An Interview with Laurelwood Brewmaster Chad Kennedy

Chad Kennedy is Laurelwood’s Brewmaster, Chad Kennedy is also a gay porn star or so I was told (I am currently in negotiations to have him model for next years Four Play label). Which Chad did I interview I am still not sure but either way he makes great beer and his talents will be on showcase this Friday for Laurelwood’s 10th Anniversary. The interview reveals some new tricks up these guys sleaves including a brand new Nano Brewery, new Experimental beers and the hardships of using Organic ingredients.

One thing was made imminently clear when I hung out with Chad last week, they dont believe in waste. Take for example the Laurelwood tap handle Chad is holding in the photo above, as we were talking another brewer presented it from a package they just received for an Ebay seller. While perusing the internets they came upon a old Free Range Red tap handle up for auction and decided to bid on it. After winning the handle back they will clean it up and add it back to circulation.

Q: What are your duties at Laurelwood?

My title is Brewmaster. Basically, that means I’m responsible for everything beer related at our company. However, I like to take credit for the good things that happen and lay blame on others for things that go wrong. Of course, nothing’s ever gone wrong. But when it does, watch out.

Q: How did you get into brewing?

I got a job at a flavor ingredient production company in Eugene after I finished grad school. I worked in the marketing department but the production floor was very much like a brewery. A lot of the same equipment and concepts. A lot of the folks working in production there were homebrewers. They turned me onto the idea of home fermentation and I basically got carried away with it. When I moved to Portland from Eugene with my wife, she had a job and I didn’t. I took the opportunity to sort of reinvent myslef and got a job with a small specialty beer distributor in town. I wasn’t really looking for a sales job but I figured it would be a good way to put me in contact with brewers and maybe find a chance to get a brewery job. As luck would have it, that’s what happened.

Q: One of the things Laurelwood is known for is Organic beers. Are there any special factors, concerns or steps you take to keep the beers Organic and how come some are certified and others not?

We follow fairly strict guidlines set up by the USDA for Organic food processors. The biggest factor is eliminating the potential for “contamination” of our organic beer by conventional beer. Truthfully, a lot of the steps we take to meet the federal regulations are steps that any good brewer should be doing anyway. Cleanliness, tracability etc. Of course, as a certified organic processor, we’re inspected anually to make sure we’re on the up and up. We only use organic 2-row in all our beers. However, some of the specialty malts we use aren’t available in organic form. So, rather than limit ourselves to the ingredients we can use in our beers, we go for certification on beers that qualify. Most of our beers are nearly all organic though.

Q: With new requirements coming that regulate more required usage of Organic Hops instead of just Organic malts will this have any effect on your beers/recipes?

Not for us, no. Since we don’t seek to qualify all our beers as organic, we’ll be fine. Luckily for us, our organic beers all use hop varities that will be available in organic form. The folks that are “all organic” will likely be doing some reformulation. Though, you’d have to ask them.

Q: Do you think Organic Hops should be required to call a beer Organic?

That’s a tough one. The rule acutally states that to call a food organic, 95% of its ingredients by weight must be organic. Well, hops are certainly less than 5% of the ingredients in beer- especially if you consider water. However, the rules also state that if it’s available in organic form, than you must use the organic variety. The question then becomes, are hops hops or does the variety matter? Well, as a brewer, I’ll tell you that variety of course matters. Not all varieties are available in organic form. Honestly, some varieties will never be commercially grown as organic. Some hops just don’t have what it takes to grow au natural. Either they’re susceptible to diease or maybe the yeilds without fertilizer just don’t make it worth it for farmers to grow. Further, there are some varities that are actually proprietary- meaning they can only be grown by one farmer. Not all farmers are going to change their production methods just to grow one variety in organic form. So, hopefully if you’re all organic, you’re not using those hops.

Q: The other thing Laurelwood is known for is brewing hoppy beers. Christian Ettinger helped start that trend with the flagship Free Range Red and also with the Boss IPA. Since then the Boss IPA has been discontinued and it seems like Free Range is no longer the flagship but instead Workhorse IPA which is your own creation. Does this signal a change in what consumers want and/or your own brewing styles and techniques?

I don’t think so. Mostly, it’s a matter of personal taste and the fact that the times are a changin’. With Workhorse, I just brewed a beer that I had in my mind as an ideal IPA. It actually came about as part of an inhouse dream IPA competition that we did. All the brewers, at the time is was Christian, me and Paul brewed our “dream” IPAs and then put it to the people to judge which they liked the best. We put our 3 beers up against our own Boss and Green Elephant. It was tons of fun and Workhorse came out the winner. Then, in 2007 when we openned our new 51st and Sandy location, we had an opportunity to change the lineup. Boss went away, as did our Pale at the time and we added Workhorse, Hop Monkey and Hooligan. As far as a flagship, as a brewer, I’m proud we brew organic beer and I was the one to make the move to all organic 2-row. However, to me, the point is to brew great beer and I don’t want to limit myself to only organic ingredients. The truth is though, that our Red is still our number one seller outside of our own pub. We sell more Workhorse than Red overall, but a lot of that has to do with the umpteen barrels of IPA that we sell at our own pubs. Workhorse is a great beer and people are really digging it. If that’s what we become known for than so be it. I’m not here to dictate what people like. I brew beer for them. That’s the way they wants it, then that’s the way they get’s it.

Q: If you had to describe your brewing philosophy what would it be?

Balanace and consistency. Sounds boring huh? We pride ourselves on making consistently good beer. Balance wise- even our biggest beers are balanced. Think about Deranger, Workhorse or even the new Imperial version of Workhorse. While these are hop bombs, I still work hard to make sure they come out balanced. In other words, beer is brewed to be drank. I don’t particularly believe that a super bitter hard to swallow beer is really what people want. It certainly doesn’t keep me coming back for more. Nor, do I think it really tells me that someone is a good brewer. Where’s the talent in throwing bucket after bucket of hops in a beer?

Q: Despite brewing mainly a lot of pale ales you have also managed to fit in some cool experimental beers like the Bay Laurel brewed with bay leafs, a bacon beer, a Framboise and now a Mexican Mocha beer. Would you be doing more of these experimental and fun beers if you werent brewing so much IPA?

Yeah, I made a promise to myself a while back to have one “weird” beer on tap at all times. Really, I just wanted to make sure I kept pushing myself brewing wise by using unconventional ingredients or techniques. Just trying to keep myself on my toes by doing things a bit out of my comfort zone.

Q: You recently released a sour beer a Framboise, some people say that sour beers are the new IPA. Are you a fan of sours and do you think it will continue to grow or be more of a fad?

I personally like sours but I don’t think I’d call them the new IPA. Garret Oliver once talked about the 3 pint rule- he thinks people should be able to drink 3 pints of a beer- meaning if it’s over the top bitter or whatever- remember you’re basically making a beer undrinkable. I don’t think we’re going to see sour beers sweep across the nation and on tap all over the place. Sure, they may be the next big thing but we need to adjust our definition of what “big” is then. They’re fun and definitely enjoyable but I don’t see people sitting around drinking pints of the stuff with buddies after work. My opinion. Cascade Barrel House might tell me I’m wrong though.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about the Mexican Mocha Beer and any other fun stuff you have coming up?

Mexican Mocha was a beer inspired by a cocktail. It’s an amber colored ale, definitely on the malty side. I used malt imported from Chile- couldn’t get Mexican malt. We brewed the beer with cinnamon, cocoa nibbs, serrano peppers and coffee. Again, I tried to keep it balanced so that one flavor wasn’t overwhelming and so that it still tasted like beer. Otherwise, we’ve got an imperialized version of Workhorse coming out. We’re going to do a real limited run of those in bottles. I’m working on a sour mash beer project right now that I don’t have many details on.

Q: Has the loss of the original Laurelwood brewhouse in the old Pizza Co. location impacted your production, specifically one-ofs and seasonals?

I miss the little 7 barrel brewhouse that could. It did give us the option to do real oddball stuff and fun and experimental things like single hop beers. It hasn’t hurt our production though- we didn’t do that many barrels there after we moved to our current location.

Q: I hear that your in the process of getting a new nano brewing system up and running at the Washington Laurelwood what size is it and when do you hope to be brewing on it?

We’ve got a 2 barrel brewery at our Battle Ground location. I’ve hoped to have been brewing on it by now but between the distance, my need to be at our production brewery and frankly some technical difficulties, it’s been a slow process. Soon. Soon.

Q: Can Washington expect some of their own exclusive experimental beers from the nano brewhouse?

Definitely. This will give us then opportunity to do some more fun stuff.

Q: What is the deal with the new beers being released for Laurelwood’s anniversary party this Friday?

Well, it’s Lwood’s 10th birthday so of course we’ve got lots of beers coming out. A new Organic Pale Ale that will be added to the lineup permanently. Then Imperial Workhorse and a couple of casks. Oh yeah, bourbon barrel aged Moose and Squirrel RIS. It’s gonna be tons of fun.

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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:


  • Jeff Alworth
    Jeff Alworth
    Fri Mar 18, 2011 4:52 PM

    “(I am currently in negotiations to have him model for next years Four Play label).”