expr:class='"loading" + data:blog.mobileClass'>

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Thunder Island Brewing a Perfect Fit in Cascade Locks

Thunder Island Brewing in Cascade Locks is an idea whose time is exactly right. They celebrated their first anniversary the other day and it was evidently a great first year. The time is right because the sleepy little town of Cascade Locks is growing up. A brewery is a nice thing to have.

I stopped in the other day on a drive out to Hood River. It wasn't a great day, but it's pretty clear to me that Thunder Island chose an ideal location. The brewery/pub sits on the edge of the Columbia River and the views from their patio are terrific.

This place opened a year ago on a two-barrel system in a renovated industrial space. Founders Dave Lipps and Dan Hynes figured the brewery and space would meet their needs for a while. As so often happens in this industry, they were wrong and soon found themselves unable to keep up with demand.

"Things were bonkers for us during the summer," the gal behind the bar told me. "We had a constant flow of people. It was beyond our expectations."

Thanks largely to the craziness, they launched a plan to transition to a seven-barrel system with several larger fermenters. They had some technical issues and a small fire tossed a monkey wrench into that plan. Beer production is limited at the moment.


I spent an hour talking to Hynes, Thunder Island's brewer. He said they would normally have three or four of their beers on. Production issues had reduced the count to one, a nice Scotch Porter once it warmed up. Guest handles were occupied by beers from Backwoods Brewing, including a terrific IRA, and some ciders.

"This definitely isn't what you're usually going to find here," Hynes said. They typically offer a Kolsch, a pale ale and an IPA to go with the Scotch Porter. Seasonal and specialty beers are also part of the mix and I'll have more to say about that in a moment.


Hynes is a young guy, and passionate about beer. He has no formal brewing training, but has bounced around the Portland beer and homebrewing scene for years and knows the ropes. He and his partner decided to open in Cascade Locks because the business community was receptive and inviting. Brilliant.

The Gorge is a destination. Multnomah Falls is just down the road. There are hiking and biking trails and all kinds of recreation  A brewery is a perfect fit here. Being located a short distance from the freeway in a protected, scenic spot makes the place easily accessible and friendly.


If you're wondering, Thunder Island Brewing is not located on Thunder Island. That would have been a nice touch, but also logistically difficult. Take a look at the map. The brewery and patio actually overlook Thunder Island, which isn't half bad.

When the place opened, they were open limited hours and had no food, outside of a food cart. Not an unusual arrangement. The food issue meant minors were not allowed in what was then a tasting room. That's been fixed. Today, they have a kitchen and decent pub menu. Hours have been expanded. Kiddos are welcome. Bingo.


They aren't strictly interested in standard beer styles. Hynes has a small barrel program in place and they had four "dinoSOUR" beers on. I sampled the beers as we talked. None of them has aged long enough be considered truly finished. But they are pretty good and worth trying if you like sour/wild beers. Obviously, the supply of these beers is limited and they won't be on long.

Travel through the Gorge is will be a little less relaxed as we move into the darker, wetter, cooler months. At Thunder Island Brewing, they will probably see fewer patrons over the winter. But add this little brewery to your bucket list of places to visit in the Gorge. You won't regret it.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Laurelwood's 'Puppeteer' Returning to Vermont

Vasili Gletsos has been a fixture in the Portland craft brewing community for a number of years, most recently at Laurelwood since 2011. If you aren't aware, he's leaving Portland and returning home to Vermont, where he will be production and brewing manager at Hill Farmstead Brewing. He will remain at Laurelwood through early December.


Gletsos landed in Portland back in 2004. Beer fans may be surprised to discover he did not come here for the craft beer climate. Nope. Like a lot of brewers, he has alternative talents and interests. In his case, his passion is/was puppeteering. That's what he hoped to pursue in Portland.

"I was an avid home brewer before I arrived here," Vasili said. "But I had really no thought of becoming a professional brewer. I decided on Portland, after looking at a number of possible options, because I thought it was the kind of adventurous, artistic place where I could be an independent puppeteer."

Things didn't work out exactly as he had hoped. He soon realized Portlanders were more willing to pay for good beer than puppet shows. That caught Vasili somewhat by surprise...but also helped land him his first brewing job a year later.


"I'm a little too practical," he said. "I like to be able to pay the bills. As I realized what was happening here, I got more immersed in brewing. I joined the Oregon Brew Crew early on. The excitement circulating around craft beer was just what I was looking for."

