Alex McGaw, head brewer and owner of Two Kilts in Sherwood, stands in front of his shiny 15-barrel Practical Fusion system that replaced the homemade 7-barrel original system he pieced together before opening in 2011. McGaw is focusing on increasing production, exposure and distribution in the new year. Photo by Patty Mamula
By Patty Mamula
For Oregon Beer Growler
With new craft breweries opening on what seems like a daily basis around the state, a brewery that’s been around for five years is considered an established commodity. That’s the case for Two Kilts, a brewery in a semi-industrial area of Sherwood that Alex McGaw opened in 2011.
McGaw, the head brewer and owner, gave a strong nod to his Scottish heritage in choosing the name. He also developed a solid reputation for making excellent Scottish beer, winning the gold medal for Scottish Ale in 2014 at the World Beer Cup in Denver.
Still, McGaw is quick to point out, “We make all different kinds of beers.”
His winter seasonal beers include an oatmeal chocolate stout and a wheat.
McGaw arrived in Eugene in 2004 from the small, rural town of Dassel in south central Minnesota and immediately fell in love with craft beer. From landscaping he transitioned to delivery work for McMenamins in 2006 when he moved to Portland.
Naturally, he was interested in brewing. “I was in and out of different breweries and locations. I knew all the managers and all the brewers. By the time I started shadowing some brewers, I was also doing some homebrewing.”
One year later, he was a McMenamins brewer. After a three-week training stint at John Barleycorns in Tigard, he moved to the Fulton Pub in Johns Landing. During his four years there, he discovered he had a real knack for brewing beer.
“I like cooking and baking,” said McGaw. “I became pretty good at brewing. I was what you might call a technical, mechanical brewer.”
Eventually, he moved on to a larger McMenamins facility — the Crystal Ballroom with its numerous bars and spaces for live music. There he worked with several different brewers and gained more firsthand brewing knowledge and experience. “I learned the business of brewing. A lot of people were enjoying my beer,” he said.
On his own time, he started assembling a brewing system. Everything came together for him to start his own brewery when he found the Sherwood location in 2011. For two hectic years, he worked two jobs, sometimes around the clock. During the day he brewed for McMenamins at the Crystal Ballroom and at night he brewed at Two Kilts and ran the taproom.
“I thought I was going to get a break with the Crystal Ballroom gig, working four days on and three off, but it didn’t really turn out that way. Still, it was fun. I loved having my own place, working for myself and brewing beer,” said McGaw.
In 2013 he was able to leave McMenaminns and devote himself full time to Two Kilts. “I was finally able to pay myself a livable wage,” said McGaw.
Last summer, he took some Fermentation Science courses at Oregon State and gained a thorough overview of the process. In addition to online work, he spent a week at the Corvallis campus. “I learned the science behind beer and found out how to set up a lab. That’s very important, especially when you start to package your beer,” he said.
Until McGaw gets his own lab up and running, he has turned to fellow brewers for their assistance. “One of our best supporters is Jeff Edgerton at Bridgeport. He takes our samples to his lab to check.
“I love this business because it’s such a supportive community, competitive, yes, but supportive in learning the skill. We’re all trying to make us look good,” he said.
In the past year, McGaw has increased production and marketing. His beers are available around the state, but in small doses. “We’re trying to cover more territory,” he said.
Bottles and cans are available at New Seasons and Plaid Pantry stores, about 100 in all. Right now Two Kilts IPA, Crystal Sunshine and Scottish Ale are available in 12-ounce cans, and the Pale Ale, IPA, Scottish Ale and Cocoa Porter are available in 22-ounce bottles. “We’re trying to expand locally and working on increased distribution to growler shops and other outlets,” he said.
His full-time sales manager, Michael Fiaschetti, has really pumped up sales. “Everyone knows him. He’s made a nice mark for us,” said McGaw.
In addition to a whole new system — a 15-barrel Practical Fusion system with 30-barrel brite tanks, McGaw is adding new beers to the lineup and packaging more for retails sales.
