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.”

Deluxe Brewing/Sinister Distilling in Albany

Deluxe Brewing in Albany, OR

Howie manning the bar at Deluxe Brewing in Albany, OR

Technically I’ve been to Deluxe. But I hadn’t really BEEN. That is, I hadn’t tried their beer because when I visited on tour for the book, Eric “Howie” Howard was just building out his brewery/distillery or as they call it, “brewstillery.” Albany isn’t exactly the brightest star in Oregon’s brewery constellation but with Deluxe it now hosts two such businesses (the other being Calapooia a short walk down the road along the tracks).


Unless you’re really looking for it

The space is a large warehouse sectioned off with the brewing equipment, the bar area replete with a ping pong table (I didn’t find any takers during my visit which means I’m undefeated on the tennis table), and the “other” space as you walk in with two vintage pickup trucks and seating for anyone with minors. There’s a dry-erase board for local food options and a pretty good bbq cart parked outside. To pair with my brisket sandwich, I had the Pure Sin Schwarzbier, a dry, no-roast onyx lager at an ideal 4.7% ABV.

Howie said it’ll be a few months til he has any of his spirits available in bottles. There’s something pretty cool about a whiskey with a beer back that all originated paces from the bar. No sooner had he poured me a beer than he was whisked away to lead a tour that, since my seat in the 21+ area was within ear shot, sounded like an educational discussion of the brewing process conducted via a homebrew setup and a fridge/kegerator.


It’s what’s on tap

Albany is not Corvallis (though their flagship is Wild Beaver, which isn’t a spontaneously fermented lager as beer geeks might hope for but an amber or Vienna-style lager.) But if you’re looking for something on the truly wild side, their brewer named Bobby had a “Black Wine Ale” on tap. Far from something like a 13.8% black barleywine, it’s actually a 3.8% schwarz fermented with red wine yeast. I liked it. Maybe even more than Howie. I’d be curious what some lager-loving Germans would say.

Bull Ridge Brewpub: R.I.P.

The guidebook Oregon Breweries is mere weeks old but the nature of the Oregon brewing scene is so fluid in nature, there are already a few brewing companies serving us that aren’t fully introduced in the book as well as one that is no more. In full candor, I have a mental list of a very small handful of breweries that I feel are not long for this world. In rare instances, it’s because the beer’s just not worth selling. In most instances, I just don’t see them being able to get their product into a sustainable number of thirsty mouths. Heck, maybe in such a Venn diagram there’s a large intersection. In any event, I had Baker City’s Bull Ridge pegged for the brewery obituary section and lo and behold, they’ve perished.

Rip page 197 out of Oregon Breweries. No, don’t! Double Mountain is on page 198 and they’re never going anywhere!

Screen Shot 2014-12-18 at 3.37.58 PMAs seen in the screen shot above, I’d even contacted this brazen brewpub that bid to build Baker City into a two-brewery town alongside Barley Brown’s. Scroll through the comments on this thread this yarn and you’ll see there’s little love lost in town. The owners were inexperienced both in the restaurant game and the brewing biz. Two things pretty vital for operating a successful brewpub even here in Portland let alone a town of fewer than 10,000 people with tourism seasons that are more shoulder than peak.

On the upside, Barley Brown’s runs both the pub and the “Baker City Brewing” tasting room across the street, so Baker City’s still, technically, a two brewery town.

StormBreaker Brewing

Since the entry on StormBreaker Brewing in my book was one of the few profiles written without getting to actually visit the pub or taste the beer, given that the whole development occurred while we were abroad and I’d already written the entry for its predecessor, Amnesia Brewing, it behooved me to pop in and kick the tires.

IMG_9351I didn’t visit alone. After a great bowl of chili for lunch at the revamped Widmer Bros Pub, including having IPYae charming said Widmer brothers into this awesome photo opp, 10712487_10102769754756095_223378480444289136_ohe and I walked up to Mississippi to check out Amnesia’s reboot because it’s a terrible thing to say I’ve been to every brewery in the state of Oregon and then actually not have visited one that launched/relaunched while I was gone that’s right here in Portland.

First impression is that I, for one, like it better then it’s old incarnation. The beer is a bit cleaner. The menu is wider; instead of brats and cheeseburgers, there’s an array of, yes, burgers, but other meatiness and somehow I didn’t get the bbq broccolini since I love broccolini, plus the pumpkin cake is TDF. Overall it’s more inviting. And yes, in self-interest, I love that minors are now allowed even if they didn’t go so far as to have a few “little ones” items on the menu.

IMG_9352IPYae and I enjoyed a great afternoon “campfire.” This is what I mean by more inviting. The gruff ‘tude that drenched the former brewpub has been whisked away; it literally feels like what worked in 2004 when Amnesia occupied this less-than-ideal-at-the-time spot has been updated for what the 2014 edition of Mississippi in the Boise neighborhood looks and feels like. Some old timers who hate kids may not feel the same way, but I’ll bet if StormBreaker keeps making its Cloud Ripper IPA packed with classic ‘C’ hops as good as it is now, it’ll thrive long past 2024.