gravlax with arugula
My husband and I moved from NYC to Portland, Oregon Nov. 11, 2005. John used to brew beer in our kitchen back east and living here in Portland reminded me of those days. According to the The Brewers Association of America, craft beer had a 17.8% increase in supermarket sales for 2006–more growth than any other alcohol beverage category in the supermarket sales channel. Portland has more than 28 microbreweries within its city limits which is more than any other city in the world. There seems to be a brewery or a pub on every corner. Beer is worshipped here, and in fact, it seems to create a subculture of “hopheads” in the know. It has a magical power over this town and it captured me in its web as well. I am not much of a beer drinker, more of a wine and vodka person. But through getting to know the founders and brewmasters behind these Portland breweries I began a love affair with the whole process as well as the product they created.
I wanted to understand the type of person behind a brewery and I wanted to know what it takes to stay on top, or at least, in the running. I interviewed a dozen founders/ceo’s/brewmasters. I sat down with each of them, face to face for about an hour and asked a series of questions I felt were pertinent to their industry and to their involvement in it. I interviewed Kurt Widmer, one of the founders of Widmer Brothers Brewing, Brian McMenamin of the Mcmenamins chain, the founder of hair of the Dog, Alan Sprints, also John Balfe and Scott Barnum, the CEO of Pyramid Breweries and Mactarnahan, Karl Ockert, the Brewmaster and founder of Bridgeport Brewing, Ron Gansberg the founder of the Racoon Lodge and Mike De Kalb the founder and owner of the Laurelwood Brewing Co. and a few others. I have found them to be incredibly intelligent, kind, humble and witty. It is exhilarating talking to people who truly love what they do. Here are some of the photos I took and a few of the interviews.
mactarnahan grain and hops
we were sitting down outside the mcmenamins market pub at 10th and market in portland
fresh ale at racoon lodge
INTERVIEW WITH : Brian McMenamin, Vice-President McMenamin’s Chain
at the Market St. Pub downtown Portland.
What direction do you think the Beer Craft industry is going?
“Lately it seems like it’s growing again at a pretty good rate. It was flat for a while there and it had been growing in double digits for a long time. In the beginning days, in 1985, the city had 3 or 4 breweries now I don’t even know how many there are. I think every pub should have a brewery if they could. We are seeing the industry mature a lot. The bigger guys are getting bought out and merging but I think there is still plenty of opportunity for the little guy to make this niche.
Do people approach you asking advice on how to do it?
“We get tons of phone calls, which is great but there is not enough time to sit down with every one of them, although you want to, you can’t do that. You don’t have a chance to retrospect very often because you’re doing stuff all the time. This gives you a chance to think about what and why you’re doing something.
I think it’s healthy to combine brewing and the pub atmosphere, you create your own atmosphere. We make our own wine too, we grow a lot of our own herbs for the kitchens. We also grow hops just for fun not for real usage.
What do you think is the style trend for American micro breweries?
“Northwest that like hoppy beer but then in general the mass produced beer has appeal to a lot of people. As a small guy we have the opportunity to do all kinds of beers.
We have 23 breweries, one for each two pubs, more or less, different water sources, different age of hops, each brewer tinkers a little bit with the grain, they each like their own signatures on it. So the beers are all a little bit different in each one of the breweries.
Budweiser would shriek at that because they want their beers to taste the same the world over. If people don’t like a beer we’ll brew another one. We are also marketing to a general public but more in our own town, and they can drink any beer they like there, not just ours. Our beer is always associated with food. We are more restaurants than pubs now. Our food sales used to be 25% or 30% and now they are 65%.
How do the American craft brewers techniques compare to those of Europe?
“I think the basics are there. People thought we were nutty to have a fruit beer, our Ruby was the first one in Oregon but they’ve been doing it in Europe for a long time.
Do you see a big difference in beer styles in Europe as opposed to the United States?
“25 years ago Budweiser was not available in Europe, now it is everywhere. “
Would you open a pub in Europe?
“We’re kind of homebodies. We do everything ourselves. We don’t have a team that goes out and opens new places. Our furtherest outpost I probably 3 hours from ground zero. It is hard to manage place the farther out it is.
“Have you thought about opening more restaurants in the Portland area?
“Yes, we’re always looking. We just opened one on Killingsworth, the Chapel.
What do you think it takes to stay successful?
“We have at times barely survived, and even now we have places that don’t make money, places that have never made money. But we have enough places that make money so it balances out. We make enough to keep going which is good. If someone starts this business the first two questions are ‘how much money do you have and then, have you ever worked in the industry’? We get a lot of calls from people that have no experience with either brewing or kitchens who want to do what we do and we say, quit your job and go work in a brewpub for a year. They have to have enough money to open it and to float it.
What was your beginning like?
