By Pete Dunlop
For the Oregon Beer Growler
It’s been a wild year for Ben Dobler. After 20 years at Widmer, he took over as head brewer at Mt. Tabor Brewing in February. Soon after they opened their doors in late September, Dobler left — unhappy with the direction of the business. Shortly thereafter, he became head brewer at Laurelwood.
“We’re super excited to have Ben on board,” said Mike De Kalb, Laurelwood owner and founder. “He brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to the table. His role will be to maintain and enhance quality and consistency, and to bring increased innovation to our brewing program.”
Don’t expect the classic Laurelwood recipes to change much, if at all. Beers like Workhorse, Free Range Red and Red Elephant are well established and well loved. Dobler has no plans to disturb the continuity, though he does have a few ideas.
“I look forward to maintaining and building on what my predecessors accomplished here,” Dobler says. “Laurelwood has had some fantastic brewers and produced a variety of great beers in its 15-year history. I hope to delicately add my fingerprints to that tradition.”
Some of the beers will receive subtle tweaking to smooth out the edges, he expects. Another priority is to develop a line of lower-alcohol beers. Laurelwood is a family-focused business and the beer menu could be more accommodating to folks who don’t want to drink more than a pint of 7.5% Workhorse.
“We realize mom and dad aren’t going to throw back multiple pints of Workhorse,” Dobler says. “Well, they shouldn’t. I’ll put some effort into producing flavorful, low-ABV beers. That’s been a big part of my mantra because I like to drink beer, which means I like to have more than one.”
The innovation angle is important and it applies to the beers brewed at the Sandy headquarters and Hood River’s Full Sail, where Laurelwood has a production brewing arrangement. Dobler worked in new product development at the Craft Brew Alliance (CBA) for 10 years and seems nicely suited to freshening up Laurelwood’s beer palate.
“We’ve had pretty much the same pub lineup except for seasonal beers for the last 15 years,” De Kalb said. “We’re looking to Ben for innovation that will enhance the beers available to our pub customers. IPA may be king, but our patrons and fans are always seeking alternatives.”
Dobler has a similar view of the opportunities.
“I see a definite need to enhance the experience of pub patrons,” he said. “The beers served there should always be somewhat different than what is sold in stores. I’d like to use that theme as a catalyst that brings people into the pub and also generates excitement outside it in the retail channels.”
Dobler’s biggest challenge will almost certainly be managing the relationship out in Hood River, where Laurelwood brews the bulk of its packaged lineup. That includes Workhorse, Free Range Red and seasonal six-packs. Experience acquired on his watch at Widmer/CBA will be handy.
“My job is to make sure the beers made in Hood River match the ones made here,” he says. “During my time at the CBA, I learned a lot about scaling production from 10 to 250 barrels and how to execute that successfully. I think my exposure to larger-scale brewing operations is a big part of why I’m here.”
For now, Dobler is working to get a handle on what the Full Sail relationship looks like, short-term and long-term. It’s an evolving relationship involving changes in strategy and tactics on both ends. His goal is to maximize what Laurelwood is getting out of it.
“Packaged product is an important part of our business and the processes need ongoing attention” Dobler says. “A significant amount of my time will be spent managing how we do things in Hood River.”
Dobler succeeds Shane Watterson as Laurelwood head brewer. Watterson is joining Geoff Phillips of Bailey’s Taproom and Jason Barbee, formerly of Ex Novo, in Level Beer, a new brewery in planning. Rodney Stryker, formerly of Heathen Brewing in Vancouver, Wash., has taken over for Dobler at Mt. Tabor.
Laurelwood beers are currently sold in Oregon, Washington, California, British Columbia, Idaho and Alaska. In addition, a small amount of their beer is exported.
[a] 5115 NE Sandy Blvd.
[a] 6716 SE Milwaukie Ave.
By Alethea Smartt LaRowe
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Vasilios Gletsos has been brewmaster at Portland’s Laurelwood Brewery since 2011. He recently announced that he is moving back to the East Coast and onto a new job as production manager at the highly-acclaimed Hill Farmstead Brewery in Greensboro Bend, Vt. Shane Watterson, who has worked at Laurelwood for the past four years, has been tapped to replace Gletsos.
This is not the first time that Gletsos has passed the torch to Watterson. That was in 2008, when Watterson became education chair of the Oregon Brew Crew, the state’s oldest and largest homebrewing club, after Gletsos vacated the position. By all accounts it was a successful transition, as Watterson embraced the challenge and started the popular Build-a-Beer project, which taught members recipe design ingredient by ingredient.
Gletsos, who previously worked at the Jantzen Beach location of BJ’s Brewhouse, Rock Bottom Brewery in Portland, and Portland Brewing Company (formerly MacTarnahan’s), came to Laurelwood during a tough period of transition. Besides the challenge of continuously running the 15-barrel brewery at capacity, he had to deal with a hop contract issue that caused the brewery to remove its flagship Workhorse IPA from distribution for almost a year.
Gletsos not only weathered the storm, but has also managed to introduce many popular new beers and initiatives over the past few years. Among his long list of accomplishments are the award-winning Megafauna Imperial IPA, his work on Laurelwood’s fresh hop beer offerings, and the implementation of a sour ale and barrel aging program. One such beer, named Golden Weapons, is an American sour ale that is currently bottle conditioning and, when ready, will be available at the restaurant and bottle shops. Gletsos says the satisfaction he feels from “designing, executing, promoting and distributing beers we are proud of” is the best reward for his efforts.
Shane Watterson, who started out homebrewing, has been at Laurelwood since 2010. He previously worked at Deschutes Brewery in Portland and has completed the American Brewers Guild’s Intensive Brewing Science and Engineering program. Referring to his decision to accept the promotion to brewmaster, Watterson said, “I like being on the floor and making beer - that’s where I shine the most, but I like learning new stuff more than anything.” Never one to shy away from a challenge, Watterson felt that this was the right time to take advantage of this opportunity.
Watterson has already accomplished many things in his time at Laurelwood. Specifically, he mentions his efforts to make the brewery as efficient as it is right now. In his first few months on the job there was a lot of turnover. “While dealing with the chaos from losing experienced crew members, we went piece by piece through the brewery and determined how to make it more efficient, which resulted in cutting time out of our work week, making beers more consistently, and using less ingredients.”
The role of brewmaster is quite different from working as the lead brewer, as Watterson has done for the past two years. Now his days will be filled with meetings, handling logistics, planning for the future, and developing his team. When I asked Gletsos what advice he would give to Watterson, he first made it clear that he thinks Shane is more than capable of doing the job even better than he has. Upon further reflection, he said, “It is very disorienting to move off the floor and out of the flow of the brew day. Shane has an opportunity, now more than ever, to do things the way he wants and mostly on his own terms. He needs to keep asking himself, ‘What do I want to create?’ and not get bogged down with the procedural aspects of the job.”
One advantage Watterson has is his four years of experience with the Laurelwood setup. “I have a practical idea of how a recipe is going to turn out and can put that on paper so the guys on the floor understand the process.” While the current crew has been working together for several years, there are still new things to learn as they take on new responsibilities. As he takes over the role of brewmaster, Watterson says, “I’m going to be very team-oriented. I want their feedback and respect their opinions. This crew drinks a wide variety of beers and has different palates. That’s true of our customer base as well. I think we have a good idea of what Laurelwood customers want and can make beers they are going to like.”
As for future plans, Watterson reminds me that “people don’t realize how far out stuff is planned. We have hop contracts for the next several years, so Vasili has already planned out a lot in terms of beer production.” Besides making some new experimental beers, Watterson, who married his longtime girlfriend over the summer, plans to recreate the XPA he shared with his wedding guests. He also recently made a dry-hopped pilsner and is planning to make a bretted saison akin to The Commons Brewery’s Flemish Kiss.
A chance meeting at the 2014 Great American Beer Festival also created the possibility of a collaboration beer with Brasserie Saint James out of Reno, Nev. The brewery won Mid-Size Brewpub and Mid-Size Brewpub Brewers of the Year for Head Brewer Josh Watterson and Assistant Brewer Matt Watterson. Previously unknown to each other, Shane Watterson ultimately discovered that the brothers are his second cousins.
When asked how he spends his time when he’s not brewing, Watterson mentions that he has many ever-changing hobbies, including playing the ukulele. He loves experimenting with fermentation and makes cheese, sausage, pickles and other tasty treats. He also likes to camp and spend time outdoors, taking advantage of all this state has to offer.
As Gletsos once again hands over the reins to Watterson, he fondly recalls his time at Laurelwood, occasionally working on the floor with the crew, tasting some really amazing beers, and communicating his experience and love of beer to the public. He tells me that he hopes to spend his last days on the job sharing beers and memories with his friends and colleagues.
The Oregon Beer Growler raises a collective pint to Vasili Gletsos, with much appreciation for his hard work and the excellent beers that have resulted from his time at Laurelwood; and to Shane Watterson, as we look forward to enjoying the fruits of his labor in the months and years to come. Cheers!
Laurelwood Public House & Brewery
[a] 5115 NE Sandy Blvd., Portland
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