By Ezra Johnson-Greenough
For the Oregon Beer Growler
In an industry full of fresh-faced brewers with their shiny kettles and polished mash tuns, the breweries that make into the double digits become the hard-nosed veterans. That means Lompoc Brewing’s 20th anniversary is nothing to shake a mash paddle at.
After 20 years in Portland, you’re practically an original. And that leaves some of Lompoc’s older pubs as icons in this city. Take, for instance, the Hedge House on the always-busy and trendy Southeast Division Street in a 1912 craftsman-style bungalow, the yard intact doing double duty as a patio. The spot feels like a throwback to a Portland of rough-edged comfort before gleaming condos and concrete storefronts began replacing all of the buildings with character.
The New Old Lompoc was one such Portland institution, a vestige of the old Northwest Portland 23rd Avenue before it became a destination for boutiques and cafes. The Lompoc story began there. Jerry Fechter was fresh out of college and returned from a post-graduation trip to Europe where he discovered beer. He decided to move to Portland.
“I had a real job for a year and I didn’t like it, so I started working for these two guys (Bob Rice and Pete Goforth) that owned a whole bunch of restaurants.” Fechter ended up at the Old Lompoc Tavern — then just a pub serving cheap drinks. “I started bartending for these guys, counting the money, being the errand boy and stuff and homebrewing at the same time” said Fechter.
At some point, Goforth and Rice decided they wanted to start a brewery at Old Lompoc Tavern, and Fechter knew a little about the business through friends who worked for McMenamins as well as his background in homebrewing. The year was 1994 and the brewing scene was in its infancy.
“BridgePort was around. McMenamins was around. The hot beer was Full Sail Amber and Golden.” After laying out plans to start a brewery, Fechter took the short course at Siebel Institute in Chicago and brewed the first Old Lompoc beer in 1996. It was a bitter Marzen.
“The theory was, let’s make an over-the-top malty beer and just bitter the shit out of it because we didn’t really know where the additions would be from the kettle. If it was too thin, we could call it something different. If it were too bitter ... we had options was the point.”
Fast forward to 2000. It’s a new millennium and the Old Lompoc is struggling as a tavern. They were brewing 300-350 barrels a year, but the place just wasn’t very busy. During a game of golf, Fechter offered to purchase the Old Lompoc from Goforth and Rice, even though there was only three years left on the lease. A few potential business partners fell through, but Fechter eventually connected with the late, great Don Younger, owner of Horse Brass Pub. They upgraded the menu and made the beers a little hoppier, eventually reopening the pub as “New Old Lompoc Tavern” in 2001. The addition of a patio to the space also proved to be a success.
Jerry opened the second outlet, Lompoc Hedge House, in 2003. Fifth Quadrant came in 2005 and the Oaks Bottom Public House a year later. “Opening each pub seemed like milestones. We wanted them to be ‘Lompoc,’ but also different.”
Lompoc’s current head brewer Bryan Keilty joined the brewery in 2006, which is when the production brewery on North Williams Avenue opened. A 10-year veteran, he has overseen the expansion of brands and the changing landscape in beer styles and diversity. He’s also experienced Lompoc’s growth from brewpub to distributing brewery.
“I inform every potential hire that you will see every aspect of the industry in a small craft brewery,” Keilty said. “We wear so many different hats! At Lompoc, we rotate brewing and cellaring duties — but we also work on the bottling line, perform tastings in the grocery store, deliver kegs, plan release parties, help with label design and social media. The list goes on.”
Keilty’s culinary background shows in his more balanced approached to beers. During his tenure, Lompoc has excelled at producing fruit beers, barrel-aged brews and farmhouse ales. He counts the year-round best seller Proletariat Red as a favorite, “I love the balance between the malt and the hops! Balance is an overlooked aspect in beer, especially in the Northwest.”
Sadly in 2012, the original Lompoc was razed for new condos and retail. Luckily, Fechter secured a spot in the same building to open what is now called simply the “Lompoc Tavern.” The building doesn’t have the same history. The beloved patio is gone. And modern cold, slick feel (an update forced by developer) is a marked departure from Old Lompoc. But there is a wide selection of Lompoc beers, top-of-the-line pub grub and big front windows that open to sidewalk seating.
“It's been 20 years of brewing and evolving and always trying make things better, not be complacent,” Fechter said. “I think our beer and food are the best they have ever been.”
Even so, Fechter went back to the well for Lompoc’s 20th anniversary beer “Zwanzig,” which means “twenty” in German. It’s a re-creation of his very first brew, a bitter Marzen. While Fechter doesn’t have the original recipe, Zwanzig was brewed like he remembers it — with a pale orange color and full malty body. The modern update included eight hop additions and it was tapped during anniversary celebrations in December.
Twenty years in, breweries like Lompoc cannot rest on their accomplishments. It’s more of a struggle than ever to stay relevant and keep pace in a crowded market of new and expanding breweries and experimental brewing styles. Consumers are always looking for something new, which means breweries must constantly get drinkers to return.
“You have to spend more time, money and effort just to remind people that you exist.” said Keilty.
When asked what it is they do differently than others to stand out and stay relevant, Fechter said he didn’t know. But the question sparked something.
“I was trying to figure out about what the next big thing would be. I think about it all the time. I thought it used to be IPAs, and in my mind, in Oregon it dwindled down about eight or nine years ago,” Fechter explained. “Then I thought it was Belgian beers. Sours have really been blowing it up.”
After pausing for a moment, he wondered, “Maybe the next style might be no style.”
The good news is that however saturated Portland becomes, there’s always the draw of a neighborhood pub. And that is where Lompoc excels.
By Alethea Smartt LaRowe
For the Oregon Beer Growler
If you have ever attended a Portland-area beer festival or an Oregon Brew Crew meeting, you have probably seen Jenn McPoland and Jeremie Landers. The husband-and-wife team are very active in the local beer community, volunteering and helping coordinate and staff events throughout the year.
A third-generation Oregonian and second-generation Portlander, Jenn remembers walking from her Northwest Portland apartment to her job downtown with the smells from the Blitz-Weinhard Brewery -- which brewed its last beer in 1999 -- permeating the air. She drank Henry’s back then, but was introduced by a friend to big, hoppy beers in the early 2000s and now enjoys all styles of beer. Her love of beer became a hobby when she started homebrewing in 2004.
Jeremie, who has lived in Portland for half of his life, recalls that the first craft beer he ever drank was Widmer Hefeweizen at a bar in Sacramento, Calif. when he turned 21. He admits that he wasn’t a big beer drinker until he tried BridgePort IPA. The impression left by the complex hop flavors set him on a course, both for a lifelong love of IPAs and, eventually, a desire to try to recreate his favorite beers which culminated in his first attempts at homebrewing.
The natural next step in learning more about making beer was to join a homebrew club. Jenn started attending Oregon Brew Crew (OBC) meetings at F.H. Steinbart Co. in 2004. OBC is Oregon’s oldest homebrewing club, established in 1979. It was at an OBC meeting at Widmer Brewery in July 2006 that Jeremie first laid eyes on Jenn. She was serving on the board of directors and Jeremie was attending the meeting with the goal of joining the organization as a member.
Their first date was at Horse Brass over pints of Terminal Gravity IPA. In the subsequent months and years, they bonded over their mutual love of beer and became ever-more involved in homebrewing, with both holding various positions on the board of the OBC. It was only a matter of time before a wedding was in the pipeline.
With Rob Widmer’s blessing, they were married where they first met, at Widmer Brothers Brewing, in September 2010. The ceremony was officiated by their friend Lisa Morrison, aka the Beer Goddess, who was ordained as a Dudeist Priest for the event. Incidentally, Lisa was being filmed for the documentary "The Love of Beer," produced by Alison Grayson. As a result, their wedding appears in that film.
