These days there are plenty of breweries being started by millennial hipsters eager to carve out their place in the bustling craft beer scene. Their ambition is admirable, but one of the most classic stories in brewing is the tale of the homebrewer who, fed up with the grind of his or her 9 to 5, decides to take a risk and open a brewery. Such is the case with Mike Haines and Mike Kinion. After working for decades at Intel as engineers, the two friends opened up Vertigo Brewing in 2008 in Hillsboro. Their skills as engineers and homebrewers made for a perfect combination when it came to running a brewery.
“This is way better than Intel. I’m happy doing this. A lot of what I learned at Intel applies here. There are control panels and stuff that breaks that we can fix ourselves, because we know what we’re doing there,” says co-founder Mike Kinion.
Hillsboro isn’t exactly known for its beer scene, but that may be changing. Breweries like Vertigo are nicely situated to meet the demand for better beer from a growing suburban population.
“We couldn’t sell a beer in Hillsboro in 2008, almost all our beers were sold in Portland. I think that’s changed a lot. Most of our distribution is Washington County now,” says Kinion.
Until 2012 Mike and Mike were brewing on a one-barrel system, and then moved to seven-barrel. It was at this point that they opened up their taproom deep inside a non-descript industrial park just off Cornelius Pass about five minutes from highway 26. The taproom is no frills but comfortable with picnic and round tables, a wooden L-shaped bar, and a projector to show sports and films. Sports memorabilia adorns the walls, giving the taproom a familial clubhouse feel, and occasionally they display the work of local artists. It may be too small for large events, but Vertigo does host trivia and paint nights from time to time. On certain nights of the week they offer discounts to employees of Nike and Intel, both of which have campuses nearby. Depending on what night of the week you stop by, you will find the Mad Greek Deli right outside the taproom, a food truck run by the Portland restaurant and bar of the same name.
For a brewery this size, Vertigo offers an impressively diverse selection of beers. The standout brew on this writer’s visit was Uno Mas, a West Coast IPA loaded with Mosaic, Amarillo and Simcoe hops to make it bright, tropical and completely drinkable. Another standout was the Razz Heat, a raspberry wheat beer brewed with Serrano peppers that bring the heat with a delightful burn to coalesce with the berry flavor. Pepper beers can be hit or miss, but Mike and Mike have a clear talent for brewing them. So much, in fact, that they have a dedicated tap just for their pepper beers.
“We started out with the Tropical Heat Wave, which is a key lime blonde with pineapple and habanero; that is probably our hottest beer. When we dedicated the line we just kind of wanted to mix it up a bit. We do a habanero hef, Razz Heat, and we have a pepper porter coming up. We have a really strong costumer base that comes in just for those pepper beers,” says Haines.
Though they haven’t jumped as deep into barrel aging as many other Portland-area breweries, Mike and Mike have turned their one offering into something of an event. Using barrels from their next door neighbor Big Bottom Distillery (convenient, right?!), The Super Dude is a barrel-aged Russian imperial stout with strong flavors of vanilla, cinnamon and chocolate, almost Kahlua-like, and dangerously drinkable. It has a similar taste profile to the cocktail favored by character it’s named after, and they show The Big Lebowski during the release. We may see a couple more barrel-aged beers in the future, but they don’t intend to make it a big focus.
One thing to note about Vertigo is that they also do a nice job with the classics. On this writer’s visit, the Vertigo Amber, T.B.D. Blonde, Closer Pale Ale, and Friar Mike’s – a classic American IPA – were all solid. Their propensity for fruit beers is worth noting, and the hugely popular Razz Wheat and Apricot Cream ale are both worth a try, with the latter having nabbed a bronze metal for American Style Fruit Beer at GABF 2016.
“We were known as the fruit beer guys for the longest time,” jokes Haines.
The beer scene in Hillsboro and surrounding area is more vibrant now, so it’s possible to make a day out of it (with a designated driver, of course). If you’re hitting Vertigo you can also drop by Three Mugs Brewing Company, Ambacht Brewing, and Ridgewalker and Waltz Brewing in nearby Forest Grove.
Vertigo Brewing, 21420 NW Nicholas Ct, Hillsboro, OR 97124