By Jim McLaren
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The Ridgewalker Brewing taproom in Forest Grove is in an old building that has, among other things, been a church. You’ll catch the aroma of barbecue coming from a deck on one side of the building. And, as you trot up the steps to the door, you’ll pass a hand-drawn paper sign telling you the place is “Now Open.”
None of this prepares you for what’s to come once inside. Jeff Farrar, the taproom manager, says “It’s nice when you see the door open and you see those eyes, like ‘Wow.’”
The tall room is bright and airy. A 700-pound table made of a single piece of big leaf oak runs down the center of the room. Tables of the same heavily burled wood line the walls on either side. Industrial-style lamps hang from the ceiling. The bar, at the back of the room, is as clean and sleek looking as anything you’d find a 45-minute drive east in downtown Portland.
“This taproom wasn’t the original plan.” Justin Marble is seated next to Storm Brown; the brewery was their idea. “We had to deviate from that plan. We wanted to go big into production, but that was probably naive.”
This story has a couple of deviations actually; so let’s back up to a time when Storm was 5 years old. His father, an economics professor, made beer and let Storm mill the grain for him. A few years later, Storm and Justin met when they went head-to-head in the fifth grade for a Forest Grove School District spelling bee. Storm won, but a friendship had been seeded.
Jumping ahead, Storm says “it was after college, Justin and I moved in with Jason Cirlincione, another partner, and we started homebrewing pretty regularly. So, we always talked about starting our own brewery. Every homebrewer does.”
Life gets in the way here. Justin and Jason started businesses; Justin is an arborist and Jason is in construction. Storm was a bit unsettled. He spent seven years in the Army, including one year in Iraq.
After the military, Storm decided to walk. As a teen, he and friends spent time hiking Oregon’s Coast Range, as well as the Cascades. So, a through-hike of the Pacific Coast Trail, from Mexico to Canada, seemed like a good idea. But when he came off the trail, he still wasn’t sure what to do. Jason reminded him of the daydream of starting a brewery and also suggested the name Ridgewalker, which evoked Storm’s passion for hiking.
The three friends started on a 1-barrel system — the same one they’re brewing on today — and simply developed recipes for styles they liked. “We are fans of American-style beers. Big, clean American ales. Justin is much more a fan of English styles, so we sort of go back and forth. Also other European styles — pilsner, lagers.” (Try their Wickiup Wheat. It’s a refreshing, slightly citrusy hefeweizen.)
As the beer got better, the team did some tap takeovers and got into some businesses in Beaverton and Hillsboro. But they wanted to stay closer to home.
Storm says they all have ties to Forest Grove. The town has helped get their business started and “we’re realizing if we want to be part of Forest Grove, and all of us are from Forest Grove, then having a storefront here is really something that is going to get our name out there.”
Storm, Justin, Jason and Jason’s brother Chris, are jugglers right now. They have jobs away from the brewery and Justin is married with a child. He says they are all, essentially, volunteers in their own business but “once you get into something, you have to stick with it.”
They also have a roadmap for the years ahead. It’s based on a consistently high-quality product, which will allow them to grow to a 4- or 5-barrel system, get into more pubs and perhaps can their beer.
For now, they are building their base as a family-friendly taproom. They serve food, including that barbecue. Business picks up at about 5 p.m. each day as downtown folks get off work and classes at nearby Pacific University end for the day.
The four friends want to give their hometown what it has given them — a place to meet, be comfortable and share some good times.
1921 21st Ave., Forest Grove
By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
When Waltz Brewing opened in Forest Grove two years ago, owner Adam Zumwalt envisioned arriving after work at his day job, opening the taproom, casually talking with a few friends, filling growlers and closing early in the evening. The first day went pretty much like he imagined, but 60 people showed up the second day and that casual pace he wanted quickly disappeared.
“We didn’t plan for that kind of success,” said Zumwalt. “We didn’t have enough chairs, tables or even glasses. I immediately called my son Noah and asked him to come help.” Noah has been managing the bar ever since.
It’s a familiar story. Zumwalt and partners Karl Glatz and Michael Duron were serious homebrewers working out of Adam’s garage with a 1-barrel system and 60 or more pony kegs. Family and friends agreed: the beer was good. They decided to turn their passion into a commercial brewery.
“Our community has taken it over,” said Zumwalt. “They love it.”
It’s a popular spot, he said. People have family parties here to celebrate special occasions like birthdays, graduations and retirements. They bring food from home and gather friends. There’s even been a women’s fashion show in the cozy, rustic bar.
“We have had bottle shares here. Halloween is always crazy. Fridays are insane. We have regular groups come in. This is the social circle for the town,” said Zumwalt.
“The success turned out to be more than we ever imagined. My motto now is: Let it Happen,” he said. This laissez-faire attitude has limits. Not allowed — TVs, video poker machines, movie nights and kids.
When the three homebrewers decided to take the leap into starting a licensed business, they couldn’t find the right location. Zumwalt, a longtime resident of Forest Grove who lives in his grandparents’ house, wanted to stick close to town. After a couple false starts, they settled on a location. Deep into negotiations and close to finalizing the four-month deal, the owners suddenly decided to sell the building.
Zumwalt said, “I was done.” They were ready to abandon the dream. The same day he met a friend who owned a warehouse and offered it to them. The location turned out to be perfect, right in the heart of town in the industrial district, one block off the main street and three blocks from Pacific University. The building had been used for industrial supply storage and required a near total renovation. It took them two months to empty the building before they could discover what work needed to be done.
“We did all the build-out ourselves. We reclaimed materials that were here, reusing anything we could. We took a bold warehouse and made it into a pub,” he said.
The finished space is definitely informal and comfortable. From the outside, it looks like an old warehouse building, but half of the front wall is an expansive “garage door” that opens, extending the space outside. The 3-barrel brewhouse is set up in an area off to one side, yet it’s still visible to customers.
The mash tun they found at an old dairy and had to help tear down a barn to get it. They are in the process of building a bigger 10-barrel system and rearranging so they can put all the grain and kegs in the storage area to free up interior space. The capacity inside is 49; with the outside seating it’s 91.
Glatz, the head brewer, basically brews when they’re not open on Sunday and Monday. Duron is currently brewing at Vertigo Brewing in Hillsboro.
“Our beer just keeps getting better and better,” said Zumwalt. “I’m proud of everything we serve.” They make beers that customers request. Their current tap list includes several IPAs, a dark rye saison, oatmeal stout, an amber, a kolsch, a porter and a pale ale. They now have 21 taps and seven or eight are theirs. That’s steady growth for a business that opened with five taps, none of which poured their beer.
From the beginning, live music has been a regular part of the Waltz Brewing experience. Acts play 7-9 p.m. on Thursdays, and July is Blues Month. Other genres can be heard different nights of the week, including the occasional bluegrass jam on Wednesdays. Outside of Oregon, musicians have traveled to Waltz from Alaska, Tennessee and New Jersey.
“People want to play here because it’s so intimate,” said Zumwalt. “Right now we have a Facebook campaign going to get Willie Nelson here.”
(a) 1900 A St., Forest Grove
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