Zoiglhaus Bets on Lents

Over the last forty years, one of the roughest pockets of Portland has been the Lents District (once regularly called “Felony Flats”) in the outer Southeast. The neighborhood’s nexus is at 92nd and Foster, for years symbolized by the seedy, graceless, and dangerous New Copper Penny. Scattered throughout Portland are pockets like Lents, where generations of families have lived in lower-middle class stasis. A couple native sons of the neighborhood, the poets Michael and Matthew Dickman, were profiled in the New Yorker a few years back, and author Rebecca Mead gives an overview of the place:

It was hot outside, and the bus, which was headed downtown, offered refuge from the arid intersection where they had been waiting: Ninety-second and Foster, where a junk-filled antique store with “Closing Down” signs in its windows faced off against the New Copper Penny, an establishment that offered ladies’ nights, and was considerably more tarnished than its name suggested….

Lents, which was originally a farming community that was annexed to Portland in 1912, was until the early seventies a blue-collar neighborhood of single-family homes, with its own commercial center and a distinct, small-town character. Things started to change in 1975, with the construction of Interstate 205: the freeway sliced the neighborhood in two, requiring the demolition of five hundred houses, and seeding strip joints and bars along Foster Avenue.  As the boys grew older, Lents declined. There were drugs and gangs, including the Gypsy Jokers bikers, who had a clubhouse a couple of blocks from the Dickmans’ home. Asian immigrants began moving into the area in the nineties, and there was a concurrent rise in the skinhead population. 
Lents, pockmarked by crime and poverty, has been one of the most intractable problems for the city. Anything beyond 82nd Avenue might as well be in a different county, and Lents has the additional dislocation of being not just east well south of the city. For two decades, the city has been making gestures toward rehabilitating Lents, but it was too remote to move onto the front burner. A few years back, though, Portland finally started making good on some of the plans. They have been looking for anchor businesses to replace the blighted ones that have made the place home, and the Portland Development Commission helped the Ararat Bakery to move into the neighborhood in 2008. The building they invested in was formerly a nightclub (with, apparently, an illegal brothel upstairs) and it seemed like a great exchange–except that 2008 was the start of the worst depression in a century. Ararat went bankrupt in 2011, and the building sat idle.
Panorama of Lents by Twelvizm
All of this very long preamble is to critical to understanding the business that took over the building in 2015–Zoiglhaus Brewing. It is an ambitious project made all the more interesting by its bet on this under-served neighborhood, a good six miles as the Schwinn pedals from the rich vein of breweries nearer to town. The founder and inspiration is Alan Taylor, a Berlin-trained Oregonian who spent five years planning Zoiglhaus, and investigating locations everywhere from Beaverton to the west of Portland to the eastern suburbs. Settling on Lents makes the whole venture more intriguing–though in an interesting way, is exactly in harmony with the region that gives the brewery its name.

Many Portlanders probably haven’t even heard of Zoiglhaus, much less been there. It has an odd name, is inconvenient, and is in easy view of that blighted intersection with the New Copper Penny. What they may not realize is that Lents is changing. It’s become a multicultural hub and has a wonderful international farmer’s market, a more vibrant and engaged local population (ironically, the great recession had the effect of forcing younger upwardly mobile Portlanders outside the core, and many have landed nearby), and that urban renewal is finally happening. Zoiglhaus has arrived, and the New Copper Penny will soon be torn down, replaced by an apartment building. And although it is a ways out of town, it’s just off the freeway and right next to a MAX train stop.
For our purposes, though, this is the key fact: Zoiglhous is making some of the best beers in the city, and has instantly landed in the top tier of breweries.
Taylor in lederhosen at the grand opening
(photobomb by Kerry Finsand)

Taylor’s long brewing journey began at Linfield College, where the resident assistant in his dorm allowed students to homebrew. “Our dorm at Linfield wasn’t called Newby Hall by the Linfielders, but Brewby Hall,” he jokes. “There was a time we had thirteen batches fermenting at once.” From there he went on to get a master’s in Germanic studies, and made a stop off in Berlin while exploring the possibility of becoming a Medieval linguist. Instead, he decided to enroll at VLB, a brewing program in Berlin. He interned there, brewed in Bavaria, came back to the US where he brewed at Full Sail, Spanish Peaks, and Gordon Biersch, then went back to Berlin, and finally returned to work at Widmer. 

