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.”

The Suds of March: 5 New Portland Beer Destinations

It’s fitting that my latest story for PoMo is basically version 2.015 of the first story I did for them, which was a look at the New Brews of 2012. Herein we meet the newer brewers, places like Ex Novo, BTU, Baerlic, StormBreaker, and Bannon’s in Beaverton. Of course, soon I’ll be able to do a write-up of five even newer players.

Photo of, and courtesy of, Ex Novo, as featured in PoMo.

Over a Pint: Ian McGuinness of Natian Brewery

I interview brewers all the time and frequently socialize with them, too, but typically at some type of beerfest or event. Of my own work, I’ve frequently said I’m a beer writer who really writes about people. So here’s the idea, the goal, and not only am I going to keep this going, but I’m putting it out there that everyone with some type of beer blog should participate.

“Over a pint.” Sort of in the vein of The Session kicked off by Stan Hiernymous exactly 8 years ago in 2007 and still going strong. The Session entails a different blogger each month conceiving a disparate topic related to beer wherein everyone aims for that target and then said blogger hosts the discussion on his or her web-log. Since The Session claims First Friday of the month, how’s about Last Monday for Over a Pint?! I’ll link to everyone’s “OaP” left in the comments or tagged on Twitter. I’m envisioning just two instructions.

  1. Head out with someone who brews for a living and talk to them over a pint (or more) without recording it or taking any notes. Just chat. About stuff.
  2. Don’t do it at the brewery’s pub or tasting room.

This is what I did the other night. Here goes. Oh, and maybe each installment of Over a Pint can start with the most basic of templates like this:

I neglected to pull out my iPhone and take a pic so here's Ian's Facebook profile

I neglected to pull out my iPhone and take a pic so here’s Ian’s Facebook profile

Name: Ian McGuinness

Brewery: Natian

Professional brewing experience: Since 2009 (I’d list every brewery Ian has brewed at but it

At some point a few years ago, Ian and his then girlfriend Natalia suggested getting together for a beer at one of his favorite watering holes, Laurelthirst on NE Glisan. It’s not hip but it’s not a dive. It’s primarily a live music venue with two bands nightly and there’s tchotchkes everywhere like an old toboggan, a rocking chair, and I think a mandolin on the wall above the bar. I’d say there’s about 20 taps if that.

Over the years, whenever I’d talk to Ian, the idea of going there would come up but it just never happened. So we made it happen. At this point, Natalia’s long out of the picture but I don’t feel badly bringing her up. She’s the first half of the brewery’s namesake. Oh yes. It was Nat and Ian’s one barrel nanobrewery. Nat + Ian. Natian (pronounced “Nation”). He’s now working on a 10-barrel system and the guy who I gather is Natian’s sole but lofty employee, Dave, also joined us. When I got there they’d grabbed a table because it fills up by 6 for the music and they were drinking pints of stout. He pleaded that I go get a pitcher of the stout and, not that I’m getting paid for this so no need for any “full disclosure” but he said to put it on his tab. I did. And I simply ordered “a pint of the stout” from the bartender. She came back with a pitcher of Pelican Tsunami Stout.

Neither Ian nor Dave noticed. Noticed what? That it was Pelican’s 7% export-style stout (winner of seven GABF medals since 1998) and not Natian McGuinness Imperial Milk Stout at over 9% ABV. Then again, the folks at Diageo haven’t noticed the McGuinness Stout either.

As the band kicked in, we naturally had to shout to try to hear each other. Being a regular, he pointed to a tall, lanky, middle-aged guy with a button down shirt tucked into his slacks and warned us that he’d soon start dancing like Elaine from that famous Seinfeld episode. He was dead right. The whole night.

I know Ian is from Pennsylvania and has lived in Austin, Texas—a state he’d previously sworn never to live in but really Austin’s Texas’s anti-matter—so I’m not really sure how the subject of Florida came up, but I know he lived there, too. It’s one of three states I’ve never visited and am afraid to ever go. The weirdest stuff happens there. But he was saying how his bosses at the company he worked for all really liked it (since their offices overlooked the beach). That company, I thought I heard him say, was Slim Jim. Loud music. Turned out to be Slim Fast, which is almost as bizarre, but for a good minute I had visions of Ian shoveling Godknowswhat animal parts and some cayenne pepper into a grinder.

Another topic of conversation was the breaking news of Portland’s latest next brewery, One Nation Brewing. They’re building out on SE Division, a direct 1.5 mile walk down from Natian Brewery. It’s fair to say Ian’s a bit perturbed especially since he contacted them and they confirmed they were aware of Natian. I highly doubt anyone would try to open a brewery by adding a number and changing one vowel to an ‘O.” One Widmor anyone? Funnily enough, there was a recent news story about a brewery set to open in Missoula, Montana called One Nation (but they’ve since opened as Imagine Nation.) Given the other –ation/-ition breweries in Portland—Migration, Coalition, and now Culmination, you’d think One Nation could’ve made a smarter naming decision. If they’re into the whole “Under God” thing from the Pledge of Allegiance,” might I suggest IntOneNation (like how we use our voice). Time will tell how this pans out, but I loved the idea that Dave chimed in with: calling Natian’s next beer “One Notion” since in some universe changing an ‘A’ to an ‘O’ or vice versa is sufficient differentiation.

It didn’t dominate the night’s conversation quite the way Mr. Dancing Pants did. Which got me thinking how it’s too bad Ian hadn’t been dating someone named Elaine (who preferably doesn’t dance like that iconic character). He could’ve called his brewery Elatian. Everyone wants to be elated as they drink beer. Then again, his new lady friend joined us by the time our second pitcher, this time a proper McGuinness Stout, and her name is Mary. If One Nation sues Ian after operating successfully for five years and wins, maybe he can check to see how John Harris over at the galactic-themed Ecliptic would feel if he changed the name to Martian.

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.

The OC’s Yard House calls Portland home

Taps & tubes

Taps & tubes

Amid the brewery acquisitions and Portland’s westside invasions, Pioneer Place is now flooding with beer courtesy of The Yard House, a sports pub/family dining restaurant that also, most likely, presents more tap handles than any single establishment in Oregon: 130. Yes, one hundred and thirty beers on draft. So let’s first focus on a bunch of numbers.

First, from their own press release in July, 2012, “Darden Restaurants, Inc. (NYSE: DRI) announced that it has agreed to acquire Yard House USA, Inc. for $585 million.” Olive Garden is another restaurant chain in the Darden Restaurants portfolio. More numbers:

34: number of television sets throughout the Yard House, all airing games.

42: The number of the 130 total taps pouring beers from the Pacific Northwest. This actually represents the largest number of regionally brewed beers in the chain.

57: Locations in said chain, spanning 20 states.

250: The most taps presented at a single restaurant, which I believe is the Irvine, Calif. spot where it all started back in 1996 when, according to their own About page, “the craft beer revolution began nearly 20 years ago.”

3: Light/Lite beers available from the two largest brewing companies.

67: Number of six-tops at the Portland Yard House. (Scratch that; two of those are four-top tables.)

1: Master sommelier employed by Darden Restaurants. George Millotes is one of 219 such experts in the world. I’m told several Cicerones (with apologies to Ray Daniels, those are the sommeliers of the beer service world)

All of the above underscores the impressive stats this outpost brings to downtown Portland that, truth be told, does not feel very Portland. If you want the geekiest beers on the westside, you’re going to head to Bailey’s Taproom. But Bailey’s’ 24 taps made me realize, Yard House offers as many taps as the top 7 beer bars in the city. Quantity over quality is never the better option, but here’s the deal: if you can get over the Yard House being a $585 million chain from Orange County, in a neck of these urban woods populated by other chains such as Qdoba, Jimmy John’s, and, egads, Buffalo Wild Wings around the corner if you want the lowest common denominator of sports bars, at least there’s a level of quality accompanying all those screens and mile’s worth of draft lines. Upon being invited in to explore the over the top menu, I’m happy to report that the Brussels sprouts atop “ripped” potatoes–described to me by their corporate executive chef Carlito Jocson as, “because potato skins are too eighties”) are crave-worthy. The Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches are pretty good for being this far west of 82nd Ave. You can order any of the tacos “vampire” style which entails grilling cheese on the outside til it becomes crunchy and hand-holdable.

And most importantly, among those nearly eleven dozen taps, every level of beer drinker will find something with his or her name on it. Yes, there’s behemoth light American adjunct lager. But I also lost count of how many great IPAs they had on–yes, multiple IPAs because whoever tag-teamed on the beer list knew we demand such things. Boneyard RPM? Check. Boneyard Hop Venom to boot? Check-check. Ballast Point Sculpin is in the mix as well. The cider section alone trumped most places’ attempts at placation. When the house beer being aged in Pappy Van Winkle barrels is ready, you bet I plan to pop down into this basement-level resto and try it.

Those aren't mini-mallows.

Those aren’t mini-mallows.

Speaking of how over the top they go, you can pair a Base Camp S’more Stout with the largest friggin’ s’mores brownie. The marshmallows were toasted to perfection though I found the brownie itself a bit dry. I guess that’s where the wet stout comes in handy.

Good to know:


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Wooos and Brews: Oregon Brewfest 2014

Illustration: Kenneth Huey

Illustration: Kenneth Huey

This year’s Oregon Brewers Festival has something for every kind of beer lover, and there are many kinds of beer lover. The festival has beers for hopheads, sessionistas, fruitheads and those drunks who always grab the highest-ABV brew on the board—this year that’s Dogfish Head Burton Olde English at 11 percent.

There are 88 beers from 85 breweries. Actually, though, there are about 200 beers to sample this year thanks to the Dutch—more on them in a minute.

Here’s what to expect at the 27th annual installment of Oregon’s biggest, drunkest party.

Willamette Week “Drank” reviews

Wherein I review the following new releases on shelves or on tap:

Flat Tail: Cider Wit (Jan. ’12)

Philadelphia’s: Barrel-aged Betsy Ross Golden Ale (Feb. ’12)

Everybody’s Brewing: Little Sister ISA (Mar. ’12)

Lompoc: Batch 69 Baltic Porter (Apr. ’12)

Fort George: Roses on Roses (May ’12)

Hopworks Urban Brewery: Abbey Ale (June ’12)

Double Mountain: Devil’s Kriek (July ’12)

Base Camp: In Tents IPL (Nov. ’12)

Salmon Creek: Märzen (Dec. ’12)

Caldera: Mogli Bourbon-oaked Imp. Chocolate Porter (Jan. ’13)

Agrarian: Espelette chili beer (Apr. ’13)

Flat Tail: Lemon Diesel (Aug. ’13)

Lucky Labrador: Black Sheep bourbon-aged CDA (Sep. ’13)

Finally, well, most recently, this review of Rogue’s Brutal IPA…per the editor’s request to review it particularly as it tastes having traveled to Amsterdam. (Jan. ’14)

Rye Revolution

For nearly 500 years, Germans mandated that beer be made from only water, hops, and barley. More recently, however, Northwest brewers began embracing virtues of rye. This segment of Portland Monthly’s feature, “Wallet Guide,” explored five rye-fueled brews that embrace the flavor-packed grain.


Flashback: 10 Barrel and Magic Mushroom in the Oregon Beer News

I’m not re-posting every single story I did for Willy Week’s blog in the Oregon Beer News column, but this one, in hindsight, is something of a gem. It talks about a PDX Beer Week event, “Billed as “Meet the new faces of 10 Barrel Brewing,” Apex hosts Bend’s 10 Barrel and all five of its brewers: Jimmy Seifrit, Tonya Cornett, Shawn Kelso, Bobby Jackson and Ben Shirley.” Then goes on to mention that, “Mellow Mushroom, the pizzeria chain headquartered in Savannah, Georgia, “officially” opened in the Pearl last week, although it has actually been operating for eight months. The Portland franchise has 51 taps—mostly brewed in the PacNW.”

The retroactive irony is that 10 Barrel Brewing would go onto make big “OBN” when it sold to AB-InBev (Bud) and that its once-long-awaited-now-meh impending Portland outcrop is going into the now-vacated Mellow Mushroom!

India Session Ales

The beauty of an India Session Ale? The brew retains the hop-powered IBUs (international bitterness units) of an IPA while you retain more of your wits with lower ABV. In time for summer in the May, 2013 issue of Portland Monthly, I delved into five ISAs for the “Wallet Guide.”