Awesome Ales, a New Portland Gypsy Brewer

Portland- based Awesome Ales has managed to take me by surprise twice already, first by catching me completely off-guard with its announcement and second by becoming one of the only gypsy/contract breweries in Oregon.

There are a number of curiosities about Awesome Ales, beginning with the cheesy name, but then again Gigantic Brewing has made its boastful moniker work. The logo is also strange; the bold red spot on a white background looks like the flag of Japan, but as far as I can tell Awesome has no Japanese influence. Strangest of all is that the operation is embracing contract and gypsy brewing.

As near as California, contract brewing is popular, and gypsy brewing is a thing across the world, but for some reason it has never caught on in Oregon. Contract brewing is, of course, the business of hiring another working brewery to produce your beers, usually without a brewery of your own. International brewers like Mikkeller have made a name for themselves by traveling around brewing at multiple places, which is called gypsy brewing. In Oregon, Laurelwood is contracting bottled beers out at Widmer, but still produces a lot of its product in-house. I know of some startup brewers in Bend who have begun by contracting out, but no established brands. Apparently Awesome Ales founder David Lederfine has found someone who does have some extra tank space, and his beers will be available soon on draft. Where the beer is being made is a mystery for now, but Lederfine is a known quantity.

The rest is from the official statement about Awesome Ales and I will update when I know about how, when and where the beer is coming from:
UPDATED 10/24/13: Awesome Ales is being brewed in Silverton, OR and due to the government shutdown their TTB licensing was on hold. Beer will hopefully be available in the next few weeks in early November.

After falling in love with great beer in college in the mid 1980’s, mostly French, Belgian and German beers, he started looking at what was going on locally. “Micro breweries and brewpubs were just opening up and the beer wasn’t always great but it was always interesting. Quickly I realized that I wanted to open a brewery.” With each brewery visited and each beer consumed, the concept behind Awesome Ales grew. It wasn’t long before he began to brew at home learning the process, building his experience.
In 1995 he got his first professional brewing job with McMenamins. Three years later he and fellow brewer Mike Hogan opened the Snake and Weasel; a Celebrator Beer News top ale house and renowned music venue, attracting such national and local acts as Andrew Bird, Yonder Mountain String Band, and Jerry Joseph. “The Snake and Weasel was close to what I wanted. We had planned to build out our own brewery but between the daily rigors of running a coffee and ale house twenty hours a day, connecting with the beer and music community, our plans became bogged down.”

Since closing the Snake and Weasel, David has continued working in the Oregon craft beer industry, keeping his finger on the beer worlds pulse. He brewed at Astoria Brewing, Oregon Trail, and Three Creeks, and worked for a local distributor. “Back during the times of the Snake and Weasel there were a few hundred craft brewers in the country. It was difficult for the Rose and Raindrop to get fifty different breweries to fill the handles they had at that time, now there are more than fifty in Portland alone.” As much talk as there is about a craft beer bubble, the reality is that the growth of consumption still far outweighs the growth in the number of breweries.

This time around, David is determined to focus on what brought him here, the beer. “The similarity of now and then is the idea of tenant brewing.” He likes the idea of making the most of systems that are already in place, “It allows us to work independently of certain financial pressures while working collectively with breweries that have capacity, giving them a welcome revenue stream.”

There is a green facet to gypsy and tenant brewing as well. “Through cooperation and maximization we create a smaller carbon foot print than we would in operating a separate facility; from heating water and running lights to shipments of grain and hops.” Sharing equipment is an innovative way to approach manufacturing while creating a stronger, intentional community. “In a few years, when we start approaching the sixteen hundred barrel mark, I would like to build a brewery, one that will have excess capacity that I can offer to somebody else so they can get their start.”

The Debut Beers from Awesome Ales:


Awesome Ale, “Southern Sky” – French Pale Ale

Our Biere de Oregon, “Southern Sky” is the marriage of a French biere de garde and a Bohemian Pilsner, with certain Oregon sensibilities. Effervescent and nicely bodied with moderate hopping that carries and transforms throughout the mouth with a very dry finish. ABV%5.8 IBU 38

Totally Awesome IPA, “The 4:19” – Northwest IPA

Take a minute to try this one. An updated classic Northwest IPA with a light body and heavy hops. The use of six different hops gives this a fully rounded hop quality, heavy with grapefruit and tangerine notes. ABV %6.9 IBU 89

Absolutely Awesome Ale, “Spike Driver” – American Strong Ale

Named after the legendary John Henry, the steel drivin’ man. This strong ale is garnet red with a creamy white head. Perfectly balanced like the head of a sledgehammer, the malts and hops blend to make a drinkable strong ale void of the cloying sweetness found in some examples. Notes of plum, raisin and currant. ABV %7.9 IBU 80

Like you, I have a lot more questions about Awesome Ales and am awaiting answers. In the meantime, you can follow Awesome Ales on its Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Awesome-Ales/386925891418479
or website: http://www.awesomeales.com/

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: SamuraiArtist@NewSchoolBeer.com

Discussion

  • Aaron
    Aaron
    Wed Oct 23, 2013 4:16 PM

    This is great news. I loved the Snake & Weasel’s beers, particularly Spike Driver.

    • Brian Yaeger
      Brian Yaeger
      Wed Oct 23, 2013 4:26 PM

      What do you mean caught you by surprise? I broke this story on the Beer Odyssey blog 😀
      http://beerodyssey.blogspot.com/2013/10/farewell-beervana-hello-biervana.html

      • Brian Yaeger
        Brian Yaeger
        Wed Oct 23, 2013 4:29 PM

        And it’s only a mystery which brewery is doing the brewing for them if you can’t deduce which brewery in Silverton they went with. (That is what I’d got out of them anyway.)

        • Vasili
          Vasili
          Wed Oct 23, 2013 4:55 PM

          Holy Crap Brian! you updated your blog!

          • Samurai Artist
            Samurai Artist
            Wed Oct 23, 2013 5:49 PM

            what the hell you have a blog??! No one tells me anything.

          • Anonymous
            Anonymous
            Wed Oct 23, 2013 5:22 PM

            Contract brewing never caught on in Oregon? Full Sail contract brewed Henry’s for years in Hood River.

            • ElGordo
              ElGordo
              Wed Oct 23, 2013 5:49 PM

              Yes, and Portland/Mactarnahan’s/Pyramid/Costa Rican whatever has been cranking out beer for anyone with a checkbook for a couple of decades now. For a while almost every store brand was brewed there.

              • Samurai Artist
                Samurai Artist
                Wed Oct 23, 2013 5:50 PM

                congrats you named one example. Probably much more than a dozen doing it in California?

              • Anonymous
                Anonymous
                Wed Oct 23, 2013 10:42 PM
                • Anonymous
                  Anonymous
                  Thu Oct 24, 2013 3:49 PM

                  Really? Kona, Henry’s, Big Rock, Redhook, Pete’s Wicked, Sam Adams, Pabst and more. All have been brewed in Oregon. Perhaps California having 10+ times the people at 30+ million vs 3.8 in Oregon has to do with it also. But then again, you are a “Blogger”. You guys always get it right. Right?

                  • ElGordo
                    ElGordo
                    Thu Oct 24, 2013 4:04 PM

                    And you are “Anonymous,” and get “bent” out of “shape” over a passing “comment” that isn’t “quite” right. Read the guidelines–don’t be a “dick.”

                    That said, I think this speaks more to the lack of small-scale craft contract brewing rather than the big guys moving their production around between facilities. Also, since Pabst owned the Blitz brewery, I don’t think that would quite qualify as contract brewing. Same for Kona and Redhook being brewed at Widmer. I don’t think there’s even really a contract involved if it’s all within the same company.

                    • Samurai Artist
                      Samurai Artist
                      Thu Oct 24, 2013 6:12 PM

                      I hate to piss in your contract brewed cereal but I have never seen anyone get so worked up about a small part of a blog post before. Before you get all high and mighty you might notice the fact that none of those breweries you mentioned are still being brewed in Oregon. And, as ElGordo mentioned half of them were not contract brewed to begin with, if they own the brewery it’s not contract brewing ala Kona, Redhook, Henry’s, Pabst….I am waiting for someone to list a “craft” brewery among any being currently brewed other than the few i named in the blog post.
                      I can rattle off 6 contracting “craft” breweries Bison, Almanac, Pine Street, 21A,Triple VooDoo and Magnolia just out of the California bay area alone which is more than enough to make my point not that Oregon doesnt have contract breweries but it’s very rare.

                    • Anonymous
                      Anonymous
                      Fri Oct 25, 2013 4:33 AM

                      Worked up? Not really. Just commenting. Thanks for calling me out as a dick though. Keep it classy. – Richard

                      • Brian Yaeger
                        Brian Yaeger
                        Fri Oct 25, 2013 10:27 AM

                        Remember Panty Dropper from Aloha? Le sigh.