By Jim McLaren
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The idea seems as obvious as Mount Hood on a clear, spring day: Beer, bicycles and tours celebrating both.
But the obvious sometimes takes time to get rolling. In this case, it took a trip to Belgium seven years ago by an IT guy looking to reboot his work life.
It’s a sunny Memorial Day in Hood River. As a light breeze comes off the Columbia River, Claire Cohan is setting up bottles of beer and the makings for sandwiches on picnic tables in Port Marina Park. Soon, a group of riders with tour company Beercycling will arrive and devour the spread.
Claire says this tour began in Portland, where the group met and test rode bikes rented from The Bike Concierge in Oregon City. “We stayed at the Jupiter Hotel, and from there we rode across the Tilikum and Steel bridges to get warmed up. That was the first day. Then we got a tour at Hair of the Dog, which, of course, is amazing.”
During the five-day tour, riders pedal 20-32 miles per day. The route from Portland east to Hood River is mostly flat with the 900-foot climb to Vista House overlooking the Columbia River Gorge being the most breathtaking — both in terms of the view and the oxygen-sucking effort.
On day two, the group rides to Troutdale where they’ll spend the night at McMenamins Edgefield. Day three has the big climb and a stop at Thunder Island Brewing Co. in Cascade Locks. On day four, the group pedals the finished part of the Historic Columbia River Highway, then loads into a van to hop the gap along the unfinished section. A picnic lunch in Hood River is followed by visits to Full Sail Brewing Company and pFriem Family Brewers.
As Claire is running down the itinerary, 12 riders and Evan Cohan coast into the park; the riders are quickly off their bikes and moving toward the beer and food.
Evan comes over for the interview. But he first asks, “Can I have a beer while I answer questions? I’ll answer better that way.”
So, why did Beercycling start in Europe? Taking a sip from a special, non-breakable tasting glass Evan explains, “I’d been there once with friends. Flanders has a dedicated bike infrastructure that goes that entire part of the country and into Holland. You can get between points pretty much traffic free. The whole country is the size of Maryland, and when you focus on a couple of provinces you can really get anywhere really quickly.”
Evan likes beer, likes cycling, but what he wasn’t so happy with back then was his job. “I was having my, kind of, ‘I’m-done-with-my-day-job crisis’ in my mid-20s. Earlier than most. I thought, ‘What would the dream job be?’”
He found the answer on the road through Flanders. “It was a magical trip when you get into Belgian beer and you hear the stories about the Trappist monasteries. We just went for fun on a spontaneous trip, but I learned a lot.”
And he wanted to share what he learned — not as some sort of elaborate pub crawl, but as a lesson about the cultures surrounding beer. “You go along these canals and through farms, and it was amazing. And we got a couple of tours there. The Flemish people are really generous. And I thought this would be the ideal place for a bike tour. It has all the ingredients for logistics to make it happen safely. It would be like doing bike tours in Belgium visiting breweries.”
Stan Bashaw came from North Carolina for the debut Oregon tour. With a beer in one hand and a sizable sandwich in the other, he says he’s participated in a Beercycling event before. “I happened to see a Facebook post Evan put up about Beercycling and from day one I said, ‘Someday I’m doing that.’”
Stan then convinced friends to go with him. “We had the best time. Cycling in Belgium, the Belgians are used to bikes being everywhere. At least back in North Carolina, folks are used to bikes being annoyances. It’s been really great here [Oregon].”
The Beercycling European tours include mini-seminars on brewing, rides through hop fields and visits to ancient breweries. But Stan has one particularly fond memory: “The part of the tour that is really appealing in Belgium is all the food. Oh my gosh, we had such great food. The picnics we had alongside a bike path, Belgian bread — fresh made that day. Oh my God, it is just amazing.”
The food was especially welcome when “we biked out to the North Sea on a really cold day. I think that was really one of our favorite days. We were cold. We were wet. We found a coffee shop because we were so cold. We got warmed up, then rode past World War II artillery fortifications that go on for miles. We had a 20-knot wind behind us, and we barely had to pedal.”
Bashaw and his friends liked Oregon’s attitude toward cyclists but are anxious to do another European tour next year.
It took Evan and Claire about two years to work out the Oregon tour logistics, but they’ll hold three this year and perhaps more next year.
In Europe, Beercycling has grown to six tours: three in Flanders in northern Belgium, one in the Ardennes in southeastern Belgium, another around Milan in northwest Italy and a loop around Amsterdam in Holland.
The tours run from five to ten days with prices ranging from $1,475 in Oregon to $2,850 for one of the Flanders tours. Visit beercycling.com for dates, itineraries and bios of the guides.
By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Beer and biking led to love and marriage for Joel and Karen Sheley. You could even say they were the “Gateway” to new opportunities.
