An interview with Saraveza's Sarah Pederson by Vasilios Gletsos

Guest post by Vasilios Gletsos - Brewmaster at Laurelwood Brewing, beer educator, and father. Interview with Sarah conducted 8/12/11

Sarah Pederson, as you may know, is the brains and personality behind Saraveza Bottle Shop and Pasty Tavern, one of the best new better beer bars to emerge in the last few years, and best of all, in walking distance from my house! Their special events, awesome beer line up, relaxed environment, and knowledgeable and welcoming staff have quickly established it as a must-visit establishment in their Inner North Portland neighborhood and in the city at large. Sarah is also one of the main subjects of the new documentary The Love of Beer by Portland-based documentarian and beer enthusiast Alison Grayson, which focuses on the contributions of women to Oregon’s brewing industry and culture. I had the chance to get together with Sarah recently and learned several things I didn’t know about her. Hear about what it was like being filmed as we share our thoughts on the beer culture and raising children, which we are both in the midst of.

A scene from "The Love of Beer"

Vasilios: Anyone who has been to Saraveza knows there is a strong Wisconsin theme going on there, and you are proud of showing where you come from. I wanted to know what drinking culture was like there. My exposure to any kind of beer culture is living here in Portland, which is very dynamic and interesting. We have seen several waves of the craft beer industry, and we have a very rich beer culture, but at the same time, it isn’t very old. In the midwest, with the first wave of German immigrants having come so long ago, my guess is that the cultural roots are a lot deeper and with a different quality.
Sarah: Yeah, you kind of hit the nail on the head. Wisconsin is really close to beer culture as we have known it in the 20th century--domestic style lagers. Many of those beers were developed in Wisconsin, and there is a huge German population there and the drinking culture goes hand in hand with the day to day lives of the people in Wisconsin. That isn’t to say that everyone drinks there, but there is a lot of drinking going on.
I am from northern Wisconsin, not Milwaukie, but if you go back today you will see craft beer creeping into the state. When I went back recently it was the first time I saw an IPA in my hometown, which was a big deal. New Glarus really opened the door for craft in northern Wisconsin. But growing up it wasn’t like that at all; as micro as you could get was Point or Leinenkugel. But beer was made to be drunk in place of water and throughout the day. I really like our beer culture a lot better, it is more thoughtful.
V: What do you mean by that?
S: For us, beer is about tasting, it’s about thinking, it’s about enjoying, it’s about the social part, hanging out with people, which is probably the most important part I think, and it’s also about eating. Here it is an added bonus to your life, where there it is the center, and it’s not about thinking and it’s not about taste. It is more about the social, and about the drinking. If I could, I would say it in a more flowery way, but I am trying to be as diplomatic as I can be, it’s just drinking. It can be kind of sad.
V: So there wasn’t much stigma around drinking, like you might find in some other places? Where I grew up (Northern East Coast), people didn’t often have beer on hand or much beer in the fridge.
S: Where (in Wisconsin) you would have a second fridge, just for your beer, or in the winter you would put it in your garage, because it was cold enough, and you could have as much cold beer as you need. Because of that, I didn’t really drink beer there. I didn’t love Bud or Miller. I would prefer to drink liquor. It wasn’t until I came here, that I become interested in beer.
V: Was that similar to your peers? Like, it would be the older generation that was more invested in the drinking culture?
S: No, not at all. I think it is The Culture, and it still is today. It is very telling when I go home. It goes with the blue collar kind of world. It is very blue collar where I come from; the paper mill, metal factories. After work, guys would go to the bar and drink there until they went home and went to sleep, then woke up with a hang over, and go to work again; kind of a cycle.

