Shaun Kalis, founder of Ruse Brewing, has a temporary home at Culmination Brewing. He met Culmination owner Tomas Sluiter at Old Market Pub & Brewery. A trust developed and Kalis found himself in a unique situation: he’s part of the Culmination team and uses that system for Ruse between production times. Photo by Kris McDowell
By Kris McDowell
For the Oregon Beer Growler
By definition a "ruse" is a trick or an act that is used to fool someone, according to Merriam-Webster. In some cases, there is malicious intent behind it. In other cases, like with M.C. Escher's impossible constructions, it is a way to play with the mind. In the case of Ruse Brewing, one of the newest to debut on the Portland brewing scene, it speaks to the mystery of the word and is a drinkable expression.
Shaun Kalis is the founder of Ruse, a transplant from Michigan whose resume includes six years at Old Market Pub & Brewery as well as stints at Cascade Brewing Barrel House and Two Kilts Brewing Co. which bookended an education at the American Brewers Guild. Like many, he remembers the beer that opened his eyes to what beer could be beyond the yellow, fizzy swill he had previously known -- a stout from Michigan-based Bell's Brewery, Inc. Known for the vast number of stouts they produce, it's no wonder that the beer had such an impact on the young Shaun and was part of what drove him to begin down the brewing path. What started as homebrewing, and self-described as "minimalist" at that, evolved into something much greater after his relocation to Portland.
The location of that move was somewhat of a random decision based on his desire to get into brewing. And while multiple cities would have sufficed, he could not have landed in a better location than Portland. Not only does the area have an incredible brewing culture, but it has the added bonus of a vibrant live music scene. Although he’s played since he was a kid, Shaun got more serious about music as an adult — taking the time for lessons and then using his skills as a guitar player in a Portland bluegrass band.
When developing the concept for Ruse Brewing, Shaun knew he would incorporate music as he feels it parallels brewing in that a song is written to speak to a particular feeling and experience in the same way that brewing a beer, for him, is speaking to something. Ultimately, Shaun would like to have a brewery/music venue where he can work with artists and musicians to create beers. In the meantime, he has found a fortunate situation and temporary home at Culmination Brewing. Shaun met and worked under Culmination founder Tomas Sluiter at Old Market and their relationship has deepened as Shaun's brewing has evolved. Rooted in their time together at Old Market is a trust that has allowed Shaun to step into a very unique situation: he is both part of the Culmination brewing team as well as an independent brewer utilizing the Culmination system between production times. As collegial as the relationship is, there are designated spaces within the Culmination facility for ingredient, empty keg and cooler storage of beers as well as a 10-barrel fermenter Shaun owns. For anyone that has experienced living with a roommate, allowing someone to have intimate access into one's personal space requires trust and communication. That is taken to a higher level when that sharing of space is in the place that houses one's livelihood and is something that speaks to Shaun's integrity as a person and competency as a brewer.
So what about the beer that Shaun is making? To begin, his year-round offerings will be Translator IPA, a citrus-forward beer with a soft mouthfeel from an English yeast, and Architect Saison, an approachable, session beer (4.8% ABV) that is dry and light in body. He wants to focus on fewer styles out of the gate so that he can be more creative with them. In addition, Shaun is adamant about quality control and committed to dumping out anything that doesn't meet his standards. As part of his role with Culmination, he is also taking over the brewery’s quality assurance/quality control (QA/QC).
Year-round beers may be a solid foundation for any brewery, but it's often the one-off and seasonal beers where brewers really get to have fun. For Shaun that fun is creating barrel-aged beers, saying "something about the oak is so romantic." At first blush, delving into barrel-aging so early on might sound limiting, but as Shaun explains it, "it gives me a buffer — time to focus on the IPA and the saison."
He anticipates the barrel-aged beers will sit for at least nine months, only being released when they're ready and if they meet his standards. The barrels he's sourced, to date, are pinot noir and Burgundy barrels from Walter Scott Wines in the Willamette Valley and spirit barrels from McMenamins and Bull Run Distilling Company. Shaun's first two barrel-aged beers will be MultiBeast and Red Saison. MultiBeast uses Ruse's own Brettanomyces strain (banked at Imperial Organic Yeast) and is dry hopped with Mosaic. Nearly ready, Shaun may debut it at Saraveza's Farmhouse and Wild Beer Festival in March, in addition to bottling it. The Red Saison won't be ready for months as it just went into barrels in December 2015, but a young sample of it shows great promise, displaying a pleasing licorice aroma with hints of leather and oak in the smooth, saison flavor.
