When audiences first heard the words “You’re gonna need a bigger boat,” uttered on the big screen in 1975, the summer blockbuster was born. The line was delivered by actor Roy Scheider after he had just laid eyes on cinema’s most notorious great white shark. But in a way, it also announced the future movie boom during June, July and August — months where ticket sales traditionally lagged. But when “Jaws” captivated the country and made a record profit, studio directors and theater owners alike realized their bigger boat would come in the form of budget-busting action films that would draw a ravenous crowd.
The season of peak heat has since become inextricably linked with high intensity at the box office. We duck into theaters that might as well double as a darkened refrigerator for a few hours’ relief. Lucky for us, a growing number of movie houses now sell beer to enhance our experience. Moreover, many of the independent theaters are living history with a backstory that might rival the plots of tired sequels that appear on their screens.
The following guide offers information about all of that and more to help you navigate your way through the array of cinema pubs this summer, whether you’re in the mood for one of those traditional blockbusters or need a night out with a low-budget, sci-fi horror flick from the 1950s — we’ve got you covered. And, best of all, every listing offers local beer.
7818 SE Stark St., Portland, 503-252-0500, academytheaterpdx.com
Academy Theater originally opened in 1948 and became a popular Montavilla destination until its closure in the 1970s. The years were not kind to the building and it fell into disrepair. Fortunately, in 2006 a full renovation was completed, restoring the once-popular theater with a vibrant marquee to its original charm.
Catch a second-run, classic or independent flick in one of the building’s three theaters. You can find popular releases that have just been bumped from most major movie chains’ lineups along with cult classics like “Clueless” and “The Big Lebowski” and even documentaries. Need a break from the kids? Academy has you covered with a babysitting service for the length of the movie that costs $9.50, per child, for kids ages 2-8.
Unlike other theater pubs, Academy has one of the most eclectic food offerings in Portland through their partnerships with neighborhood restaurants. Enjoy a slice from Flying Pie Pizzeria, cookies from Bipartisan Cafe or even sushi from Minamoto Restaurant. The beer selection also shines at Academy with 10 taps featuring eight beers and two ciders for $5. When available, get a pour of Montavilla Bipartisan Porter — the neighborhood brewery.
Pro Tip: Two for Tuesday – Enjoy a movie with a friend on Tuesday with the buy-one-get-one free ticket offer. KERRY FINSAND
616 NW 21st Ave., Portland, 503-223-4515, cinema21.com
A fixture of Northwest 21st Avenue since 1926 and a treasured landmark for Portland’s film industry — “Drugstore Cowboy” and “Wild” both had their Oregon premieres here — Cinema 21 joined the ranks of the city’s suds-serving pubs relatively recently. Tom Ranieri, who has run the business since 1980, began a major remodel three years ago — adding two small screening rooms for intimate viewings, new chairs in the 500-seat auditorium and, most importantly, beer sales as part of expanded concessions.
From the street, the theater appears unchanged. The marquee still features a reliable mix of international and independent films, ambitious Hollywood fare and buzzy documentaries, alongside quirky events like “Grease” sing-alongs and interactive screenings of the unintentionally hilarious cult romance “The Room.”
Cinema 21 offers seven taps, including one cider, one seasonal rotator and “Cinema 21 Lager.” Beers are served in a 16-ounce clear plastic cup with lid. They run $5.50 except for the lager, which is $3.75. (“Full disclosure,” said the guy behind the counter when asked who makes the lager, “It’s just Rolling Rock.”) A slice from Cinema 21 neighbor Escape From New York Pizza is a nearly mandatory accompaniment.
Pro tip: Don’t miss the odd little Beatles-themed diorama under the counter. BEN WATERHOUSE
The CineMagic Theater
2023 SE Hawthorne Blvd., Portland, 503-231-7919, thecinemagictheater.com
Originally opened in 1914 as Palm Theatre and changing names numerous times, CineMagic has been in its current form since 1991. This small, single-screen theater primarily plays first-run movies. The no-frills space doesn’t have much room in the lobby, so no need to linger outside the auditorium. The 1950s-era bathrooms appear to be the smallest in town, but during our recent visit there weren’t any lines. Although food selection is limited (popcorn and candy), grab a slice at BlackBird Pizza across the street and bring it back to your seat.
