Coin Toss Brewing: “Beer Geek” Talker Turns Brewer

unnamed-3Coin Toss Brewing Co. is a new brewery from homebrewer Tim Hohl, KPAM Radio’s news director, coming to the Portland suburb of Oregon City, with great assistance from veteran brewer Dave Fleming. That sentence is my attempt at SEO optimization. HT: Ezra Johson-Greenough of The New School.

We all know the proverb, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,” but for KPAM radio news director Tim Hohl, host of the Thursday-ly “Beer Geek” segment, it’s never been about beating brewers but championing them. Since 2011, Hohl has interviewed plenty of brewers along with publicans, hop growers and, back in January, yours truly.

“The more time I’ve spent telling stories about the craft beer industry, the more I’ve wanted to be a part of it,” said Hohl. “The people, the creativity, and the collaborative spirit are an inspiration. Plus I love history and the idea of merging it with my love of craft beer.”

Hohl was kind enough to interview me for his show and I’m delighted to get to return the favor now that he has announced his new brewery venture, Coin Toss Brewing. Technically, the brewery’s grand opening is this summer, but I coin-cidentally sampled his first brew, George’s Honest Ale, at Growlers Hawthorne a couple weeks back.

The clever name is homage to pioneers Asa Lovejoy and Francis Pettygrove (y’know, the guys for whom those NW streets four blocks apart in Alphabet City are named after) who, instead of rochambeauing for the right to name our fair city after their own places of origin, decided to go best-out-of-three on a simple coin toss. Lovejoy, from Boston, lost. Pettygrove, from Maine, won. The infamous toss off, incidentally, occurred not in Portland proper but in Oregon City, which is where Coin Toss Brewing will open as a 10-barrel brewery in a 1,400 square foot space at 14210 Fir St, Suite H.

As for George’s Honest Ale, it’s part of Coin Toss’s “Heritage Series.” To learn more about it, I joined Tim and his “beer swami” (Hohl’s quote), Dave Fleming, one of Oregon’s most prolific brewers (whose c.v. includes the Lucky Lab, Lompoc, McMenamins Old St. Francis School (Bend), Three Creeks (Sisters), Coalition, Kells, and probably several more. I found them at Belmont Station enjoying some shift beers, having spent the day gypsy brewing at Coalition.

unnamed-2Brian: On your program, you asked me to prognosticate if brewers may return to “more traditional flavors.” I see you were asking out of self-interest!! What is the Heritage Series and what does returning to traditional flavors mean to you?

Tim: Simple has a lot to do with it. I’ve been a big believer in Simple since this project started. I want to take us back to where we started, see what others have done that was successful—even if that’s 200 years ago—and recreate it.”

Dave: ‘Where we started’ also means ‘We as craft brewers.’ (That’s) 1992 to me. Beer was simple and IPA wasn’t even a thing then. We made it at the Lab in ‘94/95. Didn’t have to put the UK designation on it. [Ed.’s note: here Fleming means that any truly-balanced, moderately-bitter IPA today gets ridiculed as a “UK-style IPA.”] That’s simple, too, but that’s just 20 years ago. Beer was much simpler. It wasn’t Sea Salt Caramel Chocolate Hefeweisse.”

Tim: With our interpretation of the George Washington beer, you look at the ingredients, it’s so simple: molasses, one grain and yeast…(and) we showed the hops the beer basically. Our interpretation is based on his journal entry that leaves room for interpretation. He used ingredients available to them: 6-row barley indigenous to the colonies at that time. Cluster hops. And yeast.

Brian: If we’re talking simple, that was pre Louis Pasteur. Early 1800s versus late 1800s. (The implication being: Washington didn’t pitch yeast.)

Tim: It’s just about inspiration. I’m sure the beer that Henry Weinhard first brewed when he moved to Oregon was awful by today’s standards. So imagining what was beer like then. No specific goal in mind, just a love of history and beer.

Brian: A Rockwellian approach to brewing.

Dave: Exactly. And there were no light beers then. Pale malt wasn’t available at the time. All beers were dark.

Brian: Good segue. Earlier you guys were brewing your planned flagship, Black Hole CDA. A decidedly modern/non-historic beer. How’d that come about?

Tim: I like hops. I like dark beer.

That simple. Here, Tim and Dave went back’n’forth trying to recall the specifics of how Black Hole came about, but the gist is that Tim first homebrewed it circa 2011 and late that year, after having Dave on his Beer Geek show.

Tim: I forced my homebrew on him. He was nice enough to try it.

Dave: It was good.

That led to an invitation to brew it as a pro-am collab at Lompoc early 2012. They take it as a given that the beer’s really named Black Hohl, but they’re hoping Soundgarden sues them for copyright infringement that’d make them famous. No. I just made that up.

Tim: I made it. Dave just over-hopped it.

Here Dave worked in an anecdote about making the first true Cascadian Dark Ale in 2006, inadvertently. He was supposed to be making an IPA at Three Creeks and simply blindly dumped a bag of grain in he thought was placed by the mash tun for him. That “mistake,” his words, turned into Three Creeks’ 8 Seconds India Black Ale.

Tim: That’s how it went from just being a hobby and interest and part of the radio show to thinking, ‘I’d really like to do this.’ Maybe it was a fantasy before then. But it’s more than just making the beer. It’s being part of the craft beer community. I love it and respect it so much. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experience in my competitive day job career. Cutthroat. In beer, it’s collaborative. It’s like Don Younger said, a rising tide raises all ships.

Brian: And you’ll continue to do the radio show?

Tim: “Beer Geek” has been on the air since 2011. I’ve been covering the beer industry for much longer than that but finally had my own weekly segment. As a reporter…it won’t change. There are still countless stories to tell. I like a good story.

And then I had to dart out of Belmont Station and pick up my kid. Tim’s a good guy and speaking of good stories, when we’d talked about the brick’n’mortar tasting room, he explained that he lives in West Linn but, perhaps channeling Sarah Palin, “I can see Oregon City from my house.” Coin Toss’s official launch will coincide with the Spring Beer & Wife Festival over Easter. Hohl expects to have the Coin Toss brewery and taproom open by July. By then, it might be home to five new breweries. Feckin’ and Oregon City Brewing are already open. Bent Shovel and Shattered Oak are also in the works. That got him fantasizing about a Clackamas County Brewers Fest including Fearless, Mt. Hood, Bunsenbrewer, and the forthcoming Drinking Horse. “It’s not Bend overnight,” Tim said, “but it could be a new craft beer destination.”

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