Like a like of today's brewers, Vasili entered the brewing trade without any formal training. He learned the craft via books and related materials assembled by his librarian mother-in-law. He parlayed his acquired knowledge into gigs are at BJ's, Rock Bottom and Portland Brewing. Along the way, he received a Falconer Scholarship and spent time at Siebel Institute in Chicago.

Of course, Gletsos rose to his most prominent position in the local beer scene when he took over as Brewmaster at Laurelwood in July 2011. There would eventually be some memorable highlights, but things did not get off to a great start. There were significant challenges.


First, some Laurelwood fans were suspicious. Many regarded the departed Chad Kennedy as a sort of brewing deity. Gletsos, who was coming over from Portland Brewing, had the credentials of a corporate brewer. Some thought he would turn Laurelwood's brewing program upside down.

"People really didn't know my reputation when I arrived," Gletsos said. "I feel like we had been making some nice beers at Portland Brewing. We were definitely doing interesting stuff. But it was generally under-appreciated in the community, I think. So it took some time for me to be accepted here."

The second challenge was more direct and tangible. It involved hops. Or the lack thereof. When Vasili arrived, Laurelwood had enough aroma and flavor hops to make only a few more batches of Workhorse, its flagship beer. New hops wouldn't be arriving for several months. Even then, they would not have enough hops to brew Workhorse for a full year. It was a tough spot. Gletsos had to plot a revisionist course acceptable to all. Or most. A difficult assignment.


"I decided we had to stop brewing Workhorse," Gletsos said. "It was either that or dumb it down and I didn't want to do that. So we stopped making Workhorse and eventually launched Gearhead as our flagship IPA. It was a completely different beer, using different malts and hops. More of an English style IPA. Gearhead was not as well-received as it might have been...people kept comparing it to Workhorse, really an unfair comparison."

Workhorse eventually returned as a pub-only beer in 2012. You could drink it in the pubs or take a growler home. They were using the same recipe, but some people complained that it wasn't the same. Vasili received a flood of negative emails and notes.  He spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out what they were doing differently. Workhorse eventually returned to full distribution.

What are some of the more satisfying moments from the last few years?

"We managed to improve the quality, consistency and variety of all our beers," Gletsos said. "Some of that involved using different methods or materials and we've been able to introduce different styles of beers. That's the stuff I'm most pleased about when I think back on what we've accomplished on my watch."
Part of the freedom to focus on improvement and variety is connected to the arrangement Laurelwood entered into with the Craft Brew Alliance in mid-2013. The CBA contract brews Laurelwood's flagship beers, Workhorse and Free Range Red, for distribution in 12 oz. bottles. The deal has turned Laurelwood into a solid regional brand...and given brewers flexibility.

"The CBA deal reduced our Workhorse and Red production substantially," Gletsos said. "That opened the door to more specialty beers and seasonals than in the past. It's great to be a hop house, and I like that part of our identity. But it's nice to be expanding the franchise, if you will, to include saisons, sours and more. That makes me proud."

Gletsos' contributions have not gone unnoticed or unappreciated.

"Vasili did a fantastic job for us," Laurelwood founder Mike De Kalb told me by email. "He brought a calming influence to the brewery, expanded our barrel and specialty programs and invented the award-winning and wildly popular Megafauna. Along the way, he reformulated the hop bill for Workhorse, which is now his beer. He has also been been instrumental in facilitating the CBA program, which has been a big success for us.

"Vasili is a terrific all-around guy and we'll miss him. I'm pleased that he has an opportunity with a great brewery and that he gets to go home. All of us here wish him the best."


The move to Vermont isn't much of a mystery if you consider the details. It's essentially the combination of a great opportunity and the chance to be closer to family and the place he and his wife consider home.

"Hill Farmstead Brewing is well known for its artisan beers," Vasili said. "They make hoppy beers, sours, farmhouse and barrel-aged beers. Everything they make is in high demand. They sell more than 90 percent of what they produce out their front door."

Vasili will manage daily operations, keeping the place running smoothly so owner Shawn Hill,can focus on what goes on in the brewery.


"With respect to Vermont, we have family there. Our parents aren't getting younger and they would like to spend time with their grandchildren. I really do love Portland and I am going to miss the friends I've made here. I wouldn't be making this move if it wasn't such a perfect fit from a career and family standpoint."