The reception, where many friends from the beer community gathered to toast the couple, featured free-flowing beer from 12 kegs. For their honeymoon, they traveled to Europe, specifically to well-known beer destinations: Brussels and Bruges, Belgium; Prague, Czech Republic; Munich, Germany for the 200th anniversary of Oktoberfest; and Bamberg, Germany. During the three-week trip, they had many romantic beer experiences including drinking Kwak and Tripel Karmeliet on draft on their first morning in Belgium. They also warmly recall dining at a rooftop restaurant in Prague, drinking good beer and eating great food while enjoying the 360-degree view of the city.
After settling back into married life in Portland, Jenn and Jeremie purchased a home in the Kenton neighborhood in 2013. They have converted the 350-square-foot detached garage into a private brewery and drinking den, named McPoLanders Taproom. They acquired a 6-foot-by-10-foot walk-in cooler from the Old Ivy Taproom in Vancouver, Wash. and also have a 42-cubic-foot bottle fridge stocked with an envy-inducing selection of craft beer from all over the world. On the night I visited, the impressive draft beer list was comprised of four McPoLanders homebrews, two collaboration beers, two locally-made commercial beers, and one homebrew made by their friend Lee Hedgmon.
Jeremie says his favorite style to brew is Cascadian Dark Ale. Jenn doesn’t have a favorite, but along with brewing traditional styles like stouts and IPAs, they also enjoy the challenge of experimenting with things like fruits and spices.
The couple also likes to enter homebrew competitions, where they find it helpful to get feedback from both professional beer judges and regular beer lovers alike. At the 2014 Fall Classic, the OBC's yearly American Homebrewers Association/Beer Judge Certification Program-sanctioned homebrew competition held after hop harvest, Jenn and Jeremie each took home two gold medals apiece, with Jenn taking the “Best of Show” out of hundreds of entries. She now holds the distinction of being the first solo female winner of that title at the Fall Classic. Earlier in the year, Jeremie entered the Clean Water Services Pure Water Brew Competition and took second place with a German pilsner. The beer was sent to New Orleans for the WateReuse Association's “One Water Innovations Gala,” where it received high praise for its quality and drinkability.
Over the years, Jenn and Jeremie have had the pleasure of teaming up with various brewmasters to brew their recipes professionally. In 2012, they brewed "North End Cascadian Dark Ale,” a Timbers Army Homebrew Competition “Best of Show” winner at the New Old Lompoc Fifth Quadrant. In 2013, they won the Widmer Collaborator Homebrew Competition with "Kenton IPA" which they then brewed in 2014 with Dan Munch on the Widmer Innovation Brew System for local release. Also in 2013, Jenn, with the Ladies of Lagers and Ales (LOLA), brewed a CDL at Base Camp. In 2014, they brewed their "StellaNova India Session Ale" with the legendary John Harris at Ecliptic Brewing for the Willamette Week’s Beer Pro / Am. Jenn also brewed another beer for the Pro / Am with LOLA and Tonya Cornett at 10 Barrel in Bend. They have already started off the new year with another collaboration. In January, they brewed a Russian Imperial Stout with Charlie Hutchins at Rock Bottom Brewery in Portland.
Another unique beer-related fact about this couple is that they have a yeast strain named after them. While on their honeymoon in Prague, they visited the famous U Fleků Brewery where they enjoyed a Bohemian Dunkel. They acquired samples of the yeast, which they brought back to Oregon and then gave some to Wyeast Laboratories, which made it into smack packs. OBC members conducted the “McPoLanders Czech Lager Yeast Experiment” by brewing a variety of beers using this yeast.
While Jenn and Jeremie truly enjoy all of their work and involvement in the Oregon beer community, they do not have any plans to open their own brewery. “We just wouldn’t be able to maintain the lifestyle we have now if we brewed commercially.” Both have full time jobs, neither of which is in the craft beer industry. They will continue to homebrew a few times each month as well as participate in club events and educational seminars helping new homebrewers.
As Lisa Morrison enthuses, “Jenn and Jeremie epitomize everything that's great about Oregon beer. It's safe to say that no other couple has devoted so much time and energy to promoting and celebrating our local beer community. From their wedding to their new in-home taproom, their passion for beer -- and more importantly for each other -- is evident every day. Cheers to the McPoLanders!”
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