By Kris McDowell
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Whether choosing the life of a brewer or the life of a musician, it’s a choice that means committing to a challenging career that often requires long hours. Those who succeed are the ones who combine skill and commitment to crafting a product that they not only can be proud of, but their fans can consume.
John Harris, an icon in Oregon craft brewing, has managed to balance his primary career as a brewer with a love of music by sitting in as a guest for bands with both a local and national reach. As a kid, John said he was "always banging on stuff," which led to banging on things in a more musical manner — playing the drums in junior high band. Between band and private lessons, he learned to read music and keep rhythm, skills that he would draw upon years later. Attending a concert in 1985 he saw Billy Hults, a washboard player who, according to his posthumous induction into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame, "played with about everyone in Portland in the ‘70s and ‘80s." John thought what he was doing with the washboard looked fun and he proceeded to pick one up for himself at a thrift store.
When asked how he learned to play it, John replied "You just kind of do it." No doubt his background in playing the drums helped him figure it out, and for a couple of years he was officially part of a band called the Hardly Boys. Being a musician generally isn't a high-paying gig and since washboard players don't hold the cache that a lead guitarist or vocalist does, there’s a greater likelihood that they won't be paid often, so when he was kicked out of the band it wasn’t the blow it could have been. At the time, John was beginning a career in brewing, something that would be at least a bit more lucrative than playing the washboard.
In 1986, John had a roommate that saw a brewer position advertised in Willamette Week by McMenamins Hillsdale Brewery & Public House and encouraged him to apply for what he felt should be "his job." John had done some homebrewing and read up as much as he was able to on it, which didn’t amount to much formal literature at the time. Feeling light on qualifications, he was somewhat surprised when McMenamins offered him the position. His boss proclaimed his chances of success directly from the get-go: he would either get the flow of brewing or not. As it turned out, John got it.
Two years later, with some professional brewing experience under his belt, he once again saw an ad, this time with Deschutes Brewery in Bend. They were looking for someone with two years of experience, which was considered a lot at that time. John knew that this was his job to go after and he was in a position to be able to relocate to Bend, which is what he proceeded to do after accepting the job.
When he came on board at Deschutes, owner Gary Fish taught him to brew three year-round offerings: a golden ale, a bitter and a porter along with seasonal beers. John's first seasonal was a wheat, followed by what is now a Deschutes staple — Mirror Pond. Sales of it quickly outpaced the bitter 3-to-1. But even with numbers to prove its popularity, Gary resisted replacing the bitter with Mirror Pond. He finally gave in a bit by bringing it on as a nine-month seasonal.
While John and his beers were successful at Deschutes, he said living in Bend wasn't much fun for someone who was an outsider. After four years, an opportunity with Full Sail Brewing came along that would allow John (and his now-wife) to return to Portland. John had known the Full Sail guys before they started looking for someone to head up their Portland location and both parties were comfortable with the autonomy John would have to run Portland operations.
Compared to the amount of beer the Bend facility turned out, the Portland location’s annual maximum capacity of 5,000 barrels was small, but it allowed John to continue to develop new beers for the Full Sail Brewmasters Reserve series. It was there that he also got the chance to learn more about the business of having a brewery, which included traveling with distributors and selling what he was making. From the beginning, John had viewed Full Sail as a good place to work and it was a solid job for a guy with a wife and two young kids. John was loyal to his job and ended up spending 20 years at Full Sail.
Throughout his career as a brewer, John continued to nourish his love of music, attending concerts and getting to know bands. That interest garnered invitations to play a lot with local bands Crawdads of Pure Love (based in Eugene), Ed and The Boats, and The Buds of May. He has even played with national bands such as The Mother Truckers, Zero, and Kingfish, fitting in appearances around their touring schedules and his brewing schedule -- a brewing schedule that changed in 2012 when he left Full Sail.
Some might have considered a 26-year run as a brewer a good one, especially when taking into consideration that he created recipes for Mirror Pond, Black Butte, Jubelale and Obsidian, among other things. Perhaps this would be when John started to think about spending his time doing something else. In his own way, John was. He was brewing up a plan for opening his own place and applying what he’d learned on both the brewing and business sides at Full Sail. In 2013 he opened Ecliptic Brewing, a brewpub whose name and the names of the beer, along with its interior design, speak to another love of John's: astronomy. When you have your own place, you set the rules -- and at Ecliptic, John has also brought music into the mix with a regular schedule of live performances. One band in particular, Off the Cuff, plays often -- with John shifting from brewer/owner to washboard player when he can.