The Crystal Sunshine, popular this summer, he describes as especially crisp and drinkable. “Our Scottish Ale is standard. I’m revamping the IPA to make it bolder. We had a fresh-hop version in the Oaks Park festival this fall,” said McGaw.
He’s thinking of adding an IPA series and a seasonal kettle sour.
With the goal of increased exposure, McGaw has entered Two Kilts in many of the state’s beer and food festivals, including the Bend Brewfest, Feast Portland and the recent Holiday Ale Festival. This was a first for the December fest, which requires brewers to make something that’s not on tap anywhere else.
The Two Kilts contribution was called the Earls of Orkney, a wheat wine with the following description: “A very big mouthfeel is present due to the insane amount of wheat malt that goes into this beer.”
McGaw is brewing three to four times a week. Last year the production topped out at 1,000-plus bottles and he’s planning to double that in 2016.
“We’re trying to support our local community of Sherwood and participate in community events,” said McGaw. He’s looking for another location in Sherwood to expand and add a food menu.
“What’s grown this place is word-of-mouth,” he said. “We’re looking to get into a more visible spot and provide our customers with a great experience.”
By Andi Prewitt
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
You’ve likely passed by Preston Weesner dozens of times and never realized it if you’ve attended a beer festival in this state. It’s because you won’t find him standing still very long. If someone is having a problem with a keg in one area of the event, he’ll be there to check on it. If there’s an issue with beer delivery on the opposite side of the venue, he’s rushing to put out that fire as well. And if Weesner is lucky, he’ll have a moment to pause for a bite of festival food before the next emergency.
The former construction worker clearly has a knack for building things, whether they’re underground tunnels for TriMet’s light rail or beer communities that seemingly appear overnight. Weesner is currently the general manager for the Holiday Ale Festival, which takes place in Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square, and runs the production company Peerless Management. But his involvement with beer celebrations doesn’t end there. He has roles at the Spring Beer and Wine Fest, the Oregon Garden Brewfest, the Bite of Oregon and still finds time to lend a helping hand to any organizer who asks. This list is actually pared down from a time where he was working on 12 or 13 events. But grueling schedules are still a part of his life. Come Holiday Ale Festival time, he’ll clock in 20 hour days for nine days straight. Weesner is so drained by the end of the project that he always swears to his wife he won’t do it another year. Luckily, the months that follow are enough time to help him forget the pain, the lack of sleep and the breaking point. He keeps coming back because the memory of the rewards last longer.
Below is my interview with Weesner, which was edited for length:
Q: When was your first beer festival and what was the experience like?
PW: I think it was, gosh, had to be 17 or 18 years ago. It was the Holiday Ale Fest. Backing up a little bit, it was the end of the summer I’d gone to a friend’s house for a barbecue and I was big into NorWester’s Raspberry Weizen. Think what you will, but it tasted better than the Bud I was drinking at that time. At the barbecue my friend gave me one and afterwards asked if I enjoyed it. And I said ‘Yes.’ And he said, ‘I made that.’ And I was like, ‘No you didn’t.’ He was like, ‘Yeah, I did!’ I’m like, ‘You can make beer?’ It seems innocent enough, but at the time that wasn’t something that was really talked about. I was more perplexed — like, you can make beer? I just figured it came out of the silver faucet on the wall or the bottle, right? He told me he’d gotten the kit at F.H. Steinbart, so my wife actually went and purchased a kit for me and I read the book in a day. I think I was homebrewing the next weekend.
That winter I was at Steinbart’s buying ingredients and someone at the counter said, ‘Well are you going to go to the Holiday Ale Fest?’ ‘Well what is that?’ ‘Well, it’s a beer festival.’ Again, I was perplexed there was a festival for beer. Went to the festival; was enamored. I walked up and asked instantly, ‘Hey, do you need any volunteers the next day?’ And they did. So I volunteered the next two days. It was an amazing experience to see that many people coming down in a tent in the middle of winter and rain, drinking beer and having a good time.
