A Decade of Upright Brewing

Alex Ganum

Upright Brewing celebrates their 10th anniversary today, from their cramped basement quarters in the basement of the Leftbank Project where they first got started. Unlike many breweries these days, Upright has stood the test of time and the rise and fall of the craft brewery boom without any real major changes. Alex Ganum founded Upright as a 10-barrel production brewery with an intimate tasting room that would focus on farmhouse-style ales made with open fermentation techniques and working-class approachability. All those things still hold true, changes being only in yeast strains, bottle sizes and the seating elements of the tasting room. They have never made a hazy IPA or a pastry stout, and introduced the northwest to farmhouse ales.

What made Upright unique from day one was the distinct freshness of ideas and passion for the craft; they introduced a fresh take on a historical beer style. And, it’s easy to forget that at the time farmhouse ales were still relatively unheard of in America even though Ommegang Brewery (where Ganum had once interned) had been brewing them for awhile. At the time, many beer drinkers were still trying to decide what made a beer an ale and thought all “Belgium” beers were sweet abbey ales. Upright, followed by others like Logsdon Farmhouse Ales and The Commons helped bring the broad style into the mainstream, at least here in the Pacific Northwest. Even after ten years of it, Ganum and Upright Brewing are still going strong.

“I’m really happy that I can still drive to work with a smile and get excited about all our projects,” says Ganum. “Somehow brewing never gets old, and I figure if I’m still feeling this after so many years than it will hopefully last forever.”

Through rebrands, remodels, relationships, flirtations with other styles, and an entirely new generation of beer consumers, Upright remains committed to its roots and yet still finds ways to innovate. Ganum has always been inspired by the past and classic saisons, but jazz and funk music as well. However, the beers are not just throwbacks.

“We’ve also tried to challenge ourselves by trying new techniques, styles, etc. It’s important to always look forward,” says Ganum as he reflects on the changes of the past decade. “I guess I just don’t like to focus on the past which is kinda funny for a guy who loves rustic beers and old, classic styles.”

As anyone paying attention to the beer industry knows, craft breweries are coming out of a time of major growth to an ambivalent market full of too many options and consumers flirting with other types of alcoholic beverages. Craft brewers have turned to hard seltzer, and consumers have dictated trends more than ever with the rise of more gimmicky-styles and short trends. Upright has both reflected, shifted, and updated with the industry while somehow still staying true.

Upright owner/brewer Alex Ganum pours samples

“It’s great to see all the growth but at times it feels washed out, if that makes any sense,” says Ganum, a critic and an optimist on the directions craft beer is going. “As a producer and enthusiast all I want to see are more tasty beers – keep those coming. The substitute teachers should stay at home.”

Some of the ways Upright has updated outside of new branding is coming up with more barrel-aged fruit beers, a category that Ganum was a fan of and making since almost day one. Upright has also nodded to the hopheads by launching Supercool IPA, a year-round India Pale Ale that’s open fermented with farmhouse yeast to please fans of hops and more subtle rustic beers. But staying small has been good to the brewery, unlike larger farmhouse breweries (like the previously mentioned Ommegang) they have never been forced to brew something they don’t want, like a hazy IPA. It also allows Upright to stay nimble and not married to flagships and large investments on brands and in-store placements. In the future, Upright plans even more changes to their lineup, and altering the way they make barrel-aged beers.

new foeders at Upright Brewing

“We’re pretty excited about these two new foeders we recently got, they’ll change the way we produce many of our barrel aged beers and learning how best to use them will certainly be fun,” says Ganum. A foeder is a large, upright oak vessel. Like a very large oak barrel that sits right side up instead of on its side. It’s great for producing large quantities of mixed culture beer, but also because of the shape – the contact area with oak and air – the beer’s flavor will be significantly different than standard barrels.

Left to right: Charlie Van Meter, Alex Ganum, Vasilios Gletsos, Tom Bleigh, Van Havig

The recent 2018 Upright tasting room remodel that actually added a small bar and a crowler machine to take away 32oz packages of draft beer have been incremental, yet major changes. Ganum is excited about the Norwegian Kveik yeast that’s starting to make a splash with brewers. It’s a strange and unique strain that lends itself to farmhouse and wild ales. With the first Upright beer using kveik yeast in the works, Ganum was blown away by the strains unique performance.

“I ended up reading more about those yeasts and just ordered up a slant from a bank in the UK that has a specific kveik (seven strain blend!) that I can’t wait to get propped up and into production,” says Ganum, who says he will try it first on the year-round Saison Vert which is made with black limes for a tangy and tea-like flavor.

Now is a great time to check out Upright Brewing’s beers, whether you’ve tried them before or never ventured into the dimly lit basement brewery tasting room.

Upright Brewing, 240 N. Broadway Suite No.2 Portland,

Alex Ganum contemplates a beer at Upright Brewing

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