Beyond the regular schedule of live music at Ecliptic, John has put together an event that will take place there Thursday, June 16th. Brewers and Their Bands will feature five brewers and bands they play with: John and Off the Cuff, The Moonshine with Max Skewes of Burnside Brewing, Indiana Tex Mex with Matt Swihart of Double Mountain Brewery, and Left Coast Convicts with Shaun Kalis of Ruse Brewing. The music will start around 5:30 p.m. and it will surely be an evening filled with great music, great beer and great people whose talents go beyond the brew kettle.
By Kirby Neumann-Rea
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Community is the fifth element in brewing to go with water, yeast, barley and hops, according to Oregon brewing pioneer Dave Logsdon.
Logsdon Farmhouse Ales’ founder recently gave an insider’s detailed, and often funny, history of brewing in the Columbia River Gorge and the rest of Oregon. He recounted the roots that were established by Full Sail Brewing Company along with the past decade’s rapidly growing brewing culture in Hood River and nearby scenic towns about an hour east of Portland.
“It is really a story of people working together,” Logsdon said to a room of about 120 people in February. His speech was part of a Sense of Place Lecture held at Hood River’s Columbia Center for the Arts. With him was his wife Judith Bams-Logsdon, a native of Belgium and his muse for beer styles and Belgian menu at their downtown Hood River tasting room.
Logsdon has the authority to re-tell the area’s brewing saga because he was there from the start — first as a leader in the homebrewing revolution in the 1970s and later as co-founder of three anchors in Oregon fermentology: Full Sail, Wyeast Laboratories and Logsdon Farmhouse Ales.
“Full Sail was the gathering point for homebrewers and other like-minded folks, and people saw it was successful,” he said. “When I think of the sense of place, to me it’s mostly about the people. Yes, we have a beautiful valley and river and environment to live in, but it’s the people who have lived here and shared their community to make things possible and make the community what it is. And that’s what I have to say about the brewing community,” Logsdon described. He added, “Even before craft brewing and Brewers in the Gorge (BIG), the large professional brewers had a tradition of working together about science and innovation in order to brew the best beers possible.”
Logsdon’s experiences during the last 40 years span from garage brewing to being a leader in the 500-employee, $50 million Gorge beer economy.
“I left the Midwest in the early 1970s and there were still regional beers with flavor, but as soon as I reached the West Coast, I noticed a distinct difference in beer quality,” he said. “They were all pretty much light lager beers. Working my way through school, I didn’t have the resources to enjoy the beers I wanted to drink, so I started brewing beer.” In 1985, he opened Wyeast Laboratories, which was then a small operation.
“Wyeast was a big part of my life here in the Gorge and part of what I did to bring the fourth element of brewing to the neighborhood. We have abundant hops on both sides of us, acres of barley and the best brewing water in the world, and it was nice to work with my family to bring this fourth aspect of it to the Hood River Gorge.”
He later jumped at the chance to help get Full Sail off the ground with Irene Firmat and Jerome Chicvara. Logsdon remained at the brewery until the mid-1990s.
“We pooled all the resources we could from family and friends and worked for a year to get it financed,” Logsdon said. He said it would not have happened without longtime Parkdale residents Jack and Kate Mills. “They believed in us, invested in us and also helped us raise another large chunk of money through the Oregon Lottery,” he said. What emerged was first called Hood River Brewing Company.
A building that protruded halfway into Columbia Street and a chain-link fence were both in the way of constructing the Full Sail facility. “We knocked it out to get the brewery going,” he said. “Things have changed a lot, and it started with a huge amount of energy. And many of the brewing community members were very encouraging of Full Sail, which became two blocks of Hood River.”
Craft beer, he said, “is here to stay and it has had a huge impact on everything we consume and our approach to life and the values we have in what we create.”
He was part of the “’86 Club,” as he puts it — the brewers who were there when it became legal to brew beer and sell it in the same location. Logsdon pointed to fellow pioneers including Brian and Mike McMenamin, Kurt and Rob Widmer, Karl Ockert, Fred Eckhardt, Art Larrance, Fred Bauman and Jack Joyce.
Logsdon presented a “family tree” of Gorge brewers, with Full Sail brewers moving on to either work for, or found, all but one brewery in the Gorge (Backwoods Brewing Company in Carson, Wash.) Standouts include Double Mountain founder Matt Swihart, pFriem founder Josh Pfriem and Solera brewer and co-owner Jason Kahler.
“The brewing community itself has very deep roots and strengths going back to big breweries working together in sharing knowledge,” Logsdon said. ”Overall, besides of all these good things we have, it’s as much to the credit of the open-mindedness and the progressive thinking you find in Oregonians. It’s the people and the energy putting those things tighter — the willingness to create and take a chance and do what you think is right and work together.”
