By Jim McLaren
For the Oregon Beer Growler
At first glance, Eric Steen didn’t look like a teacher, an artist or a beer maker. It was a rainy early autumn day and Eric was shuffling past noisy customers in Hopworks Urban Brewery dressed, head-to-toe, in white, furry costume. At better than 6 feet tall, he makes a good mascot for the business’s Abominable Winter Ale.
After taking off the comic book-looking yeti head, he offered an explanation on the melding of his roles as teacher, artist and beer maker: “I very much think of beer as a form of art. I’m very interested in the idea that, from start to finish, beer is a social act.”
Several dozen blocks and a couple of traffic jams to the west of the HUB taproom, in the quiet of the Portland Art Museum, associate director of education and public programs Stephanie Parrish admires Steen. “Eric and I went through the collection of a thousand pieces of art and tried to understand where we had works. How much do we have of Eastern Oregon? How much of the Oregon Coast?”
Getting these two folks working together is how to stage a unique art show and beer tasting.
The full name of the Nov. 4 event is “Art & Beer: Pitchering Oregon.” It’s the centerpiece of a larger, two-year exhibit called “Picturing Oregon.” (Who says museum-types don’t have a punny bone?)
Stephanie says the “Picturing” exhibition celebrates the museum’s 125th anniversary and includes about 60 of the more than 1,000 Oregon-themed works in its permanent collection. “It was a matter of sorting through all the paintings and photos and then finding those that we thought were kind of representative of the collection. We wanted to have earlier works, 19th century, to more contemporary works. Wanted to have women included. As many different options as we could uncover.”
When it came to the “Pitchering” centerpiece, Stephanie called in Eric. As an art teacher at the University of Colorado and creator of the Beers Made By Walking project, Eric sees community involvement as a key to good art and good beer. He took immediately to the idea of foraging through the museum’s collection. “The thing that excited me was that they have all this Oregon-based paintings and photography.”
And Stephanie wanted to portray the entire state in Pitchering Oregon. “Organized by the region: Coast, Southern Oregon, the Willamette Valley, Portland, Mount Hood and the Gorge. We’re sort of following Travel Oregon’s seven regions.”
Stephanie and Eric whittled down the Pitchering exhibit to 18 photos, paintings and etchings. They next offered those works to 16 breweries and 2 cideries for inspiration to create a beverage.
To help HUB create its beer, Eric chose a platinum print by Lily E. White. It’s a photograph of the Columbia Slough taken more than 100 years ago. Eric grabbed brewer Trever Bass and “We checked out parts of the slough, looking at invasive plants, what grows there naturally. It’s a very strange area. The brewer just chose a random selection of plants he found there. Then he decided to layer everything on top of each other, prettily, into the mash tun and then passed wort over the top of it as it went into the boil.”
The works in the exhibit come at you like photos from a magazine, an old newspaper or a family album. They are more than images. They represent our collective backstory. Lisa Allen, brewer at Heater Allen Brewing in McMinnville, chose a wood engraving of the 19th century block house at Fort Yamhill. A sixth-generation Oregonian and trained anthropologist, Lisa began by thinking about the people in the artwork: What kind of beer did they drink, did they make? Her brew is characterized by the use of oak-smoked wheat malt and rye malts. She kept the alcohol level at 5 percent and came away with a beer she says is heavy but refreshing with both smoky flavor and spiciness.
Larry Chase is head brewer at Standing Stone Brewing Company in Ashland. His Pitchering Oregon piece is a 1911 oil painting by Frank DuMond. The “Sketch of Table Rock near Medford” is a landscape done on a bright, but cloudy, day. Larry made a table beer, a Berliner weisse, much like beers made in Belgium to be enjoyed by all members of a farm family. The beer will be golden in color to reflect the sunniness of the painting. Larry will serve the beer at the exhibit three ways: straight up and with two fruit or herbal syrups to cloud the beer, mimicking the clouds in the painting.
Pitchering includes a variety of scenes depicting the people and places of Oregon; some are very realistic, some romantic. But the starkest is an oil painting entitled “Harvest.” The huge work shows a sinister-looking raven flying over a clear-cut forest. The beer to go with this piece was made by Trevor and Linsey Rogers at De Garde Brewing in Tillamook. “Ferme et Foret” (Farm and Forest) features dried and fresh hops with spruce tips added to the blend. Are the painting and the beer things to be enjoyed simply … or is there a deeper meaning?
That’s the kind of question folks might get together and hash out over a couple of beers.
Art & Beer: Pitchering Oregon
Saturday, Nov. 4 in the Kridel Grand Ballroom at the Portland Art Museum 1219 SW Park Ave.
General Admission 1–6 p.m.; $25 general/$20 museum members
By Andi Prewitt
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
It wasn’t that long ago when the dirge for the American family business began to crescendo. Big box stores and transnational corporations had pushed and prodded small mom-and-pop operations ever closer to the grave. But there’s at least one industry where the family-run model has thrived — craft beer.
The business of brewing has long involved kin. For instance, Anheuser and Busch were joined by a hyphen only after the families joined in marriage. Closer to home, the most well-known relatives to start a brewery — Kurt and Rob Widmer — also helped launch the craft revolution in the 1980s. But they’re not the only brothers who’ve decided to make beer under the same roof. That duo is joined by the Hughes behind ColdFire Brewing; the Coombs, founders of Alesong Brewing & Blending; and Three Mugs Brewing Company had the Jennings (before the older brother departed); just to name a few.
While siblings seem abundant in the beer industry, one type of family pairing is rarer to find: the father-daughter team. Much of that is likely due to the fact that men still outnumber women employed in brewing. But that doesn’t seem to bother Lisa Allen, who joined her father Rick Allen at McMinnville-based Heater Allen in 2009. In fact, working closely with each other on a near daily basis in physically demanding roles has only strengthened their relationship over time. And while there certainly have been challenges along the way, right now both are more focused on Heater Allen’s big accomplishment — 10 years in business.