CineMagic’s 10 taps offer eight beers and two ciders. The thoughtful tap list rivals some of Portland’s solid craft beer-oriented bars with selections from the likes of pFriem Family Brewers, The Commons and Sunriver Brewing Company. Sixteen-ouncers come in plastic cups and cost $4-6. Occasionally, beer buyer Nick Kuechler is able to snag unique brews like Great Divide Brewing Company’s Espresso Oak-Aged Yeti, which will surely satisfy beer geeks.
Pro Tip: All day Tuesdays enjoy a movie for only $5. KERRY FINSAND
The Empirical Theater
1945 SE Water Ave., Portland, 503-797-4000, omsi.edu/theater
The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry’s Empirical Theater is without a doubt among the finest movie-going experiences in the Portland area. It is also one of the most frustrating. The former OMNIMAX theater has the biggest screen and loudest sound system around and offers relatively cheap tickets and real food concessions from the museum’s Theory cafe, but the schedule is often set only a few days in advance and private events can leave the concession counter cut off from the restaurant and unable to serve alcohol.
These quirks may explain why the theater feels like Portland’s best-kept secret. Though the place fills up for festivals and other special events, if you go to a weeknight screening you’ll likely find yourself alone in your row. The space is vertigo-inducing — the screen is four stories high and the rows are narrow — and low attendance can make the place feel spooky.
It’s too bad the Empirical hasn’t become more popular. It’s easy to get to by transit or bicycle, and evening tickets include parking. There isn’t a better-looking screen or better-sounding audio in the city, and tickets actually get cheaper in the evening: the second-run blockbusters are $7, while the daytime nature and space documentaries are $8.50. The theater is also home to ingenious events like Reel Science, where classics like “The Matrix” and “The Silence of the Lambs” are paired with lectures by local researchers, and Edible Cinema, where they’re partnered with a tasting menu.
If you care more about the beer than the flicks, there are better options. Here you’re limited —when you can get them — to a small selection of bottled flagship brews from Ninkasi and Widmer.
Pro tip: The best view is from way, way up near the top row. It’s also the quickest exit. BEN WATERHOUSE
4122 NE Sandy Blvd., Portland, 503-493-1128, hollywoodtheatre.org
A truly show-stopping landmark, this modern-historic theatre has been entertaining the public since 1926. It was actually such an attraction that Portland's Hollywood District based its name on the movie house. Now owned by a nonprofit, the 384-seat main auditorium and two smaller theaters upstairs have gone through many restorations throughout the years, allowing the space to continue to showcase the art of filmmaking with features ranging from independent to foreign and classic. Today, $9 gets you into most screenings ($6 if you’re a member).
Putting the “modern” in modern-historic, inside the theatre you’ll find six rotating tap selections for only $4 each — which is a steal for a beer anywhere, let alone a theatre. But if drinking out of a plastic cup isn’t your thing, you can upgrade to a limited-edition Hollywood Theatre pint glass designed by Leila del Duca. It’s $6 empty or $9 full of beer — an even better value, plus a you get a souvenir to add to your pint glass collection! You can pair your beer with a slice of Atomic Pizza, Salt & Straw ice cream or some house-made popcorn (voted best in Portland). If you’re feeling extra ravenous, order all of the above. With such reasonable prices, you can afford to sit back, relax and indulge — to an extent. Although there’s no in-theatre service, concessions are within steps of the main auditorium.
Fun Fact: Next time you’re traveling through PDX, be sure to check out Hollywood Theatre’s new micro-cinema, located past security at Concourse C. If you’re a ticketed passenger, you can drop by to watch a variety of shorts by Oregon filmmakers — free of charge. ERICA TIFFANY-BROWN
Joy Cinema & Pub
11959 SW Pacific Hwy, Tigard, 971-245-6467, thejoycinema.com
It may come as no surprise that a movie theater is one of Tigard’s oldest remaining businesses. Joy Cinema & Pub probably looks a bit unconventional on the inside these days than compared to its opening in 1939 when the movie house was screening “Gone With the Wind” for audiences — but its mission to entertain the masses remains and keeps drawing a crowd.
