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Saturday, June 30, 2018

Little Beast Grows Up with Pub, Larger Production Space

It's fun to watch the trajectory of breweries. Just over a year ago, Little Beast Brewing had set up shop in Beaverton. Fast forward to this past May, when they opened a pub in southeast Portland. Now there's a larger production space in the works. Times flies.

As many who follow along here know, Little Beast commenced operations in early 2017 at the former Bannon's Brewing in Beaverton. It was a convenient turnkey arrangement, allowing them to get up and running without having to invest in a brewery or renovate a space.

But co-founders Chuck Porter and Brenda Crow knew the arrangement in Beaverton would be temporary. They wanted a tasting room in Portland. As the brand gained traction, they searched the city core for a viable space.

They eventually found and negotiated a lease for the former Lompoc Hedge House on Southeast Division, which closed in late 2017. The Hedge House is located in a bustling area, just as they wanted. Getting the space ready took longer than they planned before opening in May. 

The reception on Division has been positive, Crow says. Some walk in thinking it's still the Hedge House. They're surprised. But most of them stay. Porter and Crow actually hoped to find a space that had previously been a pub or bar with existing clientele. It's working out for them.

The pub, officially the Little Beast Barrel House and Beer Garden, is a cozy indoor space alongside a spacious beer garden patio that will be user-friendly throughout the year. The tap list features the mixed fermentation, barrel-aged beers Porter is known for through his work at Logsdon and, now, Little Beast. Really fantastic stuff.

Although most of his beers cater to a geek crowd, Porter won't make the mistake of assuming all patrons want his specialty stuff. He plans to offer standards like IPA to satisfy the wishes of the non-geek masses. Several of the 14 taps were occupied by mainstream guest beers on my visits.

Besides draft options, patrons can choose from a selection of Little Beast bottles, available to-go or consume on premise with no corkage fee. That's an amazing deal because these are some of the best beers you'll find anywhere. No corkage is a nice bonus.

Crow, who has an extensive culinary background, worked with chef Tyler Auton to develop a menu that includes a mix of cheeses, meats, dips, sandwiches and salads. Items are designed to pair well with the Belgian-influenced beers. It's a work in progress and will evolve with the seasons.

While the pub gains momentum, Porter is busy planning to shift beer production from Beaverton to the former Drinking Horse Brewing space in Clackamas. The move will increase brewing and barrel space from 1,300 to 5,700 square feet, a big deal when you're dealing with a lot of barrels.

The move won't happen overnight. Porter recently acquired a brewhouse, which will take time to install. Then there's the regulatory hurdles. For now, they continue to brew in Beaverton while staging materials in Clackamas, where Porter hopes to begin brewing in a few months.

A juicy, not-so-well known factoid is that Porter will install a Coolship in the new brewery. He installed the Coolship at Logsdon years ago and brewed the first batch on it, so he knows what he's doing. It'll be interesting to see what comes of that project.

For me, an interesting aspect of Little Beast is the approach Porter and Crow are taking to building the business. They're on a deliberate course and have no interest in chasing rapid growth or massive expansion. I hear this a lot in craft beer, but I have a feeling they mean what they say.

We’re a family company, Crow says. It’s just the two of us. We’re far more interested in making and selling quality products than we are in rapid growth. In fact, I don’t believe in grow, grow, grow. I think it’s important to grow thoughtfully and that’s our goal.

Despite that mission, the ground is shifting beneath them as a result of the pub. Previously, outside distribution was their profit center. Crow ran sales. Now that the pub is their profit center, the old rationale has flipped. Crow finds herself functioning as general manager of the pub.

They'll continue to self-distribute outside the pub, but the footprint won't expand beyond Oregon and western Washington. Even at that, Crow doesn't have the time to manage sales. They'll probably have to hire someone to assume the sales role in the near future. Growing pains.

For hours and more information, visit the Little Beast website.

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