So it wasn’t until I came here, and the bars were beer and wine only, often, that I had to choose, and because I am a more blue collar type of person, beer was just what interested me more, and once I stared drinking what we have here, I loved it. When I moved here in about 2000, I lived in NW and I would go over to the New Old Lompoc, or try Hair of the Dog, it was just so exciting. It just took over what I wanted to do, and, in fact, those are the two places I ended up working.
V: So you worked in the brewery?
S: Yeah, I started over there (HOTD) as an intern, after finishing the American Brewer’s Guild program in brewing. Before that I had a whole different career. I was in Public Relations, hated it and wanted to get out of it. So when I left, I went into Restaurant Management. It is then I started drinking beer and really getting into it; going to Belmont Station, going to the Horse Brass. Back then it wasn’t so much microbreweries, it was Belgians, but I would go and check out the different places. I would go to New World Brewing, before it was Laurelwood, and I’d go up to BJ’s for the Belgian Beer Class. I joined the Oregon Brew Crew and I started homebrewing on a system someone lent me. All this was happening at about the same time as I was going to school for brewing, but I was most interested in brewing in a pub setting, because I liked the restaurant world. It is what I was used to. I love serving, I served my whole life, and I didn't just want it to be a hobby. I really liked the kitchen, too. I really like pickles, mustard, cheeses, and beer, and working in a restaurant is where you really get to learn about that from a taste perspective, as well as the science behind it all. But, when it comes down to it, though, I really like to eat and drink rather then be the artist behind the curtain, and I really like working with my staff so much.
V: It’s a great group of people over there at Saraveza.
S: You can only work with good people; otherwise, you don’t do a good job. It just doesn’t work otherwise. Yeah, they are the best.
V: How was the process of being filmed by Alison and being in “The Love of Beer”?
S: Alison is great. She started filming me in the fall of 2009, and I had just barely opened my bar, and I guess I didn’t understand the impact of opening a bar to the (beer) community and why someone would want to make a film about it. I guess I thought it was kind of strange, right? You just do what you do and…to get that kind of attention…that wasn’t in the plan. It was before I was pregnant, and she didn’t know and I didn’t know that when she started filming I was about to become pregnant.

The Love of Beer from Lingering Illocutions on Vimeo.

V: I know you have opened other places, but this was your own project, and I am curious if having the lens on you at this point made it feel different?
S: Yes, it did feel different; it made me feel awkward (laughs).
V: I think that is kind of healthy.
S: She would finish filming and I would feel like I was so serious, and I would tell my husband, “Oh, I was so serious”, and he would say, “you are always serious”. It was a focus on you, and then, you focus on you, and it was so uncomfortable. I haven’t seen anything but the trailer; it’s going to be a surprise.
V: It is kind of weird, as brewers and publicans, to be doing something that people want to see as a film, or read as entertainment or whatever; to have that lens on you.
S: Yeah, what if I sold stationery? (laughs) It would be like, “Lick this, you’ll love the way it tastes!”
V: Yeah, it’s a special blend! But being asked to talk about this stuff, being a maker or a doer, rather then a spokesperson, can lead to some strange conversations, like “how did we starttalking about this one thing, and now I am totally off topic?”
S: Yeah, but that is because you are evaluating it, otherwise it is just a conversation; which is what you do behind the bar, hopefully. It is my goal now to have more of those conversations. To sit at the bar and have a beer, and it’s really why the beer is there. I feel like we have so many conversations about the beer, my new thing is I just want to have beer and have a good conversation, and I am so happy that I can drink and think, but I don’t always need to.
V: What prompted that for you?
S: The industry is more then I anticipated, and in order for me to continue to love the industry, I have to just sit back and drink some beers, and it, oddly enough, grounded me, and I am more interested now in enjoying a beer then in tasting every beer. The pressure is off.
Saraveza 1 Year Anniversary toast - a scene from "The Love of Beer"