Situated along a traffic-choked section of 99W next to a falafel shop, the delightful distraction of clutter in the Joy’s lobby makes it easy to forget about the bustle beyond its doors. A zebra trim pops alongside walls painted purple and a leopard-print carpet accompanies you to the theater. The only decor louder than the walls and floors are the vintage movie posters advertising a mid-20th century smattering of the bad, the ugly and the smutty. Damsels in distress are splayed seductively below crazed monsters in some — others promise plenty of cinematic action in the form of boogieing on roller skates or punching with palms of steel.
While there’s plenty of space to stretch out in front of the 29-foot screen on one of 400 upholstered chairs, the comparatively compact lobby means there’s not a lot of room for bulky kegs. That’s why you’ll only find three taps at the Joy that are typically occupied by Ninkasi, Widmer and a cider — all for $4. However, there are bottled and canned options starting at three bucks. Fans of popcorn dripping in butter will be pleased that the joy is heavy on the oil. Pizza and nachos are also available if you’ve got a bigger appetite, though some of the slices looked a little ragged on the edges due to display-case fatigue. And while there aren’t fancy cup holders or trays, the best perks are found in the regulars’ enthusiasm for this neighborhood spot and the owner’s passion for movies of all stripes.
Pro tip: If you think $1 movie Monday sounds like a steal, don’t miss Weird Wednesday showings, which are always free. This is where you can practice your best “Mystery Science Theater 3000” jabs to flicks that are corny, tawdry and just plain fun. ANDI PREWITT
10350 N. Vancouver Way, Portland, 503-345-0300, jubitz.com/dining-entertainment/jubitz-cinema
More people should really be hanging out at truck stops. While the Jubitz near Jantzen Beach has no shortage of men in oversized jeans and flannel taking a break from long, lonely stretches on the road, experience operating an 18-wheeler is not a requirement for entry. There are a number of amenities at this particular pause for road warriors, but the best deal has to be the cinema. For a mere $5, you get the same experience as a Regal would offer — just in a more intimate setting. Two movies are shown four times daily in front of the 78 stadium-style seats.
The marquee and auditorium entrance is sandwiched between a bar displaying bottles of motor oil like they were top-shelf liquor and Moe’s Deli where you can buy tickets and concessions — from sandwiches to ice cream to candy. The one craft keg blew during our visit, but fortunately there’s a stock of random cans and bottles in a cooler under the counter. Beers range from $3.50-4.50, already a great deal that gets even better if you opt for the $10 combo pack of beer, popcorn and movie ticket.
Pro tip: Moe’s Deli is slammed minutes before show time, so arrive early and stroll through the little village crafted for the enjoyment of truckers that’s kind of like a low-rent casino. In addition to the cinema, you can play arcade games, get your hair done, eat at a buffet and tour the small Jubitz museum. Or you could simply chat up the friendly truckers lounging around in the lobby. ANDI PREWITT
Lake Theater & Cafe
106 N. State St., Lake Oswego, 503-482-2135, laketheatercafe.com
This is a movie house with touches of Lake Oswego bourgeoisie balanced by a quirky character that keeps the experience enjoyable and grounded. Lake Theater & Cafe also has the distinction of sitting on the shore of Lakewood Bay, so before you retreat to the auditorium grab a table on the dock for a view of rich people on boats and standup paddleboards. Films began screening here in 1940 for just a quarter and the business in its current form launched three years ago.
Even if you don’t catch a flick while you’re here, the view, impressive bar and made-from-scratch menu are reason enough to pay old town LO a visit. Eight wildly different beers were on tap recently ($6 each) and there wasn’t a dud in the bunch. This is also one of the only theaters that allows customers to drink from actual glass pints in the theater. A chalkboard near the kitchen window proudly displays the 19 Oregon and Washington farms that help supply Lake Cafe’s food — underscoring the business’s commitment to quality and sustainability.
With a full bar, restaurant, patio and cinema — you might have assumed there was already a lot going on here. Well, Lake Theater also hosts performances on Monday evenings in a separate event space along with Wednesday trivia, which won third place in last year’s Willamette Week Best of Portland Readers’ Poll. The only downside to the theater’s location is that neighboring live music can sometimes creep into the background during a hushed moment in a movie.