“We had a rough start, our dad helped us out. My brother owned a restaurant and I managed it when I was 21. Then we got into business together and opened a place. We got out of school, we were seven years apart, we were dumb, neither of us had any business experience. We bounced around a lot. We tried to figure out things for ourselves, the school of hard rocks. We survived that time, we are still learning every day. We were political science majors. I was thinking about going into law school. I never really knew him when we were little kids, we were far apart in age. We became best friend when we got older and we would want to go to that pub together, just because it sounded cool. We loved beer and we would drive all over the planet to try different beers. In 1978 or 79 there were only 15 beers available on tap in Oregon, total. We’d go to Washington state and sample different beers, it was fun. Mike opened a wholesaler caus he was really interested in importing beers and making that work. It was not successful, he was ahead of his time. He then got back in the pub business, where we are now. We were buying old dairy tanks and doing whatever we could just to make beer. Our first brewery was put together for just a few thousand bucks. It was a bunch of old stuff, whatever we could find. Our brewery was one step above making soup on the stove. It was just a bigger kettle. It was ‘that tastes good, or that tastes bad, we have to throw that away’. We had successful pubs before we started brewing. The brewing was just a side note in 1985, when we started it.
What is your favorite beer to drink?
“IPA, I like hops. Europe is very malt oriented, lesser hops. This is the beer I grew up on. The first Pyramid ale was great, filled with hops.
What is your opinion on going green?
“We’ve been doing it forever, like using windpower for example. We also use recycled wood in all of our places. You could find where the wood comes from in all of our places. Some of our wood comes from a Seagram’s distillery in Kentucky. Some comes from a tobacco plant. We just do it, always have.”
Why do you think that there are so many breweries here in Portland?
“We have good hops close by, good grain, great water. The weather, brings more people in to drink beer. So there is the demand. The spirit up here is a bit more experimental, big companies do test marketing here.
Do you have a worthy competitor in the Oregon region?
“We don’t even think that way. One would rather be on a street with 30 pubs than one pub. There is going to be that much more traffic. “
Do you spend a lot of money on marketing your products?
“We didn’t know marketing from a hole in the ground. For the pubs that was great. Then we started getting bigger properties, hotels, now we have a marketing department, although I am still afraid of it (laughs). Word of mouth has always been our kind of deal. We do a lot of marketing now, mostly for the big properties.
You have so many properties to manage, what is a typical day like for you?
“It’s gotten a little crazier in the last couple of years. I don’t know why. We are pretty hands on and we just opened 3 pubs in like 6 months, which is crazy. Now we just have a bunch of remodel projects. We do them ourselves. There are so many projects, just internally. A typical day is a lot of driving. Today I was in Eugene, then I stopped in Salem and then Portland. Tomorrow I have to go to the office, in Portland. Friday I am up in Seattle and Olympia.
I read that you have a $70 million empire. Is this close?
“That’s an old number. I don’t talk about numbers. We’re doing better than that. Numbers are not that important. We’re getting close to $100.”
Why do you think there is the grass-roots spirit here? You grew up here and why do you think it’s here?
“Our parents said whatever you do, do it well. We were not perfect children. My mother was upset when I told her I was following my brother into the beer business. So we said we’d name our first beer after her. She said, ‘I’m changing my name’. Then she became our biggest fan. She still goes to pubs, to this day. “
What qualities do the McMenamin brothers possess that make you unique in this environment?
“We survived! I grew up a pretty introverted kid and had trouble in speech classes. I did learn, eventually how to communicate.
My version of an Ahi Tuna salad
Fresh ahi tuna steak, no bone
roasted beets, cubed
frozen corn, buttered and heated
salt and pepper
Ocean City Seafood restaurant on 82nd
the crowd was very hungry and the line was out the door, we waited 30 minutes to get a table
jasmine tea with real tea leaves
greens with garlic
chinese duck ( the best thing we ate)
Our house is for sale, after a seven year renovation we are moving! Check it out here
here is a bit about the apple:
The Opal apple is a newer variety discovered in Europe in 1999 as a cross between a Golden Delicious and a Topaz. With firm flesh and a bright yellow color with a hint of orange, the Opal is resistant to oxidation and has limited bruising. That means they are less likely to turn brown when sliced and when you buy a big bag full, they can withstand a few bumps in the fruit drawer. It has the sweetest, perfumed flavor and scent and is firm to eat!
My artist friend Kim Parker who lives in NYC shared her top five places to shop and eat in NYC (http://www.kimparker.tv/aboutus.html)and from her website here are some of her beautiful paintings which she turns into fabrics, bed linens and curtains, amongst many other things…
Beads of Paradise
The Strand Bookstore
Every year we start our Thanksgiving planning with the best of intentions. “Last year was over-the-top. Could we please put the brakes on with the side dishes this time?” And every year we cook way more food than our extended family could possibly eat in one sitting.
I blame my mother. She can’t resist a side that sounds good. Of course we need creamed turnips along with creamed cauliflower, mashed potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes, and turnip gratin. And that’s just the starches. Every year we pick out a turkey big enough for all of us, not counting the fact that we will be so full with sides that we don’t have a lot of room left for the turkey. This year I bought a small turkey at Zupan’s, we are solo, John and I and we will be eating two simple sides, like the beets and carrots above, maybe a fancy dessert (hint, hint)…in fact I think Papa Haydn makes a to die for strawberry cake that would be perfect!!!!!
beets and carrots