V: You have been on the brewery side of the industry, and now with the film, do you feel even more conscious around being a woman in the industry?
S: I have always been pretty conscious of my womanhood, but I feel like my focus is that I am a woman in the beer industry and I am really proud of what my staff and I have done at Saraveza, and I love the fact that we were chosen based on that, what we accomplished. What was strange is that the twist came and the focus became that I was pregnant, and to me… while for me, my daughter is the best new thing I have, it’s awesome, but strange that that was the focus, when in reality, anyone can get pregnant, but not anybody can do what my staff and I did. And, yeah, you know, it’s just a bar, but we all really like it and have a great time. I am not sure if I answered your question, but the strange thing for me about the movie wasn’t that I was a woman, but it’s that I went from being a successful bar owner to being a pregnant successful bar owner. That’s the only thing I worry about, the focus becomes so much about me, when it is really about this whole crew of people who show up on time every day, you know, and then they have to work harder, because I am on maternity (laughs).
V: Outside of the film, what was your experience like being pregnant and being a bar owner, and now raising a child while in the beer industry?
S: I can easily say that running a bar and raising a child is the hardest thing I have ever done, and I didn’t know that. I didn't know that during the filming of the movie. I knew that I wanted to be a good mom and be a good boss, but it was soon after having Roxy that the idea popped into my head that you can’t have two priorities. It’s impossible, right? That’s when the trials started, because I have many babies; many, many babies. That’s also where I have a fear that…I don’t want to have a big business, I am not looking to open a place in southeast. I want to do well where we are at. When you open up another business, you get further away from the people you are working with, but when you have a baby, it is kind of like opening another business. All of a sudden you are needed somewhere else, and it has been a challenge. I think I said it while I was filming, and still, the best thing I can do is surround myself with good people. We have to be a strong group. I am kind of a mother hen wherever I go, which I didn’t realize.
V: Has being a mother and spending time with Roxy change how you deal with you co-workers in any way? Personally, raising Kosmos and managing a brewery early on helped me empathize and relearn about the learning process; have more patience, sometimes you have to step back.
S: Acknowledge the learning process…
V: Yeah, it isn’t enough to just say how you want things, you have to give them all the tools to succeed.
S: That’s great, yeah, I hope to become a better boss, I hope to do that every day. Even when you have something that pulls you in a different direction, you still want to be a good boss. I hope I am that insightful, that’s sweet. My husband is a counselor and the reason I say that is because I try and be as thoughtful as I can, mindful, as he would say, with others.
V: My wife works with toddlers, and she has definitely got me in the mindset of how children learn. She taught me patience and to not undervalue what someone else can do. Not to make assumptions or cut short opportunities where they might succeed, have a breakthrough. With my son and my experience, not being around many children, I made assumptions that a child can not do this or that, but he proves me wrong all the time and shows me he can help himself and his natural desire is to help himself and do things. He doesn't just play all the time. It is an important thing, but just as important is learning how to participate in this world and in our family. It gives me a perspective on how to work with other people.
S: And how to spend time with other people. Learning how to be with her, that is the harder part. I can manage and run a business, but can I do that and this, which is brand new to me. Oddly enough, you are at home but it is work, but not in a bad way, it’s just effort, and you want to succeed. I see other moms and people with their kids, and think, I have never been like that, I am usually really confident, but I see other moms and sort of copy them, and that hasn’t been me, with anything. I’ll be like, “I’ll learn it and do it.” I do feel more self conscious about being a mom then anything else I have been. I don’t know what that is, if it is just being hard on yourself, or if it’s like, “I don’t know what I am doing.”
V: Me too.
S: But I am not worried. There are a lot of us out there. It’s been done, and I think I have some pretty good tools. It’s just hard, when you are use to doing things well, and this is the thing that you can’t screw up.
V: So beer culture is an adult culture. For example I work at a brewery where the pub is pretty well known for its family friendly restaurant/brewpub, and as a result I have heard people without kids comment that they will avoid this restaurant during certain hours because of that. I was just wondering how your perception might have changed on that front.
S: I have totally switched roles. I use to be that person, and now I am that other person. I am happy to come in here (Laurelwood). Where I live, I like being able to go into Breakside, here, Lompoc, or HUB. We can’t go into Amnesia anymore, can go to Hop & Vine until nine, but can’t go to Bottles. That’s a harder thing for me, and I tend to choose what events I can go to, and going out in general, to things I can do with my family. It is an adult industry, but I am an adult with a family. Do you find that?
V: Sometimes it isn’t an option, or it won’t be any fun for a kid or I won’t have time to spend with my family at an event, because I am there to promote the beer or brewery, et cetera, but when I can, I bring my family, even as it divides my attention, because my wife loves beer, too, and my son is aware of it and that making beer is what I do at work, and it’s important to me not to separate them too much. It can be difficult. I want my son to have good experiences with the culture I am part of and a more mature understanding of beer and its role in our society, rather than reduce it to the simple “this is not for you, ignore it”, or whatever. Places I am going out to for pleasure, I will always choose oriented on bringing my family.
S: That’s a good thing, right?
V: I always love bringing to Kosmos to Saraveza, he gets down on the pickle plate.
S: Yeah, Roxy is already going for the pickled onions.
V: My work day has changed too, it’s nice now, I get to see my son in the morning and we talk about where we are going and what we are going to do, and I tell him I am going to work, and he asks me “you are going to brew beer?”, it is pretty sweet. I have always showed him the breweries I have worked for, the mash tuns, tanks, etc. and sometimes I homebrew and he makes a pretend homebrew, stirring a stick in a boot, adding in plastic pickles instead of hops.
S: How do you feel about that? It's this forbidden thing. I remember asking Steve Parks (from the American Brewers Guild) about that, because he has kids. What’s that conversation? Have you had that conversation?
V: Well he is still very young, but of course, but he is very curious. A fair amount of our activities are centered around beer. I don’t know how that conversation will go when he is older, but there are things he can’t do now that we do anyway. It’s something I won’t have to ask myself for a while. Did Steve have a good answer for you?
S: Well, he told me that he and his wife spoke about it pretty cut and dry. This is what I do for a living, this is how we make our money, and you can’t try it until you are older. I just imagine someday I will have to have that conversation, or explain it, about why this is so important or why you talk about it so much. What do you even say?
V: I imagine I won’t get tough until he is at that stage that we experimented with alcohol in our youth, and my more mature attitude around responsible consumption starts clashing with peer pressure and legality.
S: …Or learn to love or appreciate it in the right way. I am going to ask you about this moving forward, over the years.

