anniversary

Lompoc Brewing: Staying Fresh and Relevant at 20

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Lompoc head brewer Bryan Kielty and owner Jerry Fechter

Lompoc head brewer Bryan Kielty and owner Jerry Fechter

Not many breweries make it to their 20th anniversary, a milestone by any measure. Lompoc Brewing’s history as a successful local brewpub chain is overshadowed only by McMenamins in the Portland area. Like the McMenamin brothers, Lompoc Brewing was not always Lompoc Brewing; its humble beginnings date back to its days as the Old Lompoc Pub. Also similarly, the late great publican Don Younger helped then-aspiring owner, part-time brewer and bartender Jerry Fechter purchase a not-so-well-known pub and rebuild it as a Portland brewpub staple. This week, Lompoc Brewing celebrates twenty years with a special re-creation of the very first brew, a hoppy top fermented Marzen called “Zwanzig,” and four nights of parties.

Originally a den of cheap drinks and simple sandwiches on NW 23rd before the neighborhood became trendy, the Old Lompoc was owned by local entrepreneurs Goforth and Rice. Jerry Fechter was a transplant who began bartending there and made himself valuable as a jack-of-all-trades until the owners decided it might be wise to dip their toes into the craft brewing world. Jerry was homebrewing at the time and knew some of the young brewers at McMenamins, so he volunteered his services in helping start the brewing venture. Jerry said at the time, “Bridgeport was around, McMenamins was around, the hot beer was Full Sail Amber and Golden.” He went off to take the short brewing course at the Siebel Institute in Chicago and put the plans for the brewery together. In 1996 they opened the Old Lompoc Brewery, where they made simple beers like a Stout, a Golden Ale, and an IPA. The first brew was inspired by Jerry’s trip to Europe after he graduated college; it was there that he discovered beer and fell in love with Marzen. Using an old, square, locally-fabricated mash tun and other less-than-high-tech equipment, there were no lagering capabilities, so his first brew was a Marzen fermented warmer with ale yeast and much more hops than traditional versions.

 

Lompoc owner Jerry Fechter

Lompoc owner Jerry Fechter

 

“The theory was, ‘let’s make an over the top malty beer and just bitter the shit out of it.’ Because we didn’t really know where the additions would be from the kettle. If it was too thin, we could call it something different, if it was too bitter, we had options, was the point,” said Jerry. 

By the year 2000, the brewing operation was fairly successful, but the Lompoc pub was still struggling on booming NW 23rd. As Jerry tells it, Goforth and Rice were really all about cheap drinks and perhaps did not understand the clientele they could bring in. Jerry proposed buying out the remainder of a 3 year lease, but to do it he needed a partner. He was introduced to Don Younger, the legendary publican and owner of the Horse Brass Pub, and after months of discussions over many long drinking sessions, the deal was struck. Don would be a silent partner and the businesses would be run separately from the Horse Brass. The first thing they changed was adding a 200+ seat patio to the newly renamed “New Old Lompoc Tavern,” and they set about making the beer recipes hoppier and building out a full kitchen. The changes worked, and the patio was booming all night long.

Moving along to 2006, Lompoc hired, Bryan Kielty, who is now a ten year veteran in the brewhouse, and opened a new brewery and pub called the Fifth Quadrant on N Williams Avenue. This became the main pub and brewing location, complementing two Lompoc outposts that had been opened in 2003, the Hedge House on SE Division Oaks Bottom Public House in Sellwood. In 2010 the Lompoc Sidebar opened adjacent to the brewhouse at 5Q, with a separate address and space for barrel-aging that became the showcase for Kielty’s burgeoning barrel-aging program.

 

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Hiring Bryan Kielty was a big milestone for Jerry. He helped lead the brewery into packaging and producing newly popular styles like farmhouse ales, barrel-aged fruit and sour beers, and blending, while expanding IPAs into various themed collaboration series. “I inform every potential hire that you will see every aspect of the industry in a small craft brewery,” says Bryan when describing his duties. “We wear so many different hats! At Lompoc we rotate brewing and cellaring duties, but we also work on the bottling line, perform tastings in the grocery store, deliver kegs, plan release parties, help with label design, and social media. The list goes on.”

Bryan, formerly a chef with a culinary studies background, brings his passion for complementary and balanced flavors to the the table. Some of his best beers are collaborations with chefs and inspired by workingman’s balanced, sessionable table beers like his personal favorite, the award-winning Proletariat Red. “I love the balance between the malt and the hops! Balance is an overlooked aspect in beer, especially in the NW.” Some of my personal favorites that have come out of the brewery are the collaborations. I made a few myself, including the Citrus Sour IPA a few years back, but the most memorable highlights were Bryan’s beers with Chef Brian Scheehser of Trellis Restaurant in Kirkland, Washington. It makes sense that another chef would bring out the best; combos like blackberry and thyme and golden apple and sage were definitely inspired.