Those looking to try out Ruse Brewing for themselves need not look far, starting with the taproom at Culmination where at least one of his beers will be part of the lineup on an ongoing basis. Beyond his home base, the new management at Great Notion (formerly Mash Tun) in Northeast Portland took a shine to Ruse, buying the first available keg in December 2015. And as a 10-year veteran of McMenamins (in a non-brewing capacity), his connections there ensured that beer can be found at some of their locations, including the Market Street Pub near Portland State University. Going beyond beer-centric spots, he's started the process to get both his IPA and Saison into Bamboo Sushi locations. He plans to be in 10-12 businesses around Portland and will be bottling the IPA and saison in 22-ounce bottles in the near future. His barrel-aged beers will be available in a 500-milliliter format.
By Kris McDowell
For the Oregon Beer Growler
With more than 80 breweries in the Portland metro area and 183 in the state of Oregon*, one might think that all the niches have been filled. BTU Brasserie proves that incorrect and brings a solution to a long-standing problem: finding a place that makes great Chinese food and craft beer.
BTU, which opened Aug. 2014, is located on a triangular corner on the south side of Northeast Sandy Boulevard. If you frequent the area just east of Laurelwood Brewing you may recall this building used to be a Chinese restaurant, and one that was vacated rather abruptly. But it was still a property that business partners Chris Bogart and Nate Yovu saw as promising. Their vision required extensive renovation due in large part to the installation of the brewery as well as a reimaging of the dining space. The focal point is a 13-seat bar with tables lining the perimeter of the room and an adjacent private room designed to accommodate groups.
The brewery contains a 7-barrel system heated by a steam boiler that was created by local fabricator Portland Kettle Works. By Nate's own admission, the installation of the boiler was an additional expense, but one that the duo felt was important to the soul of the operation. Both beer and Chinese cooking require massive amounts of heat, the extent of which can be expressed as Btus, or British thermal units. Most of BTU's beers fall in the range of 5 to 6 percent ABV, a range that includes lagers. Customers should know that the brews are designed so that more than one can be enjoyed during a sitting and they are meant to be paired with the food.
Chris comes from a restaurant background, having worked in classical Chinese restaurants before relocating from the East Coast and taking a position at Burnside Brewing. Nate represents the brewing half of the equation, with a background that includes graduation from the American Brewers Guild and time at Captain Lawrence Brewing in New York. While his focus is on brewing, he commented that "Food is a huge emphasis for us." To that end, they convinced Dusty Berard, who worked for Chris's father's restaurant in Vermont and for Ming Tsai in Boston, to head their kitchen. The menu offers many familiar dishes – dumplings, sesame noodles and spring rolls – from a kitchen focused on turning out food that will leave you wondering which was more carefully crafted, the food or the beer.
As 2015 begins, BTU will call upon their Chinese influence and release a doppelbock to recognize the Year of the Goat on the Chinese zodiac calendar. The bock style was originally brewed in the German town of Einbeck and was later adopted by Munich brewers who, due to their Bavarian accents, pronounced "Einbeck" as "ein Bock," or billy goat. In addition to the doppelbock release, the kitchen is gearing up to celebrate Chinese New Year with a prix fixe menu. The weeklong celebration begins Feb. 19 and comes on the heels of a big celebration here in Oregon: Zwickelmania. Along with many other breweries, BTU will be swinging open their doors and inviting the public in for a closer look at the setup.
Whether you enjoy a comforting bowl of peanut noodles, which pairs nicely with their single-hopped Polaris Wheat, are looking for something more assertive, like the dry-fried green beans whose smokiness intermingles deliciously with the roasty qualities of Dark Helmet Schwarzbier, or are craving a decidedly different place for weekend brunch, BTU has you covered.
*As of October 2014. Provided by the Oregon Brewers Guild.
[a] 5846 NE Sandy Blvd., Portland
By Alethea Smartt LaRowe
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Vasilios Gletsos has been brewmaster at Portland’s Laurelwood Brewery since 2011. He recently announced that he is moving back to the East Coast and onto a new job as production manager at the highly-acclaimed Hill Farmstead Brewery in Greensboro Bend, Vt. Shane Watterson, who has worked at Laurelwood for the past four years, has been tapped to replace Gletsos.
This is not the first time that Gletsos has passed the torch to Watterson. That was in 2008, when Watterson became education chair of the Oregon Brew Crew, the state’s oldest and largest homebrewing club, after Gletsos vacated the position. By all accounts it was a successful transition, as Watterson embraced the challenge and started the popular Build-a-Beer project, which taught members recipe design ingredient by ingredient.
