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.
|Panorama of Lents by Twelvizm|
|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.
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|
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.