Gateway Brewing, named after the Portland neighborhood in which they live and make beer, was the city’s first brewery east of 82nd Avenue when it officially opened in March 2015. The path to get there began more than 20 years ago when Joel, a Portland native, hopped on the homebrewing bandwagon before deciding to go pro. He was in one of the first classes at the American Brewers Guild and completed one of the 10-week programs. Joel then got a job at the now-defunct Nor’Wester, quickly immersing him in all aspects of brewing, including the less-glamorous keg cleaning and equipment sanitizing.
Nor’Wester was located on the east bank of the Willamette River under the Morrison Bridge. Joel remembers the record-setting flood in 1996, which brought together city and voluntary crews to build a temporary levee on top of Portland’s seawall to keep the river from spilling into downtown.
“Our brewery didn’t flood,” said Joel. “But customers couldn’t get into our doors because of high water, so our restaurant was effectively closed.”
Multiple factors ultimately put Nor’Wester out of business in 1997, but Joel had moved on to Widmer Brothers Brewing the previous year. While there, he did pretty much everything BUT brewing. Joel started out on the keg line, ran the filter and centrifuge, and then took the lead in the cellar. Just when he was getting ready to make the transition into brewing, he accepted a head position in the bottling, packaging and wrapping department.
Karen’s pursuit of a career in craft beer took her across the country from Louisville, Ky. to Portland, where she joined Widmer in 2003. “My interest in beer grew from living in the Czech Republic in the 1990s and seeing craft brewing take root in other places I’d lived, including Louisville,” she said.
With her business background and interest in manufacturing, she wanted to work in brewing operations. At Widmer, she worked first in wholesale support and then production planning. “All the while, Widmer was growing into Craft Brewing Alliance and witnessing that evolution from within was an invaluable experience,” she said.
Karen and Joel naturally met, then, at work. “Back then, everyone at Widmer pretty much knew everyone else,” she said. But, they bonded over bikes. Joel was deeply involved in the cycling world at the time, participating in multiple events, such as the popular Seattle to Portland ride, and building bikes in his spare time. “From bike shopping to bike rides, to marriage and a daughter, here we are today,” said Karen. They married in 2007.
Joel actually left Widmer in 2011 to launch a business that involved his hobby: cargo bike delivery. The 65-pound contraption featured a roomy storage box in the front that he would fill with customer orders. “Anyone could call up and request a delivery,” he said. Most of his deliveries were for public relations firms or real estate agencies. But his job was no easy pedal through the park. In order to get to work downtown from his home near the Glendoveer Golf Course on Northeast Glisan Street near 140th Avenue, he’d have to ride nearly 11 miles in all kinds of weather. At the end of the day, he’d make the trek to Swan Island to pick up his daughter from preschool, safely tuck her into the cargo box, and ride the 11 or so miles back home.
Karen, too, had moved on from Widmer to a high performance microscope company, headquartered in the Czech Republic, with offices in Beaverton. And while Joel ran his cargo delivery service for about three years, he and Karen never left beer behind entirely. They started talking about opening their own brewery and that is how Gateway began. “Our final goal all along was to get this going and when the opportunity presents itself to establish a kid-friendly pub in the heart of Gateway,” Joel said.
Although Gateway was official, it took months to get all the legal stuff completed. In the meantime, Joel built a half-barrel system for experimental brewing and began developing recipes for their standard beers. They decided to lease brewhouse equipment, settling on a 2-barrel system that’s electric powered, four fermentation tanks on wheels, fully jacketed with glycol cooling, and eight brite tanks, also on wheels. Last June, Joel started the layout process. He carved out a good-sized cooler space, ran all the necessary lines and ended up with a simple, efficient operation in his garage. The brewhouse was up and running by late August.
Gateway’s current brews are Exit 7 IPA and Exit 7 IPA Ramped, named for the Gateway exit off I-84; Glendoveer Golden, a kolsch named for the neighborhood golf course and fitness trail; Wood Hill Stout, a dark winter ale named after Joseph Wood Hill Park on top of Portland’s Rocky Butte; and the Mahogany Lager, named for its rich, malty flavor and reddish-brown color.
“I want to make good, clean drinkable beers,” said Joel. “One of our main themes was to have sessionable beers. I’m always thinking about what will be the next big thing in beer.”
Right now he brews by demand, about once a week. “Once we hit capacity, we’ll need to brew three or four times a week,” he said. He’s the brewer, salesperson, president, and materials acquisition and supply chain manager. Karen is the planner, bookkeeper and regulation compliance officer.
Gateway’s slogan is an invitation to travel east of 82nd Avenue — “Come on over!” Check their website for current beers and where to sample them: gatewaybrewingpdx.com.
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