By Andi Prewitt
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
It only took three sentences at the bottom of a press release to set off a frenzy of theories on Facebook.
When Thirsty Monk announced in late October that it would be purchasing a “well-known Portland beer bar,” seemingly every blogger, author and industry insider in town leapt to their social media accounts to pile onto the mound of ideas in this guessing game. Could it be Horse Brass? No way would a brewery fit in that basement. The ill-fated Tugboat? Maybe, but rehabilitating the fire-damaged building made it a longshot. Produce Row? APEX? Blitz Ladd? The debate eventually fizzled after a few weeks came and went without a leak, an official announcement or a correct answer.
“I was reading what everybody was speculating and it’s amazing how everybody always assumes that it’s the bar that’s not doing well, you know?” said Hilda Stevens, owner of Bazi Bierbrasserie, the well-known Portland beer bar in question that no one suspected was up for sale. “Where people should really think about, like, maybe there’s a bar that is doing really well but they have a business plan and they have some priorities.”
What few people knew was that Stevens’ priorities had shifted with time and that she actually never intended to remain at the helm of the business that’s become a Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard headquarters for Belgian-style ales and soccer-viewing parties.
“When I opened this place, I knew it wasn’t something that I was going to do the rest of my life,” Stevens explained, which might sound like a friend just broke it to you that they weren’t really in it for the long haul. It’s all too easy to get attached to our favorite bars, and Stevens admits she’s become synonymous with Bazi, another factor that likely contributed to the surprise surrounding the announcement Thirsty Monk would take over in mid-December.
“I didn’t realize that I had become as much of a brand of this place,” Stevens described. “It’s like, I’ll go to place and people might not remember my name, but they remember Bazi. They associate me with the brand.”
That’s due to six years of cultivating relationships across the bar and around the neighborhood through her involvement with the Hawthorne Boulevard Business Association. Bazi has become her home, its kitchen filled with kegs and living room overflowing with rowdy soccer fans watching a match on any given day, and her home is conveniently located just blocks from Bazi. The bar was a result of Stevens’ conservative planning, but even the most thorough proposal can sometimes benefit from a boost due to fortuitous circumstances. Those happened to take the form of a layoff from Stevens’ well-paying job in the tech industry, the arrival of Major League Soccer in Portland and the space Bazi opened in suddenly becoming available. Stevens also points out that the business ended up filling a need few realized existed at that point in the city’s beverage scene.
“I love the fact that we were the first Belgian beer bar to come into Portland in a time where people were like, ‘What is she thinking? A Belgian beer bar isn’t going to make it in hop-centric Portland,’” Stevens said. “It was all about catering to the right community and knowing our audience — knowing there’s a lot of people in this town who have traveled all over Europe and really appreciate Belgian beers.”
Stevens had a target: Bazi’s fifth anniversary. If she could build a clientele and become successful by that milestone, it would then be time to challenge herself once again by either expanding or selling. And when that five-year mark arrived, Stevens wasn’t ready to let go. The search for a second location was underway until, much like the founding of Bazi, unexpected factors intervened. Last March, the neighboring bicycle shop that shared storage space with the bar, which was primarily occupied by hundreds of empty boxes that once contained the two-wheeled rides, vacated the premises. Even before the clutter of cardboard was cleared, however, Stevens had envisioned the perfect purpose for that site.
“Nobody knows that there’s all that space unless you have worked here. And people who have worked here know that,” Stevens said. “And they know that I’ve always joked around and said if the bike shop ever moves out, a brewery needs to open up here.”
But the decision to look for someone else to acquire the business was solidified when Stevens realized it was simply time to go home. On Bazi’s fifth anniversary, her parents’ residence in Houston flooded, which would happen again when Hurricane Harvey pounded southern Texas with record-breaking rain, and Stevens couldn’t help. The distance during their crisis still pulls tears from her eyes; the ease with which she’d talked about Bazi suddenly halts as her voice grows unsteady and laden with sadness.
“And it was really hard, you know, not being able to be there. And … that’s, that’s the part — that’s the part that’s really hard to talk about,” Stevens said. “I can talk about the business side, no problem. But my family, it hurts. And watching how much they slow down, and you’re always missing out.”
The decision was easy at that point. It was time to pull out of the expansion plan and find Bazi a good owner so that Stevens could move back to Houston after nearly two decades in Portland. She put the business up for sale in July and quickly drew the interest of multiple companies. That included Thirsty Monk, an Asheville, N.C.-based brewery that uses Belgian yeast in all of its beers — from the more traditional tripels and wits to the somewhat unconventional combination of Northeast IPAs or chocolate stouts. CEO Barry Bialik said he put Bazi under contract nearly as soon as he heard it was available and without even seeing it, flying out a few weeks later to meet with Stevens and take a tour. That personal touch was impressive and helped her feel confident about entrusting what she’d built to Thirsty Monk.
“Definitely the fact that it was the CEO was the one out there looking for the location — that in itself says a lot about an organization,” Stevens added.
Bialik also wanted to be involved in making the announcement to the team at Bazi and remained tight lipped about the deal with media until they knew.
“We’re so sensitive to that and how we talk about news and how we share it to make sure we deliver it right,” he said. “There was no other way to even think about it. Of course I wanted to be there to share with the employees. I want everyone to feel comfortable that, yeah, their jobs are safe. They’re going to be part of the transition and we’re all going to help this grow together.”
The CEO had been scouting out possible sites in Portland earlier this summer, but found the perfect match for the company’s ethos in Bazi. The way he describes it, the two could’ve been set up on a beer bar dating app and there wouldn’t have been a more complementary partner out there.
“What was so great about walking into Bazi for the first time is it felt just like walking into a Thirsty Monk,” Bialik recounted. “It had the same kind of energy, it had the same kind of community, it had the same kind of family-pub feel. And they’re on the same top 100 beer bar lists we are. They specialize in Belgian beer just like we do. It just felt like such a natural fit.”
There won’t be many immediate changes—the Bazi name will stay in place until Thirsty Monk’s Denver brewery can supply the Portland spot with its beer. Even then, they’ll stay true to Stevens’ model of offering a wide variety of Belgian-style offerings, with about half of the taps reserved for a rotation of other producers. Bialik’s brother Opus is in the process of moving his family from Seattle to Portland to serve as the new general manager. And as for that storage space housing a brewery, it’s still too early to tell. Architects need to survey the room to determine if a small system could be installed. If not, Bialik said he will either purchase an existing brewery elsewhere in the city or contract brew with another business. Either way, Thirsty Monk will eventually make beer in Portland. Until that happens, Bialik is focused on the ownership change and grateful for Stevens’ assistance.
“I’m so happy that Hilda is going to have the time to stay around and help as long as she’s available to help Opus with the transition and to learn about the community she’s created there and how we can honor and continue that.”
It’s a legacy she hopes will be remembered each time a crowd gathers there to drink Belgian beer as a soccer match plays on the business’s big screen.
By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Hops, hops, hops. Everything’s coming up hops at Worthy Brewing Company.
Because of Roger Worthington’s ties to Indie Hops, a company that makes pellets, and its experimental aroma hop program with Oregon State University, Worthy is the main brewery to test out these new varieties.
As Zach Brenneman, Worthy’s head brewer, explained, “They’re working on developing aroma hops that have good brewing qualities, are disease resistant, have high yields and vigor. We may brew with one that consumers really love that’s disease resistant, but doesn’t have good yield.”
It can take years to find a hop that meets all the criteria. Worthy’s 5-barrel pilot brewing system was created for this trial-and-error process. Until the hops prove themselves consistently over time, they are simply identified by number. Last year, Worthy’s team brewed up four pale ales using the experimental varietals 1007-35, C1002-37, G9-1-374 and C115L-1.
“We use a very basic pale ale malt profile and our standard house yeast for these beers,” Brenneman said. “We make the same base beer for each of these brews to focus on the hops we are using. The finished beer will be 5% ABV and in the 30-40 IBU range.”
They served tastings of the four beers at the Bend brewery and several locations in Portland. Brenneman was at Produce Row Café sampling. “In talking with consumers there, I was interested to see how deep some people wanted to dive into this,” he said.
Some of the comments from the tasting cards:
“Would be good in a helles or kolsch.”
“Nice if you are sick of the IPA trend.”
“Super complex, but too assertive.”
“Almost too mellow for a pale ale (like a lager with hop character).”
“Not bad, just not my thing.”
More in-depth comments are solicited from tasters at Worthy. “Our panelists are given instructions on what we are looking for as we taste through each of the beers so that we can send back the best, most informative information about the breeding program hops we brewed with.”
So far, the brightest star of the program, most grown on OSU’s research fields, is Strata, formerly known as X-331. “It has outrageous oil and it’s more in your face. Tasters note its distinct tropical fruit flavor and its dank fragrance similar to cannabis,” said Brenneman. However, Strata was a surprise hit, especially for brewers. In initial sensory evaluations and onsite rub and sniff comparisons, it didn’t stand out.
Worthy’s blog post about Strata said the following: “Until the harvest this fall, the supply of Strata IPA is limited. The 2016 harvest from 9 acres, grown at Goschie and Coleman Farms, was around 18,000 pounds. It was considered a ‘baby’ harvest, the first after the establishment year. The one this fall will be the first mature crop. Reports from the farm are that it’s vigorously growing and yields should be above the average of 2,000 pounds an acre last season. This spring, Indie Hops planted another 60 acres in the valley.”
Worthy’s StrataSphere IPA won a gold medal in the Sessionable Hoppy category at the 2017 Oregon Beer Awards. While it can take 10 years or more to develop a new successful genotype, this one was on an accelerated path of about six years. Strata is an open-pollinated hop, which means seeds that breed true, developed from a German Perle hop.
Strata IPA has been a consistent favorite at Worthy, with its sales often equal to those of the flagship Worthy IPA and in some weeks exceeding it. It’s available in draft only, but after the harvest plans are to package it in 22-ounce bottles.
This fall, Brenneman looks forward to getting a jump on brewing with the experimental hops and plans to dive right in after the fresh-hop beers are finished. He receives the chosen hops from Jim Solberg at Indie Hops in 2-pound foil sacks that have been bagged under gas. Ten pounds of whole-leaf hops are then used for pilot batches. “Our goal is to do a late kettle add and then dry hop in 1 to 1 1/2 pounds per barrel,” he said.
This year Brenneman wants to brew them in pairs — maybe even two on the same day. He would like to have eight experimental beers available during several months to have more options for consumers to taste and compare.
The goal is to keep brewing well-made, balanced beers and involving consumers who are invested in what might be the next new big hop as well as bring new genes into the hop pool. Close to 90 percent of the hops that Worthy uses are Indie Hops grown in Oregon.
You’ll actually find six rows of experimental hops at Worthy’s ever-expanding brewery and pub as part of its demonstration garden. Shaun Townsend, OSU aroma hop breeder who’s directing the hop development program, chose the varieties that would be planted in Bend. Although most of the test fields are in the Willamette Valley, researchers wanted to see how climate and pests would impact hops in Central Oregon.
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: