A Short Ride to Drinking Horse Brewing Company

Drinking Horse Brewing logoClackamas County just got itself another brewery: Drinking Horse Brewing Company on Highway 212. It’s easy to miss, tucked behind the Wichita Pub in an industrial park, and it’s on a highway many take to get to the Clackamas River or home after exiting I-205. However, it’d be a shame to pass it by. And, it’s not as far as you’d think it is.

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Co-owned by Timothy Schaaf (brewer and co-founder), Emerson Lenon (co-founder and manager), and Jammie Taylor (beer ambassador and pronounced “Jamie”), the brewery’s first batch was just brewerd last July. The route there was a familiar one: Lenon and Schaaf began as home brewers in their kitchen as roommates, moved out to the garage (with a nudge from Taylor, also Emerson’s wife), made beers for friends’ parties and weddings, then made the giant leap into their own brewery as a trio and with help from family. It really is a true family affair. Most investors in the brewery are siblings, parents, wives, and old friends.

Looking for a space was a challenge for the Portland residents. They looked all over Portland and were close to sealing the deal on a property in Northwest, but passed since the space was on the second floor (imagine getting the tanks up two flights).

“Most of the places we looked at were ‘new build,’ so that meant custom built and custom digging,” said Lenon. “There were lots of 10,000 square-foot places and up but they were way too big and the owners weren’t willing to subdivide the space.”

Also up against Multnomah County and Portland prices, they then started looking at spaces in Clackamas County.

“There’s a lot of regulation that goes into Portland breweries,” said Emerson.

“Clackamas is a little more business friendly and more industrial.”

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For example, when applying for their local license, the county sent out an application, the brewery sent in the required $100, and the county sent it back, stamped and approved. They were in business. “It’s real simple out here to get going,” Lenon said. (Drinking Horse is located in an unincorporated part of Clackamas and not in a city, so rules tend to be loose.)

Many customers include the locals that work in the area–welders, auto body mechanics, metal scrap yard workers, employees of the massive Fred Meyer distribution center, those perhaps being exposed to non-macro beer for the first time. “This is where the growth is happening, not in the city where the market is saturated. People who weren’t drinking it yesterday are drinking it today, that’s why Clackamas County and the outskirts are key to helping us grow,” said Lenon. (Oregon City in Clackamas County has also experienced an explosive growth in breweries and taprooms, and is a just a couple of exits away.)

From the outside, the brewery looks like a manufacturing space or insurance office. Once you step inside, you notice the tanks, the taps, and the other makings of a brewery. Lenon and Schaaf built out most of the place by themselves. They sanded the floors, installed the necessary piping, and rented a BobCat to install the chiller. It took them six months to complete, and besides hiring contractors to do a couple of other jobs, it was a DIY job. They officially opened their doors over the summer.

Beers being made include Silk Road Saison, Go Westy Kolsch, Appaloose IPA, Knight Noir CDA, Palomino Pilsner, Ochococo Chocolate Stout, and Quake’N Bake OPA (referred to as a “breakfast pale ale” by Schaaf).

The trio, all still with full-time jobs–including a school counselor, a lawyer and manufacturing–have some solid future plans. They’ve hired a sales rep around the Portland metro area and they’ve just applied for a distribution license in Washington to tap into Vancouver’s growing scene. They plan on producing less than 1,000 barrels of beer in 2016, but have big plans for growth.

If you find yourself out on 212 (also accessible by bike;  they’ve had a few visitors off of the path near 205), stop in and grab a beer or fill a growler. It’s a friendly place.

Their beers are also on tap at Tilt, Roscoe’s, Happy Valley Station, Bar Maven, Hop Haven, Horse Brass, Block & Board, Hop N Cork, Belmont Inn, Green Dragon, EastBurn, Hawthorne Hophouse, 15th Avenue Hophouse, and more.

Drinking Horse Brewing Company is located at 11517 SE Highway 212 and will be open for tomorrow’s Zwickelmania.

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John Chilson
John Chilson

John Chilson writes about Portland history and architecture at Lost Oregon. He's also written for Neighborhood Notes, Travel Oregon, Portland Architecture, Askmen.org, San Diego Reader, and Portland Food and Drink. Follow him on twitter at @LostOregon for local history nerdism; for beer tweets he's at @Hopfrenzy. Shoot him an email at hopfrenzy@gmail.com if you want to get in touch.

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