Fast-forward a couple of months, I heard about the Spring Beer Fest, volunteered there. Oregon Brewers Fest, volunteered there. I started asking friends in other cities, like ‘Hey, what beer fests do you have?’ And they’re like, ‘What’s a beer fest?’ It was something very unique to Portland.
Q: Can you take the average reader of OBG through planning something like Holiday Ale Fest?
PW: In regards to Holiday Ale Fest, I’m literally planning next year’s event a year in advance and specifically at the event. Each year I’m writing down notes, I’m making connections, I’m talking about how to make it better this year. Sometimes my staff gets on me. They’re like, ‘We’re in this year right now and you’re already talking about next year?!’ But if we don’t think about and remember it now, then we won’t be able to make preparations.
I always would say I could probably throw a great barbecue with a week’s notice. I could probably throw a pretty darn good party with a month’s notice. But if you’re looking to throw an event — a wedding planner would be a good idea. A wedding planner starts working six months before the wedding for about 200 or 300 friends. You start involving the public and the numbers start climbing into the thousands, you really have to have a team of people. If you’re not working on it a year in advance, or at least nine months in advance, you’re maybe not running the most efficient or effective show.
Q: Can you think of something you learned last year that you’re going to change this time around?
PW: I don’t particularly have something for next year, but I’ll give you an example from two years ago. We’d always use beer trailers from the distributors and we’d park them as far against one wall as we could. Well, the problem with the trailers is they actually displaced more room than they held beer. For years I thought, you know this is the middle of winter. Average temperature is 45-50 degrees. Why are we killing ourselves with these trailers? Guys are hitting their heads. We’re getting back injuries from lifting kegs. I mean, it was a nightmare! We used to have to bring in a special crew in the morning just to change the kegs because the event staff was beaten and flogged from changing kegs during the event.
I’d talked to several draft technicians in town and I was like, ‘Why can’t we set [the kegs] outside? We’ll wall it off and blow some cold air on it from a unit we took off a semi-truck.’ And he looked at me as though I were speaking in a foreign language. And he said, ‘That would never work.’ I’m like, ‘What history do we have to prove it?’ ‘Well, we’ve never done it before.’ So I just vowed the next year, I’m going to try this. All the draft guys, all the distributors stood there with tools in hand, ready and willing to cut things apart … and it worked. We were able to then go from 30-40 breweries to 55 breweries because we could hold more beer on site.
Q: How have you seen festivals in Oregon evolve since your involvement with them began?
PW: Certainly the attendance has gone up. That means there’s not just an increased passion for beer; there’s also an increased knowledge of beer. People are wanting to try new beers. There’s the potential to have beers or breweries you’ve never heard of at the event. It’s not just about going and getting a beer for the weekend; it’s really changed into more of a beer geek kind of thing where you’re looking to go there and you’re hoping to find something you’ve never heard of. They’re looking for Easter eggs. It’s a bit of a treasure hunt for good beer.
Q: People would probably say you have a dream job. But there have to be struggles. What’s a failure from the past and how did you overcome it?
PW: Well there’s failures every year, whether it’s failures to meet a deadline and how to recover from that, there’s failures in implementation — you know, if the beers don’t go on from the tap list we’ve promoted, how do you rectify that and get it back on track? Those are all little hiccups. But here’s a great failure: I think it was five years in to when I started stewarding the festival I was looking around at other great beer events — the St. Patrick’s Day events. It’s like, wow, if you want to go stand in line for two hours to maybe get into Kells and then have five frat guys dump your drink on you — we should just have a little craft beer festival. People can come by and maybe get a beer, hand out, relax — go down to Kells and then come here. It was called the Shamrock Ale Fest.