Taylor left Widmer with the idea to start Zoiglhaus. I’d met him while he was at Widmer, and before I went to Germany in 2012 I visited him at his house to bone up on helles and dunkel. Even by then, he had the name and concept, the design work, and had seriously considered some properties. But things dragged on, and eventually he took a job at Pints while this slow process unfolded. That was a fortunate step, because it put him in contact with Chad Rennaker, a developer and the owner of Pints. Rennaker later opened a brewery in Albuquerque, and is involved with Zoiglhaus as well. (He’s also the developer who is redeveloping the New Copper Penny site.) Taylor, meanwhile is overseeing brewing operations in all three sites.

Zoiglhaus

Germany is famous for being one of the most advanced brewing countries in the world, but it actually contains multitudes of traditions. One of the oldest is tucked in Northeast Bavaria between Franconia and the Czech Republic. Here, local villages have maintained the medieval zoigl tradition of community brewing. Communities each had their own craft-brewery sized kit, and townspeople could brew on the system and then take the wort home to ferment. They sold the excess they couldn’t drink, and announced they had beer to sell by posting the six-sided brewer’s star. That tradition still continues, and you can still go to towns like Mitterteich and Falkenberg and find private homes serving the beer they made at the town’s brewery. (Taylor went on a fact-finding mission to the region and discovered these insanely old, crude systems fired by wood that still use coolships. The tradition hasn’t been much updated.)

Zoiglhaus’s concept knits some of the elements of the zoigl tradition that inspired Taylor. He has future plans to do some community brewing events in the brewery, but the main “zoigl” element involves working with other brewers who use his system. The community element comes more into play in the way the pub was conceived. The building itself is vast, with a huge pub space (a capacity of 270, recalling German beer halls), centerpiece bar, private room and quieter nooks. There’s a huge, spacious basement underneath the pub, and a a full story above (space to expand is always a bonus), plus room for a kitchen and spacious brewery.

Even in commercial venues, Germans “live” in pubs. They spend hours there together with their families, and many pubs even hold tables for regulars. Zoiglhaus is meant to be a community living room for Lents, with a play area for kids, and spaces that families can inhabit as if at the kitchen table. I’m not much of a food critic, but Taylor has spent a lot of energy trying to get the menu right and is aiming for something a cut above standard pub fare–though prices are relatively low (entrees range from $9-$14) to make it accessible to the community. The size may actually be a liability in the early months, because it can feel empty even when dozens of people are scattered around the pub. The vision, though, is clearly to fill this space with the din of the neighborhood’s voices.

Source: Brian Byrd

The Beer
In the end, I suspect that success will rest on the quality of the beer, which is where Zoiglhaus really stands out. Taylor’s background is extremely rare–few have brewed lagers in Bavaria, traditional ales in Northern Germany, and American ales across the western US. It is reflected in the kinds of beers he brews, which lean heavily on German traditions, but which also includes American IPAs and pales and the occasional Belgian style. I have no doubt that the Haus IPA is the best-seller, and that people walk in carrying their normal American expectations. Eventually, though, people should flock to Zoiglhaus because those German beers are not only extremely well done, but authentic in a way few are in the US. Four examples:

