By Kris McDowell
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Harvest is a time for reaping what has been sowed. And while hop farmers are bringing in the fruits of their labor, the collaboration between Culmination Brewing and Reverend Nat’s Hard Cider is producing fruits of their combined labors.
Collaborations are fairly common in today’s beer world, with more breweries crossing the beer borders to team up with other adult beverage producers. These hybrids can be somewhat difficult to classify and won’t tempt all consumers from their respective markets. However, those open to new taste experiences may find something they enjoy that requires no classification beyond that fact that it’s the product of talented craftsmen.
Culmination and Reverend Nat’s collaboration, called Our Glass, goes beyond a single brew and encompasses a series of hybrids. The first release was Watermelon Cherry Sour — a blend of two sour beers produced by Culmination (a barrel-aged Flanders red with cherries and a blueberry blonde sour) that was co-fermented with Reverend Nat’s Granny Smith cider and fresh Hermiston watermelon juice.
The inspiration for this first in the series came from local food-beer-everything-tasty aficionado Steven Shomler’s love for and relentless pursuit of Reverend Nat’s Holy Water(melon) cider. Steven also has an ownership stake in and hands-on involvement with Culmination, which made the project launch even easier. The brewing teams could also often be found hanging out at each other’s locations, so there was a foundation of familiarity. Tomas Sluiter, principal owner and certified master brewer at Culmination, explained that the “caliber and quality of Reverend Nat’s made them attractive” to form a strategic collaboration and long-term relationship with.
When it came to the actual brewing, there was no doling out of “we’ll do this, you do that” instructions. The final product was the result of a true partnership, and one that seemingly worked well. The small batch consisted of six 1/6-barrel kegs and 450 22-ounce bottles, nearly all of which sold out quickly. Only a few bottles remain in the possession of each brewer and a couple of kegs will be brought out at a yet-to-be-determined time. Commenting on how the sour has evolved, Jim Bonomo of Reverend Nat’s said, “It’s getting more sour, but the watermelon flavor is still there.”
The name Our Glass was the brainchild of Devin Benware, part of Culmination brewing team. Tomas contributed the idea for the logo — two tulip glasses positioned base-to-base, forming the interior of a shadowy hourglass. The image is set like the hands of a clock would be at approximately 4:58 for the first of the series. As new collaborations are released, the “clock” will continue to move on each label.
Plans for future beer-cider hybrids include a barrel-aged, Tepache-based barleywine. Composed from Costa Rican pineapples, piloncillo (unrefined cane sugar) and spices, Reverend Nat’s Tepache is a “lightly alcoholic elixir.” However, the original brewing schedule has been thrown a bit off course due to the fickle nature of crops. The delay has nothing to do with ripeness (the pineapple plant produces throughout the year). Instead, a recent price spike in the Costa Rican supply due to volcanic activity has put things on hold. As a backup plan, to ensure the brewing schedule doesn’t go too far astray, Nat’s has bottles from the last batch of Tepache that can be added directly to the barrels with Culmination’s barleywine.
Another collaboration will involve Reverend Nat’s Winter Abbey Spice, a cider that is inspired by Northeast-styles that use raisins, cinnamon and nutmeg. Winter Abbey Spice is actually a blend of two ciders - Revival, their flagship cider, and Providence, which is made with raisins. What was initially called “Apple Pie” when the taproom started blending them has since taken on a life of its own to the extent that 75 percent of each batch of Providence is allocated to making Winter Abbey Spice. Due to the success of the first collaboration, expect larger batches of subsequent hybrids.
Both Reverend Nat’s and Culmination see a strong future in collaborations like theirs, in part because the cider business is growing, especially in mature markets like Portland where plenty of drinkers are looking to expand their palates. Tomas also believes that Portland consumers demand more due to the fact that so many people who now call the city home are non-native. He hails from Grand Rapids, Mich. and says in general terms, “everyone in Grand Rapids is from Grand Rapids.” In fact, he specifically asked one well-known and well-respected Grand Rapids brewery to collaborate with him and they replied that they simply don’t do collaborations.
That brewery’s loss is the gain of others who are likeminded. The Culmination-Reverend Nat’s collaboration is a fluid affair among friends, where getting together to spitball ideas is key along with firmly believing in the quality of what the other is creating. Listening to the two producers talk — the ideas generated by their creativity and openness to experimentation — gives the impression that there is no end to what they’re able to come up with. And just like friends do, when a bump in the road comes along — like the price of pineapples — they find a way around it. Beer drinkers and cider drinkers alike can raise their glasses to that.
Todd Edwards (right), owner of three Ole Latte carts, has partnered with Culmination Brewing to make a coffee beer for the Baker’s Dozen festival this March. Edwards highlights the importance of building relationships with other businesses and customers. Also pictured: Dave Fry, hotel manager at Sentinel (left) and Alex Thompson, barista. Photos by Andi Prewitt
By Andi Prewitt
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
When you meet Todd Edwards, founder of Ole Latte, there are a number of roles he could highlight when introducing himself: entrepreneur, small-business owner, originator of a Portland coffee shop on wheels. But when you meet Todd Edwards, he’ll likely open with this: “world changer, humanitarian and life advisor.”
That might sound mighty ambitious for a guy who runs food carts, even one who continues to expand his brand. But if you spend just 20 minutes outside of his original location on Southwest Alder Street and watch him work, you begin to understand why he’s not just another Portlander serving one of the city’s staple beverages. As he glad-hands regulars and greets everyone with a broad smile, it’s easy to see him as more of a mayor-like figure — at least for that patch of bustling asphalt in the heart of downtown. Edwards’ support for other small businesses along with a deep concern for customers — including those with the means to pay and those without — set him apart from others in his line of work. And in his continued effort to advance connections with new industries, Edwards has found himself collaborating with makers of the region’s other beloved beverage: beer.
Ole Latte has teamed up with Culmination Brewing to produce a new brew for the second annual Baker’s Dozen festival, which takes place Saturday, March 12 at the brewery on Northeast Oregon Street. The event brings together the stuff of a slack-jawed, drooling Homer Simpson’s dreams: coffee, beer and doughnuts. Edwards became involved thanks to Steven Shomler, a man who facilitates many networking opportunities in the fields of food and beverage. Shomler, who authored books on the Portland food cart scene and the city’s breweries, connected Culmination and Edwards, who was then asked to provide the coffee component for a festival beer. And while this would be his first foray into the world of beer making, Edwards already had some clear ideas about his contribution.
“I said I really want to do something different. I mean, I’m not a brewer, but I’m a coffee roaster. And I’ve seen a lot of coffee in coffee beers out there — a lot of stouts and a lot of porters,” he described. “So we’re going to go a lot on the lighter side and so that way it’ll make it a little more pronounced on the forwardness of the coffee.”
Tomas Sluiter, owner of and master brewer at Culmination, confirmed that the Baker’s Dozen beer will be an English mild ale blended with cold press called Ole Molee. Edwards wants attendees to pick up the fruit-forward flavors of his Corazon Del Toro, a heavy-bodied espresso blend with a juicy mouthfeel. And if you’re noticing that the description of the coffee sure sounds a heck of a lot like beer or wine, you’re right. The three have plenty in common and Edwards, who previously had no background in coffee roasting, actually aspired to open a wine shop. The Corazon is a nod to his years of experience with wine, which included working in restaurants and leading seminars on proper tasting techniques and pairings. Eventually, he knew he wanted to set out on his own and had a little bit of capital to get started. A wine shop that showcased Northwest varietals — particularly those from low-volume producers — seemed like the perfect fit. He even entertained the idea of opening in the mornings to serve coffee. But a brick-and-mortar store proved to be too risky. That’s when the trusty food cart rolled into his life. The vehicle that’s launched many a culinary career in Portland was much more feasible for a startup. However, he had to abandon the wine concept and continue with coffee alone.
“But when I started researching more and more into it, I found out the translation between wine and coffee was completely harmonious. It worked exactly the same,” explained Edwards. “It had a little bit different dialogue, but when you talk about the notes of coffee, it’s like the same thing you talk about with the notes of the wine or the body or the acidity. And these are all like — the verbiage just came completely across. It was seamless, so it just made sense for me.”
Edwards initially brought on Ristretto Roasters, and as he learned the process Ole Latte took over. Now the business roasts in a warehouse off Southeast Clinton Street, providing enough product for three carts — the original on Southwest Alder Street, the second near Portland State University and the third, most recent addition in Happy Valley, which may sound like an unusual location, but the suburban pod of Portland-style food carts has attracted plenty of business without city-level foot traffic.
Beyond moving the traditional coffee shop to a cart, Edwards’s experimentation also extends to his products. He turned to Mother Nature when looking for ingredients to use in a new syrup, which will also be on display at the Baker’s Dozen. Of course, anyone who’s walked into a cafe has undoubtedly noticed rows of Torani bottles lining a wall. Syrups come in dozens of flavors, but Edwards wanted to bring a taste of Oregon’s terrain to his concoction. So he went foraging — in his neighbors’ yards. Fortunately, Edwards has a good relationship with the people on his block and there were no calls to 911 when they spotted a man running around their property with clippers and a bucket.
“But it was still entertaining to see me,” Edwards recalled, laughing. “People are like, ‘What are you doing?!’ It’s like, ‘It’s all research! It’s all science. It’s all for science!’”
The inspiration for this project in trial and error came from a survivalist-style TV show. Edwards “watched some guys in the middle of nowhere making a pine tea. And I thought, ‘That is the most weird thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life.’” The men stripped a tree, threw part of it in hot water and boiled it down, producing a tea that was the essence of the woods where they were camping. Edwards went through multiple plants for his syrup — juniper, hemlock, spruce — unsatisfied with the results. With his very last sample, he finally found one he was happy with. It was the Douglas fir from his own backyard.
“It just came out really well in the coffee and it makes like you’re drinking a Christmas tree in a coffee cup,” Edwards described. “So we’re going to find out what people think of how it’s going to be in beer, too.”
Most of the tree parts are used in the process — from pine needles to the pitch. Steeping takes 18 hours and the liquid is then filtered. Looking back on the creation of his Douglas fir syrup, Edwards realized he had the makings of a “Portlandia” skit: a guy rooting around yards for the perfect plant that’s showcased via a specialty food truck.
“And, you know, Douglas fir tree in their coffee or their beer — everybody is kind of just, that’s unique,” he said. “And I guess that tags it as weird for Portland, so that’s the cool thing is like, ‘Oh, there it is. There’s Portland being weird again.’”
Working with local businesses like Culmination is nothing new for Edwards. The Ole Latte website features a list of collaborators. For instance, Solabee Flowers & Botanicals provides a weekly delivery to help adorn the Southwest Alder Street cart. Boys Fort sells bags of Ole Latte coffee. But partnering with the brewery to make a product introduced some challenges since a coffee roaster and a brewer bring separate concerns to the table.
“We both have extreme focus with what we do and we have a different intention with each thing,” Edwards said of the experience. “So now we have to figure out, you know, well — what is your process and how am I going to complement that so we can work together and pair it well — so we’re not trying to override each other on flavor profiles and highlights so we can have a nice marriage.”
Although Edwards is new to beer brewing, he shares many of the traits that are prominent in that industry, including collaborating, supporting and staying rooted in community. Some of those characteristics are demonstrated by the way he and his baristas interact with customers. Rather than conceiving of the exchange as a transaction, he likens it to “coffee dates” between two people.
“I’m not an assembly line, so it’s interesting, you’ll always see all of my shops — you won’t go from one end to pay for your drink and go to the other end to get your drink,” he explained. “You’re going to get your drink out of the same exact window or the person that you just gave your money to. It’s a one-to-one thing.”
But that wasn’t enough for Edwards. He also wanted to give back, which led to Ole Latte’s Suspended Coffees program. There’s no precise record of how or exactly when the practice began, but it’s believed to have origins in Naples, Italy at least as far back as 100 years ago. It can be summed up as a pay-it-forward system that helps the less fortunate. Patrons buy an extra beverage that’s “suspended” or “pending” until claimed by a stranger who needs it. One of Edwards’s baristas told him about the tradition. About five minutes later, the business owner had erected an old chalkboard on the facade of his cart describing Suspended Coffees. Contributors get a 10 percent discount on their order. The only rule is one item per person, per day. The menu goes beyond coffee to include everything from cocoa to cookies. Edwards said the program has helped him cultivate relationships with the homeless who are, at best, ignored and often even scorned.
“They don’t need to tell me any story about why they’re getting something off the board. But they felt inclined that they wanted to,” said Edwards. “And it was kind of great to be on the recipient end of being able to hear that somebody just needed to talk about what was kind of going on in their day and made them feel better.”
And that’s what Edwards means when he introduces himself as world changer, humanitarian and life advisor. Sure, you could just call him a guy who sells coffee. But as with beer, sometimes the strongest bonds begin at a bar over a beverage. You can be sure that Edwards will be at the Baker’s Dozen festival this month strengthening his connections with the community.
“That’s the way that we’re going to look to change the world. We’ve got to start locally,” Edwards said. “And if I can model my business with kindness, then that’s what I’ll do.”
Shaun Kalis, founder of Ruse Brewing, has a temporary home at Culmination Brewing. He met Culmination owner Tomas Sluiter at Old Market Pub & Brewery. A trust developed and Kalis found himself in a unique situation: he’s part of the Culmination team and uses that system for Ruse between production times. Photo by Kris McDowell
By Kris McDowell
For the Oregon Beer Growler
By definition a "ruse" is a trick or an act that is used to fool someone, according to Merriam-Webster. In some cases, there is malicious intent behind it. In other cases, like with M.C. Escher's impossible constructions, it is a way to play with the mind. In the case of Ruse Brewing, one of the newest to debut on the Portland brewing scene, it speaks to the mystery of the word and is a drinkable expression.
Shaun Kalis is the founder of Ruse, a transplant from Michigan whose resume includes six years at Old Market Pub & Brewery as well as stints at Cascade Brewing Barrel House and Two Kilts Brewing Co. which bookended an education at the American Brewers Guild. Like many, he remembers the beer that opened his eyes to what beer could be beyond the yellow, fizzy swill he had previously known -- a stout from Michigan-based Bell's Brewery, Inc. Known for the vast number of stouts they produce, it's no wonder that the beer had such an impact on the young Shaun and was part of what drove him to begin down the brewing path. What started as homebrewing, and self-described as "minimalist" at that, evolved into something much greater after his relocation to Portland.
The location of that move was somewhat of a random decision based on his desire to get into brewing. And while multiple cities would have sufficed, he could not have landed in a better location than Portland. Not only does the area have an incredible brewing culture, but it has the added bonus of a vibrant live music scene. Although he’s played since he was a kid, Shaun got more serious about music as an adult — taking the time for lessons and then using his skills as a guitar player in a Portland bluegrass band.
When developing the concept for Ruse Brewing, Shaun knew he would incorporate music as he feels it parallels brewing in that a song is written to speak to a particular feeling and experience in the same way that brewing a beer, for him, is speaking to something. Ultimately, Shaun would like to have a brewery/music venue where he can work with artists and musicians to create beers. In the meantime, he has found a fortunate situation and temporary home at Culmination Brewing. Shaun met and worked under Culmination founder Tomas Sluiter at Old Market and their relationship has deepened as Shaun's brewing has evolved. Rooted in their time together at Old Market is a trust that has allowed Shaun to step into a very unique situation: he is both part of the Culmination brewing team as well as an independent brewer utilizing the Culmination system between production times. As collegial as the relationship is, there are designated spaces within the Culmination facility for ingredient, empty keg and cooler storage of beers as well as a 10-barrel fermenter Shaun owns. For anyone that has experienced living with a roommate, allowing someone to have intimate access into one's personal space requires trust and communication. That is taken to a higher level when that sharing of space is in the place that houses one's livelihood and is something that speaks to Shaun's integrity as a person and competency as a brewer.
So what about the beer that Shaun is making? To begin, his year-round offerings will be Translator IPA, a citrus-forward beer with a soft mouthfeel from an English yeast, and Architect Saison, an approachable, session beer (4.8% ABV) that is dry and light in body. He wants to focus on fewer styles out of the gate so that he can be more creative with them. In addition, Shaun is adamant about quality control and committed to dumping out anything that doesn't meet his standards. As part of his role with Culmination, he is also taking over the brewery’s quality assurance/quality control (QA/QC).
Year-round beers may be a solid foundation for any brewery, but it's often the one-off and seasonal beers where brewers really get to have fun. For Shaun that fun is creating barrel-aged beers, saying "something about the oak is so romantic." At first blush, delving into barrel-aging so early on might sound limiting, but as Shaun explains it, "it gives me a buffer — time to focus on the IPA and the saison."
He anticipates the barrel-aged beers will sit for at least nine months, only being released when they're ready and if they meet his standards. The barrels he's sourced, to date, are pinot noir and Burgundy barrels from Walter Scott Wines in the Willamette Valley and spirit barrels from McMenamins and Bull Run Distilling Company. Shaun's first two barrel-aged beers will be MultiBeast and Red Saison. MultiBeast uses Ruse's own Brettanomyces strain (banked at Imperial Organic Yeast) and is dry hopped with Mosaic. Nearly ready, Shaun may debut it at Saraveza's Farmhouse and Wild Beer Festival in March, in addition to bottling it. The Red Saison won't be ready for months as it just went into barrels in December 2015, but a young sample of it shows great promise, displaying a pleasing licorice aroma with hints of leather and oak in the smooth, saison flavor.
Those looking to try out Ruse Brewing for themselves need not look far, starting with the taproom at Culmination where at least one of his beers will be part of the lineup on an ongoing basis. Beyond his home base, the new management at Great Notion (formerly Mash Tun) in Northeast Portland took a shine to Ruse, buying the first available keg in December 2015. And as a 10-year veteran of McMenamins (in a non-brewing capacity), his connections there ensured that beer can be found at some of their locations, including the Market Street Pub near Portland State University. Going beyond beer-centric spots, he's started the process to get both his IPA and Saison into Bamboo Sushi locations. He plans to be in 10-12 businesses around Portland and will be bottling the IPA and saison in 22-ounce bottles in the near future. His barrel-aged beers will be available in a 500-milliliter format.
By Kris McDowell
For the Oregon Beer Growler
In 2001 Tomas Sluiter was working on the production side of the evening news in Grand Rapids, Mich., and while not unhappy doing so, he and April, his girlfriend (and now wife) realized that if they didn't leave then, they might never leave. After visiting many places across the country they chose Portland for the reasons many do — beer, food, culture, small city feel with big city accommodations and ready access to the ocean, desert and rainforest. Back in those days, Seattle was the "obvious" choice, but since then Portland has become more attractive, in part because of people like Tomas and his brewery, Culmination Brewing. Originally, Tomas figured he would get another job in television but ended up taking an assistant brewer position at Old Market Pub & Brewery in Southwest Portland. At the time, the Old Market brewery was little more than a homebrew setup (something familiar to Tomas as a hobby he'd been practicing since high school) in part of the kitchen. Soon after he started, the owner approached Tomas to spearhead a transition to a more substantial brewery setup. He took on the project, finding a 15-barrel system in Kansas City and a local fabricator able to make needed modifications.
During the course of 12 years Tomas took the brewery from 250 barrels to 1,000 barrels annually, numbers which are made more impressive when one considers the number of styles that Old Market carries and the fact that the owner was adamant that they never run out of any beers. He greatly increased his brewing knowledge during that time, began to see ways to improve the layout of a brewery and, in time, realized opening his own brewery was what he wanted. As anyone who has opened a business knows, however, plans don't coalesce overnight.
While Tomas continued planning his brewery, including searching for an ideal location, he founded Brewery Consultant Group, a company that provides assistance regarding all aspects of opening and running a brewery, an endeavor that he continues to this day.
Eventually Tomas found the "perfect" site for his brewery in the Goose Hollow area of Portland, a building that was available for lease with the option to buy. As the saying goes, if something looks too good to be true it probably is and, unfortunately, it applied to this location. The new plumbing had been installed improperly and the expense Tomas would have had to incur was well beyond his budget.
Continuing his search, he found a place nestled in inner Northeast Portland, just south of I-84. While the site didn't have any hidden flaws, getting Culmination open there was not without its snags, this time with the city. For more than four months, the buildout of his fully funded brewery was put on hold as various factions within city government had disagreements about regulations. Once the waters cleared, it was full steam ahead to install and begin brewing on the 15-barrel, five-vessel system. Tomas specifically chose the system for its ability to produce smaller batches and, thus, more styles. It also makes it possible for Culmination to do a triple brew day just like big breweries do.
In early 2015, Culmination opened its doors to the public with a soft opening that was attended by nearly 100 people — double what they were expecting. Not only the culmination of years of planning, the name of the brewery came from the idea that Tomas and April wanted their brewery to be a place that was connected to the community, a place that embodied the coming together of great beer, food and music. That connection speaks to the relationship between his role as a brewer and his customers, which he described by saying, "When a customer comes in, they are entering a contract with the brewer. That person has worked X hours per day in order to buy the beer the brewer has made." It's an insightful view and one he takes very seriously.
Since opening, Tomas has put his certification as master brewer to work, increasing the ratio of house to guest beers and Carter Owen has gotten the kitchen up and running. Carter hails from Vermont and is the friend of an assistant brewer Tomas worked with at Old Market. Originally planning to open a food cart, Tomas convinced Carter, who he described as having a "perfect personality" and being a "phenomenal cook," to change his plans. He has given Carter complete autonomy about what comes out of the kitchen, dishes that start with local produce and meats to which Carter applies his culinary talents.
So what lies ahead for Culmination? Sake, for one. Tomas holds both a brewery license and a winery license, the latter of which covers sake production in Oregon. Tomas plans to start with hybrid beer/sake products, as traditional ones like those produced by SakeOne in Forest Grove, where he worked for two years. Those beverages require a specialized room where the koji mold spores work on the rice to digest the starch and convert it into fermentable sugar.
Culmination will also address a naming divide that exists in craft beer: Black IPA and CDA. From Tomas' perspective he sees the two names as different versions of the same style where there can be a lot of overlap, similar to the stout and porter crossovers that have existed for years. CDA is a Pacific Northwest specific name for the style that is bigger, sweeter, roasty and fuller bodied than the Black IPAs that are found in the Midwest and East. Tomas feels there is room for both and plans to have his version of each on tap at the same time.
Culmination also plans to have regular live music nights that will feature local bands playing original music. During the warmer months, they are utilizing a common space in the building but once winter comes they'll move into the brewery space that includes a back bar. Down the road, they look forward to pairing beer styles with music styles, creating custom labels and even phasing in a music studio. Tomas' plans are big, but no bigger than the time it has taken to formulate and begin to implement them -- a culmination of a dream he hadn't yet dreamt before his travels brought him to Oregon.
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