By Alethea Smartt LaRowe
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Midway between Clackamas and Estacada, and less than a half mile from the banks of the Clackamas River, you can find some excellent beer served out of a bright red barn near the back of a residential property. Nestled among bucolic pasture land and Christmas tree farms, Bent Shovel Brewing may require a little effort to reach, but you will be rewarded with a solid lineup of at least eight (and up to 11) different brewed-on-premises beers, along with a guest cider tap.
Rick Strauss, an IT professional by day, is the brewer, and his wife Shelly handles other aspects of the business. Their barn was originally a repository for “too much stuff,” but it eventually morphed into Rick’s man cave where he has homebrewed for nine years. After entering his brews in some local competitions, Rick cultivated a peer group that acted as a sounding board and helped him refine recipes and processes.
In 2011, Rick won Best in Show at the Cheers to Belgian Beers homebrew competition and was awarded an opportunity to scale up and brew his recipe as a guest at Block 15 Brewing in Corvallis. While brewing at Block 15, as Rick was shoveling out the mash, Nick Arzner, the owner of the Corvallis brewery, said “Hey, we’ve never put that much grain in the mash tun before” and Rick replied, “I guess I’m going to bend your shovel.” The idea stuck and the resulting beer was released by Block 15 as Bent Shovel Belgian Dark Strong.
Beyond that experience, Rick also gives a lot of credit to the Green Dragon Brew Crew, with whom he brewed for a couple of years — the organization ultimately serving as a launch pad for his brewery. “That’s where I got my first taste of bringing a product to market and I am thankful that Rogue pays for the program and supports the homebrewing community. That experience helped me get to where I am today.”
Rick is like many homebrewers who have gotten lots of positive feedback on their beers. “You say ‘What if I started my own brewery?’ I figured I wasn’t getting any younger. It’s pretty physical work. And if I’m going to do this, let’s do it now because you only live once.” When the decision was finalized in May 2014, Rick instantly knew what he wanted to name his new brewery. With Nick Arzner’s blessing, Bent Shovel Brewing was born.
Officially open since Labor Day weekend in 2015, the brewery consists of a 5-barrel brewhouse. Rick can have 20 barrels of beer in production at one time and he typically brews in 10-barrel batches. “At this point I’m brewing what interests me,” Rick says. “That’s the great thing about beer consumers in this area. They’re adventurous and they’ll drive across the county to find this little place. Our focus is to always put our best beer in front of the consumer!”
Many of Bent Shovel’s beers are “classic styles, exceptionally well-executed.” Their pilsner has been really well-received as has their Schwarzbier, which should be on tap again this summer. Other favorites are the Clashing Plaids Irish Red and CiPinON IPA, which was originally released last December. Made with orange peel with a hint of piney bitterness, the beer is light and refreshing, making it the perfect summer IPA.
Currently Rick is self-distributing kegs to about 20 accounts. The majority of his sales are in Sandy, Gresham, the Clackamas/Sunnyside corridor and Sherwood, but you can usually find a Bent Shovel beer at The Civic Taproom & Bottle Shop in Southwest Portland. Rick does not have any imminent plans to bottle or can, but definitely intends to bottle in the future.
Now Rick’s early successes in brewing have come full circle. At the dart throw for this year’s Cheers to Belgian Beers, the result was once again dark and strong. Rick decided to brew the same beer he made in 2011, but with the current yeast strain (58 Lioness). The stainless steel-fermented beer called Namesake is a limited release — the festival received one keg, several more kegs were delivered to a couple of key accounts and some was reserved for a tap at the brewery. The remainder is being put away until this fall and will be re-released along with a whiskey barrel-aged version.
The unique setting is only part of the charm of Bent Shovel. Drinking beer served directly by the owners/brewers is a “great opportunity to get acquainted with our customers,” says Rick. “People wouldn’t think twice about going out to a rural area for a glass of wine, especially a rare vintage that’s only available at the winery. We just happen to be a brewery that has a similar vibe.”
Bent Shovel Brewing has expanded its hours for the summer. You’re welcome to bring outside food to enjoy with your beers, as this is the perfect spot for a picnic.
Bent Shovel Brewing
[a] 21678 S. Latourette Road, Oregon City
[h] Fridays 3-8 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays Noon to 8 p.m.
By Jim McLaren
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Jammie Taylor, Tim Schaaf and Emerson Lenon are posing for a picture in an empty 5,700-square-foot warehouse. On the wall behind them, and brewery dog Kava, there is a splash of blackboard paint. Faintly written there, but unseen in the photo, is what the trio hopes will fill this space (and realize their dreams): beer.
“What Tim said the other night,” Jammie remembers, “was really good. I just want people to taste my beer. Successful is people knowing your beer is good.”
As does beer, this dream began in hot water. Emerson and Tim were sitting in a natural hot springs one night drinking good beer with some friends. “We thought we should try to make something like this. We got a little kit and started making beer.” Emerson boasts “people drank it faster that we could make it. Tim talked about making as much as we possibly could and it never was enough. That gave us the courage to take the risk.”
This trio is used to taking chances, together and separately. Emerson and Tim met as undergraduates at Lewis and Clark College. Emerson had moved to Portland from Montana and Tim from Michigan. Tim stayed in Portland, graduated and became a printer. Emerson moved south, earning a degree in philosophy from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand.
Jammie is an Air Force brat born in Germany and raised in several states and three countries. She had graduated college and was living in Hawaii when she met Emerson. The pairing stuck and they moved back to Montana. The trio re-formed when Emerson got into Lewis and Clark law school. He is a practicing attorney and Jammie has a master’s degree and is a school counselor.
Why sidestep careers and dive into beer? “Why not?” Jammie asks. “We’re young. We’ve limited our risk. We have a series of investors who’ve only put in the money that they are able to afford. So it’s not like anyone’s going bankrupt if it doesn’t work. And if it does work, how amazing would it be to be brewers? I think it is that American Dream.”
For a better chance at success, Emerson says, they went to bartenders to find out what people are drinking. “In this market, IPAs dominate.” But there have been some taste shifts. “People want lighter beers, pilsners, kölsch-style ale, traditional saisons that are lower in alcohol content.”
It is those beers Tim has been studying. His IPA will be “bright, bold — with big hop punch and a smooth citrusy finish.” The saison aims for a lighter body and the kölsch will be a “lower ABV ale with a light body and a dry finish.”
While Tim tweaked his recipes, Emerson did what lawyers do — looked for ways to insure a solid shot at success. “My dad owned his own business and I kind of learned from him some of the pitfalls, the ins and outs, and that kind of gave us a leg up in the beginning. One of the people who invested in the company has been involved in startups. He had a lot of good feedback as well.” He says he also learned by reading the blogs of other new breweries and by seeking advice from state and federal regulators.
The empty warehouse off Highway 212 in Clackamas County, with “beer” written in chalk on the wall, already has power and water. Gas hookups are coming, as are two 15-barrel fermenters and a 15-barrel bright tank. The first beer out of those tanks could be coming to those taps within a 15-mile radius of the Drinking Horse brewery this spring and the Horse’s own taproom.
As you sip one of these new beers you might ask, “Why the name Drinking Horse, Emerson?” “Well, it’s kind of evocative of our Western roots -- of the watering hole, of stopping on your trip of whatever journey you’re on.” And wouldn’t it be good for business if some of those trips were being made by the folks working in the warehouses straddling Highway 212 in that part of the county? “There are a lot of people here,” Emerson points out. And Jammie adds, “That’d be great to have regulars.”
Drinking Horse Brewing Company
[a] 11517 SE Highway 212, Clackamas
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