By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Funhouse Brews. The name sounds like a wacky carnival attraction — one of those colorful places where the mirrors and walls are distorted and everyone looks like a twisted version of themselves. That’s just the image brewer Jason Rizos wants for his North Portland home-based nanobrewery.
The veteran homebrewer has more than 20 years of experience cooking up award-winning beers, and he likes to be different. “I’m trying to stand out as one who will make wild, experimental, unusual out-there beers, like Triple Berry Snowcone,” said Rizos. His tap handles — towers of red, blue, yellow and white Lego blocks — advertise the fun funkiness of the brewery.
Rizos started making beer when he was a typical starving college student with limited funds, and homebrewing was cheaper than buying.
“Really,” I wondered, “even with all the ingredients and equipment required?”
“Yes,” he said. To prove it, he created an online tool called the Homebrew Break-Even Calculator to compare the price of making a batch of beer to buying a six-pack. The site links to Rizos’ book, “The Frugal Home Brewers Companion.”
A Portland transplant who arrived from St. Louis in 2008, Rizos teaches literature and writing at Portland Community College. “I haven’t met many brewers who aren’t engineers or software specialists,” he said.
As a member of Oregon Brew Crew, Oregon’s oldest homebrew club, he served as president in 2011 and has participated in numerous competitions — both as a brewer and as a judge, having completed the Beer Judge Certification Program in 2006. He has won several awards for his beers, receiving medals at the Best Florida Beer Homebrew Competition, the Oregon Fall Classic and the Oregon State Fair.
A few years ago Rizos and his wife decided to establish the commercial nanobrewery and in December 2016 they were officially licensed and open for business. They built the 2-barrel system in what had been their totally unusable wreck of a garage. “We built this space expressly as a brewery with gas, electric and water, drains, sinks and specific spaces for our 60-gallon kettles and fermenters.” Rizos currently has two large refrigerators for cold storage, but is already starting to think about how to add more. Like most brewers, he is always in need of additional fermenters.
“We actually started in earnest in early 2017, but then the ice storm hit and we couldn’t brew because all the lines were frozen,” Rizos said. By February he had produced a significant volume to begin self-distributing.
Rizos describes his beers as “handcrafted, unorthodox, chimerical crossbreeds of classic styles, with a focus on processes and ingredients impossible or impractical on a scale larger than two barrels.” This summer he started making kettle sours “that were meticulously blended.” Then he had a breakthrough by deciding to add fruit: blackberries, raspberries and cherries (that he’s since replaced with strawberries), creating the Triple Berry Snowcone. Quality is his top priority. “I urge people to try my beers, even when they don’t think they like that style of beer. My sour is just barely a sour,” he said.
For the Nano Pub Crawl last month along North Mississippi Avenue, 30 nanobrewers collaborated with larger producers and other nanos to make beer for the event. Rizos partnered with Ecliptic Brewing’s John Harris, who came over to Funhouse and the two created an oatmeal stout. “I’m thinking about splitting that and making half of it into a salted caramel brownie beer,” Rizos said.
Fridays from 5-7 p.m., his in-home brewery is open for growler fills and sales of 32-ounce crowlers. Check funhousebrews.com for area businesses that serve his beers. Rizos usually brews every two weeks and tries to have four different varieties available. Currently, his beers are regularly on tap at Chill N Fill on North Lombard Street and QuarterWorld Arcade on Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard.
7717 N. Emerald Ave., Portland
By Jim McLaren
For the Oregon Beer Growler
There was a golden crack of sunshine in the gray, mist-filled sky that had ridden with me from Portland to visit a budding nanobrewery in Silverton on a cold November afternoon.
The “gold” was in a glass on the bar at the back end of a big, cluttered metal shed, half of which is home to Belgian Underground Brewing. Co-owner Sheldon Lesire, a school teacher, describes the brew as “a golden strong ale, bottle conditioned. It is about 9 percent ABV. Real bright golden color. It is unfiltered, but it sits so long everything settles to the bottom of the bottle.”
This is Underground’s version of what the Belgians call Duvel. The word means “devil” in Flemish, which is odd because it’s so bright and lively — reminiscent of spring in its aromas and flavor.
As Sheldon explains that Belgian beers are lightly hopped and draw most of their flavors from the yeast strains and adjuncts used to make them, his father-in-law is smiling broadly through a full salt-and-pepper beard. Dale Coleman is the brewer whose hobby of 16 years is filling Silverton taprooms with excited taste-testers.
But Dale, who also works at a company that manufacturers off-road products like winches, didn’t start out making Belgian beer. “I’ve always been a stout and porter type of guy,” he explains. Dale only decided to try Belgians a couple of Christmases back when Sheldon asked if he’d show him how to make beer for the holidays. That led Dale and Sheldon on a recipe search through every brewing book Dale had until they settled on Duvel. Several experimental batches gave them the taste and color they wanted, and taste tests in Silverton and at Portland’s Bazi Bierbrasserie, which features Belgian-inspired beers, proved they had what they wanted.
That’s when the Underground story came to a new chapter. The next beer Sheldon, Dale and third partner Eric Druliner, a Lake Oswego police officer, tried was a chocolate porter. Dale says it’s made with Madagascar vanilla beans soaked in Maker’s Mark bourbon for about a month. He also pitches Belgian chocolate into the secondary fermenter.
When Sheldon, who was born in Belgium, first smelled that porter he “had an emotional moment.” The tobacco aromas reminded him of his Opa, or grandfather in Flemish. It was then that Sheldon realized the brewery’s philosophy had to be “we make beer to tell stories and we tell stories to sell beer.”
Underground’s story actually began, then, in 1939 when Sheldon’s then-19-year-old grandfather joined the Belgian Resistance movement to fight the invading Nazis. Over the next few years he passed along information, such as railroad schedules for German troop movements. The young man was arrested three times and each time he lied his way out of jail.
But Sheldon explains that “almost nobody knows anything about the Belgian Resistance.” And, he adds, like that movement, “Belgian beers are unsung.”
Belgian Underground Brewing wants to share those stories and its take on those beers.
Both agree that any new beers will have to wait until they build out their small brewery and get OLCC approval. It could happen this coming spring.
Until then look for other Belgian Underground Brewing tasting events in Silverton, grab a glass and raise it to Sheldon’s Opa and what he inspired.
As the Oregon Beer Growler was going to press, Belgian Underground Brewing was in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign to raise $15,000 to outfit their current facility in order to meet OLCC standards for a brewery.
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