By Alethea Smartt LaRowe
Big Horse Brew Pub
115 W. State St., Hood River
This small brewery is one of the oldest in the Gorge. Owners Randy and Susan Orzeck opened the business as a fine dining destination under the name Horsefeathers but have gradually evolved over the years, with Randy, a self-taught brewer, acting as the original brewmaster.
Current brewmaster Darrek Smith has been working at Big Horse for almost three years. He took over when Jason Kahler left to start up Solera. The 4-barrel brewery is a one-man show, producing five regular beers, including a rotating series of IPAs called Strictly Rude, and a variety of seasonals that are served at the pub on the upper level of the three-story building with great views over downtown Hood River and the Columbia River. Smith jokes that one of the unique things about the brewery is that “every keg is hauled up three flights of stairs.”
As the brewery doesn’t package or distribute, Smith has more flexibility in choosing what beers to make. His favorite styles are traditional German lagers, funky sour beers, and really hoppy beers. Smith usually partners with the restaurant’s chef to create a few special menu items to pair with any new beers he releases. New beers in the works are a nut brown ale, a chocolate stout, and a Munich dunkel as well as a Berliner Weisse-style beer made with sour mash.
Next spring, the brewery will double in size as the building’s footprint expands farther north toward State Street. Smith will still be brewing on the 4-barrel system, but will gain a malt room and a barrel room. He plans to start a barrel-aging project and will focus on making some stronger beers next year.
Double Mountain Brewery
8 4th St., Hood River
Business is booming at Double Mountain. In 2013, the brewery doubled in production and pub space and now employs 75 people. They also have an offsite warehouse which includes space for keg storage, malt storage, an 8,000-square-foot cooler, and a cask room. Double Mountain makes four year-round beers and seven annual ales, all packaged in reusable glass bottles.
Matt Swihart, owner of the 20-barrel brewery, takes great pride in sourcing the best ingredients from all over the world in order to make the best beer possible. These include two-row pilsner malts from British Columbia, Belgian yeast strains, and Northwest hops. “Our brewmasters thrive in creating robust, yet drinkable beers by focusing on the end product rather than being wedded to stylistic guidelines,” Swihart says.
Swihart found another way to showcase the brewery this summer when he purchased a 1950 Chevy panel truck he found in Los Angeles. Other than replacing the engine, transmission and brakes, modifying the paint job, and adding four taps on one side, little has been done to modernize the vehicle.
Double Mountain beers will be featured at Mt. Hood Meadows ski resort for several events throughout the winter. The brewery will also be releasing two new beers early next year. In January, look for Pale Death, a Belgian-style Imperial IPA. Later in the spring they will release Gypsy Stumper, an IPA.
According to Swihart, the brewery’s future plans will focus on “organic growth at our own pace. We’ll continue to make delicious beer, serve up quality food, and enjoy the ride for as long as we can.”
Pfriem Family Brewers
707 Portway Ave., Suite 101, Hood River
Along with friends and business partners Ken Whiteman and Rudy Kellner, Josh and Annie Pfriem opened this family-run 15-barrel brewery two years ago with the primary focus of producing artisanal, high quality beers. Housed in a silver LEED-certified building, the brewery has already doubled their space from 6,000 to 12,500 square feet. Forthcoming additions of four 90-barrel fermenters, two 90-barrel brite tanks, a dedicated mash tun, a second grain silo and plenty of other equipment will all serve to boost quality and increase capacity from 5,000 to 10,000 barrels per year.
Even on the current system, Pfriem has been able to release approximately one new beer every week, and will brew more than 50 different beers this year. In addition to six year-round offerings, the brewery makes a wide variety of seasonal beers, and has recently released a Winter Ale, a Cascadian Dark Ale, and a Belgian Christmas Ale for the holidays.
Other forthcoming beers are a Flanders blonde and red that have been aging for the past year and a half in French oak barrels. Further barrel aging plans incorporate two newly-acquired 40-hectoliter foeders from Bordeaux, France as well as some bourbon and gin barrels. Three wine tanks will be used for fruit aging beers next summer.
Pfriem plans to start bottling in March 2015. Their six year-round beers will be at the forefront of packaged options, although they are generally going to avoid the traditional model and will put hop-forward beers and lagers in 500-milliliter capped bottles while Belgian-style and barrel-aged beers will undergo secondary fermentation in 375-milliliter bottles.
Full Sail Brewery
506 Columbia St., Hood River
Full Sail is an employee-owned company (since 1999) whose CEO and Founder Irene Firmat is not only a pioneer of the craft beer industry; she also blazed the trail uniquely as a woman from Cuba. Her husband, Jamie Emmerson, is executive brewmaster.
Full Sail laid the foundation for most of the Gorge breweries in business today. The majority of the other brewers mentioned in this article have worked at Full Sail at some point in their careers, gaining valuable knowledge and experience along with the business connections and confidence to take a leap of faith and strike out on their own.
