The morning light streams in through the high windows, warming the exposed brick and strand board walls, casting shadows over the bags of grain, a row of rubber boots, and kegs awaiting Urban Farmhouse Ale. I’ve been invited to The Commons Brewery, the next step in Owner/Brewer Mike Wright’s beer adventure.
Beginning with homebrewing in the mid 90s, Wright describes his immediate love of brewing. “I quickly moved from the stove to a 10+ gallon all-grain keggle system. After a few years of brewing on the keggle system, I tried (and succeeded) in getting commercially licensed in my garage. That was the beginning of Beetje (a 1-barrel brewhouse), which we now use to pilot recipes and play around. After about a year in the garage, I decided to expand to a new space and a 7-barrel system.”
As part of that growth phase, Beetje became The Commons Brewery. Open and spacious, the 1,500 sq foot brewery resides in SE Portland. Brewing since September 2011, The Commons includes a tasting room that fills up each weekend with local beer lovers. The Commons recent expansion includes new brewer Sean Burke, a smart and talented brewer who keeps things rolling. As Wright explains, “I maintain a day job as an IT project manager so I needed help.”
Also joining the crew of The Commons, Josh Grgas handles the tasting room, sales and self-distribution. Starting in the next couple of months, The Commons beer will be available in bottles. “Our beers will be bottle conditioned in 750 ml and should allow us to reach people we haven’t reached with draft.”
“Given our small size, and relatively unique beers it helps that we can hand sell and tell our story,” says Wright. “Both Sean and Josh are very knowledgeable and passionate about beer. It’s my goal to have a highly collaborative environment. We are constantly bouncing ideas off of each other. I fully expect that will strengthen us as a company.”
Balance and approachability are key words as Wright, Burke and Grgas strive to create beers that are unique, and flavorful, but “not in your face and screaming a particular ingredient.” Wright explains his philosophy: “They should be approachable by a fairly wide audience. We have a couple of collaboration beers that are in the conversation phase right now. We’ve recently collaborated with Steve Jones from Cheese Bar (Cheesemonger of the year 2011) on a Biere de Garde.” Steve’s lamentations about the dearth of food friendly Biere de Gardes led brewers at The Commons to develop a beer that would fill the gap for the Portland area.
On April 4, 2011, The Commons announced their first 7-barrel batch bottle release of that very beer. Their Biere de Garde, a soft and clean, reserved hop profile, malt forward beer was inspired by the farmhouse beers brewed in Northern France. Explains Wright, “Traditionally, Biere de Garde was brewed in Winter and early Spring while the climate was cooler, then garded (lagered) during the cool months, and reserved for consumption during the summer.”
Hoping to include more brewer’s dinners and community events, Wright describes similar events going forward. “On the very near horizon is an event with Tabla Bistro, and Cheese Bar titled ‘The Ultimate Cheese Challenge.’ Adam and Steve from Tabla and Cheese Bar (respectively) have created an event where they pair cheese with wine, beer and cider. Participants then decide what the best pairing is.” Says Wright, “We love the food related events and hope there are more in our future.”
The new name and inclusion of a tasting room in the brewing space better reflects Wright’s belief that the social interaction that occurs when people gather around beer is the most important thing. Wright reflects on how craft beer can be included as a social asset in our communities as The Commons donates beer to a school fundraising event for the second year. “As a parent of two young children, the lack of funding in our public school system is painfully obvious. Primary education is an incredibly important component to a healthy and prosperous society so it’s important for me to lend assistance where I can.”
Wright summarized his affinity for the collaboration oriented craft beer culture, “Portland is particularly inviting to craft beer oriented businesses, so it seems the effect is positive. The vast majority of people who work in the beer industry are genuinely nice and interesting people—people you want to hang out with. I certainly hope this continues as the industry grows.” Postulating on the craft beer culture in general, he continued, “I think it’s very positive. There’s the simple fact that jobs are being created, but better yet, they are in a creative, tangible and collegial industry.”
A true fan of beer, Wright’s love of the drink was driven by the process as he studied and learned the art of making beer. The Commons won a World Beer Cup 2012 bronze for their entry of Urban Farmhouse Ale. Wright defers, “The resulting product is icing on the cake; I’m fascinated by the entire life cycle.” His dedication to the craft certainly shows.
Tasting Room Hours
Emily Engdahl is the founder of Oregon Beer Country, a travel and tourism site dedicated exclusively to the craft beer culture of Oregon. As a craft beer writer, community events coordinator, and homebrewer, Emily encourages consumer education, community craft beer connections, resource building, informed craft beer choices, and keeping craft beer fun and accessible. Emily is also a self-taught graphic designer and trained mediator. Find her on twitter at @emilyengdahl and @ORBeerCountry.