new brewery

Bent Shovel Brewing: Beer in a Barn

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Bent Shovel Brewing is a small-scale brewery in a retrofitted red barn located along the Clackamas River on the outskirts of Oregon City. It’s as awesome as it sounds.

I’ve always believed that breweries and taprooms were more than just places to drink beer (not that there’s anything wrong with that). On a recent visit to Bent Shovel, that belief became crystal clear. In the 2-hour time frame that I visited and chatted with owners and sampled their beer, a steady stream of customers–both new and repeat, of all ages–stopped by for a quick pint, growler fill, or just to say hello and introduce themselves.

Bent Shovel isn’t located on a busy urban street with foot traffic and other amenities nearby; it’s surrounded by farms and large swaths of land with acreage, not lots. Yet, it’s only a 20-minute drive from downtown Oregon City and a few miles off of I-205. It’s also a part of a growing beer scene in Oregon City, including Oregon City Brewing, Arch Bridge Taphouse, The Growler Run, Feckin Brewing, Portland Cider, Coin Toss, and new nano brewers Shattered Oak Brewing that also brew out of their home.

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“There’s a lot of opportunity being presented to us just by being where we are,” said owner Rick Strauss. “I’m excited about our role in Oregon City.”  One example? Last month, he and his wife Shelly visited The Growler Run that led to participating in a recent event there that hosted just Oregon City brewers. “There’s something exciting happening here in Oregon City and Clackamas County.”

Strauss is no stranger to Portland’s beer scene, though, and has a track record of entering (and winning) numerous competitions. Like many brewers, he started out with an extract kit–once–and went right into grain. From there, the idea was hatched to launch a brewery. Enter the big red barn behind the couple’s home. After extensive retrofits, paperwork, and with the “sweat of my back and my neighbors,” Bent Shovel opened Labor Day weekend. The day I was there was chilly and the brewery had a heater blaring to keep the space warm. A few chairs and a bar across the back wall give drinkers a place to relax. During warmer months, benches in front will accommodate customers. Brewing equipment isn’t hidden; it’s on display for all to see. Strauss showed customers his set-up and answered questions.

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Since opening it’s been a steady traffic of customers checking the new place out. However, the brewery is classified as a home occupation, so Strauss is limited from a retail standpoint and can’t have too much traffic, hence the weekend-only hours. Plus, Strauss still has a day job.

The emphasis now is to sell to taprooms through self-distribution. His wife leads that charge and cold calls local places with samples, successfully getting beer on tap at The Growler Run and Bugatti’s in Oregon City, Portland’s Green Dragon, the new Pizza Schmizza in Sherwood, and most recently tapping Leafwalker at Happy Valley Station, the just-launched food cart project.

One of the big sellers and popular beers is Leafwalker, a seasonal made from a complex recipe left over from Strauss’ homebrew days that he describes as “nice and aromatically pleasing, but not super bitter.” One recent new beer just introduced, Schwarzbier, is a “moderately malty and slightly roasty black lager.” The Winding Road Amber is another huge seller–a great introduction beer for those that aren’t quite ready for the more robust flavors, as well as an IPA they call, well, IPA.

Bent Shovel’s brew system is a direct fire system leveraging a tankless water heater for all-process water needs. Bent Shovel brews 5 and 10 bbl batches with 20 bbls in production at any given time.

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“I’m the new guy on the block here, and yet I’ve received fantastic support from other brewers in town, things like getting yeast pitches from them. You don’t really hear about that in any other business.

“We’re focusing on making high-quality beer and presenting our very best to our customers. We are encouraged by the very positive response we’ve received and the growing demand for our beer,” said Strauss.

Bent Shovel Brewing is located at 21678 S Latourette Road, Oregon City. Hours are noon – 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday. Call before you head out there: (503) 898-0220

John Chilson writes about Portland history and architecture at Lost Oregon. He's also written for Neighborhood Notes, Travel Oregon, Portland Architecture, Askmen.org, San Diego Reader, and Portland Food and Drink. Follow him on twitter at @LostOregon for local history nerdism; for beer tweets he's at @Hopfrenzy. Shoot him an email at [email protected] if you want to get in touch.

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