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 Mark Lindner
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Where else but in Bend would a retirement community team up with the local homebrew club and a local brewery to brew a professional-amateur (pro-am) beer to benefit the Alzheimer’s Association? Aspen Ridge Retirement Community was looking to expand its recreational and learning opportunities several years ago when activities director Sandie Nowell brought up homebrewing. A young woman, who has since moved to Portland, responded to the ad the retirement community put on Craigslist and brought her kettle, burner and recipes to help them brew a few batches. The group started out using extract, but still managed to snag four awards in their first year.
In 2013, Tim Koester of the Central Oregon Homebrewers Organization (COHO) reached out to see if there was anything COHO could do to help after seeing an article in the Bend Bulletin on the Aspen Ridge Brew Crew, as they had come to be called. COHO was also in need of meeting space at the time, so the partnership worked out perfectly. COHO has regularly met at the retirement community since fall 2013, while residents are now able to attend the monthly gatherings without even going outside. Koester and Doug Jordan, also of COHO, taught the Brew Crew to use all grain, built them a stand for their 10-gallon Igloo setup and have served as an enormous resource in general. They also participate in the regular Brew Crew brew days.
Joe Reeves, a retired priest, is the lead of the Brew Crew and oversees a core group of about 12 with a few more regulars. The members range in age from 70 to 95 and have brewed 30 to 40 beers to date. Brewing duties take place in two separate rooms: one, which is kept cool via air conditioning, is their primary fermentation room; while a second, complete with sink and running water, is for actual brewing. A large room was converted into a pub complete with an always-stocked mini-fridge. While they do have a kegerator that can be pulled out for events, most of the beer is packaged, as Koester said “as a complete process.” One of the residents, Roy Eskildsen, designs the labels and they are printed in house with the Brew Crew supplying all of the bottling and labeling labor.
Despite the Brew Crew’s lack of long-term experience, they’ve brewed a host of award-winning beers. Besides the four their first year, several more were won the next few years. In 2014 their Baltic porter won first prize at the annual COHO Spring Fling and also took first at the Oregon State Fair. Their saison took second place at the Oregon State Fair, while a beer named Machine Gun Maggie took “Best in Show” at the Deschutes County Fair.
Machine Gun Maggie is an Imperial IPA that the Brew Crew brewed with Worthy Brewing on their 5-barrel pilot system. Since they wanted to sell their beer to benefit the Alzheimer’s Association, they needed it done by a licensed brewery. Tim Koester approached Worthy who had already done two beers as fundraisers — Gary’s No Quit Wit and Local 36 Red Lager — and they readily agreed. Brew Crew members and their COHO partners joined Worthy brewers and made two batches that were subsequently kegged for a couple of special-release events. The rest was bottled in 22-ounce bombers that were put up for sale. The Brew Crew does not yet have a total amount raised for the Alzheimer’s Association as they are still selling the bottles, but they are pleased with the results.
Homebrewing is a fun and mentally-challenging hobby that fits well with the Montessori approach the residents take to their activities. There are quite a few highly-successful programs and activities at Aspen Ridge and, as activities director Nowell stated, there would be no way she could run all of them. She doesn’t, in fact, need to run any of them as the residents jump in and take charge. While it may be a core group of 12 in the Brew Crew, their steady output is available to all and the residents seem to love their locally supplied beer.
Nowell has been contacted by several other retirement communities for details on the program and guidance on beginning similar projects.
Keep an eye out for beer from the Aspen Ridge Brew Crew the next time you are at a festival or fair.
OBG Blog Archives
Welcome to our archive pages! Read stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler from June 2012 to January 2018. For newer stories, please visit our new website at: