Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Laurelwood Public House & Brewing Company: A Portland Workhorse

Laurelwood Public House & Brewing Company 

Laurelwood tap handles.
Upon arriving home from my first (of what I anticipate will be many) trips to Portland, Oregon, I am faced with the considerable task of revisiting and recounting all of the incredible experiences that I enjoyed.  For me, the first Portland brewery of the visit was the Laurelwood Public House and Brewery, specifically the NE Portland location.  After traveling to Laurelwood's flagship location in Portland's Hollywood district via a borrowed bicycle--a harrowing and daunting journey for this two-wheel challenged, clumsy individual--I was lucky enough to meet with Mike De Kalb, the owner and operator of the family of Laurelwood locations that are scattered throughout the greater Portland area.

Mike was gracious enough to sit down with me and discuss how his extensive experience in the hospitality industry came together with a fantastic opportunity to acquire a brew system, the equipment, and the location, and Laurelwood was born.  Mike and his wife purchased a defunct brewpub with a seven barrel brewery, and they focused immediately on creating a welcoming and friendly pub atmosphere.  Admittedly, Mike did not have a wealth of brewing background knowledge to draw from, but he was wise enough to bring in phenomenal brewers who simply brew great beer, such as Christian Ettinger, Chad Kennedy, and the current Brewmaster, Vasili Gletos.  There has always been a profound emphasis on making clean, flavorful beers, and Laurelwood is currently building out its lab and quality control center with the help of a young and eager intern from a local brewery/microbiology educational program.

Laurelwood has seen its share of successes, and the beer has been recognized through the receipt of numerous awards (the latest including an award for  Laurelwood's double IPA "Megafauna," the winner of the 2013 National Imperial IPA Championship).  Laurelwood has also been well received as far as production, sales, and distribution of its beer, with the brewery maxed out at capacity, and with plans to partner brew its flagship beers Workhorse IPA and Free Range Red in six-packs.  The brewery intends to partner with the Craft Brew Alliance (with members such as Portland's "big" brewery, Widmer Brothers) to achieve national distribution and production volumes of nearly 15,000 barrels a year.  Mike also spoke about his beliefs concerning organic and sustainable food and beer, and he passionately described his desire to use organic and sustainable ingredients and processes as much as possible.  Although the pricing and difficulty of acquiring organic hops is a challenge for producing hoppy organic beers at a larger scale, Mike noted that he will always be pouring an Organic Tree Hugger Porter, and he strives to keep his Free Range Red an entirely organic beer whenever possible.

We took a quick tour of the brewpub facility, where smaller conical tanks were being used to grow and harvest yeast for shipment to Laurelwood's partner brewery, where the "house" yeast will be used for the beer being brewed for the expansion, in order to maintain consistency and quality across all the beer that Laurelwood sells.  Mike and I also tasted the latest release (#17) of the Portland Pale Project, a series of one-off batch beers that focuses on using a unique hop varietal to produce a distinctly Northwestern American Pale Ale.  This particular batch used experimental Hop 05256, a new hop that combines spicy, peppery flavor characteristics with a dank, resinous aroma.  The end beer (using a combination of two row, Crystal, Rye, and Wheat malts) was an excellent beer to kick-off my visit to Portland.  Release #18 will feature the Zythos hop, and that beer should be ready to drink soon.  Mike was a generous host, and he made my visit to Laurelwood one that I will not soon forget.

Fittingly, Laurelwood has a location at the Portland International Airport where you can buy bottles of Laurelwood's beers, or even pick up a growler-fill prior to boarding your flight.  United Airlines was kind enough to locate my gate right next to their Concourse E location, so happily, Laurelwood served as the bookend brewery for what was truly an outstanding vacation to the Pacific Northwest.

The Board at Laurelwood Public House.

Workhorse IPA
This American IPA was recommended to me by several individuals prior to my visit to Portland, so I was eager to seek it out.  7.5% ABV, with 80 IBUs.

Aroma:  Extremely aromatic, with a citrusy character that is derivative of the hops used in this beer.  Clear use of techniques that target the aromatic qualities of the hops, with likely multiple dry-hop additions and the use of a hop back during the overall process.

Appearance:  Dark orange and copper in color, brilliantly clear, with a nice tight and off-white foamy head.

Flavor:  A hop-driven IPA that is balanced nicely with the malt profile you might expect from a Pacific NW IPA.  Not overly grassy, but surprisingly citrusy and balanced.  Drinks more like a true West Coast IPA, as opposed to the types of IPAs that I expect to see out of the Pacific Northwest.  Not assaultingly bitter, but still enough hop presence to provide the hop characteristics that I expect and want out of an IPA.

Mouthfeel:  A smooth, medium-light bodied mouthfeel without any hop astringency.  A little less carbonated than I would prefer, but still an extremely drinkable IPA that finishes dry and leaves you wanting another taste.

Overall Impression: Looking forward to enjoying this beer again the next time that I make it up to Portland.

Ingredients: Great Western two row, Crystal and Dextrin malts; Simcoe, Amarillo, Cascade, Columbus, and Nugget hops.

Overall, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to visit Laurelwood Public House and Brewing Company during my visit.  This will be a brewery that I will certainly be returning to on a future visit, and I hope to have a chance to eat dinner and enjoy a pint at the Public House during a Timbers or Blazers game.

Check out Laurelwood on the web, or stop by and say hello if you happen to be in Portland.

Live the craft.  Cheers.

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