First Look: Columbia River Brewing Co.

A little over a month ago The New School broke the news that Laurelwood Brewing Company was closing it’s Pizza Company location on NE 40th and that the location was being taken over by a brand new brewery, Columbia River Brewing Company. No other information was available at the time.
Since then I have been trying to track down information on this elusive new brewery, and I finally succeded just as Columbia River Brewing has opened its doors for business with absolutely no buzz and seemingly not telling a soul.

I caught up with Columbia River Brewing owner Rick Burkhardt for an interview that gives a little insight into his history as a brewer and his plans for the new brewpub…

First off, before we get into the interview, let’s clear up some inaccurate rumors about the new establishment. It has been reported that the brewery was bought by Sun River Brewing from Utah. That is inaccurate and, as far as we can tell, there is no entity called Sun River Brewing.
However, owner/brewer Rick Burkhardt of Columbia River Brewing came to Portland from Utah. Talking with Rick, I learned that he lived in England for a time, which is where he learned to brew. He has most recently moved around the country a bit as a Regional Manager of sorts for Sears department stores.

It was also reported that Columbia River would continue on serving pizza as Laurelwood did. That is also inaccurate. They currently have a menu of typical pub food like burgers, nachos, fish & chips and steak. But that menu is temporary, and they plan to mix it up quite a bit, adding more seafood and even sushi.

My first impressions upon walking into the new Columbia River pub was a bit odd. The place looked exactly the same, but much emptier. The dessert case was empty, art was no longer on the walls, and there were no signs and few people. This was in the odd hour between lunch and dinner, though, so that might account for the lack of people. I have to assume that the fact that there was absolutely no notice about this place opening also contributes to that.

The brewery seems to be in exactly the same state and looked good, with the old bottles still lined the walls. The kids play area is still there.

I cozied up to the bar and found a beer list that had not changed either, still listing all of Laurelwood’s beers. Not a bad thing to have on tap before they get their own beer flowing. Speaking of which, Columbia River plans to be pouring its own beer by the end of August. The brew system is ready to go now, but they have to wait on their TTB permits to come through. Perfectly understandable, since they turned the space over in only 4 days.

(Columbia River Brewing Co. owner Rick Burkhardt)

Owner Rick Burkhardt was kind enough to come out and talk to me with no notice, and was very friendly. I could definitely tell this was a life-long dream for him.
Before we begin the interview, I would like to note the written part below was conducted later via email:

Q: How did Columbia River Brewing come about?
My dream of brewing came about over 30 years ago in the early 70s from a vacation my wife and I took to England. While there I had an opportunity to brew with a brewmaster during part of my vacation. I was hooked on the process, and from my very first sip of the beer there, so much so that I wanted to move there and own a Free House. Columbia River Brewing Company was born when Laurelwood decide to sell their Pizza Company location. We took over this location on July 6th, completely changed the kitchen equipment, added 26 new to us but very experienced associates, completely changed the menu, had shirts and hats printed with our logo on them, and were opened on July 9th. In just 2 1/2 days.

Q: What is your experience in business and brewing?
My only experience is as a 30 year home brewer. I have not brewed commercially.

Q: Is it at all daunting to be taking over such a well established and loved brewpub as this?
No, it’s just the opposite, it’s very exciting. The location is awesome ! I am back in Portland and loving every minute of it.

Q: How do you plan to stand out/fit in in a market as packed and diverse as Portland?
By brewing my beer, offering good food, providing great customer service and listening to my customers’ needs and feedback. There are great breweries all over Portland, and every brewer has their own personal touch to each beer they brew. That is what it’s all about. It’s Hand Crafted, and that’s why every IPA or any other brew is different in its own great way.

Q: What would you say to regulars of Laurelwood that are skeptical about Columbia River Brewing?
I believe the locals in this market will be very much open to us, and give us a fair chance to prove ourselves. We are the new kid on the block, and we need the support of our local customers. We opened yesterday and had a packed house. I met and talked to a large number of our customers on their first visit to us, and they were as excited as I and the Columbia River Brewing Co. Staff are. The soft opening day support blew us away, we were all touched by the comments and welcomes we received. Truly awesome!

