By Pete Dunlop
For the Oregon Beer Growler
There will be another "new" brewery in Portland early next year. Fat Head’s Brewery, launched in 2014, is slated to close in January. Look for it to be replaced sometime in the first quarter of 2018 by Von Ebert Brewing, which will be operated by current Fat Head’s franchisee, Tom Cook.
News of Fat Head’s closure initially caused a stir in beer circles and on social media. A lot of fans wondered why the apparently successful brewpub would close. In fact, the closure has nothing at all to do with the wellbeing of the business here.
What's actually at work is that corporate Fat Head’s, based in Ohio, has a lot going on in its home market. Rather than continue to focus on the remote Portland outpost, the company and Cook mutually decided to end the franchise arrangement.
“We were unable to agree on a vision for the future,” said Fat Head’s founder Glenn Benigni, “As a result, we’ve mutually decided to close the Fat Head’s location in Portland, pouring our last beer in early 2018. We’d like to say thanks to the beautiful city of Portland and all of the customers who joined us there over the years. It has been a pleasure serving you.”
Cook offered similar thoughts.
“I know it sounds like spin," he said via email. "But this is exactly what happened. They wanted to focus their energies on the Midwest, where they have a lot going on with a new production brewery and the new Canton brewpub. I wanted to focus on Portland. We decided it's probably best for them to pursue their plans in the Midwest and for me to do my own thing out there."
He admits it wasn't an easy decision. The franchise has been highly successful here. Indeed, the success of Fat Head’s surprised more than a few in the beer geek crowd. Many thought an out-of-state chain would quickly collapse in beer-wacky Beervana. It didn't happen.
"I think we succeeded here because we built a talented team and gave it the right tools," wrote Cook, who added current employees will have the opportunity to continue on. "There's no way I would be doing what I'm doing with Von Ebert if my team here wasn’t staying and fully behind me. This wasn’t an easy decision, but I think it's the right decision for everyone."
Von Ebert, when it opens, will specialize in hoppy brews from head brewer, Eric Van Tassel. Sean Burke, formerly of The Commons, is also part of the Von Ebert Brewing team. Burke's talent for making uniquely interesting beers is well known. Cook expects the team to release 100 or so unique beers a year, including American, German, Belgian and barrel-aged varieties.
"Von Ebert Brewing is a new concept, where Northwest family traditions meet innovative ideas in craft brewing,” said Cook in a press release. "We’re excited to unveil a completely new experience for customers, blending our brewing expertise with the adventurous flavors Portland has come to love."
The pub will feature what he refers to as "elevated American pub food." That includes items like traditional German pretzels with beer cheese, stone oven-baked pizzas, cheeseburgers stacked high with locally sourced meats, decadent sandwiches and smoked wings.
"True to our character, our menu will combine classic pub fares with the kind of top-tier quality local ingredients you can only find in Portland," Cook said.
Many in and around the craft beer industry are aware that Cook had quietly planned to open a brewpub in the vacated RingSide Grill space adjacent to Glendoveer Golf Course in Northeast Portland. Evidently, those plans will be more or less on hold until he clears some regulatory hurdles.
"There's more to come on this," he wrote. "I don’t want to comment or give a timeline until I finish with the City of Portland. I would hate to promise something and then learn we can’t do it."
Many wonder about the Von Ebert name and logo. It’s obviously a strong departure from Fat Heads and has no apparent connection to Portland. What’s it all about?
"My great grandmother came to the United States from Germany and her last name was Ebert," Cook wrote. "She gave up quite a bit in Germany to bring my family here, so I wanted to pay some respect to my immigrant family. ‘Eber’ in German means boar, thus the boar in the logo."
Von Ebert Brewing will open sometime in early 2018. Watch for updates on social media or check the company website at vonebertbrewing.com.
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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