Gletsos, who previously worked at the Jantzen Beach location of BJ’s Brewhouse, Rock Bottom Brewery in Portland, and Portland Brewing Company (formerly MacTarnahan’s), came to Laurelwood during a tough period of transition. Besides the challenge of continuously running the 15-barrel brewery at capacity, he had to deal with a hop contract issue that caused the brewery to remove its flagship Workhorse IPA from distribution for almost a year.
Gletsos not only weathered the storm, but has also managed to introduce many popular new beers and initiatives over the past few years. Among his long list of accomplishments are the award-winning Megafauna Imperial IPA, his work on Laurelwood’s fresh hop beer offerings, and the implementation of a sour ale and barrel aging program. One such beer, named Golden Weapons, is an American sour ale that is currently bottle conditioning and, when ready, will be available at the restaurant and bottle shops. Gletsos says the satisfaction he feels from “designing, executing, promoting and distributing beers we are proud of” is the best reward for his efforts.
Shane Watterson, who started out homebrewing, has been at Laurelwood since 2010. He previously worked at Deschutes Brewery in Portland and has completed the American Brewers Guild’s Intensive Brewing Science and Engineering program. Referring to his decision to accept the promotion to brewmaster, Watterson said, “I like being on the floor and making beer - that’s where I shine the most, but I like learning new stuff more than anything.” Never one to shy away from a challenge, Watterson felt that this was the right time to take advantage of this opportunity.
Watterson has already accomplished many things in his time at Laurelwood. Specifically, he mentions his efforts to make the brewery as efficient as it is right now. In his first few months on the job there was a lot of turnover. “While dealing with the chaos from losing experienced crew members, we went piece by piece through the brewery and determined how to make it more efficient, which resulted in cutting time out of our work week, making beers more consistently, and using less ingredients.”
The role of brewmaster is quite different from working as the lead brewer, as Watterson has done for the past two years. Now his days will be filled with meetings, handling logistics, planning for the future, and developing his team. When I asked Gletsos what advice he would give to Watterson, he first made it clear that he thinks Shane is more than capable of doing the job even better than he has. Upon further reflection, he said, “It is very disorienting to move off the floor and out of the flow of the brew day. Shane has an opportunity, now more than ever, to do things the way he wants and mostly on his own terms. He needs to keep asking himself, ‘What do I want to create?’ and not get bogged down with the procedural aspects of the job.”
One advantage Watterson has is his four years of experience with the Laurelwood setup. “I have a practical idea of how a recipe is going to turn out and can put that on paper so the guys on the floor understand the process.” While the current crew has been working together for several years, there are still new things to learn as they take on new responsibilities. As he takes over the role of brewmaster, Watterson says, “I’m going to be very team-oriented. I want their feedback and respect their opinions. This crew drinks a wide variety of beers and has different palates. That’s true of our customer base as well. I think we have a good idea of what Laurelwood customers want and can make beers they are going to like.”
As for future plans, Watterson reminds me that “people don’t realize how far out stuff is planned. We have hop contracts for the next several years, so Vasili has already planned out a lot in terms of beer production.” Besides making some new experimental beers, Watterson, who married his longtime girlfriend over the summer, plans to recreate the XPA he shared with his wedding guests. He also recently made a dry-hopped pilsner and is planning to make a bretted saison akin to The Commons Brewery’s Flemish Kiss.
A chance meeting at the 2014 Great American Beer Festival also created the possibility of a collaboration beer with Brasserie Saint James out of Reno, Nev. The brewery won Mid-Size Brewpub and Mid-Size Brewpub Brewers of the Year for Head Brewer Josh Watterson and Assistant Brewer Matt Watterson. Previously unknown to each other, Shane Watterson ultimately discovered that the brothers are his second cousins.
When asked how he spends his time when he’s not brewing, Watterson mentions that he has many ever-changing hobbies, including playing the ukulele. He loves experimenting with fermentation and makes cheese, sausage, pickles and other tasty treats. He also likes to camp and spend time outdoors, taking advantage of all this state has to offer.
As Gletsos once again hands over the reins to Watterson, he fondly recalls his time at Laurelwood, occasionally working on the floor with the crew, tasting some really amazing beers, and communicating his experience and love of beer to the public. He tells me that he hopes to spend his last days on the job sharing beers and memories with his friends and colleagues.
The Oregon Beer Growler raises a collective pint to Vasili Gletsos, with much appreciation for his hard work and the excellent beers that have resulted from his time at Laurelwood; and to Shane Watterson, as we look forward to enjoying the fruits of his labor in the months and years to come. Cheers!
Laurelwood Public House & Brewery
[a] 5115 NE Sandy Blvd., Portland
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