Pro tip: Get to your seat at least 15 minutes early for some pre-feature schlock — recently the theater played a segment of 1980’s “Flash Gordon.” ANDI PREWITT
2735 E. Burnside St., Portland, 503-232-5511, laurelhursttheater.com
It is hard to miss the Laurelhurst Theater with its large iconic sign and art deco design on Northeast Burnside in Portland. The theater was built in 1923 by Walter Tebbetts, who owned, managed or constructed a number of Portland theaters, including the Hollywood. Originally the Laurelhurst had one screen in an auditorium that could hold 650. Over the years, expansions brought four theaters to the building where you can catch second-run, art and independent films. Also expect cult classics like “Donnie Darko” and Hollywood darlings like “La La Land.”
Enjoy food from Laurelhurst’s sister restaurant New Deal Cafe in one of the lobby’s booths before the movie or in the auditorium on much-appreciated shelves. The theater offers nine taps for seven beers and two ciders. A 16-ounce beer costs $5 and for those who don’t want to get out of their seat for a refill during the film, take advantage of 48-ounce pitchers for $14. The beer selection is balanced with beers that will appeal to most palates.
Pro Tip: Check out the nostalgic movie theater posters for a trip back in time. KERRY FINSAND
Living Room Theaters
341 SW 10th Ave., Portland, 971-222-2010, pdx.livingroomtheaters.com
When you plan on heading downtown, making a stop at a movie theater probably isn’t first on your agenda with all the great breweries, restaurants and shops nearby. But after you discover Living Room Theaters, perhaps that idea will sneak its way a little higher up on your to-do list.
Upon entry, beautiful cedar walls and plenty of windows contribute to a sunny vibe in the lounge area. There’s even a roll-up garage door that allows for open air and outdoor seating during warmer months. It’s somewhere you’d want to unwind even if you weren’t planning on watching a movie — although you really should. Being the first all-digital and only-digital theater in the country allows for easier distribution of independent films — even those from first-time filmmakers. The six cozy auditoriums feature a nice mix of indie and foreign films like these along with popular first-run movies.
To get the most bang for your buck, go on a Monday or Tuesday when the movies are only $5 and use the extra cash to splurge on some tapas — like the Chicken Prosciutto Skewers or the Veggie Sushi Hand Roll — and, of course, some local craft beer from one of the nine rotating taps (one recently poured kombucha). Be sure to arrive about 30 minutes before the show to place your order for in-theater food and drink service — and prepare to have your senses dazzled! ERICA TIFFANY-BROWN
McMenamins Bagdad Theater & Pub
3702 SE Hawthorne Blvd., Portland, 503-249-7474, mcmenamins.com/bagdad-theater-pub
Opened in 1927, the Bagdad originally hosted silent films, live stage shows, vaudeville acts and more. Its large neon marquee was a beacon for area residents. In the early days, the theater was drenched in Middle-Eastern decor and ushers wore uniforms meant to evoke an Arabian-theme. Since being restored by the McMenamins in 1991, the Bagdad has become a Hawthorne District icon. They show first run movies. The beer list is comprised primarily of McMenamins beers, along with some rotating guest taps. Nothing super-exciting, but decent enough. Wine can also be had. Theater concessions include pizza and snacks. Patrons can also order from the pub menu.