We had no intentions of it being something big and special. We just wanted to give an opportunity for those who didn’t want to wait in line to actually get a beer. So we worked with 10 breweries who each did two beers. It didn’t do well financially. When I had to explain to the board of directors how it had actually not just lost some money but a lot of money, I was personally on the hook for that because it was my idea to do it. I never thought that because Holiday Ale was successful that I could do an event anywhere at any time. I guess the reality was just because one thing works doesn’t mean that everything’ll work.
Q: You’ve mentioned a lot of things that you like when it comes to your work. Would you have anything you’d cite as your favorite?
PW: Well I’m a builder. I like to build things. I’ve always been a fan of the underdog. Being told it can’t be done just empowers me more. Being told, ‘Well, it’s never been done before,’ just lets me know that somebody else didn’t succeed. I’m going to try.
I like to see the festivals come together — the chaos of all the parts that are mingling around and coming together suddenly gel and the team pulls and suddenly the boat surges ahead toward the finish line. It’s always nice to see the culmination of something, especially when it’s a long, arduous project to make it happen. But to see it truly recognized and appreciated — there’s no money involved there. That’s just a personal thing. To see people enjoying it. That’s a huge reward.
Q: So if you had to advise a newbie and give them the nuts and bolts, what makes a successful event?
PW: More planning. More planning. Just when you think you’ve got enough, do more planning. Lay out a schedule — a timeline — and work the timeline backwards from the opening and allow extra time. For things that should take 30 minutes, allow an hour. You want good PR. If you’re 90 days out trying to plan an event, it’s probably going to be a rough event. There’s probably going to be a lot of hiccups. There’s probably going to be a lot of heartache and crying and pain, but you’ll learn something from that.
There’s untold things that can go wrong and you need to have backup plans for everything. What happens when your mugs don’t arrive? What happens when your tickets don’t arrive? What happens if your wristbands are the wrong color? Because if it can go wrong, eventually it will.
Q: Festivals are fun. You get to drink beer. But what larger role do you think these events play in terms of facilitating a sense of social connectedness of community identity?
PW: They’re a community that didn’t exist and they only exist for the festival. And the anticipation for the community to spring back up is there all year long. As an example, at Holiday Ale we would always say it’s the worst time of year. Everybody’s running out of money. The holidays are coming. You’ve got to buy gifts not only for people you care about, but for people you’re only going to see once a year. You’re racing around; workload is heavy. You’re trying to get your workload done so you can go to the Christmas party, go to your mom and dad’s house. Everybody’s working extra hours trying to squeeze in all this stuff. It’s like, wait. Hold on. Take a second for yourself. Come down to the festival. Arrange to meet a friend there — even if you’re doing it in between shopping trips, just take two seconds, have a beer, catch up with some friends and then go back to your credit-laden plans to ruin yourselves for the holidays. The community aspect is just that. The festivals are a microcosm of community and people are coming together to support the event but also just to see each other, to talk.
By Pechluck Laskey
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Joseph Sundberg has been dreaming about establishing a beer festival since 1999. As a long-standing friend of Rick Carpenter, founder of the Portland and Seattle International Beerfests, Joseph was enthused to contribute ideas. But with his roles of father by day and porter captain at the Hotel Monaco by night, he did not have the time or capital to become a part of the festival. His wife Rebecca said with it just wasn’t realistic when their daughter was younger.
Still, the fire inside him continued to burn.
Working in the hospitality industry, he dug into all the aspects of beer. As he continued to endeavor to his standing now as a 30-year Portland hotel veteran, Joseph had to be Google before Google existed. He tracked down all of the brewing culture the city had to offer so that he could expertly guide hotel guests.
Meanwhile, he was a consistent attendee at the Oregon Brewers Festival. He watched as other festivals grew, such as the Portland International Beerfest and the Holiday Ale Festival, and he traveled to other beer events.
"I just see how happy they make people," Joseph describes. "They can bring a lot of beer people to one place."
On Friday, July 3 through Sunday, July 5, his dream of holding his own event finally comes true with the debut of the Portland Craft Beer Festival (PCBF) at The Fields Neighborhood Park. At least 45 breweries are participating and, remarkably, all of them are within Portland city limits.