My personal postscript to this story is short. I started this blog around the time Vasili arrived at Laurelwood in 2011. I met with him formally and informally numerous times to discuss beer, brewing methods and more. I came to regard him as a unique talent and also one of good guys in craft beer.

We're going to miss you, Mr. Puppeteer.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Emerging Role of Food in Craft Beer

Portland is virtually overflowing with craft breweries...more than 60 at last count. To go with those places, there are a growing number of tap houses and related businesses that offer great selections of beer. Given that background, differentiating yourself from the competition is becoming increasingly important.

There are varying ways to do this. You see places positioning themselves as sports bars or bike bars or some combination of both. Others lean on the more traditional pub atmosphere without bells and whistles to attract patrons. One of the emerging differentiation points is food.

A recent addition to those taking the food angle is the BTU Brasserie on Northeast Sandy, a hop and skip from my house. The BTU combines a small craft brewery with Chinese cuisine. They've been open for a couple of months, but have only been brewing for a month or so.

There was a review of the BTU Brasserie in Willamette Week last week. Written by my old buddy, Martin Cizmar, the review gave the BTU decent marks for food, failing marks for beer. As he noted, they have only two of their beers on and breweries often have quality issues early on. Fair enough.

I can't comment on the BTU beer or food. I stopped by to take a few photos and confirm the beer situation. Once they get fully up to speed with their brewing, I'll stop by and try to get a bead on the place. If you're headed over there, be advised they have a short, but solid list of guest taps to go with their house beers.


Returning to the concept of pairing good or better food with craft beer, it isn't a brand new idea. We've already seen it implemented at Breakside's Dekum location, which has a terrific menu. There's also the Tabor Tavern on Burnside, which offers upscale pub food. There are others.

Even the idea of combining a brewery with Chinese food isn't new. There appear to be a number of places around the country offering such cuisine via food carts or in-house kitchens. One such place was featured in a fairly recent BeerAdvocate article, which I am unable to find as I write this.


You might say pub food has experienced a sort of renaissance in recent times. Early brewpubs had spartan food offerings at best. Most served a mishmash of grubby British pub fare before gravitating to menus dominated by fried food. That approach continued on for years. But change is in the wind.

With more beer-centric places opening around town, we are likely to see increasing effort put into developing food offerings that help attract patrons. The focus will be on quality and variety. Places with one-dimensional menus heavy on fried food are going to look rather antiquated at some point.

I suspect it isn't just economics driving these changes. We now have restaurant people opening pubs and taprooms. They know food and consider it a priority. That runs counter to the way things were done in the old days, when pubs were run by folks who were passionate about beer, but had little knowledge of or interest in food.

Some changes truly are for the best.

Friday, October 10, 2014

De Garde's Rising Stars to Wed Today

Two of craft beer's rising stars in Oregon will tie the knot today. Trevor Rogers and Linsey Hamacher, who operate De Garde Brewing in Tillamook, have been together for a number of years and are simply taking time out of their crazy schedule to make things official.

I traveled to Tillamook last week to interview Trevor and Linsey for an upcoming BeerAdvocate article. This was my first trip to "cowtown" in several years. It's always a pleasure to take in the aromas of soggy dairy country while descending the highway into the town.

De Garde, which has been around for less than two years, is turning Tillamook into a destination for folks desperately seeking wild beer. See, there isn't enough of this stuff to go around. Addicted patrons from Portland, Seattle and points beyond come here for their wild beer fix.

In some ways, unmet demand is a nice problem to have. It allows De Garde to sell most of what they produce out of their tasting room. Keeping travelers happy is the main reason you seldom see De Garde beers in Portland. They have a plan to expand production, which will eventually put some of their beer on shelves outside Tillamook. I'll have more to say about that in the article.

Anyway, congrats to Trevor and Linsey on the nuptials. Keep in mind that De Garde is closed today. But they will be open tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Rural Oregon Again Wins GABF Medal Race

The results are in and, as was the case last year, rural Oregon once again won many more medals than Portland, the city with more breweries than any city in the world and arguably the most vibrant beer culture in the state. Of the 22 medals Oregon won at the festival, 15 went to breweries outside the Portland metro area.
There's no reason to go off on a tangent about this like I did last year. Portland breweries (Breakside's Milwaukee  brewery is included in the Portland count, if you're wondering) did better this year than last, when they won 6 of 25 medals...about 25 percent. This year's 7 of 22 performance translates to 32 percent.