Pro tip: If you decide to order food to be delivered, you’ll have to sit on the balcony. Nothing at all wrong with that because the balcony has comfortable seating and great views. Keep in mind food service can be a little slow. You might wind up getting your meal well into your movie. PETE DUNLOP
McMenamins Kennedy School Theater
5736 NE 33rd Ave., Portland, 503-249-3983, mcmenamins.com/kennedy-school
The McMenamins have mastered the art of establishing a canvas upon which local culture can flourish. The Kennedy School may be the best example of what they do in their empire. The movie theater here is makeshift — a former grade school auditorium. Seating isn’t laid out like a typical theater and the screen is relatively small. The sound system is adequate, but won’t blast you out of your seat. Like the rest of the McMenamins theaters, Kennedy School shows first-run movies. Choose from one of several McMenamins beers on your way in. No guest taps on a recent visit, though PBR and Coors Light were in the house. Grab a snack or something more — they’ve got pizza, burgers, sandwiches and salads. Neither the food nor the beer are going to blow you away, but the overall experience is comfortable enough. If the movie doesn’t turn your crank, bail the theater and wander the halls. Take a gander at the photos and promotional posters that dot the walls. Soak up the latent history. Grab a drink in one of the countless bars and niche spaces. You might even find music. In the end, you’ll realize the place has more personality and charm than anywhere you’ve been in years. PETE DUNLOP
McMenamins Mission Theater & Pub
1624 NW Glisan St., Portland, 503-223-4527, mcmenamins.com/mission-theater
Mission Theater is the neighborhood event darling of the McMenamins auditoriums. They play old movies and big sporting events along with hosting trivia, readings, concerts and even drag queen bingo. If a celebrity dies, expect a heartstring-tugging tribute to show up on the screen at the Mission. Located on the west side of I-405, parking can be a nightmare, so take transit if possible. Mission offers a slim menu of pizza, salads and theater snacks like popcorn and candy. An average of five regular McMenamins beers are on tap along with a couple of ciders and wines. Sometimes a guest beer makes an appearance. Buying a ticket online is suggested for convenience, but not always necessary. It’s first come, first serve, so if you think there might be a lot of buzz about a certain showing, get there a little early to snag a balcony seat for the best view in the house. If you don’t see well in the dark though, stick to the lower level. It can be a logistical nightmare to navigate for anyone besides spritely millennials.
Pro Tip: The main bathrooms are in the basement, which can be quite the trek after a beer or two. Plan accordingly. HOLLY AMLIN
McMenamins Power Station Theater
2126 SW Halsey St., Troutdale, 503-492-4686, mcmenamins.com/edgefield/power-station-theater
Spending time at Edgefield is easy, and there to help prolong your visit is the Power Station Theater & Pub. It’s a bustling little area of the campus where you might get clotheslined by a server if you’re not careful. Adhere to a few guidelines for an optimal experience. First, buy your ticket online in advance. The movies are brand new and there’s assigned seating on the main floor, plus a balcony. It pays to plan ahead — unless you like getting stuck next to that person who pops her shoes off and gets comfortable using the table in front of you as a footrest. Second, arrive 45 minutes early for table service and bypass the ridiculously long line formed at the bar by using the side entrance.
The tables in the theater are awkwardly far from the seats, so eat before the movie starts to avoid any distractions. Ordering late inevitably requires a server to yell your order from the end of the aisle in the middle of the movie. Don’t be that person. If punctuality isn’t your thing, or you need another libation, wait 30 minutes into the movie and a bartender will help you, lickety-split. Lastly, drink beer for goodness’ sake. With all the chaos outside, you’ll need something to calm you down. Edgefield has their own beer, cider, and wine. Go for the Tropic Tart Sour. HOLLY AMLIN
McMenamins St. Johns Theater & Pub
8203 N. Ivanhoe St., Portland, 503-283-8520, mcmenamins.com/st-johns-theater-pub
Before attending a movie at this renovated World’s Fair building, it’s recommended you buy an assigned-seat ticket online, but it’s not absolutely necessary. Check the website to see how booked it is and make a decision from there. The movies are first run, but there may not be a stampede as the films have been out for about a month. Locating the St. Johns Theater & Pub is easy — just look for a large, golden dome at the corner of North Ivanhoe Street and Richmond Avenue. The entrance is just past a lush, outdoor patio, which you’ll want to visit later. Once inside, check in or reserve a seat at the ticketing kiosk to the right. Buy some beer and food from the full menu at the bar -- but be careful, the tables here are also a bit of a stretch from the chairs (not unlike the Power Station Theater).
All of the McMenamins’ staple beers are available, as well as ciders, a few seasonals and a guest tap. The beers are light on ABV, which you’ll find refreshing once you start to cook inside the poorly air-conditioned room.
Pro Tip: The pub features ample decor and the most interesting feature is the ceiling. Check out the dome’s underbelly in the theater, but don’t forget to appreciate the murals and chandeliers near the bar. HOLLY AMLIN
6712 SE Milwaukie Ave., Portland, 503-236-5257, morelandtheater.com
It’s hard to imagine a more perfect neighborhood theater than the Moreland. Nestled in the middle of the Westmoreland commercial strip on Southeast Milwaukie Avenue, the 91-year-old former vaudeville theater is cozy, clean and cheap — and, since 2015, the concessions counter serves beer.