Q: What kind of beers will you be making at Columbia River?
Once we have have our TTB in hand, we will have a line up starting with IPAs , Pales, Wheat, Raspberry Wheat, Belgian styles, Amber, Brown, Porter, Stout, and Seasonal. Makes me thirsty just talking about it. Can’t wait to get started!!

Q: What yeast strain will you be using?
Well, it will be the one I believe best meets the taste and style of my beer.

Q: What kind of food will you be serving at the brewpub?
We will have the typical brewpub fare, with Chef specials from local fish mongers, Both of our Chef’s have great ideas and want to surprise our customers with their talents. We will even have sushi. We use fresh potatoes to make our fries, these guys make their own sauces, they even hand make the burgers each day.

Q: Any plans for distribution?
Of course.

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Samurai Artist
Samurai Artist

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:


  • Anonymous
    Mon Jul 12, 2010 2:52 PM

    All answers seem pretty vague. I hope there’s a lot more to their plan than he divulged to you.

    • Anonymous
      Mon Jul 12, 2010 3:00 PM


      • Anonymous
        Mon Jul 12, 2010 3:56 PM

        I wish these guys the best of luck. Congrat’s Rick!

        • Anonymous
          Mon Jul 12, 2010 5:58 PM

          I went and really enjoyed the food. Beer was the same can’t wait for that to change cuz it couldn’t get worse.

          • Anonymous
            Mon Jul 12, 2010 9:55 PM

            fast opening. i didn’t even know laurelwood was gone – no wasted time with an empty building on the corner. i think this place is going to be awesome. they are very open to comments and suggestions. it’s nice to have the laurelwood beer, but can’t wait to try the new stuff.
            burger was good and the staff was very friendly. good luck crb!

            • Anonymous
              Mon Jul 12, 2010 11:05 PM

              Awesome!! Welcome Rick and the CRB team!

              • Samurai Artist
                Samurai Artist
                Mon Jul 12, 2010 11:09 PM

                What the hell? Why is every single comment on here Anonymous? Seriously people, use your first name atleast pleaassse.

                • Anonymous
                  Mon Jul 12, 2010 11:23 PM

                  Wow, These guy’s move fast. I was at the closing of Laurelwood on Monday night, and Friday the Columbia River Brewing Co, was open and with a real menu! not just Pizza. Talked to the owner Rick who was talking to everyone, and it was busy. You got to love the fact that he hired 20+ un-employed Portland people, and installed the kitchen equipment in just a few days. The food is great and un-like Laurelwood Pizza, these guy’s are open 7 days a week starting at 11am. Rick the owner said they will also be serving breakfast on Sundays by the end of the Month. Looking forward to having there brews. Well done CRB !

                  • Anonymous
                    Mon Jul 12, 2010 11:45 PM

                    The burger’s their are great! I’m impressed how fast these guy’s changed it over from Laurlewood, just a couple of days it seem’s like. Ricks a really nice guy also. Cant wait to get some of those CRB beers. Great job CRB!

                    • Ted C.
                      Ted C.
                      Tue Jul 13, 2010 12:00 AM

                      Thanks for great review! Can’t wait to try em’ and put some new beer in muh’ belly!

                      • Anonymous
                        Tue Jul 13, 2010 12:05 AM

                        Looks awesome! I can’t wait to try some of that great CRB beer. Rick is such a great guy!

                        • Brian
                          Tue Jul 13, 2010 1:11 AM

                          Sorry Ezra…I was the trendsetter with the Anon tag. Just being lazy. I promise to do better next time. Lucky no one knows me anyway so I’ve got nothing to hide.

                          • ElGordo
                            Tue Jul 13, 2010 9:14 PM

                            Hey Anonymous – What “great” CRB beer? How do you know it’s great? Unless you’ve got some sort of relationship with the brewer (or ARE the brewer), you’ve got no frame of reference. And numerous “Anonymous” posts have the exact same tone, style, and grammatical errors. Please stop, whoever from CRB is doing the comment spamming. It’s pretty bush league, and we don’t put up with that kind of crap here at the New School.

