5 Questions for Dave Fleming, Brewer & Founder of the NW Coffee Beer Invitational

Dave Fleming on Coin Toss Brewing’s brewdeck

Dave Fleming discovered homebrewing before most of today’s probrewers were even born.

“It was 1982 and I was a junior in high school,” says Fleming, recalling his introduction to the world of beer. “My Dad was a ferocious reader and I saw this book he had just purchased “Gourmet Guide to Beer” by Howard Hillman. The book listed 500 different types of beer from around the world. I was blown away.”

Today, Fleming is one of Oregon’s most well respected brewers with stints at breweries all around the state. With over 20 years as a professional brewer, his experience is often called for at new and old breweries alike as he has developed a professional brewery consulting resume that’s enviable. Fleming also founded this Saturday’s NW Coffee Beer Invitational brew fest five years ago.

This is chapter fourteen in a monthly-ish series in which we check in with brewers on what they are drinking, eating, enjoying and what’s currently bubbling away in their fermenters.

Dave Fleming

Fleming grew up in New England and discovered European imports like so many beer afficionados of the previous generation, before we had breweries in every city it was beers like Guinness, Bass, Newcastle, John Courage.

“Whitbread and Watney’s Red Barrel were all readily available along with all the domestic swill, but I had no idea there were that many beers in the world,” recalls Fleming, who remembers being fascinated by the scoring. “The book also rated the beers from one to five stars. For example Olympia received one star and Salvator from Paulner received 5 stars…I longed for my first taste of this “rare” Dopplebock.”

Fleming started homebrewing against his mothers wishes when he was in High School. He told his mother that Jimmy Carter had legalized homebrewing in 1976 and he had the right to produce 200 gallons of beer per year. She warned him that he may be able to produce it, but wasnt allowed to drink it and his operation was shut down. Even attempts to bootleg the operation taking it on the road to his schoolmate friend Mark’s home was shut down.

It wasn’t until a few years later when Fleming was in college that he was able to successfully homebrew and imbibe his own beers.  He was living in a college dorm room when he purchased all of his equipment but quickly found that he didnt have the tubing to fit the dorm room sink to run water into his 5 gallon glass carboy.

“Finally it dawned on me; remove the shower head from the hard pipe and fill the carboy that way. Shower Stall Stout anyone?” Fleming fondly remembers those times clearly. “It actually turned out pretty good (I guess if you boil anything long enough…)”

Fleming came to Oregon in the early nineties, he majored in Geomorphology at Portland State University until Measure 5 passed and he lost hist college internship money. In ’91 Fleming started working at Bridgeport Brew Pub to pay the bills, he was already a regular at the bar when front of house manager Tim Healey drafted him onto the softball team and later gave him a job. Fleming worked at Bridgeport until 1994 when fellow co-worker Gary Geist and Alex Stiles decided to leave and found Lucky Labrador Brew Pub. Fleming started as the Lab’s first pub manager and two years later, (January 6th 1996 to be exact) Dave brewed his first solo made professional batch of beer – “and I haven’t looked back since.”

These days Fleming brews at Oregon City’s Coin Toss Brewing, is the lead brewing consultant at Kells Brewery and has also been assisting the monks at Mt. Angel’s Benedictine Brewery. In his spare time he has side projects with local breweries improving their process and labor efficiencies in the brewery.

Q: What are some of your favorite places and things to eat and drink right now?
Dave Fleming: Grassa right now. The food is made fresh to order, it is current, reasonably priced and almost no wait. They have a limited beer and wine menu but it is very well-curated and eclectic. Have you tried their roasted Delicata squash with maple syrup and parmesan? Crazy good. When I’m celebrating, it is Ring Side.
Stuck on the Hazy IPAs right now. My best friends, my wife and my brother, are huge fans and I am still trying to make one I like.
Other classics are Rodenbach Grand Cru and Rochefort 8. At this time of year I love a Dopplebock – Salvator or Optimator.
Q: What beers do you have in tanks right now or that you are excited to brew in the near future? 
I have a London-style brown Porter at Coin Toss that I am excited about and a tropical hazy IPA at Kells where we switched up the hops. We added some Mandarina Bavaria, Ella and Hüll Melon hops to it. Hopefully my wife and brother will like it!
Q: What drew you to coffee beers and starting a coffee beer fest?
My wife and I were sitting at the Goose Hollow Inn pondering something fun to do. We were having beers outside and thought what two things better define Portland than coffee and beer. Just like the Reese’s ad…two great tastes that taste great together. Peanut butter loves chocolate just like coffee loves beer. Hence the festival was born. Goose Hollow Inn is an amazing place for a festival and Fehrenbacher Hof coffee house is right next door. We have tried to pair up local roasters with local breweries each year we are amazed with the variety and geographic response we get. Every year we have almost a one to one ratio of breweries to roasters…everyone uses there local and this year we have Kiitos Brewery from Salt Lake flying in for the event and their beer uses there favorite local coffee roaster, La Barba.
Q: What is the secret to making a good coffee beer?
I think there are many good ways to approach the style. First and foremost you need a good base recipe. Secondly you need an excellent coffee supplier and roaster who can help guide you to the perfect bean. I prefer beers that are blended and use cold coffee in the process. That might be a either a cold brew steep that is blended into the brite tank or whole beans that are soaked in the wort to achieve a soft subtle rich flavor. Coffee beer is so much fun because there are so many ways to go about it. All I can say is make sure you use the best quality ingredients in the wort for the base beer and the best beans for the coffee aroma and flavor.
Q: Who is your favorite coffee roaster and favorite beans?
I am a fan of many roasters in town, just like breweries. I can’t pick one but what I will say is coffee is a lot like beer; I have to be in a certain mood to drink a certain bean or roast. I will say I am an iced or cold brew guy – summer or winter. If I’m using coffee for beer, I tend to be very precise but gravitate towards the fruity varieties for blending. My two favorites are a good Yirgacheffe or a dark Sumatra.

Meet Dave in person and try some of the northwest’s best coffee beers including many brewed just for his festival NW Coffee Beer Invitational this Saturday, January 26th from Noon to 7pm at Goose Hollow Inn, 1927 Sw Jefferson St, Portland, Oregon 97201.

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