Yesterday morning a local Portland homebrewing and publican legend passed away. Dean Pottle, proprietor of Portland’s most famous speakeasy, reportedly passed on at 6:00am on October 13th, 2016. Dean was extremely active in the homebrewing scene; he was also a regular at many taprooms, breweries, and beer festivals. As a 10 year industry veteran, I remember seeing him when I was pouring some of my first pints at Laurelwood, Belmont Station, and Upright Brewing. Dean was hard to miss, with his gravelly drawl and occasional muttering about the state of local beer, to his strong aroma of cigarettes and weed. I remember when he first handed me his business card–well, it wasn’t for a business, it was a psychedelic-looking card that was my ticket into the famous Dean’s Scene. He was a tireless supporter of beer, perhaps best known for the speakeasy below his home on N. Fremont called Dean’s Scene.
Dean probably first began getting attention as a regular and host on local public access show “Drinking with Daren.” You could often find show host Daren Moriarty discussing beers and homebrewing with Dean and F.H. Steinbart employee Michael Brown. These were part of the community that Dean developed and held dear with the homebrew scene. Dean’s Scene was a natural extension, an unlicensed nano brewery before nano breweries were a thing, with its own tasting room.
A plumber by day, Dean used his skills and help from his friends to transform his basement into a cozy old time pub, the kind the late-great Don Younger would have loved. It became a regular spot for locals in the area and homebrew club members, as long as you didn’t mind the smoke, both nicotine and cannabis based.
Dean’s Scene was truly an amazing place, an underground pub with a real bar, booths, a walk-in cooler, and an operating nano brewery. There was regular live acoustic music; homebrewers occasionally tapped and released their beers there; and locals stopped in to smoke some reefer and perhaps bring some of their own beers to share. I recall even being invited to Dean’s Scene for homebrew release parties over facebook event pages. Located across the street and a house down from Alameda Brewing, the only clue of the speakeasy was a small “Open” sign in a tiny ground level basement window next to the driveway. His small backyard functioned as a frontyard patio, though hanging out and making noise there was discouraged.
This Saturday Dean was set to compete as a pro in Willamette Week’s 4th annual Beer Pro/Am, teamed up with Willamette Week’s arts and culture editor Martin Cizmar–arguably the person who both helped make Dean’s Scene mainstream famous and led to it being temporarily shut down. Martin’s story in Willamette Week made Dean a micro celebrity in Portland, a status he had already achieved in the homebrew and industry community. The attention, though, led to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission to come knocking. This was nothing he was not used to; over the years there was noise complaints and issues with so many folks coming and going down his driveway through the backyard. This time, though, Dean had thought to go commercial and applied for an OLCC license that allowed the agency to inspect the space, alleging that he was brewing more than the law allowed. However, there was no real wrongdoing to point to, and Dean’s Scene opened again in no time. The whole operation was legal because they never charged for anything at Dean’s Scene; the homebrews were donated or brewed on-site, and there was a lockbox at the bottom of the basement stairs for cash donations to the cause.
Martin Cizmar has been excited about his collaboration with Dean and his homebrewer friend Sammy Sklover. It’s a beer right up their alleys – a fresh hop hazy New-England-style IPA infused with CBD oil from marijuana and one of the unadvertised beers at this Saturday’s Pro/Am.
“One of my favorite Dean stories is kind of stupid, but I feel like it illustrates the type of guy he was, which is a man who really had a zest for music and beer and, most of all, his friends.” said Martin Cizmar. “A couple years ago, Wilco was playing a concert down in Jacksonville, and Southern Oregon, and Dean had made friends with a buddy to go. I went into Dean’s two or three times in a month or so leading up to that concert, and he was playing Wilco every time. Wilco is my favorite band, so I like this, but you could kind of see that he was not that into it. The music in Dean’s Scene was always an important thing to him. The last time I saw him, when I came over to provide a little bit of help to Sammy as he was making our pro-am beer, The first thing Dean did when he came downstairs that morning was dig into his pile of CDs and get the stereo going. Anyway, Dean told me the story of how he was going to see Wilco, and how his buddy one of the band, but said that he just couldn’t get into it. But he really wanted to like this band before driving down to see them, so he kept listening to all the records hoping to get into it. Keep in mind, this is a guy in his 60s, not a teenager. And yet, that’s how he approached life – – like a kid who just wanted to be excited about the band his friends were excited about.” –Martin Cizmar
Sammy Sklover was perhaps Dean’s best friend and head brewer on his pilot brewhouse. He was there when Dean passed away and wanted to share that Dean enjoyed his favorite beer – Samichlaus, a 1988 vintage, before he passed away. Moving his head up to take a 2nd sip from his hospital bed was one of the first voluntary movements he made in days.
Sammy is meeting with Alameda owner Matt Schumaker about a memorial reception and a new funding page will be setup soon. Stay tuned for updates early next week.
Some final words shared on the Dean’s Scene facebook page, “Dean loved all of you and lived every moment of his life to the fullest, always excited to share new experiences and new ales with new friends.”
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.
Dean Pottle will never be forgotten. Thank you sir for everything you did for the sake of friends, laughter and most importantly your beer.
Fri Oct 14, 2016 6:50 PM
Nice article. Thanks for highlighting this local hero
Fri Oct 14, 2016 7:05 PM
From Sammy: His last moments were hard, but beautiful. His last wish was to enjoy and share his favorite beer: Samichlaus Classic Beir from 1988, Which we served him from a snifter glass using a small sponge. After the second taste when I pulled away to saturate the sponge, he moved his head forward for more beer, which was the first voluntary action he had done in 12 hours. When his breathing stopped we poured the rest of the snifter down his throat. His final moment in life was him enjoying his favorite thing; drinking beer with friendsl
Fri Oct 14, 2016 9:21 PM
Thanks for your tribute to my good friend Dean. I’m still in shock. Anyone who met Dean could tell how how much passion he had for beer, politics, the environment, music and his friends. His enthusiasm was contagious.
If you read this article, ( we’ve been friends for 18 years )the story is right. the friend that he was listening to Wilco for was me and our last adventure together …
Out of all the Deans scene stories and lore, you pick out our last great trip!
Although he was 20 years older than me, Dean was like the elder brother and part of my family since we climbed Mt. St Helens 18 years ago as our first great journey.
All I can say is cheers my friend, I’ll miss you terribly.
Sat Oct 15, 2016 2:04 AM
I’m a Celiac who doesn’t love beer even when it’s gluten-free. That said, Dean’s passion for brewing left me fascinated and in awe of the craft. His passing is a huge loss to the community.
Rest in peace Dean, you will be missed.
Sun Oct 16, 2016 4:58 AM
Dean has been my best friend for the last 15 years. Together we extended each other’s beer brewing experience to encompass every style. What we ended up with was an education about palate sensations, and the brewer’s art form. When I first met Dean, he only brewed and drank Red ales, and IPA’s. Through persistent and continuous encouragement, I was able to not only get Dean to try new styles of beer, but to actually BREW them. It’s only fitting that the last beer that graced his lips would be a lager beer made in Austria. Never drink the same beer twice was Dean’s Motto, and it serves s well into a bright and promising new age of beer and brewing. God speed Dean, and thank you for being the most human being I’ve ever known. Cheers!
Michel J. Brown
Sun Oct 23, 2016 12:33 AM
Gone to soon… so many will miss meeting you and your steadfast ways….. cheers to Dean and his Scene!!!