                            ElGordo – El Editorio de la Escuela Nueva

                            • Anonymous
                              Wed Jul 14, 2010 5:41 AM

                              Wow! This looks like a great place! I can’t wait to try some of their awesome beer! Thanks Rick!

                              • Hungry In Hollywood.
                                Hungry In Hollywood.
                                Thu Jul 15, 2010 2:06 AM

                                As a neighborhood resident, I am excited about having a pub with a range of fare, more in line with the original Laurelwood. The pizza was never that good, and it was ridiculously inconsistent. I hope the CRB brews are good, but we’ll find out. If not, I’ll enjoy the food, and head over the Moon and Sixpence for a beer.

                                • Anonymous
                                  Fri Jul 16, 2010 3:35 AM

                                  Just left the CRB Awesome food.They are not brewing yet, but have both Laurelwood and Deschutes brews as guest taps going. Another great thing is the kid play area is gone! and replaced with a large bench seat and table for 8 people.

                                  • maz
                                    Sat Jul 17, 2010 11:03 AM

                                    i went to,the food was great but ill wait to see wwhat the free beer is like first lol

                                    • Anonymous
                                      Mon Jul 19, 2010 8:39 AM

                                      This is Portland right? Give beer a chance.represent ur city.expand. your minds

                                      • CL
                                        Tue Jul 20, 2010 3:05 AM

                                        Very sad the play area is gone. Hope they will actually need the space. If u r not at capacity yet, why take it out? since LW moved up the road, the play area has been quite mellow- not crazy like it used to be.

                                        • Brian McBride
                                          Brian McBride
                                          Sat Jul 24, 2010 9:54 PM

                                          Just went in and grabbed lunch.

                                          The burger was dull, fries soggy. My wides salad was lackluster and my daughters pizza was ok, but not nearly the old quality at this location.

                                          All in all, it is a bid fisappointment. They need to hire a chief to help them make good food.

                                          • Anonymous
                                            Sun Jul 25, 2010 4:09 AM

                                            Just had an awesome burger and frys, also my friend had the Fish and chips, it was also very, very good. I would say that Brian McBride, had a bit too much to drink at brew fest, as he can not spell Wife. But maybe it is his wides? We will return for the food, and we looking forward to tasting their beer, when they start brewing.
                                            Bob H.

                                            • dave in laurelhurst
                                              dave in laurelhurst
                                              Mon Jul 26, 2010 3:33 AM

                                              I’m a parent mourning the loss of a great neighborhood hangout. There are loads of pubs offering the exact same experience in portland already that CRB intends to offer. There are very few places that were as accommodating for families as Laurelwood Pizza Co was.

                                              Removing the kids play area is such a loss. I could put up with the soggy fries and small overpriced burgers and beers on tap from the far right conservative Deschuttes brewing if they had only left the kids play area intact. Someone at the pub explained to us, it did not teach kids how to ‘behave’ in a restaurant. Wow, I just wanted a place to take my 3 year olds so I could relax for a minute other than McDonalds playland. I won’t expect my kids to sit still in a restaurant for another couple years thanks anyway. It seems that the new owners are far removed from days of child rearing for the under five crowd. It used to be a crowd too, but it seems the crowd is voting with their feet so far.

                                              Maybe I’ll stop in again once they have their own brews on tap, but there is no reason for me to return as many times as I had to the Laurelwood Pizza Co. Why do good things always have to come to an end?

                                              • Neighborhood K
                                                Neighborhood K
                                                Mon Jul 26, 2010 3:57 AM

                                                Went in tonight with my 3 year old twins and 5 adult friends thinking we were going to the Laurelwood Pizza Kitchen. I was so disappointed to discover that it had been taken over by the Columbia River Brewing. The menu is completely different. The kids area gone. When I asked about the kids area I was told that keeping the kids area did not teach kids how to behave in a restaurant. How about giving parent a place to go and drink a beer? There are so many places in Portland where adults can drink beer. But only two places where kids can come while adult drink beer (Laurelwood & Hub). Taking one of those places away from a beer drinking parent ultimately prevents my return. It’s more comfortable, easier, and cheaper, to stay at home. I liked the Laurelwood Pizza, especially the spicy italian. Will miss it.
                                                When I read my review to my husband he reminded me that you can take kids really anywhere, but that Laurelwood and HUB were the only places that had play areas for kids under 5. Good point. I’ll miss the Laurelwood Pizza Kitchen. Hopes it pops up somewhere else around town.