Lisa Allen never pictured herself hovering over her dad’s brew kettle or cleaning tanks as a full-time job. In fact, she didn’t even have full confidence that his mission to make good, local pilsner on a commercial level would ever take off.
“I remember thinking when my dad first started kind of like, ‘Yeah, we’ll see how long this lasts,” she recounted. “When he first was working on recipes and stuff like that, I would come and brew a couple of times and that sort of stuff. I was interested in the process and I’d been interested in craft beer for a while, but I never really thought that I would actually be brewing.”
Instead, she was focused on a different fermented beverage: wine. Lisa Allen spent several years living the life of a vineyard vagabond. It’s not unusual to jump from tasting room to tasting room and even follow the harvest from the West Coast to the Southern Hemisphere since regular positions can be hard to come by. Lisa Allen guesses she moved at least once a year after finishing college, including stints getting grapes off their vines in California and New Zealand. Even her dad thought she was bound for a career in that industry.
“I have to admit my first thought was that she was going to dominate in another male-oriented field, and that’s wine,” said Rick Allen. “Because she’s always had a terrific palate and always been someone who basically could detect flaws and, you know, really kind of understand the whole sensory analysis side of things.”
But after a while, Lisa Allen discovered that brewing was more fulfilling than winemaking. The seasonal downtime with wine didn’t keep her as busy as she liked to be, so the year-round nature of the beer business was one plus. Another is the more hands-on nature of brewing — providing assistance to those microorganisms that complete the crucial task of turning sugars into alcohol.
“The thing that I really like about brewing is that you’re not just relying essentially on nature. You actually get to create something,” described Lisa Allen. “I mean, the one thing I always found coolest about wine was the fermentation process. I wasn’t actually as interested in the growing process and stuff like that. I was much more interested in the actual fermentation.”
Lisa Allen’s experience with winemaking helped her easily transition to the brewhouse. However, there were still obstacles.
“When we first started out, there was a certain amount of yelling and screaming and people going away mad,” said Rick Allen. “In the past, there have been a few times where things were thrown. I don’t think anything’s been thrown for a while,” he added with a laugh.
Aside from hurtling objects, working with a family member has several hazards — there are hurt feelings, head butting and moments of miscommunication. Not everyone would work well with a relative, particularly a parent or offspring. But with time, the Allens figured out how to pull it off.
“When my dad and I first started working together, I would say it took about a year to kind of know how we work together,” explained Lisa Allen. “I think part of the problem is that we are pretty similar in our personalities. We both kind of like being in control and doing things a certain way. And I still sometimes have to tell myself I take things too personally.”
Rick Allen said they’ve both become more sensitive to the way they give and receive feedback. And their similarities began to work in their favor. Rick Allen noticed areas where his daughter could improve were some of the same issues he once struggled with.
“It’s always easier to encourage them to spread their wings and understand their weaknesses or the things they need to work on a bit better,” Rick Allen said.
And that begins to touch on the unique benefits of working alongside a family member — you witness improvement and mastery over time. Few parents have that opportunity once their child reaches adulthood.
“You’ve got your own flesh and blood that you’re working with and they’re taking over and they’re taking more responsibility, and you get to see the growth up front and personal that you don’t normally get to see with your children,” Rick Allen described. “I don’t get to experience that with my son who’s off doing something else. But I can see that with Lisa.”
Both father and daughter take pride in the fact that they work a little harder and care a whole lot more about a brand that doesn’t just stand for quality beer. It also represents their family.
“It’s a family product, so I do think I have more investment in it than someone who would just work at a random brewery,” said Lisa Allen. “You know, it’s my name on the label as well, so I want that product to show really well.”
Lisa Allen is marking eight years with the brewery, and she knows she’s fortunate to have bypassed some of the discrimination other female brewers face — particularly those outside of Oregon. That’s not to say it never happens, though. There’s always the salesperson who wants to talk to a man at the brewery, the vendor who will only address Heater Allen’s male buyer instead of the woman who will actually make the purchasing decisions about equipment. And even getting singled out as a “woman in beer” can be a bit exhausting.
“I mean, it would be nice to just be seen as a brewer and not a woman brewer,” Lisa Allen said. “But because it’s a male-dominated field, that is going to happen. You are going to be seen as a woman brewer because there’s not that many of us.”
One way she’s reached out to support that industry minority is by participating in a group meetup that includes other female brewers from the Portland-metro area. They invite new women to join in order to share, learn or just seek camaraderie. While Lisa Allen described Oregon’s overall beer community as encouraging and helpful, she said meeting solely with women provides a safe space that’s free of judgement.
“It’s good for women to have a support group in a male-dominated field,” she said.
Many of those women are likely to pay the Allens a visit on Saturday, May 27 for the business’s 10th anniversary party. There will be a special zwickel beer tapping, a release of their kolsch in 500-milliliter bottles, commemorative half-liter ceramic mugs and possibly even a cake. Neither Lisa Allen nor her dad are ones to go on bragging about their milestone. But it has sunk in that they’ve done something pretty special in an industry that’s grown increasingly competitive.
“To think that it’s been 10 years is pretty amazing,” said Rick Allen, “because I really had no idea where this was going or how far it would go. But it’s gone further than I ever thought it would.”
“And I will say that even the impact on the Oregon beer culture too — no one else in Oregon made a craft pilsner before we started our Pilsner. And now there’s a bunch,” Lisa Allen said. “It’s really cool to think that we’ve been around for 10 years, so hopefully 10 — maybe 20 more.”
Heater Allen Brewing
907 NE 10th Ave., McMinnville
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