By Jasmine Crandall
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Getting to watch Natalie Baldwin in her element is a treat.
A Vail, Colorado native, the 25-year-old arrived in Portland several years ago and says, “I never imagined that I would become a brewer. It just happened, and I love it.”
Natalie is hardworking, humble and talented. I visited her early on a Saturday morning at Burnside Brewing Company and followed her around for a few hours while she rattled off bits about what was happening. She was brewing her contribution for the Craft Brewers Conference, held in Portland last month. The brew is aptly named “The Fifth Ellament” after the heavy dose of Ella hops from Australia, as well as one of her favorite films. She opened the kettle to let me inhale and I asked her how she got here.
“I fell in love with Chocolate Yeti, from Great Divide,” she explains. “I had craft beer before that, had things that were delicious, but that was the one that made an impact. I would go to the taproom and basically interrogate the beertender, who had goals of becoming a brewer, on how to accomplish that goal.”
When she arrived in Portland years later, she became a beertender herself, homebrewing and learning what she could in her spare time. I was instantly drawn to her a year and a half ago when we first met — her as the customer and me as the bartender. She loves talking beer (and knows her stuff), but is very modest. “In my former position, I met Alan Taylor, who is a very educated and talented brewer. He always answered my questions no matter how busy he was and created a program that allowed us (the servers) to brew with him. That literally changed my life.”
With Taylor, Baldwin created Hop Tart, her first commercially brewed beer. It was an exceptional grapefruit IPA (both batches) that was served around Portland and was a summer hit. Early last fall, Sam Pecoraro, the brewer she would eventually replace when he joined the team at The Commons, sought her out and encouraged her to apply for the cellar position at Burnside. In October, Baldwin and Dave Fleming won the Willamette Week Beer Pro/Am with a coffee milk stout. Of Fleming, she says, “Everyone knows Dave. He is very smart. I have yet to ask him a question he couldn’t answer. He helped me get the cellar position at Burnside.” When I asked her who has been significant in helping her on her path to where she is, she lists Fleming, Taylor, Pecoraro, “and of course, all my Burnside guys. Chip, Jason, Jay. They took a risk on me. They knew I wanted to be a brewer, and here I am.”
Her advice for other women looking to grow in craft beer: “Don’t let being a female in a male-dominated industry define you. Do your thing, work hard, and prove yourself. There are great resources that only us girls have. Pink Boots posts jobs and offers scholarships.”
And finally, on her goals for the future: “I just want to make really good beer.”
By Jim McLaren
For the Oregon Beer Growler
It took 20 years, but Tim Hohl was finally living a homebrewer’s dream. He had a world-class brewer cornered and was going to make him taste his latest, made-it-in-the-garage creation.
Hohl is the news director at Portland’s KPAM radio and hosts the weekly “First Edition Beer Geek” program. “I had met Dave Fleming as part of an interview,” Hohl explains. “He was at Lompoc as their head brewer. I knew he was sort of beer royalty when it came to brewers in Portland.”
Hohl had made a batch of Cascadian dark ale and, while he had Fleming in studio, asked him to try it. Fleming remembers, “I get a lot of home brews given to me. Ninety percent of it is just OK. But Tim’s beer was quite good.” In fact, Hohl says, it was so impressive they brewed a 7-barrel batch of it at the New Old Lompoc brewery in Northwest Portland. “We called it ‘Black Hole’ and it was gone within two weeks,” says Fleming.
A similar meeting between two like-minded men also happened in Oregon about 170 years ago. It would, eventually, give name to what Hohl is about to open.
But first, back to the obvious question you ask a new brewery owner: Why beer? Before talking beer, or about using a kit to make his first batch, Hohl admits, “it’s less about a love of beer and more about a fascination with the people in the industry. It’s such a creative, collaborative environment. It’s more about people.”
Being about people is why Hohl chose an Oregon City location for his brewery. “It’s a beer drinking town.” And it’s his love of what people do — make history — that gave him an idea for a beer program. “We want to brew a regular line of heritage ales, beers based on historical recipes. Our second flagship beer will be what we are calling ‘George’s Honest Ale.’ It’s based on a recipe that is in one of George Washington’s journals.” Hohl says the beer is made with a lot of molasses, since that was the primary fermentable in Washington’s day. Hohl and Fleming did a test batch and say it got good feedback.
It’s also the newsman’s sense of history which prompted the name for Hohl’s brewery. Had he been around in 1845, Hohl might have reported: “It was at a dinner party in Oregon City’s Ermatinger House where two bearded men were squabbling about what to name a 640-acre clearing along the Willamette River. Someone suggested a coin toss and dug a copper penny out of a pocket. Asa Lovejoy, from Boston, called tails. Francis Pettygrove, from Portland, Maine, called heads. The shiny coin was flipped in the air. The light of kerosene lamps caught the image of Lady Liberty on one side of the spinning coin and the words ‘one cent’ on the other. Three times the coin was launched toward the ceiling. Twice it landed heads up. The city of Portland had a name." And, 170 years later, so does Hohl’s brewery — it’s "Coin Toss."
But starting a new brewery is anything but a simple coin toss for Hohl. “I’m really focused on doing it right. How do you make it something you love but also a viable business model? We decided it’s going to be 10 barrels, which is a lot, but then let’s figure out how to make this a business we can get off the ground and build.” Fleming gave Hohl his “face reality” speech by explaining, “There’s no money in this.” But he then jumped in with some advice for attracting customers: “Let’s make Oregon City ale that’s a lighter beer that will get people in the door to check us out.” Fleming calls that matriculation ale. It teaches customers what you can do and makes it more likely that they’ll try more flavorful brews.
Hohl thinks he could be at the front door of a beer boom in Oregon’s first incorporated city (Editor's Note: Astoria was Oregon's first settlement). He sees the possibility for a handful of new breweries to arise in Oregon City in the next year or so. If he’s right, maybe folks will forget that other coin toss and just enjoy the one at 14214 Fir St. in Oregon City. It opens this summer.
Special thanks to Colin Preston, owner of Practical Fusion in Portland. He is making the brewhouse for Coin Toss, just as he has for dozens of other breweries around the U.S. He sat in as I talked beer with Tim Hohl and Dave Fleming.
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