Joseph expresses some astonishment there was not already a festival featuring Portland-only beers. While there are other beer festivals in Portland, all of them include beers from outside the city. There was no festival yet that exclusively showcased the quantity, quality and variety that Portland alone can offer. There are 58 brewery locations in the city limits. "If you are really adventurous, you can easily visit five breweries in one day, all in walking distance," Joseph says. Most people see less than a handful during a multiple-day visit — something Joseph sees as a missed opportunity.
PCBF offers a chance for festival patrons to taste beer from almost every Portland brewery in one venue. And Joseph really takes the Portland part of the title to heart.
"We are going to celebrate what no other city in the world can do," Joseph explains. He wants people to be able to sample from breweries scattered across the city to compare and contrast beer. The new fest gives residents a chance to discover a new or small brewery they may never have heard of.
The event has been getting a lot of positive response from visitors to Portland. Rebecca, Joseph’s biggest cheerleader who helps in any way possible — including handing the PCBF website — says many ticket buyers have mentioned they are coming to Portland for the first time to attend PCBF. Several visitors are traveling to PCBF from out of state. Joseph is excited that the festival is promoting Portland.
"I didn't want to do just another festival," Joseph explains. He worked with the event’s other founders to brainstorm ideas to differentiate PCBF and showcase the flavors of the city beyond the beer. For example, festival founding partner Rodney Woodley helped select a variety of local food carts that will be present and he’s presenting artisan cheesemakers who make their product in the city. The ciders featured are also crafted in Portland, as is the wine.
Another unique element of this festival is the creation of a Portland Beer Hall of Fame. On Saturday, July 4, the first five members will be inducted. Both Friday and Saturday only offer admittance to those who are 21 and older. But Sunday is family day and attendees can take advantage of yoga classes for both adults and children as well as a children’s craft market. Joseph says he wants to emulate some of the success he sees at family friendly brewpubs like Laurelwood. "We want the parents to have great beer, but also the whole family is able to enjoy being together."
Another founding partner, Christopher Rhodes, has more than a decade of experience with beer festivals. He’ll be keeping the operational side running smoothly even though that might prove challenging as this is the event’s inaugural year. When the gates open, Joseph is looking forward to "knowing we have put our best foot forward, and that people are enjoying themselves and drinking Portland beers."
Joseph has a history of celebrating beer variety in his personal life. While trying to recall when he crossed over from macro beer to craft beer, he can't choose one brewery that led him to the tipping point. McMenamins, Widmer, Full Sail, Portland Brewing, Bridgeport and Deschutes all are mentioned within a few minutes.
Rebecca adds that when they married in 1994, Joseph suggested they travel in order to taste all of the beers of the Northwest. And so, in their Volkswagen bus, they drove through Washington, Oregon and northern California, visiting every craft brewery during their honeymoon. "We still have all the glasses from every brewery," she mentions.
"We should do that again..." Joseph notes.
Joseph has bold hopes for PCBF. Besides holding PCBF annually, he dreams of taking the festival on the road. He knows that Portland has many visitors from Vancouver, B.C., and New York City. He also mentions other potential cities he’d like to expand to, such as Boise, Idaho, Spokane, Wash., San Jose, Calif., and Austin, Texas. Ideally, he would partner with each city to bring beer from Portland to showcase along with beers from breweries in that region.
In other words, PCBF is Joseph's way to express his love for Portland and show Portland to anyone -- be it residents or visitors. He says the goal of PCBF is to create "a great way to celebrate Portland."
By Brian Yaeger
For the Oregon Beer Growler
In the winter, Oregon gets fewer than nine hours of sunup. That’s a lot of darkness. Beer-wise, darkness is something our brewers do very well. Some of those stouts and porters get a big spotlight while others, pardon the expression, are generally left in the dark. There’s no arguing that Deschutes’ The Abyss is a world-class imperial stout or that Barley Brown’s Turmoil deserves to be the award-winning Cascadian Dark Ale that it is. But there are more than 200 breweries across Oregon. Some simply get less lip service; some stellar beers may be overlooked. So in honor of wintry dark ales, especially as imperial stouts get their major love-fest this Valentine’s Day at Fort George Brewery’s Festival of the Dark Arts, take a moment to try and seek out these other opaque and obscure onyx beauties.
