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Monday, October 21, 2013

John Harris' New Joint (Ecliptic Brewing) Opens Today

Ecliptic Brewing
825 North Cook Street
Mon-Thurs 11a to 11p, Fri-Sun, 11a to midnight
Twenty-five years ago, John Harris decamped from Portland and the McMenamins still-tiny empire to Bend to create the beers for a start-up called Deschutes.  His first three were Cascade Ale, Bachelor Bitter, and Black Butte Porter.  Soon he'd brew up Mirror Pond, Obsidian Stout, and Jubelale.  After a few years he came back to Portland to work for Full Sail down at the RiverPlace brewery and stayed there twenty years. Anyone who stays at a place twenty years looks to be settled in, but last year John caught us by surprise.  He was leaving Full Sail, he said, and starting his own place.

John Harris is sciencey.  A few years back he printed up a bunch of t-shirts with molecules on them of alcohol and caffeine.  He has what looks like abstract art on the walls of the new place--but turn out to be magnified beer.  His real passion, it turns out, is the distant, not the magnified: the stars.  The name of the brewery refers to the path of the sun, and his first beers have names like "Procyon" and "Arcturus"--names of stars.

In the movement of heavenly bodies, there is a circularity, as littler objects spin around bigger ones.  I therefore found the selection of the first three Ecliptic beers to be exactly appropriate: a pale, a porter (not quite on tap), and an IPA.  John has circled back to his roots, and for those wishing to reflect, subtly reminds us of what a huge influence he's had on the flight path of American brewing.

The Place
Ecliptic is at the southern end of the Mississippi neighborhood, 352 yards from Amnesia Brewing.  It looks out, if you keep your eyes cast upward, over the buildings of downtown.  It's one of those perfect locations for a brewery--an industrial space right on the edge of a vibrant neighborhood close in to downtown.  The building is a huge warehouse (huge), and the spacious pub has been carved out of just part of the space.  It is modern and architectural, with touches that echo the space theme--lights that hang like planets from the ceiling, wall designs of famous star constellations.  I expected it to be really noisy, but the ceiling is so tall that noise just keeps on rising, with nothing to reflect it back on the hard surfaces far below.  From one end of the pub, you can see the brewery through glass walls, but even that is deceiving.  While the brewery is adjacent to the pub, there's tons of space out beyond it for bottling lines, fermenters, barrel rooms--whatever catches John's fancy.

The Brewery
Brewers never have piles of money laying around.  When they decide to go out on their own, they have to raise money and moderate their desires for ultramodern, copper-clad systems.  This is true even for an old hand like John Harris, and so he stretched his dollars by picking up odd equipment here and there.  He had originally picked up the original kettle from BridgePort, a fantastic historical piece that unfortunately needed more work than it was worth.  So instead he found a kettle made by JV Northwest, that wound up in Japan.  He also located BridgePort's second mash tun, which somehow ended up at Dogfish Head.  Other pieces come from Bear Republic, BridgePort, a California BJ's--and possibly elsewhere.

He'll do standard single-infusion brewing, making unfiltered beer in what promises to be a variety of styles.  (A pale lager is conditioning now.)  Eventually he'll do some barrel-aging and has a corner of the unfinished warehouse in mind.  If you think back to the beers that were available at the Pilsner Room over the years, you have some sense of the variety he may have in mind. 

The Beers
Honest pints!
At the moment, he has two non-collaboration beers on tap, a pale (Procyon or Little Dog Star) and an IPA (Arcturus, Guardian of the Bear).  The pale is more a small IPA (5.9%, 60 real IBUs) and finished out bone dry: 1.006/1.5 P.  That gives the hops even more pop, and this will be the beer for the folks who want bitterness.  The Arcturus also have tons of hops, but with its bigger base and higher finishing gravity (7.4%. 75 IBU), the perception is less bitter.  It's not all the way to the sweet IPA, but with a "C-hop constellation," it definitely nods in that direction.

For the time being, there are no flagships or steady beers.  John is getting used to the new system and he's going to let popularity decide which beers stick around.  He's got collaborations with Gigantic (TicWitTic, a tart wit) and Widmer (Half-Mile Pale) to round out the current offerings.  The wit, incidentally, is quite a lovely beer.  It's just 3.9% and was kettle-soured to pleasing--but far from challenging--acidity.  But I would like the 3.9% beer best, wouldn't I?

The Food
I'm going to have to punt on this one.  The chef, Michael Molitor, comes from Pazzo, and John really wants the food to be a major calling card.  "The beer will bring you in, but the food will bring you back."  The menu will rotate seasonally every six weeks and the goal is to be one of Portland's best restaurants--John's keen to crack the top-100 best restaurants list, a feat (and not a big one) no brewpub has ever done.

I had a taste of duck wings and an Gem State finger steaks (Molitor is from Idaho) and the duck wings in particular were very nice.  But looking over the full menu, it looks pretty pub-grubby to me--a state of affairs John said he wanted to transcend.  Of course, you could have burgers and fish and chips and still make the list of top restaurants--but they would have to be especially well-done and probably a bit unusual.  I had neither, though, so we'll have to put that aside for the moment.

The Upshot
I figured any new brewery by John Harris would be well-conceived and well-executed.  He got a brewery and pub installed in just a few months and has a primo location, so things are so far exactly in line with my high expectations.  The beer, despite being brewed on a new system, is as polished as you'd expect from a guy who helped found Beervana now nearly thirty years ago.  Definitely put it on your short list of places to check out.

I'll add more pics below the fold.

The view.

Future site of the barrel room.

How opening a new brewery makes you

1 comment:

  1. Congrats John can't wait to stop by and have a pint at your new place!