The brewery continues to win awards for its beers and sustainable business model. One of the many accolades they have received was being named Beverage World Magazine’s Craft Brewer of the Year 2014. At this year’s U.S. Beer Open they won gold medals for Session Premium Lager and Session Black Lager.
Besides the two Session beers, Full Sail makes their flagship Amber Ale and IPA as year-round offerings in six-packs and on draft. The company has also now added its pilsner to this year-round lineup. There are also rotating seasonal varieties in the Pub Series, the LTD Lager Series and the Brewer’s Share Series. The brewery recently released a special beer as part of their Brewmaster Reserve series: 27 Wheatwine Ale, brewed with 100% wheat malt to celebrate their 27th anniversary. For this holiday season, they have already released Wassail, Wreck the Halls and Session Fest.
Full Sail offers informative, enjoyable, and complimentary brewery tours at 1 p.m., 2 p.m., 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. daily. The tour takes about 30 minutes and is a great introduction to the art and science of crafting beer.
Logsdon Farmhouse Ales
4785 Booth Hill Rd., Hood River
Located on David Logsdon and Judith Logsdon-Bams’ picturesque 10-acre estate off Highway 35, complete with assorted animals and 400 cherry trees, this brewery is unique in that it’s a cooperative owned by six partners who can make their own beers. The Farmhouse Brewer, Charles Porter, has already released his first beer in his own “Bergschrund Signature Series.” Aberrant, an Organic Farmhouse Golden Ale, debuted in June 2013.
Logsdon currently brews four regular beers plus a range of seasonals. Their Peche ‘n Brett recently won Silver at GABF while Cerasus won Gold at the 2014 World Beer Cup. Look for the release of 2014 Cerasus at Volcanic Bottle Shoppe in Hood River this month. It was expected to debut Thanksgiving weekend.
The brewery has recently installed two new 40-hectoliter Hungarian oak casks in the cave, an arched structure installed in a hillside and covered with soil. The larger casks take the place of the original 55-gallon ones, which will be used for a new sour beer program. In early November, they took delivery of a coolship which will be used for traditional wild fermentations.
The brewery will celebrate its four-year anniversary in February and is planning to open an offsite tap room and barrel house sometime in the spring. Note that the current tasting room is closed for the winter months.
4945 Baseline Dr., Mount Hood Parkdale
Co-owners John Hitt and Jason Kahler are always happy to welcome you to their cozy brewpub, which will celebrate its three-year anniversary in April. Just off Highway 35 in Parkdale, Solera is the perfect pre- or post-skiing watering hole. The vibe is always laid-back and you’ll probably meet several of the locals if you hang out at the bar for a while. With spectacular views of orchards and Mt Hood, the brewery is a wonderful place to grab a picnic table and soak up the sunshine on a clear day. This winter, look for themed events like an ugly sweater party in December and an ‘80s ski party in January.
Hitt handles the front-of-house responsibilities while Kahler, previously of Full Sail and Big Horse, operates the 7-barrel system he inherited from Elliot Glacier Public House, the building’s previous occupant. The name of the brewery comes from the unique process, called “solera,” in which beers of varying ages are stored in barrels. Portions of the contents of the oldest barrels are removed and added to contents of newer barrels, creating a blend.
While Kahler doesn’t make all of his beers using the solera method, he has been barrel aging since the end of 2012 and will soon be ready to release the brewery’s first solera-style beers in 750-milliliter bottles. These will be limited editions of approximately 250 bottles per batch that will only be available at the brewery. In the meantime, you can usually find their Hedonist IPA on tap in the pub, along with a variety of rotating seasonal beers.
Thunder Island Brewing
515 S.W. Portage Rd., Cascade Locks
This new brewery just celebrated its first anniversary in October. Started by business partners Dave Lipps and Dan Hynes, it is uniquely located alongside the Columbia River near the Bridge of the Gods and the Pacific Crest Trail. With views of namesake Thunder Island from the large outdoor patio, the brewery is a year-round destination for adventure lovers of all types and serves as a gathering spot for the local community.
Thunder Island started operations on a 2-barrel system and is now transitioning to 7-barrel system. Hynes, the brewmaster, is already anticipating making the first beer, a double chocolate stout, on the new system. As they expand production, the brewery will start limited distribution. They also hope to expand their current food offerings.
In addition to their standby beer, a Scotch Porter, Thunder Island features a rotating selection of brews that appeal to their broad customer base. These include a Mosaic-hopped pale ale, an easy drinking cream ale, and a Northwest-style IPA. They have a small barrel-aging program and have already released a few “dinosour” beers. They have also collaborated with Beers Made by Walking on a number of beers featuring wild harvested ingredients from their backyard.
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