“I really like working on collaborations. The people in the beer industry are so much fun! Whether you are working with brewers, writers, bloggers, home brewers or just beer enthusiasts, it’s always going to be a good time!” says Bryan, and that creative playful attitude is the highlight of their best beers.

Still, like many breweries aged into the double digits, competition is fierce with the new wave of breweries opening every year, particularly in Portland. While way back when classic English and German ales were all you needed, people then demanded more hops, now it’s innovative ways of using the hops, yeasts, bacteria, etc. Jerry wonders if the days of having 5-6 pub staples and a few rotating seasonals are over. New brewery models like Gigantic’s constant rotating of one-offs and seasonals cater to the public’s demand for something new constantly, and, he says, “Anything you can do a bit different is good because it’s an easy way to stay relevant.”

Bryan agrees. “The hardest part about brewing in the NW, especially in Portland, is staying relevant…We have so many breweries making great beer with new breweries popping up all the time. You have to spend more time, money and effort just to remind people that you exist.”

So how does Lompoc keep relevant? Jerry admits, “I don’t know,” but is constantly thinking about what the next big thing will be and is not a fan of sitting on his laurels. “It’s been 20 years of brewing and evolving and always trying make things better. Not be complacent. I think our beer and food are the best they have ever been.”

“I’m really looking forward to a Cranberry Saison that we have aging in Port barrels” says Bryan on the next wave of Lompoc beers in the works. “When I go out I look for fruit/sour beers. I’m not looking for a kick in the face but something that is on the tart side.”

 


 

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Come celebrate 20 years of brewing history with Lompoc Brewing and the release of “Zwanzig” bitter Marzen beer this Tuesday, December 13th through Friday ,December 16th with daily tappings at each Lompoc outpost. Pale orange in color, Zwanzig has a full malty body and eight hop additions will make you reminisce tipping back a few pints on the New Old Lompoc patio (7.0% ABV).

Every day at 4pm during Zwanzig Fest, a different Lompoc pub will tap the beer; everyone who orders a Zwanzig or that day’s featured taster tray will receive a raffle ticket for a chance to win a variety of Lompoc swag. Owner Jerry Fechter and head brewer Bryan Keilty will be present at the events to share Lompoc’s history and talk about the good old days.

 

Schedule of events:
Tuesday, Dec. 13 @ Sidebar & Fifth Quadrant, 3901 N Williams Ave
Tapping Zwanzig at 4pm
Beer Special: Monster Mash Vertical Taster Tray featuring 2010, 2013, 2015 & 2016 (taster trays are $12)
Food Special: Monster Mash Chocolate Cake cutting at 6:30pm inside Sidebar
Raffle

Wednesday, Dec. 14 @ Hedge House, 3412 SE Division St
Tapping Zwanzig at 4pm
Beer Special: Fruit & Sour Night Taster Tray featuring 2008 Bluebird, 2012 Peach Wheat, Brewdolph’s Revenge & Cherry Christmas (taster trays are $12)
Food Special: Pierogies
Raffle

Thursday, Dec. 15 @ Lompoc Tavern, 1620 NW 23rd Ave.
Tapping Zwanzig at 4pm
Beer Special: Barrel Aged Night Taster Tray featuring 2009 Bourbon Dark Side Porter, 2012 Bourbon Big Bang Red, 2013 Pinot Noir Forbidden Fruit & Brewdolph’s Revenge  (taster trays are $12)
Food Special: Cheese Board
Raffle

Friday, Dec. 16 @ Oaks Bottom Public House, 1621 SE Bybee Blvd
Tapping Zwanzig at 4pm
Beer Special: Belgian Night Taster Tray featuring 2007 Brewdolph, Just Once Think Twice…Belgian Tripel, Brewdolph’s Revenge & Cherry Christmas (taster trays are $12)
Food Special: Belgian Totchos
Raffle

Website: www.LompocBrewing.com
Phone: 503-288-3996
Facebook: www.facebook.com/LompocBeer/
Facebook Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/1816478578570243/
Twitter: www.twitter.com/lompocbeer
Instagram: www.instagram.com/lompocbeer/
Hashtag: #LompocZwanzig

Founder of The New School and most frequent contributor Ezra Johnson-Greenough has worked in the craft beer industry for almost 10 years, doing everything from illustrating beer labels to bartending at renowned beer bars and breweries like Belmont Station, Apex, Laurelwood and Upright Brewing. He has also had a hand in creating events like the Portland Fruit Beer Festival, Portland Beer Week, and the Brewing up Cocktails series. He is available for freelance consultation in marketing, events, graphic design and branding. Contact: [email protected]

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