By Jim McLaren
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Sometimes a simple statement can tell the whole story — explain why someone takes a leap into an uncertain future.
Standing in front of the copper-jacketed, 7-barrel brewhouse he bought from Golden Valley Brewery, Carston Haney says, “I enjoy beer. I enjoy lots of styles of beer.”
Explaining that simple statement from the man who walked away from a job with Portland’s Alameda Brewing Co. takes some history.
Haney’s first brewing job was in Millheim, Pa. at Elk Creek Café + Aleworks. He followed up with an apprenticeship under a master brewer before moving to Portland in 2008 to take a job with Alameda as a secondary brewer.
After just three months at Alameda, Haney took over as head brewer and began a fast-track growth program. In 6 1/2 years, he grew Alameda from a 5.5-barrel system to a 20-barrel system, from making 800 barrels a year to making 1,800 barrels, from brewing in the back of the pub to brewing in a full-blown production facility.
Then it hit him “About a year ago I got to the point where I wanted to do something for myself,” he explains. “I think what it was, was brewing the same beers over and over again. It’s a fun challenge figuring out how to source raw materials, hop contracts, etc., to be able to grow. But just brewing the same beer over and over again, it gets a little old.”
But he also understands Beer Business 101 — don’t mess with a proven thing. You make what sells. So he decided it was time to step out on his own.
He found space in a building on the east end of the Ross Island Bridge that belongs to the family of a friend, then hired an engineer, an architect and a lawyer and began making friends with a number of city officials. He says that’s when bits of white began to creep into his full red beard. The business of beer was taking him away from making beer. “It’s been nine months since I brewed.”
There was also the question — will there be an audience for another brewery when he gets back to brewing? “I think with our business plan, we’re going to have a small tasting room. I’d like to do about 40 percent of sales in-house; the other 60 percent, self-distributing around town. I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t have the connections I do around town. It is a very tight-knit industry in Portland. I know bar owners, so it helps a lot.”
Haney has also taken note of something else affecting small breweries. “Where I see the pinch, what’s coming up here with breweries, every neighborhood can support a brewpub. This Brooklyn neighborhood definitely can. Where I see the pinch is on the grocery store shelves because now there is very little brand loyalty. Back in the day, people drank either BridgePort or Widmer. Now there’s such a variety and there’s only so much retail space.” Haney thinks that, in part, growler sales can make up for product being on store shelves.
While Haney explains why the head of a wildebeest his hanging on an office wall in the still mostly empty building at 730 SE Powell Blvd., (he thinks it will be an interesting conversation piece), he also talks about the first beer he plans to make in his rejuvenated brewhouse.
“The first beer I’ll brew is called Calibration Ale because it’s a good thing to do when you have a new brewery, is to run something fairly low gravity, kind of keep the malt bill on it fairly simple, 35 IBUs. Even if I brewed on the system somewhere else and moved it, in terms of evaporation from the kettle, it’s going to be different from one location to another — basically it takes about one brew on a system to dial things in. So I’ll start with a pale, then something dark, like a porter — a pale porter — then an IPA. I want to try to start off with English ale yeast. I’ll probably end up bringing in some lager yeast fairly quickly because I want to a have very clean, fresh pilsner on tap too.”
He likes crisp beers that grab a drinker’s attention. “I lean toward English-style ales with a Northwest twist. Something that is a fairly balanced beer, but has quite a bit more hop content than an English beer would have. I’d say by far my favorite beer to brew is a Southern California IPA — something that has some malt presence to it, not overly sweet though. There’s not a lot of crystal or caramel malt in it, and not overly bitter either. So a nice balance between malt sweetness and bitterness and then a whole lot of hops at the back end in terms of the flavor and aroma.”
He also wants to do some collaboration brews to help get the word out when he is opening.
Carston’s wife is just as committed to the project. She will be the initial beertender and when friends ask if they want to have children, she tells them, we’re having a brewery.
At the same time Ross Island Brewery is being built out, Daily Grind is putting a commercial kitchen into an adjoining part of the building and will make food available to brewery customers.
Ross Island should be opening in May.
Ross Island Brewing
[a] 730 SE Powell Boulevard, Portland
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