                                                • Anonymous
                                                  Mon Jul 26, 2010 4:03 AM

                                                  Wow i cant belive people are still talking about the kid area at the old laurelwood. it was nothiong more then a box with toys. Maybe if it was bigger and had bouncy balls and a jungle gym it would still be there. I can side with the new owners on this move.
                                                  JP (north portland)

                                                  • Anonymous
                                                    Mon Jul 26, 2010 6:31 PM

                                                    As with all things in life, some people will embrace change and evolve accordingly, and others will complain and find fault. Yes the kid play area is gone, and I think overall the place will be better because of it. Yes, there are parents who beleive their children should be allowed free reign in a public restaurant, who have no care about the infringement their children may cause on other guests. Everyone is a guest and should behave accordingly. Many parents let thier children run around crashing into servers, guests, furniture, etc. It is a huge liability to the owner of a business as well as the staff who must deal with not only the child’s behavior, but also the defensiveness of the parents who some how feel entitled to allow thier children to infringe upon others enjoyment. I have nothing against kids, and I feel when they are out in a public restaurant with thier parents, they should conduct themselves in a respectful manner. If the kid area were separated from the whole the restaurant like such places as Chucky Cheese, then it is a different story. And not to get into a sparring match over parenting skills or the lack of them, people need to be a little more realistic and respectful of others right to enjoy thier dining experience free of screaming children running amuck, dispersing toys all over the floor, tables and boothes. How many adults have you seen jumping in the boothes, throwing toys, and screaming in a restaurant? Maybe some of those parents who are so upset about the kid pit (thier alternative babysitter) would benefit from a few parenting classes where boundaries, respect, and natural consequences are effectively taught.

                                                    • Hollywood resident
                                                      Hollywood resident
                                                      Fri Jul 30, 2010 7:21 PM

                                                      I’m a parent in Hollywood, and I keep an eye on my child (now 4). Parents are sad about the loss of the Laurelwood’s play area because it’s difficult to find restaurants that are small-child friendly. It is not difficult, on the other hand, to find adult-oriented pubs that serve burgers. Who needs another one of those? And why would I go to a brewpub for sushi, when Hama is a block away (or Bluefin, or Mio — all within walking distance)?

                                                      I do my best to teach my son to respect other patrons’ space and experience, so I have to say, I find the increasing lack of empathy toward parents of small children online appalling and hurtful. I can only hope it’s the relative anonymity of this medium that encourages such unkind comments.

                                                      Hollywood is a neighborhood with lots of young children, and the LW owners recognized that. The local customers will stay away if the comments here reflect CRB’s attitude toward our families. I certainly plan to.

                                                      • Josh
                                                        Sat Aug 14, 2010 3:49 PM

                                                        People without small children just won’t get it. They’ll either complain that the children run rampant (mine stayed in the play area the whole time, thus allowing my wife and I to enjoy our meal and beer) or complain because my two year old is making a scene because he doesn’t want to be stuck in a high chair. I’ve also found that generally the kids stick to the play areas and that parents try to get tables close by so as not to disturb other patrons. There are always exceptions to the rule who do allow their unparented hellions to run loose.

                                                        Laurelwood and Hopworks get it, it’s too bad other brew pubs do not.

                                                        • Anonymous
                                                          Fri Aug 27, 2010 7:23 PM

                                                          Went by last night as I was texted by my friend that CRB released Three beers this week. I can tell you this all three are FREAKING AWESOME!! They have a CRB Pale Ale, a Hollywood Hefe (German Style), and a ESB. Next week they will release a Belgian Double,also a IIPA, and a Raspberry Wheat, as I read from there brew board, and they are brewing additional beers next week, from what the server told me. If the others taste this awesome, we are in for a real treat. O-Yea the food is good also. Brew-On CRB!! I LIKE IT.

                                                          • Tim B
                                                            Tim B
                                                            Tue Aug 31, 2010 1:09 AM

                                                            In a neighboorhood full of families, I predict this place will not survive due do the removal of the play area. If you have young kids, it simply isn’t worth the expensive menu. I’ll just take my kids to one of the many other places around town that offer a better value. Let’s see if you the kid hatred that font understand parents perspective will be able to keep this place open. Also the kids menu is stupid expensive $7 for all the kids stuff. It is clear the owner who has no commercial brew or restraint experience doesn’t want your buisness if you have kids. It is hard enough to make a restaurant profitable without alienating a significant portion of the population. Good luck CBR, your going to need it!

                                                            • Mrs.Merkin
                                                              Tue Aug 31, 2010 5:41 PM

                                                              I used to go to Old World Brewery here, pre-Laurelwood, pre-kids, when they even had a pool table in there and couldn’t make a go of it.

                                                              I agree with Tim B and the other parents above, I was a weekly LW regular with my well-behaved 4-year old, and went with a large group of mom’s and kids. Now I have absolutely NO reason to visit CRB, due to the owner’s attitude, the ‘kid’ prices and lack of play area and pizza. We can have good beer on the nice patio at Moon & Sixpence while the weather is good or go somewhere else with great beer and food and a better attitude for children. As he said, “We are the new kid on the block, and we need the support of our local customers”…Well, good luck with that, Rick, you can count me out, but apparantly you don’t need/want my family anyway.

                                                              Remember the Thai place in Silverton that wanted no kids? Gone. hey closed a few months later.

                                                              (The anon comments above are so obviously planted by Rick and staff. Ick.)

                                                              • Jim
                                                                Wed Sep 1, 2010 2:48 AM

                                                                wow. world is still full of complainers. Beer is good. Food is good. Private and small business even better. Support your neighborhood and complain in your diaries people. whats wrong with America. I have two small children myself, but if they wanted to take out the play place so be it. I have tried the beer and the menu. Its great! I even talked with some brewers from Eugene and Bend about the new place. Every one of them supports them 100 percent. Best of luck CRB. See you soon

                                                                • Anonymous
                                                                  Wed Sep 1, 2010 6:41 AM

                                                                  Everybody is wondering if these comments are from CBR. I can personally tell you that there are none from me or Rick the owner. Iam the Chef at CRB and appreciate all comments positive or negative. We as managment look at these things to see what people are saying and what we can do to accomadate there needs. As everyone knows we are not laurelwood nor do we wont to be affiliated with them or there bussiness practices. We are are new bussiness looking to give people a place to relax and enjoy great beer and handmade in house, local foods. Almost all of our food is prepared in house from the kids mac and cheese to pizzas that we still offer at half the price of the old owners. I can tell you there mac and cheese you use to pay for was in a bag that they microwaved, i threw out that microwave my first day. We are here for the neighborhood and all the people in it, all we ask is a chance to prove ourselves. So join us september 11 for a great day and our offical Grand Opening. We will have atleast 7 beers on tap and a pig roast ready for ya. Thanx CHEF P.

                                                                  • Anonymous
                                                                    Wed Sep 1, 2010 6:51 PM

                                                                    Wow. Lots of haters and bad information. I have yet to see or hear of anyone at CRB hating children. I have never experienced that attitude from the owner or anyone at CRB. I only have to go to Laurelwood on 51st to understand why the kid play area was taken away. While a majority of parents are responsible and watch their children, there are those who do not, and therin lies much of the issue. In the end, no matter what, people will choose to be offended and bash on the place either way. CRB will get bashed for having the play area, and they get bashed for taking it out. Many of the posts sound like control freaks who want everything their way as if entitled. Why can’t a business be respected for the way they choose to conduct thier business without all the hate and rumors? What is wrong with people? If all people can do is search out things to make themselves angry and hold grudges, then I can see why we have all the issues which exist in this Country. A Country full of reactive whiners, instead of proactive doers! CRB has three great ales, and the food is great! The staff is friendly, engaging, and fun. And the posts from the haters really say much more about the individual writing them than it does about CRB, and it is not good.