Though large by contemporary standards, the Moreland’s single, 675-seat auditorium is dinky compared to the movie palaces that inspired it, but it was built with ambition. The ornate interior — think Venetian-revival-meets-Moorish-revival, with florid light fixtures and winged creatures crawling along the crown molding — is run-down, but charming. The seats are threadbare and you can still see the gaps where the pre-talkie-era organ used to reside, but the screen is bright and the sound system is plenty loud. Families mob the place on weekends for $5 screenings of first-run blockbusters.
A chalkboard just past the ticket counter advertises four taps plus two wines. Beers are $5.50 apiece, served in a 16-ounce plastic cup without a lid. The lines are clean, but the Breakside keg seemed to be on the older side during a recent visit. A huge, “medium” popcorn is just $3. Dig in.
Pro tip: There’s no bad seat in the house, so go ahead and grab one of the less worn-out seats in the side rows. BEN WATERHOUSE
Valley Cinema Pub
9360 SW Beaverton-Hillsdale Hwy, Beaverton, 503-296-6843, valleycinemapub.com
This Beaverton venue isn’t much to look at on the outside. The same can be said of the inside, really. But the humble small-box theater is the only one from the 1960s still welcoming moviegoers and it doesn’t need any frills to screen a feature and serve a cold beer.
Valley Cinema Pub (or Valley Theater or Theatre, in its various names online) is owned by a Scappoose native who also operates CineMagic and Moreland. Tucked away in the ‘burbs next to a concrete business park and aging strip mall, the theater might seem like a hidden gem. But the secret is out as illustrated by a line of people past the door during $1 Monday. That deal repeats on Tuesday where you have the choice of seeing one of eight movies in the building’s four auditoriums. Whiteboards display listings in dry-erase marker, but they’re not always updated — so check the website for correct times.
The tap list is varied but safe — there are six handles for beer and one pouring cider, but there’s nothing unique worth bragging about on Untappd. However, slices from Pizza Schmizza for sale are an upgrade from most theater pub pies. There are tables and chairs in the austere wood-grain lobby, so you could eat there while counting the number of children who point and stare at the payphone on the wall, asking their parents what that mysterious thing is. Otherwise, might as well grab your seat in the auditorium and settle in.
Pro tip: Rumor has it, Valley Cinema is haunted by a man clad in flannel. Several overnight cleaners have even left their gig after spotting the ghost. Best keep an eye out for anyone in a plaid button down who has the ability to walk through walls. ANDI PREWITT
By Andi Prewitt
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
“I always wanted a water tower.”
“You ever climb up there and hang out and drink some beers at the top?”
“Matter of fact that would be correct. Yes.”
That’s how my conversation with Craig Coleman began while touring the concrete remains of homes nearly swallowed by tall, yellow grass in an Eastern Oregon town that’s nearly gone but not quite forgotten. Ordnance, which is a mere 7 miles from a Walmart parking lot teeming with people in Hermiston, feels like its hundreds of miles away from civilization. But just several hundred feet from an exit off I-84 sits the ruins of a place that’s had several lives — first, as a home for men who worked at the Umatilla Army Depot and their families; second, as a farm where pigs were raised; and now, it’s become a ghost town where Coleman sometimes drinks beer from the prominent perch of a water tower that also serves as the logo for his brewery.
By now you’ve undoubtedly heard of Ordnance Brewing, which is named after the fallen down town just east of Boardman. And that’s an accomplishment on its own given that the business has only been open to the public for a year and the facility is located in a city most Oregonians never visit. Boardman is probably best known for the sprawling farm of perfectly aligned rows of poplar trees you whiz by on the freeway on your way to another destination. But as one of the managing partners who helped launch the brewery, Coleman has now given people a reason to stop.
In its first year of business, Ordnance has been defined by aggressive growth, despite its distance from the more populated side of the state. Already the brewery boasts a sales and marketing team of five people, a partnership with General Distributors and an upgrade from a 7-barrel to a 50-barrel system, which was scheduled to go into production in July. So how, exactly, has a modest onion shed on the edge of town become a major beer factory at such an accelerated pace? Turns out, it simply takes Coleman’s knowledge of cultivation that he’s applied to his farms for decades as well as the creativity and brewing experience of Logan Mayfield.
“Logan’s got a way with flavors that I don’t understand. I think it’s an intuitive thing. I’m not that guy. But he seems to make stuff that people don’t absolutely despise,” Coleman laughed.
And Mayfield certainly has to be mindful of the fact that he’s making beer for a variety of consumers based on region — a factor many Willamette Valley brewers don’t have to worry about. While Oregonians on the western side of the state might embrace hop bombs or funky sours, those types of beers aren’t necessarily what locals would immediately order when sitting at a table made of a repurposed wooden spool in the Ordnance taproom just feet away from where Mayfield works.
“We’re definitely a little behind compared to the Eugene-Portland area. But at the same time, not as behind as I expected when I got here,” Mayfield explained. “There’s probably the majority of people here are used to drinking Coors Light, Keystone Light, Bud. When I got here, I started making beers that would appeal to them.”
And that strategy has made his kolsch and honey golden ale best sellers in Boardman. The styles are so popular, he admits they’re hard to keep on tap. Easing reluctant drinkers into craft with lighter beers has proven effective. Customers take delight in sharing with Mayfield that the FMJ IPA is the first IPA they’ve ever tried and then finished. The head brewer believes it’s because he leans toward English styles, so his IPAs aren’t the IBU boundary-pushers that have dominated the taps in recent years.
Perhaps the person you’d least expect to be knocking back domestic, light lagers — the Saltine of beers — would be Ordnance’s co-founder. But even after Coleman helped open the Hermiston taphouse Neighbor Dudes in 2013, he said he and his friend/business partner Mark McLeod would order Keystone Light and Coors Light even though an array of other beers sat just a tap handle away. He’s not sure how his tastes eventually shifted, but figured “it was just time for something new.”
Change is certainly part of Coleman’s professional life. While a farmer by trade, he’s started a variety of different businesses, including the small chain of Neighbor Dudes taphouses. The conversation about opening the first shop began when the two actual neighbors, Coleman and McLeod, “had just enough beer to think this is a good idea,” which is a phrase that ended up on one of the business’s T-shirts. After starting the Hermiston Neighbor Dudes in the building with the cheapest rent they could find, the party expanded to Silverton and Wilsonville. And while Coleman never set out with the goal of founding a brewery, it eventually seemed like a natural next step.
“And it’s one of those things where we figured, ‘Well, heck. If we can sell beer, why don’t we just make beer?’ And it just kind of went from there. You know, you try something new and we just kind of followed the path of least resistance and ended up with a brewery,” Coleman said. After seeing what they could do with a 7-barrel system he “decided, ‘Heck, if we can do a little bit, let’s do a whole bunch.’ And that’s kind of right now, we’re in the ramp-up stage of that.”
Ordnance also got off the ground thanks to a unique partnership with the Port of Morrow. Coleman knew general manager Gary Neal through his agriculture operations and when the brewery planning was underway, the Port offered assistance. A partnership formed and that’s where some of the brewery’s financing came from. Coleman said the Port continues to support Ordnance by encouraging visitors to stop by.
Once Coleman decided he wanted to make beer, he needed to find someone who could actually do that, so he turned to an online forum that’s sort of a digital classifieds space for brewers. Perhaps it was lucky for Mayfield that Coleman found the process of sifting through applicants rather dull because he decided to stop his search primarily out of fatigue once he got to the brewer who was located in Denver at the time.
“I got resumes and I phone interviewed probably four of ‘em and kinda got really bored with that,” Coleman described. “Logan just might’ve been the last guy on the list. I said, ‘Hey dude, come on out. If you’re not an absolute POS, you got a job.”
Mayfield sputtered into town in a beat-up Toyota on four different tires, as Coleman remembers it, along with a little U-Haul in tow. “And I don’t know how in the hell it got from Denver to here, but he made it. I figured, well I think he’s stuck here now because I don’t know if that thing would make it back,” said Coleman.