V: Yeah, I will be a couple years ahead of you here.
S: My staff made a Saison with Breakside Brewing, a Pacific Northwest Saison, which is great that they could go there, and they pulled it off. But since I have worked in a brewery, I knew how to work all the clamps and work all the tools, but I was happy to stand back and hang out with Roxy all day. She loved it, she just laughed and screamed the whole day, so they ended up naming the beer Saison de Roxanne, and oddly enough, they are entering it at GABF. Roxy went to GABF last year and we are going to go as a family again this year. So I just hope as time goes on, that she will just hate beer (laughs). She will have just done it all… been in a documentary, gone to GABF.
V: …Got some medals, whatevs.
What do you think about the way Portland beer culture is progressing? There is another week of events following a month of events…the activities keep expanding.
S: I had no idea! I didn’t know what type of commitment it would become. I could plan a lot of things; what Saraveza was going to look like, the food, everything like that, what it looks like when you walk in. But the one huge missing element in all that is how the industry was going to evolve. I knew people were going to get more into craft beer and really believed in that revolution, but had no idea it was going to spur so much activity from an industry, because to me the activity is this (lifting glass to mouth). I didn’t get it was going to be as important, and I am glad that it is. But, my god, it’s hard to think that it is something interesting that some one would want to put it on film. Luckily, by necessity I was sober. I don’t know how interesting I would have been otherwise.
I want to thank Sarah for making the time to meet with me and share her story, and Ezra, who suggested the interview to me, thereby letting me get to know my local Publican better. - Vasilios Gletsos

See Sarah Pederson speaking in person this Saturday 8/20 at the Premiere for "The Love of Beer"


  1. Fantastic information, thanks for the interview idea!

  2. Best bar name I've heard in a long time. I'm a Saravezaphile. A good story indeed. Nice blogging soldier.

  3. I have learned a lot from Sarah and I hope to continue! She is great resource and passionate human!


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