By Anthony Roberts
Rob Lutz has spent 18 years in the beer industry manning bottle shops, working for distributors and bartending at some of the best brewpubs and beer bars in Portland. But five years ago, he found himself begging for the worst job in the business – keg washer.
“I was trying to get a job at Laurelwood, and (former brewmaster) Chad (Kennedy) said, ‘You don’t want this job Rob. It sucks. It doesn’t pay well.’ I told him I’d do it for free,” Lutz recently recalled over pints at the newly-opened Stormbreaker Brewing. “They didn’t hire me. I was really good friends with all of the brewers there. I was super-bummed out, but they didn’t really think that I’d want to do it.”
Undeterred, Lutz dropped in at Amnesia Brewing Co., where owner Kevin King was hiring a keg washer. He also tried to talk Lutz out of the job.
“Kevin said, ‘I’ve had people walk out in the middle of the first shift. This job sucks,’” Lutz recalled. “I said, ‘Are you going to make me a brewer? No? OK. I’ll wash kegs until you do.’ So I washed kegs until he made me a brewer.”
Not only did King make Lutz a brewer – he sold him the brewery when he moved Amnesia’s operations to Washington. Lutz, along with friend and business partner Dan Malech, opened Stormbreaker in the North Mississippi space formerly occupied by Amnesia in February. They had about a month from the time Amnesia closed up shop until their opening date, and used it putting in 20-hour days and giving the space a makeover. A wall-length wood sculpture of Mount Hood looks over new tables and furniture crafted from salvaged wood. They got creative with storage to create more seating, stripped and refinished the bar and floor, and even replaced the filthy vinyl sheets that covered the insulation on the exposed ceiling.
“We want to have, not just a production facility, but a place where people want to be and where we can share what we make with them,” Malech says. “We want it to be a little cozier inside, a little more inviting, where you’d want to spend some time here for a while.”
That doesn’t mean they’re ignoring one of the spot’s best-known attributes – the patio. They’ve moved the grill out back to free up more space, and Malech hopes to turn the spot into a “world-class beer garden.” And speaking of the grill, Lutz and Malech also gave the menu a makeover. With the help of some friends at Portland-based Grand Cru Hospitality, they created a small kitchen in the brewery, and serve up a simple but refined menu including charcuterie, salads and gourmet burgers. On a recent evening, there were several groups who had dropped by to order dinner in the new space.
Stormbreaker also takes advantage of Lutz’s experience behind the bar with one of the most creative drink menus you’ll find at a brewpub. Many of the signature drinks take their cues from the beer world, incorporating ingredients like hop-infused vodka.
Stormbreaker is located at the corner of North Beech St. and North Mississippi Avenue in Portland. Visit them online at www.stormbreakerbrewing.com.
by Anthony Roberts
There are six words every homebrewer loves to hear when they take a batch of beer to a party.
“I thought you were bringing homebrew.”
When someone mistakes one of your beers for something from the shelves of Belmont Station – because it’s that good – you know you’re getting it right. Portland brewers Ben Parsons and Rik Hall heard that statement a lot over the past five years. And starting this spring, when they show up with beer, it won’t be homebrew anymore.
Hall and Parsons are opening Baerlic Brewing Company on Southeast 11th Avenue near Ladd’s Addition, right next to Blitz Ladd, former home of Kettlemen’s Bagels. The enormous building provides Baerlic with plenty of room to grow, and positions them just a few blocks away from Southeast Division Street’s rapidly growing commercial district and a future MAX stop. The building’s old bagel counter is already gone, making way for a bar that will anchor a taproom with 10 beers on draft. Baerlic. Baerlic – which translates to “of barley” in old English – will have four or five staples in the rotation, with the remaining taps dedicated to seasonals and experimental brews.
Creating a Vision
Hall and Parsons grew up together in Idaho, and reconnected after they moved, separately, to Portland. They soon found themselves homebrewing, a hobby that quickly turned into a habit. In one 2½- year stretch, they brewed a new batch every week. For them, the move to full-time brewing didn’t seem so far-fetched. Hall has restaurant experience, and had been looking to move on from his job as a bike mechanic. And while in graphic design school at Portland State, Parsons had created all of the graphics and marketing materials for a fake brewery from scratch as part of a class project. He’s been dreaming up a marketing plan for years.
And it shows. Clever and catchy posters announce the brewery’s impending arrival in the building’s windows, imperial pint glasses with the brewery’s logo are already stacked in the back room, and cycling caps bearing a Baerlic monogram just arrived. Yes, they’re a new brewery, but that doesn’t mean they have to look like one.
“Sometimes people put so much passion and effort into what they love, but they don’t spend enough time and effort telling their story,” Parsons says.
A New System
But looking good is only half the battle; there’s also that part about making beer. Hall and Parsons brew great beer on a small scale, but moving to a 10-barrel system is obviously a big step up. Are they intimidated?
“No,” Hall says, matter-of-factly. “We’ve always been meticulous about making notes and keeping records of temperatures, hops, even down to the gear we use. As you scale up, those things can get both easier and harder to (mess) up.”
The duo have also received tons of advice from friends in the industry, who they said have welcomed them with open arms.
“You just have to be willing to dump a batch if things don’t work out,” Parsons says of brewing. “We’ll only serve what is worthy of us drinking – and we’re pretty picky.”
In early March, Hall and Parsons had just finished building the mill room in the back of the brewery, and were awaiting delivery of their brewing system while tirelessly renovating their space at 2235 SE 11th Avenue. They expect to open the taproom in the spring or early summer. Visit www.baerlicbrewing.com for details.
OBG Blog Archives
Welcome to our archive pages! Read stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler from June 2012 to January 2018. For newer stories, please visit our new website at: