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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Meet the New Brewery: Pints

"A craft is something where you're constantly tweaking and striving to make it better."  (Zach Beckwith)
If you're standing under the leafy canopy in front of Pints Brewing and you look to your right (north), you see Union Station; if you look left (south, obviously), you see Big Pink.  That stretch of Fifth Avenue is quieted by the Max line and is the perfect place to find a pub tucked into the old brick buildings.  Downtown has so few really good pubs, though; you almost never find one where it should be found.  I hope this augurs a change for the better.

Pints originally started as a coffee shop and pub and then owner Chad Rennaker had the idea of turning it into a brewpub.  He picked up a beautiful (but tiny) system that will become the showpiece of a dining room that is currently half-sheetrocked around a kitchen that isn't even half-installed.  (ETA two months.)  He hired Zach Beckwith, who has been working for Lompoc, and Zach is now a few batches into production. 

I first became aware of Zach last year when he made Voodoo Mild for the Mighty Mites fest.  Milds are fantastic beers but usually subtle (mild?) enough that they're underappreciated.  In what I will modestly say was a very strong line-up, Voodoo Mild might have been the standout.  It was impressively flavorful and just 3.4% strong.  Zach brings a similar sensibility to Pints, which I will let him describe in this wee video clip:

The beers are in the process of development, and will change batch to batch.  We can discuss tendencies, though.  Zach loves English floor malts, but prefers American hops.  Optic and Golden Promise are the current workhorses, but they're used in beers with hops like Glacier, Chinook, and Crystal.  (As I think will become a regular feature in these reviews, I'll note that Pints is having some trouble finding hops and has to take what they can get.  Most breweries have contracts and don't have to survive on the spot market--as Pints will when the new harvest comes in later this year.)

Floor malts give the beers rounded, fuller malt flavors.  The Tavern Ale, a strong bitter hopped with Willamettes, is cakey and lush, but it finishes with a nice crisp snap.  I thought I detected some water hardness and even sulfur, but Zach says he doesn't amend the neutral Portland water.  Red Brick Rye is fruity and spicy, Seismic IPA (made with Belgian pale) has relatively low bitterness but layered hop flavors, and Ripsaw NW Red is the most sharply bitter. Zach also has an historical English IPA in the bright tank that was lemony and very sessionable. 

My fave of the beers currently pouring is Steel Bridge Stout, made with Golden Promise and US pale malts, roasted barley, chocolate malt, brown malt, and midnight wheat.  Zach's originally from Michigan, and he grew up loving what he calls "Michigan stouts"--creamy, rib-sticking ales that could warm you on a frozen Upper Midwest night.  He will therefore almost certainly beef Steel Bridge up, but it's about perfect as an Oregon stout.  It's a creamy 6% stout that has found perfect balance between roastiness and a soft scone sweetness.

Some brewers enjoy experimentation, but Zach is an incrementalist.  As my call-out quote at the top of the post suggests, for him "craft" means slowly fine-tuning a beer into perfection.  Brewers always hate it when you associate them with any tradition (all brewers would have you believe their beers are sui generis), so probably Zach won't like me associating him with England's.  It's inescapable though--his temperament, his beers, and the setting of the pub, cozy and quiet, all point in that direction.  On the other hand, if you're not familiar with the British tradition, Pints is likely to seem familiar anyway--Portland's not far from London, aesthetically.

The beers on tap now are already in the B range, but he's only begun to tinker.  I hope to carve out some time in the coming months to stop by and try later batches and discuss what he's liking and what he's looking to change.  You might well stop in for a pint so you can watch them evolve, too.

More pics below the fold:

The Pints brewhouse.  The railing separates the brewery from what will be a dining room. 

Having Bass equipment does nothing to dispel the aura of Englishness hanging over Pints.

Pints may adopt an English pricing scheme, too.  The strong ale got bumped up to 
five bucks, and in the future, Zach may make a session beer that sells for less than $4.


  1. I had a chance to pop in there on my way through Portland last week. Good stuff. Nice to see premium English malts and, in an odd way, someone with the same difficulty in acquiring hops.

  2. "Portland's not far from London, aesthetically." Classic.

    Great review. It's good to see you out there doing what you do so well again. We've missed you.

  3. Are they going to be producing cask ale?

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. Well, as long as we're playing the "what is craft" game, I'd like to contribute my own: a marketing term designed to entice gullible industrial beer drinkers into buying their products.

    Gee, this is fun!

    BTW, the message above is clearly spam. Perhaps that "I'm not a robot" thingy isn't working so well?

  6. Ben--yes, cask is definitely in the works!

    Mike--"craft" is a dicey term, but far less so in the US. The term is gaining currency particularly in Britain--but elsewhere in Europe, too--and there it's far more problematic. Here the division between large, industrial, light-lager breweries and small, handcrafted, and ale-producing breweries is a bright one.

    In any case, the quote is meant to describe Zach's approach to brewing, not the comment of a cynical ad man.

  7. "Brewers always hate it when ..."

    I just have to say, as a pro brewer going on 10 years, I always hate it when I read/hear statements that begin 'Brewers always...'.
    Are we really that homogeneous and dull a group of 'professionals'?
    Rant over, peace out.

  8. Jesse, point taken. I would allow an "almost" to be inserted there--along with an "American" in front of "brewers." The truth is, though, off hand, I can't think of a single brewer I've talked to who would pigeonhole himself by associating with a tradition. I admit they probably they exist. Are you one? Care to call yourself a tradition?

  9. No, I am not a tradition. Maybe all brands would have one believe their beers are sui generis, but I've met some brewers who know better. Brewing itself is a grand tradition, and all of us stand on the shoulders of those who have brewed before us. I don't know of any brewers alive today who discovered that barley contains diastatic enzymes, or that hops are an good bittering agent with antibacterial properties. Many of the techniques being embraced today (e.g. barrel aging, barrel fermenting, spontaneous fermentation, unusual adjuncts) are OLD ones. Tradition, no?