The move for Mayfield meant two things: he’s closer to family in his hometown of Ashland (“but far enough that I don’t have to go home for every holiday,” he laughed) and this is the most creative freedom he’s ever had in a brew house.
“You know, it’s actually kind of funny,” Mayfield said “because before I came here, I mean, I’d only brewed two of my own batches on other systems ever.”
“I’m not sure if you told me that or not…” Coleman responded.
“I don’t think I did!” Mayfield laughed.
Despite that little omission on the resume, experience at a number of Colorado breweries like Great Divide Brewing Company and Bull & Bush, which Mayfield said had the greatest influence on him because of its focus on English styles, prepared him for the role of head brewer at the new operation in Boardman. He found the experience a bit lonely at first since he was making beer solo in a cavernous building that wasn’t yet ready for customers. “But once we opened our doors I started to meet people and the community was pretty accepting,” Mayfield said. And you can see it in the taproom when he emerges from his shop in the back — customers are eager to shake his hand and praise his work. The brewery has also given the community a place to gather, celebrate and build an identity that isn’t just defined by the poplar farm, the Port or the bigger city next door.
As Mayfield prepared to transition to the 50-barrel system that came from Rogue in Newport, he was looking forward to improving his efficiencies as well as producing more beer. In early July, Ordnance was on track to surpass 630 barrels, which was the total amount that came out of the brewery last year. Mayfield wouldn’t be surprised if they brew 2,000 barrels in 2016 — possibly even more. Meanwhile, there are still plans for the 7-barrel equipment. Mayfield will use it to make sours and other specialty brews that will begin to fill a barrel-aging room that’s the size of an industrial kitchen. He’s working on his own version of a Flemish brown by brewing a batch every three months. The aged concoctions will then be blended together and released once or twice a year, if successful. Mayfield also acquired freshly dumped cabernet sauvignon barrels, which are currently filled with an imperial blonde ale infused with lemongrass. These collaborations will debut in bottles that are co-branded with the wineries.
While Ordnance has given its building in the Port of Morrow a new purpose, history is not scrubbed away. The walls inside actually serve as a historical record of the area. Colorfully labeled onion bags line a beam in the back, a reminder of the industry that used to occupy the space. In the taproom hang photos of the city of Ordnance that inspired the brewery’s name. One picture is simply of a patch of dirt covered with empty beer bottles. It’s a shot of the aftermath of workers at the Umatilla Army Depot celebrating a work milestone. A taproom server explained that the men were told they could have the drinks for free if they completed 100 storage mounds in one day. Turns out, the promise of beer was a powerful motivator.
I was lucky to get a tour of where these men would’ve lived during World War II by Ordnance’s only dignitary and mayor, Coleman. He knows where the old mercantile used to be and pointed out the building that was the schoolhouse. We walked through the gymnasium that also doubled as a movie theater, the doors long gone and windows broken out, and Coleman described how he once found an ancient reel of “The Wizard of Oz” there. Streets that used to be named after explosives and artillery are lined with slumping, skinny houses — many just foundations at this point — but one survived and actually has a renter. Deer, owls and too many pigeons to count have taken up residence in what’s left of the other structures. Coleman explained that after the war, Ordnance emptied out as people moved to other cities. Eventually, two brothers bought the whole place and turned it into a pig farm around 1960, removing some of the buildings’ walls to allow the animals to move around more freely. And those living near Ordnance were highly aware of the town’s new purpose. “If I say ‘hog farm,’ everybody knows what that was because it was not the most pleasant thing to drive by,” Coleman said.
Ordnance was largely abandoned again when the closest livestock slaughtering facility moved to a state that was inefficient and costly to ship to. About a decade after the brothers stopped raising pigs, Coleman made his dream of owning a water tower come true and bought the property for $1. Sometimes he’ll get visitors— people who grew up there looking for any sign of their past, searching for whatever might be left. That might not be much these days, but just down the road there is a brewery that’s keeping the ghost town’s history alive while reinvigorating another city you might not otherwise have bothered to visit.
[a] 405 N. Olson Road, Boardman
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.”
OBG Blog Archives
Welcome to our archive pages! Read stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler from June 2012 to January 2018. For newer stories, please visit our new website at: