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 Kris McDowell
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Love 'em or hate 'em, pumpkin beers are a fall staple that vary widely from pale, sessionable offerings to heavy, hearty brews. One of the best in Oregon falls in the latter camp and comes from 9-year-old Oakshire Brewing in Eugene. Big Black Jack Imperial Chocolate Pumpkin Porter gets a rating of 94 out of 100 on RateBeer, so while it might not be everyone's cup of tea there are plenty of people that enjoy the boldly flavored beer.
Oakshire's head brewer, Matt Van Wyk, brought the recipe for Big Black Jack with him when he started there six years ago. The first small batch was brewed the following year and started out as many specialty beers do — being a keg-only offering. Beer drinkers took to it quickly, however, and within a couple of years Oakshire began selling it in 22-ounce bottles as well.
The recipe has basically remained the same since Matt started making it, with only minor malt changes based on availability. He describes it as a hands-on beer due to the spices — nutmeg, dried ginger, whole cloves and cinnamon chips — that go into every batch. Similar in variety and amount to a premixed pumpkin pie spice blend, Matt's hand weighing ensures the beer comes out just the way he intended. After weighing, the spices are put into mesh bags, the equivalent of gigantic tea bags, which are then placed into buckets marked with the time each will be added to the boil. Just as "mise en place" allows a chef's process to flow smoothly, having the "tea bags" ready allows the Oakshire brewers a smoother brew day. Most brew days, the team is juggling three batches, transferring them from tank to tank, one after another. A delay with one batch could throw off the entire brew day. And even when Matt isn't leading the brewing, his process helps grease the wheels for the making of Big Black Jack.
In addition to the spices, each batch of beer gets solid dose of 70 percent dark chocolate and cacao nibs — 10 pounds of each. Unlike spices that might float to the top, these ingredients risk falling to the bottom and scorching the brew kettle. To avoid that problem, hot wort is poured over the chocolate and nibs in a separate bucket to create a sauce of sorts that’s then added to the boil. Lucky for the brewing staff, there’s always plenty of wort-chocolate to spare and Matt traditionally treats everyone to sundaes by bringing in ice cream the days the beer is brewed.
Pumpkin brews are often a point of contention for beer lovers because they tend to hit the shelves and taps before the pumpkins could realistically be harvested most years. But Oakshire plans ahead while using pumpkins from Stahlbush Island Farms in Corvallis. The team roasts, purees and freezes pumpkin every year, so the puree used in this year's batch of Big Black Jack actually came from last year's pumpkins. It's a method that eliminates the unpredictability of the growing season and allows the beer to be brewed in August, well before any local pumpkins could be harvested and processed, with the finished product reaching craft beer drinkers' lips in early September.
Being a spiced beer, Big Black Jack is one that is best when it’s fresh in order to experience the full spice profile. But the fact that it's also an imperial porter, coming in at 7.5 percent ABV, the beer can hold up to a bit of aging. Its flavor will change after a couple months, with the spice notes retreating, allowing the chocolate and roasty characteristics to become more assertive.
Knowing his beer was suitable for aging, Matt went one step further last year and aged part of the supply in two Heaven Hill bourbon whiskey barrels. A recent sampling confirmed that as it has aged, the spice notes have mellowed out — almost to the point of being absent. In their place is a rich, wood flavor from the barrels that complements the imperial porter. Fans of barrel-aged beers will likely have to visit Oakshire's Public House in Eugene for a sample, although it's possible that a keg or two may escape and surface at a special event in the Portland area.
Big Black Jack joins a host of other pumpkin beers from Oregon breweries with fall availability.
Oakshire’s Big Black Jack Imperial Pumpkin Porter is made using pumpkins from Stahlbush Island Farms in Corvallis. The squashes are actually roasted, pureed and then frozen the year before in order to eliminate the unpredictability of the growing season. The method also allows the beer to be brewed in August.
Oregon-Brewed Pumpkin Beers
7 Devils Brewing Co. | Winter is Coming Pumpkin Porter | 5.4% ABV | IBUs N/A
Agrarian Ales Brewing Company | Cucurbita | 4.5% ABV | 10 IBUs
Agrarian Ales Brewing Company | Von Tassel | 6% ABV | 15 IBUs
Breakside Brewery | Sweet Potato Mole Mild | 4.2% ABV | 10 IBUs
Burnside Brewing | The Dapper Skeleton | 5.9% ABV | 11 IBUs
Cascade Brewing | Pumpkin Smash Sour Ale | 11.9% ABV | <10 IBUs
Climate City Brewing | Galloping Hessian Pumpkin Ale | 4.5% ABV | 35 IBUs
Ex Novo Brewing Company | Pumpkin Biere de Garde | 8% ABV | 20 IBUs
Fearless Brewing | Smoked Pumpkin Ale | 8.35% ABV | 28 IBUs
Fort George Brewery | Squash Buckler | 6.5% ABV | IBUs N/A
Great Notion Brewing | The Great Blumpkin Ale | ABV/IBUs N/A
Green Dragon Brew Crew | Bring Me Pie | 7% ABV | 25 IBUs
Griess Family Brews | PJ's Pumpkin Pie | 5.4% ABV | 13 IBUs
Ground Breaker Brewing | Squash Ale | 5.7% ABV | 30 IBUs
Hair of the Dog | Greg | 5.5% ABV | IBUs N/A
Laurelwood Public House and Brewery | Laurelwood Pumpkin Ale | 7.5% ABV | 25 IBUs
Lompoc Brewing | Bibbidi Bobbidi Brew | 5% ABV | IBUs N/A
McMenamins Edgefield Brewery | Duskbringer | 6.06% ABV | 14 IBUs
McMenamins Kennedy School | Pumpkin Porter | 6.19% ABV | 12 IBUs
Misty Mountain Brewing | King Under the Pumpkin Russian Imperial Stout | 8.7% ABV | 40 IBUs
Oakshire Brewing | Big Black Jack Imperial Chocolate Pumpkin Porter | 7.5% ABV | IBUs N/A
Opposition Brewing Company | Nickabod Cranium | 6.4% ABV | 37.9 IBUs
pFriem Family Brewers | Pumpkin Bier | 6.9% ABV | 15 IBUs
Portland Brewing | Rico Sauvie Pumpkin Ale with Spices | 6.5% ABV | 30 IBUs
Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery | Name TBD | 5.5% ABV | 25 IBUs
Rogue Ales | Rogue Pumpkin Patch Ale | 6.1% ABV | 25 IBUs
Seven Brides Brewing | Heiser's Pumpkin Ale | 6.7% ABV | 15 IBUs
Silver Moon Brewing | Twisted Gourd | 6.8% ABV | 25 IBUs
Stickmen Brewing Company | Imperial Sour Pumpkin Lager | 9.8% ABV | 11 IBUs
StormBreaker Brewing | Pumpkin Peddler | 7.3% ABV | 13 IBUs
Three Mugs Brewing Company | "A Clever Pumpkin Name" Ale | 7.5% ABV | 35 IBUs
Vagabond Brewing | In Gourd We Trust | 5.1% ABV | 25 IBUs
Vertigo Brewing | We Don't Know Jack III | 6.3% ABV | IBUs N/A
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