pearl District outpost of legendary Rogue Ales. On the other, there’s the shiny, new 10 Barrel and its rooftop beer garden. Then you see it tucked against the west wall of 10 Barrel. A glass-and-metal garage door starts to go up.
“It wasn’t until I knew I had a captured audience, coming for the bikes, that I could sustain a brewery,” said Lins.
After watching a giant 14-seat bicycle roll out of the building, you find Lins. She’s offering a taste of Back Pedal Brewing’s Abacaxi (a Brazilian pineapple), a silver medalist in Fruit Beer at the 2018 North American Beer Awards.
Sounds simple. Combine Portland’s two passions — beer and bicycles — and the world will pull on spandex pants and pedal a path to your door.
But it wasn’t simple. And Portland was not Lins’ first stop. Coming out of college in Wisconsin with an education in finance and accounting, she was looking for something that fit her personality.
“It’s odd because I was not passionate about beer, not passionate about biking. I am now, but that wasn’t the driving force of it. It was more so the interaction with people.”
That’s why Milwaukee’s Pedal Tavern, a 16-seat rolling pub crawl, clicked with Andrea and her then-boyfriend, now husband, Chuck Riegelman. Since that market was taken, the pair did some research and settled on Fort Collins, Colo., home to a number of breweries like New Belgium.
After getting settled and figuring out how to pay for a $32,000 bike (“We put the initial down payment on my mom’s credit card”), Lins got a phone call from Georgia-based Crawler Fabrications. The voice on the phone told her another cycle tour business was ready to open in Fort Collins. So, the couple began looking, again, for cities friendly to beer and bikes. You know what they found.
In 2011, Andrea rolled into Portland. “I was 23, so to me it was just — I’ll show up with this bike and they’ll let me do it. I didn’t think about permits, about regulations, about federal ID numbers, about payroll, anything like that. I just thought I’m going to get this big giant bike and I’m going to figure it out.”
Even standing still, pulling tasters from the taps behind the Back Pedal bar, Andrea seems to be in motion. Looking for challenges. Finding ways around or through them.
Diplomacy was the way to work city bureaucrats. “I went in not telling them what I need, but more asking, ‘What can I do?’ I think that was a better attitude to have, approaching with something so unique. So, it’s been seven years and we finally have a place in the city code. There is, literally, the word “quadracycle” in city code. That’s been really triumphant because we’ve been in this gray area for some time. We’re not a pedicab, we’re not a taxi, but we’re making money off the street, as funny as that sounds.”
And the way to turn one bike into BrewCycle and Back Pedal was nonstop work. “I was working three jobs. We paid off the first bike in six months.” With just Lins and Riegelman running the bike, there was no overhead, so they were able to save money rather quickly. They bought a second bike in 2012 with cash from business during the summer season.
Always thinking several steps ahead, it was about that time when Lins talked her brother Chris into moving to Portland and becoming a brewer. She put together a business plan with the help of the Small Business Administration in the hope of finding a place to garage the bikes and house a brewery.
“We went to five different banks before one said ‘Yes.’ You just have to get used to people telling you ‘No.’ Don’t take it personally. I had nothing to lose because I literally had nothing.”
More bikes have followed. There are also BrewBarges. And Lins is renovating in an old auto shop on a wedge-shaped piece of property at Southeast Seventh Avenue and Sandy Boulevard. That’s where circular six-person cycles operate out of since her business expanded to the other side of the Willamette. Plans for that space include a second brewery and rooftop patio.
“I want to become part of Portland’s fabric, part of its identity, just part of its fun nature — its endearing weirdness,” said Lins. “Bikes can hold their niche in the community. And I’d love to grow the beer side of it so we can have fun with the different flavors, but have quality over mass production.”
Sounds like a Portland attitude. •