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Sunday, August 4, 2013

Heathen (s) Looking to Plunder Local Beer Scene

Stryker (left) and Parsons flank the Heathen gong
Portland's neighbors to the north were slow to catch the craft beer wave. They've seen a number of attempts to crash the party, but Clark County was mostly a laughing stock until recently. Today they sport more than a few promising breweries and there are more on the way. Times have changed.

Heathen Brewing is one of the bright new faces on Vancouver's block and it has earned a lot of attention in recent weeks. At the Oregon Brewers Festival, its Transgression IPA was voted among the top beers. In KOIN TV's Battle of the Brews, Transgression finished first. Needless to say, it's been a wild couple of weeks for the two-man show that runs Heathen.

Plenty to sample
Sunny Parsons is the owner and founder of Heathen Brewing. The brewery and tasting room (rolled into one) is located in an expanded garage next to his residence in rural Vancouver. It's a pretty down-to-earth operation. The mash tun is a salvaged buttermilk tank. They have a 10 bbl brew kettle and several fermenters, including one 20 bbl. Taps line one wall. Logo glasses, growlers and other schwag are nearby.

Sunny's partner is Rodney Stryker, who you suspect is more than a few years younger than Parsons. Because the boss still has a day job, Stryker is the one doing the vast majority of the brewing (90 percent he reckons). He keeps up with the demand for their beer by working 60 or more hours most weeks. They have been reluctant to bring on more people, though that will soon change.

A wide view of the brewery/tasting room
I met these two chatterboxes while sampling their Transgression IPA at the OBF. They were hanging out near their beer to interact with patrons. What a novel concept. Anyway, they love to talk beer and are happy to describe their brewing processes and values. They are dedicated to producing what they describe as "progressive ales for the promiscuous palate."

The newfound popularity of Heathen beers is going to make it tougher for these guys to maintain their values. They will almost certainly be forced to grow beyond their rather small and comfy space. A pub space in Hazel Del is in the works, and demand for draft beer is growing. As well, they plan to start bottling (22 oz bottles) by late fall. Parsons said the brewery will stay where it is for now. He and Stryker are well aware of the challenges associated with rapid growth and becoming a serious business.

In case you're wondering, neither of these guys has professional brewing experience. Both have strong homebrewing backgrounds. Parsons was making plans to open his brewery when he met Stryker, who was hoping to open a small brewery on his own. They agreed to combine their efforts and the result is Heathen.
Parsons happily chats with a beer fan
About the name, Parsons describes himself as a something of a wild child growing up. He was constantly in trouble and once surprised his father with a thermos full of pollywog soup. They taste just like chicken, I bet. The Heathen name and identity somehow evolved out of that. It seems to work well for them.

The brewery/taproom was a beehive when I visited, unannounced, on Saturday afternoon. There was a constant flow of beer fans rolling through tasting beers and getting growlers filled. Almost everyone wanted to talk with them about the beer. This just demonstrates how starved Vancouver has been for good beer that's local. People drove out there to get Heathen beer because it's theirs.

They were pouring a wide range of beers on Saturday. I tasted almost everything. The standouts were Blackberry Hefweizen (100 pounds of fresh blackberries were pureed and added to a 10 bbl batch during secondary fermentation) and Gold Pale Ale (a crisp, light ale that leans on Mosaic hops). Both of these beers, as well as Transcend IPA, will be poured at the upcoming Vancouver Brewfest (I should mention that Gold Pale was made for the festival and will be poured under an assumed name.)

Empties await fills on pallets outside
Some of their other beers include Promiscuous Blonde (balanced for the style), Indulge Amber (good), a standard Hefeweizen (I didn't try it), RIP Porter (near great), Son of Malice Imperial IPA (seems unfinished and needs dry-hopping) and a barrel-aged IPA that was mostly alcohol.

If you're looking for the fantastic Transgression IPA, you're mostly out of luck. It's a special beer, a seriously tweaked version of the standard Transcend IPA. Thirty-one kegs of this stuff crossed the river, 24 of which were consumed at the OBF. Heathen's distributor, Point Blank, evidently sold six kegs to various pubs around town. The remaining keg went to the Horse Brass Pub, where it still shows up on the draught list (as of Sunday evening). It really is an amazing beer.

If you're able to make a trip up, down or over to Heathen, check the calendar on their website for open days and hours. There's also a handy map there. This place isn't super hard to find, but there's road construction in the area that makes things more confusing than they need to be.

These Heathens are alright.

Stryker fills one of many growlers


  1. Excellent article. These guys deserve the recognition. I've got to get there, and soon...

  2. Heathen isn't far from your house. Watch out for the construction, though.


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