  • Lents Lager. This is a classic helles of the type you find in every pub and brewery in Bavaria. It is in some ways the most elemental beer style made, depending on the pure, subtle flavors of German malts and hops. These beers were purpose-built to be drunk by the liter (5% / 22 IBU): as tasty and refreshing on the first sip as on the last. One thing you learn if you spend time in Bavaria is that all helleses are not built the same–many have flaws or end up blah. Taylor’s would fly from the taps in Munich.
  • Kicker Kölsch. Similar in function to the helles, the kölsch is a beer to be drunk by the stange  (a .2 liter cylinder). Unlike helles, kölsches can vary quite a bit in palate, with pronounced mineral notes, soft or sharp hopping, and downy or toasty malting. Taylor acquired his kölsch yeast strain from Cologne and brought it back to Oregon; he ferments cool for low ester production. It’s definitely a bit on the hoppier side, but is characterized most by its bready malts.
  • North German Pilsner.  Taylor once did a presentation for the Master Brewers Association where he identified three sub-types of German pilsner, including his favorite, the northern variant. Typified by Jever, it is very dry, with a minimal malt body and strident, even grating hop bitterness. All these are relative terms, though, and to the American palate, this beer is agreeable and flavorful. People who try the Lents Lager and wish it had a bit more oomph will enjoy this one. It also has a slightly educational quality, letting people see that Germany does indeed contain multitudes. This isn’t in the regular line up (yet), but I hope it makes it.
  • Berliner Weisse. This nearly-lost style has been revived in the US as a kettle-soured solution into which fruit juices are typically infused. But in its original Berlin incarnation, it was made with multiple wild microorganisms, including wild yeast. Taylor learned a ton about this style when he was in Berlin, and part of his education involved discovering old bottles of Berliner weisse and tasting them. If you want the truly authentic article, visit Zoiglhaus during the summer when it’s pouring. A year in the making, it has that typical flavor that the wild yeast creates by converting lactic acid into esters. It’s one of the best examples made today, certainly one of the few made properly, and it is truly a spectacular beer.

There are a number of German-trained brewmasters working in the US, but almost none of them have worked both in Bavaria and the north. It means that you’ll find some of the most authentic and well-made German beer right here in Oregon, made by an Oregonian. Because Taylor is an American, though, he understands American palates and creates these beers in a way that is at once wholly traditional but also accessible.

Incidentally, if you want to hear a long discussion Patrick and I had with Alan recently, including a wonderful tasting session in which we discuss helles, pilsner, and Berliner weisse, give a listen to the podcast.

I hope people manage to take the long trek out to Zoiglhaus and take these beers for a spin. In reality, it’s not actually that far, and it’s certainly a lot closer than Munich or Berlin.

from Beervana http://beervana.blogspot.com/2016/08/zoiglhaus-bets-on-lents.html

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Vignette #2, Hans-Peter Drexler (Schneider)

“There are three different styles of aroma in a Bavarian wheat beer: most of them are very fruity,  from the Weihenstephan strain; there’s one that is more neutral; and there are some that are more spicy like the Schneider yeast, spicy-tasting like clove and nutmeg.  We are very interested to have the raw materials that bring a lot of the ferulic acid to the wort to get a lot of vinyl guaiacol in the beer.  It comes from the barley and the wheat—most of it comes from the barley.” 

“The biggest challenge in the brewery is to keep the biological balance in the right way.  It’s a really big challenge. For me, wheat beer is terrible to produce.  There are so many screws you have to turn.  It’s crazy.  And these open fermenters are very hard to control.  But the result is amazing if everything works perfectly.”

from Beervana http://beervana.blogspot.com/2016/08/vignette-2-hans-peter-drexler-schneider.html

Cemetery Roses

Old roses in Sacramento Old City Cemetery

Most folks don’t consider visiting a cemetery on their garden travels.  That is, unless you are a lover of old roses.

Old roses in Sacramento Old City Cemetery

Old roses in Sacramento Old City Cemetery

I recently visited Sacramento’s Old City Cemetery as the local Rose Society seeks to preserve the historic rose collection found there.  The roses form a collection  from old homesteads and cemeteries dating back to the Gold Rush.

'Souv de Mme Leonie Viennot', old rose on trellis in Sacramento Old City Cemetery; 'Marie' Pavie' white rose

‘Souv de Mme Leonie Viennot’, old rose on trellis in Old City Cemetery

Roses were often planted in cemeteries of pioneering families all across the United States as they migrated across the country, making cemeteries a source of many roses lost to cultivation, as hybrid roses began to dominate commerce by the 19th century.

Old roses in Sacramento Old City Cemetery

Old rose – ‘Florence Bower’s Pink Tea’ in Sacramento Old City Cemetery

Roses are deep rooted tough survivors, especially old antique roses that have direct lineage to species roses.  Often a special rose was brought by settlers from the old country and planted in family cemeteries that outlasted the homestead. Rose rustling has become pastime of heirloom rose aficionados, searching for and rescuing lost roses.  Hard on the Trail of Forgotten Roses 1994 New York Times article by Ann Raver.

In California and the West rose rustling reveals particularly tough survivors and such groups as the Texas Rose Rustlers carry on the tradition of finding lost roses.  In Sacramento, the Cemetery Rose group coordinates the work of preserving California rose history and keeps up the rose garden at Old City Cemetery.

Old roses in Sacramento Old City Cemetery

‘Fortunes’s Double Yellow’, old rose in Sacramento Old City Cemetery

Roses that can’t be identified are mystery roses, known only from where they were collected. Such as, ‘Ferndale Red China’ collected near the town of Ferndale, California.

Ferndale Red China rose, Sacramento Old City Cemetery

Ferndale Red China rose, Sacramento Old City Cemetery

Or the whimsical ‘Car Wash’:

'Car Wsh Rose' climber collected near a car wash in Califonia Mother Lode - Old roses in Sacramento Old City Cemetery

‘Car Wash Rose’ – Old rose in Sacramento Old City Cemetery

Collected or rescued, yes, near a car wash in Califonia Mother Lode that was about to be demolished for new development.

Anywhere you find an old cemetery you may discover a bit of lost horticultural history, and ideas about what sustainable gardening might be about.

'Florence Bower's Pink Tea' Old roses in Sacramento Old City Cemetery

‘Florence Bower’s Pink Tea’ on trellis in Sacramento Old City Cemetery

The Heritage Rose Foundation Conference is held this year at The Huntington Botanic Garden in Los Angeles Sept 30 to Oct 2 and Anita Clevenger of the Sacramento Historic Rose Garden will speak about finding historic roses.

 

from Gardening Gone Wild http://gardeninggonewild.com/?p=30479

Ninkasi at 10

How do you measure the modern era of American brewing? For me, there was a specific moment when the possibilities of the American tradition yawned in front of me like an almost unlimited chasm. I can date it to an exact moment, back in December 2006. I was attending the Holiday Ale Festival, and this new Eugene brewery with a lot of buzz brought a beer called Believer. Here’s how I described it:

It had one of the most succulent aromas I’ve ever encountered–sweet, citrusy, with a little mint. I had four people give it a sniff and they all did the same thing: sniff, eyebrows up, head back down for another sniff. 

That experience pretty well describes the transition from the second epoch in American brewing into the modern era. In my schema, the first epoch was marked by the pale-amber-porter period, lasting until the mid-90s; the second era was the transitional hops period, when brewers were going crazy for IBUs in their IPAs. The modern era dawned when brewers realized the true, full potential of the hop, one that lay more in the aromas and flavors rather than the bitterness. No brewery seized this flavor terrain as fully as Ninkasi did in its early years. For months, the only beers they had on the market were Believer (a red IPA, now retired), Total Domination (the flagship IPA), Quantum, a hoppy pale, and Tricerahops (a double IPA). Not only did they introduce our palates to this new way of brewing, they basically only made these kinds of beers.

Big tanks

The entire country has gone through palate shift, but each region has its pivotal products that initiated the change. In Oregon, Ninkasi was patient zero. Each one of those early beers bore the DNA of this new way of brewing, and Ninkasi, making a big, splashy debut, was the perfect delivery mechanism. Even though ten years ago seems fairly recent, it was actually the tail end of a long fallow period in beer. In 2006, there were still only 1,377 breweries in the country, and the craft segment of the market was just 3.4%. It was breweries like Ninkasi, bringing an exciting new version of hoppy ales to the market, that jump-started the current boom in brewing.

This had to do in part because of the beer, but the company’s approach, ethos, and personnel were also a big factor. Jamie Floyd had been brewing for over a decade in Eugene when Ninkasi launched, and he had always been a huge proponent of hops. (I recall a heated debate in the late 90s he had with a Colorado brewery who derided hoppy ales–“all you do is throw a bunch of hops in the kettle; anyone can do that.”) Floyd has an outsized personality, simultaneously big and gregarious but also small-d democratic. Ninkasi reflects Jamie, and even when it was the cool brewery, there was something approachable and everyman about it. Ninkasi has never been twee or hipsterish, and this was probably one of the reasons it grew so fast so early.

Their initial phase took Ninkasi through two brewery expansions and put them in six-packs on grocery shelves. They fueled that rise with variations on hoppy themes, introducing hoppy seasonals along with their flagships. Of course, no brewery stays in front of the novelty curve for long. Ninkasi therefore needed a second act, and it was a surprising one: traditional European lagers. It turns out that, in addition to his love of hops, Floyd also had an abiding love of classic, balanced lagers. (He may have shown his hand when Ninkasi put Schwag out early in their life; a light lager with a throwback style, it was a decade ahead of its time.) So while they were at the apex of their popularity, and still growing so fast that there were occasional diacetyl problems, Ninkasi released a pilsner and a helles, both straightforward, un-Oregonized examples, that seemed entirely at contrast with their brand.

I think the most startling was Helles Belles, the helles they released in the summer of 2011. It was a 5.1% beer with just a scant 22 IBUs of Hallertau and Spalt hopping. I loved it (of course), but it really threw people off. Drinkers were used to pulling whatever Ninkasi released off the shelf, assuming it would be a hoppy ale. I watched more than a few confused friends crack open a bottle of one of their lagers and wonder what they were drinking. But there was a perverse genius to it, too. Ninkasi has brought a lot of people into beer over the past decade. By offering a pilsner, helles, and Dortmunder, they introduced those same people back to the kinds of beers they thought they didn’t like–and I think with quite a bit of success.

The metal shop.

This demonstrates something unusual about the brewery. The first is that Jamie Floyd and co-founder Nikos Ridge keep their own counsel. They don’t work with outside marketers, brand folks, or PR people. Everything, including the artwork, is done in-house. Indeed, Ninkasi’s commitment to the arts extends to sponsorship of local music, hosting an “artist in residence,” and metal craft. They have both a music studio and metal shop onsite. If you visit the main offices, you can find a room with artists working on the next label or event art. Even though Ninkasi has grown to become the third-largest brewery in the state, it still has a bit of Eugene’s DIY feel about it. In the case of the lagers, there was no one there to suggest this ran counter to brand. The brewery’s instinct was pretty solid, though–just at the moment Ninkasi was investing heavily in lagers, craft beer was finding them newly interesting as well.

It’s safe to say no Oregon brewery–and few American breweries–have had a better decade than Ninkasi. It has passed through its constant-growth cycle and now has a large and impressive campus in Eugene. It remains one of the strongest brands in the state (more than half the regular line-up date back to the first couple years of production), and acts as a great vehicle for Floyd and Ridge to do the extracurricular activities and philanthropic work they clearly enjoy.

But it’s also at an inflection point. The lineup, though solid, is starting to look dated. Most people in Oregon now think of Total Domination as a “classic, old-school” IPA. Ninkasi has added a couple of trendy IPAs to their regular lineup (session and fruit), but debuted them well into the fads. They don’t have much of a barrel program and have largely ignored kettle-souring. None of that is bad–and in fact, older breweries never look good chasing trends–but it does put a question mark on the future. A brewery making over 100,000 barrels doesn’t have the flexibility to pursue trends and must support core brands, but it also needs to find a way to appear fresh and interesting. What will Ninkasi’s third act look like?

Ninkasi has long been mentioned among likely targets for buy-out, and it certainly makes sense on paper. Having toured the brewery with Jamie and Nikos a couple of times, though, I’d be surprised about that. You don’t spread your focus to non-bottom-line activities like the arts, philanthropy, and the environment. You do hire branding firms and spend money on strategic planning to boost sales and reach in anticipation of an acquisition. Anything is possible, especially when big enough sums are mentioned, but this doesn’t look like a brewery that’s looking to sell.

As one more piece of evidence, I’ll recount what Jamie told me when I toured the brewery back in 2010. He talked about the feeling of place he got from the old regional breweries that used to scatter the Pacific Northwest, and how he thought that was a good goal for Ninkasi. The NW has a different feel and vibe than the rest of the country, and local companies were the only ones who really knew how to address it, he told me. He wanted to be a part of the region, an institution that both understood it and helped define it. No doubt people can change their minds, but that always struck me as such an unusual, Oregon goal. It put Ninkasi’s approach into a context that the brewery has continued to live up to. And I do hope we can continue to write about them at twenty, thirty, and forty years as an Oregon institution.

Happy 10th, Ninkasi–

Beer flowing overhead, from one building
to the next.

from Beervana http://beervana.blogspot.com/2016/08/ninkasi-at-10.html