If you take a look at Oregon's medal count 2009-2013, as I did last year, 2014 numbers are a nice fit. During those five years, breweries outside Portland won 70 percent of the medals. That percentage dropped slightly this year, in line with a trend that has Portland's breweries doing slightly better in the medal race over the last three years.

If you're hoping to find any deep meaning in these stats, don't look at me. I can't tell you how many Portland breweries submitted beers for judging, or how many rural breweries did. I do know, thanks to Geoff Kaiser and the Seattle Beer News, that Oregon as a whole submitted 286 beers and had a medal winning ratio of 7.7 percent, best in the country.

Not to get too far afield, but a brief review of the overall stats is in order here. Some wonder why Colorado and California win so many medals. Well, it's partly because they make a lot of good beer. But there's more. Those two states submitted far more entries than anyone else...962 for California and 702 for Colorado. The closest competitors were Texas (288), Oregon (286) and Illinois (225).

More entries doesn't automatically translate to more medals, but it does give you a greater number of chances to win. For its trouble, California won 46 medals, a batting average of 4.8 percent. Colorado won 38 medals, an average of 5.4 percent  Texas, which is up and coming in craft beer, took home 16 medals and matched Colorado's winning percentage.

Depending on your point of view and (likely) where you live, the more meaningful list is arguably the medal count per 100 submissions. That graphic (below) shows which states got the most bang per beer entered. The top three are Oregon, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, followed by Colorado and Texas (a tie) and, finally, California.

It might be nice to know which breweries from the various states submitted beer to be judged. This is information the Brewers Association prefers not to divulge for obvious reasons. What you can do is sort through the page links on the GABF website until you find the list of Participating Breweries. Oregon had 32, if you're keeping track at home.

Keep in mind that the list of Participating Breweries is not the same as the phantom list of those entering the judging. How do I know? Because several of Oregon's winners (Caldera, Gold Beach and 13 Virtues) do not appear on the Participating Breweries list. They submitted beers and won medals, but didn't pour their beer in the convention center. How many more fall into that category? No clue.

Getting back to the issue at top, the question of why rural Oregon seems to dominate the state's GABF medal count has been debated extensively. One prevalent thought is that Portland breweries have moved away from set style guidelines in an effort to satisfy a crazy beer culture that demands new and bizarre flavors. Rural breweries don't have to feed that monkey and are more likely to brew to existing styles. Thus, they tend to do well at the GABF.

So another year of the GABF has come and gone. While the results are always interesting in some ways, I can't help hoping we will someday be a little less fixated on medal counts. There are thousands of great beers out there that have never won medals. Drink those wherever you find them.


Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Power of Craft Beer Marketing Grows

The marketing power of craft beer is only beginning to be recognized in the generic business world. But last weekend's Beer and Bikes Festival at Hopworks Urban Brewery was a perfect example of the co-marketing concept at work. We will likely see more events like this moving forward.

The event was actually a morphing of two events that already inhabited Portland's fall calendar: HUB's Biketobeerfest and the Oregon Handmade Bicycle Show. Both events had a solid following and were looking to lean on their commonality.

If your vision is clear, you know Hopworks has been a friend to the cycling community since its inception in 2008. Bike frames are ever-present at both Hopworks locations. The Bike Bar on North Williams was located there precisely to serve as a watering hole for bike commuters. Plentiful bike parking is a feature at both pubs.

Given the environmental benefits of cycling, you might say Hopworks is a perfect fit for a Handmade Bicycle Show. From the beginning, founder Christian Ettinger has focused on green principles at HUB. Renovation of the building that houses the brewery and flagship pub leaned heavily on sustainable values, as does the brewery and kitchen. I first wrote about Hopworks here, in 2010.

Although I saw a clear connection between bikes and beer, I honestly did not know what to expect when I arrived at the Beer and Bikes Festival. The pub wasn't part of the event and it was pretty packed. The festival area below, most of which is covered, had a trade show feel. Very interesting, I thought.


On one side of the covered area, you had the beer. Lots of it. Most of the taps were pouring Hopworks beer, but there were others. Nearby, there were food stations serving the kinds of things you expect to see at an outdoor event.