Seaside’s eponymous brewery, Seaside Brewing Company gives the arcade and taffy-laden town what it really needed: a brewpub. Their imperial stout, Black Dynamite, lives up to its name in that it’s pitch black and explosively tasty. The beer with bourbon-soaked vanilla beans and cacao nibs (also getting the bourbon treatment) is a show-stopper from first chilled sip to last warmed drop that has the sweetness to not just pair with dessert but replace it, yet the bitterness and roastiness to enjoy snifter after snifter.
At the southern end of the coast in Brookings is Chetco Brewing Company. Michael Frederick and his wife Alex Carr-Frederick launched Chetco as a nanobrewery using their friend James Smith’s 1.5-barrel homebrewing system as their commercial setup. It’s how they make their super-small batch but mighty Block & Tackle. This stout achieves a unique viscosity after aging for six months, and the resulting notes of Baker’s chocolate achieve the right balance between a sweet and dry stout -- just ask the World Beer Cup judges who awarded it a silver medal.
Speaking of award-winning south coast breweries, the aforementioned James Smith is the brewer at Arch Rock Brewing Company in Gold Beach. Although he medaled at last year’s Great American Beer Festival for his lager, State of Jefferson Porter pours a chocolaty brown hinting at the deep chocolate flavor buried under the mocha aroma. Yes, there is a robust maltiness that suggests molasses and brown sugar, but it’s not syrupy on the tongue. The brew is rich from the roasted malts and holds up from first sip to last, then back to first.
In mid-Willamette Valley, two tiny breweries are making some of the most unique stouts in the state. Santiam Brewing is the passion project of nine buddies, only some of them homebrewers, who collectively formed the brewery and cozy tasting room in Salem. Pirate Stout is a rum-barrel aged “tropical export stout” (7.9% ABV) with a fudgy base of chocolate malt and de-bittered black malt that sails through the Bahamas in a dark rum barrel picking up a crew of toasted coconut flakes. Fans of Malibu Rum and Mounds bars are the obvious targets, but the allure of this rich, sweet, voluptuous stout is very easily enjoyed as the meal, not just dessert.
While farther down I-5 in brewery-happy Eugene, Viking is technically a brewery but I like to call it a braggotery since every brew they make has a large honey content. They make a bourbon-aged stout with Meadowfoam honey, which naturally tastes like toasted marshmallow giving it an overall s’more character. But they also make Winter Squash Porter featuring 150 pounds of delicata squash that is hand-roasted and given a honey backbone courtesy of turnip honey. The result is reminiscent of Big Black Jack Imperial Chocolate Pumpkin Porter from their neighbors at Oakshire Brewing but bottles are even rarer to find.
One last pick from a brewery truly off the beaten path is the Chocolate Stout from Dragon’s Gate Brewery in Milton-Freewater near the northeastern corner of the state. Le Morte D’Arthur is a milk stout with cocoa nibs that was once described as a “Fudgsicle, but beer” and has developed a local cult following. Therefore, if you’re heading to this farm-based brewery near Washington’s wine country, bring a growler to share this decadent treat with friends.
Finally, even in Portland there are rare jewels to be treasured. Ex Novo Brewing Company is the most altruistic brewery, donating 100% of its profits to local charities -- but their new Moonstriker is still pure hedonism. This stout is a collaboration with Moonstruck Chocolates and debuted at the Holiday Ale Festival. It features nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla and, of course, Moonstruck cocoa along with a fiery kiss of habanero. The result is a creamy, dreamy Mexican hot chocolate stout.
Clearly, the force is strong on the dark side of Oregon’s less-heralded brews.
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