Introducing The Labrewatory, a Portland Brewery and Craft Beer Lab by the folks behind Portland Kettle Works, which will be opening soon in North Portland near Widmer and Ex Novo Brewing.
For the past few years, Portland Kettle Works has been a full service brewery fabricator, helping dozens of breweries across the Americas, and many here in Oregon, with their most important hardware. From 3.5-barrel nanos to 20-barrel regionals, PKW has become the sultan of stainless from its headquarters in the Eliot neighborhood. Next month, owner Thad Fisco and his team will launch the Labrewatory, a small batch brewpub using PKW’s own 3.5 barrel “Hopmaster” system, natch. Asked who’ll be the head brewer, Thad gave me an answer seemingly indicating Labrewatory will be the Ichabod Crane of breweries: completely headless. “Our intention,” said Thad, “is not to brew our own beers but to brew with local brewers.”
The state-of-the-art system–capable of being digitally operated a la Portland’s other newest almost-open brewery, Culmination from Tomas Sluiter–is essentially a brew-your-own pilot system for any brewery—large, out-of-state, or home. In other words, if a local brewery wants to test out a new recipe but doesn’t want to potentially blow the expense of 15 barrels of meh beer: Labrewatory. If some brewing company from Asheville, NC wants to reverse the trend and see what it’s like brewing beer on the West Coast and introduce it to the Portland market: Labrewatory. If Joe Blow keeps hearing from his friends and neighbors, “Your homebrew is so good, you should go pro,” and wants to test the waters by scaling up his mugwort-oolong CDA to sell a keg to an eager growler station: Labrewatory.
“We have had a huge amount of interest form breweries all over the country in the concept,” said Thad. “We are not taking reservations yet, so time will tell. We have recently added in a full lab analysis of every batch that comes out of the system including IBU, ABV, calories, SRM, and pH.”
The brew system will be equipped with an external calandria to allow for precise control of temperature in the mash tun. The hope is to be online as early as April, and we all know brewery projects take two or three times longer than planned, and cost at least twice as much as budgeted. However, the fact that Thad is his own general contractor and has a background not just in construction but development gives the Lawbrewtory a fighting chance to do what I call “pull a John Harris” (of Ecliptic) and actually open on time, or at least thereabouts. I first learned about the Labrewatory from Joe Watzig, who does PKW’s marketing and sales, when we met at the Holiday Ale Fest. That lead to an invitation to check out the space being built out before they’d even began pouring concrete (which is now set) at 664 N. Russel Street. It’s a half-mile from PKW, but you may have noticed from that address it’s also two blocks away from that 250-barrel brewhouse, Widmer Bros. Considering Widmer’s parent company, Craft Brew Alliance, whipped up some three quarters of a million barrels last year, it’s no surprise that it has its own pilot brewery, and it’s three times larger than Labrewatory’s.
As for the customer experience, expect to taste batches of every recipe brewed on-site. In other words, since they may not have their own house beers, there won’t be a flagship or core line-up, but patrons will get to taste the creativity brought in by temporary brewers. Watzig even suggested they may only serve in half pints so folks will be coerced to try more flavors. Much of the seating area in the big, open-air space, will look out into the la-brewhouse. And if you get any ideas about what they should tap next, I’m sure they’d be happy to send you a contract .