On the other side were the bikes. There were a number of vendors displaying their wares, including fully constructed road and cargo bikes, custom parts and a more. Booths were staffed mostly by smiling faces ready to talk about their products.


Out in the courtyard, there were picnic and stand-up tables. And live music. It was a nice day, so a lot of people were enjoying the sunshine and the music. They also had a play area for kiddies, as this is a family-friendly event.

This event was certainly the best example of craft beer co-marketing I've seen. The bike crowd and the beer crowd tend to overlap in this city, but this was a great opportunity to expand on that connection by getting so many folks together in one place. That's basically what Ettinger said when interviewed for TV. Big win, I think.


Thinking back, I realize many businesses engage in ongoing efforts to co-mingle with craft beer. You see this at various festivals in the form of booths where you can purchase take-home goods, sign up for wind power or do something similar. The Beer and Bike Fest is simply a monolithic version of what we see at the large festivals.

Given the growing interest in craft beer, particularly among the younger crowd coveted by marketers in numerous industries, I suspect we will see more events like this one. I can easily see a festival at one of our convention centers where craft beer is combined with a green or not-so-green theme. And it will evolve from there.

These are wild times in craft beer.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Elusive Question: Can Beervana Keep Growing?

Tuesday evening's Oregonian Speaker Series program at the Green Dragon was set to address this question: Can Beervana Keep Growing? Pretty straight forward. All of the pre-event materials included a reference to the significance of that question.

And let's face it, this is a question that's on the minds of many. Despite the fact that craft beer is booming in Portland...or maybe because it is...a lot of inquiring minds wonder if we might be reaching a saturation point. Are we coming to a moment where there's a shakeout such as we had in the mid-1990s?

The Oregonian Media Group assembled a panel of "experts" to consider the question. Moderated by John Foyston, the longtime Oregonian beer writer, the panel included:
  • Gary Geist, co-founder and co-owner of the Lucky Labrador
  • Graham Brogan, head of brewery operations at McMenamins
  • Karl Ockert, founding brewer at Bridgeport and technical director of the Master Brewers Assn.
  • Jeff Dense, political science professor at Eastern Oregon State University 
  • Mike Wright, founder and owner of The Commons 
  • Brian Butenschoen, executive director of the Oregon Brewers Guild 
The conversation veered back and forth under Foyston's guidance. Panelists discussed what it was like in the early days of craft beer in Portland. Like Rome, the beer culture we have wasn't built in a day. There was also talk about the proliferation of styles and mention of today's crazy financial numbers. Lots of smiling faces.


I should mention that the audience was made up largely of industry-connected folks. The gal seated next to me manages one of best craft beer watering holes in the city. Across from me was a gent who is preparing to open a taproom in Hillsboro. He introduced me to a banker who works with beer-related businesses. Nearby, I identified brewers and other industry folks.

Given the audience, it was probably best that the quintessential question involving future growth was never asked...or answered. One or two panelists briefly offered that they saw no end to growth in sight. Butenschoen pulled out (what appeared to be) handmade charts showing steady growth over the years. Relief circulated around the room.

However, I was hoping for a little more. I know I'm not alone in thinking Portland can't accommodate an infinite number of breweries. We consume a lot of the beer we make and, because our beer is in demand in other parts of the country and world, some of what we make can be exported. But we will reach a saturation point. We just don't know when.

The question of how many breweries is too many is complicated. A lot of factors play into the economics of beer in Portland and elsewhere. There's certainly no way the issue was going to be fully evaluated and addressed by this panel during the hour or so they occupied the stage.

In fact, if organizers intended to seriously consider the question, this wasn't the panel to do it. Why? Mainly because folks who have a vested interest in an industry generally aren't the best objective sources. It's a little like asking the NFL how it's doing on domestic violence and expecting a candid answer. No offense to anyone on the panel, but it really should have included a mix of people who watch the industry, but aren't financially linked to it.

That approach has a potential downside, for sure. You may wind up hearing things that run counter to industry thinking. That sort of thing can create controversy and make people feel insecure about the future. Which can be bad for business. And pocketbooks.

Tuesday's gathering was an entertaining event. The admission ticket included a pint of beer and the Green Dragon has a great tap list. It was great to see familiar faces. But the question of craft beer's future prospects was never seriously asked or discussed. Not the best...given the billing. There's always next time, I suppose.