Today, The Oregonian had the exclusive on Mikkeller Brewing coming to Portland and opening a pop-up pub at the former Burnside Brewing Co. space. Mikkeller will partner with local restaurant development group Chefstable, the group behind places like Lardo, Loyal Legion, Grassa and more, with the plan to make it a permanent brewpub. The news was met with excitement and some skepticism without a lot of info. I am here to fill in some blanks, and tell you why this is a win/win situation for Portland, Mikkeller, and Burnside Brewing.
Burnside Brewing Co. unceremoniously closed in February with a note on the door from the building management saying they were locked out for not paying their bills. The other side of the story is that the brewery was planning to come to a natural halt on operations, liquidating assets and paying debts since the building was likely to be sold and redeveloped. When they got locked out, those assets were tied up which caused paychecks to be delayed and other bills to go unpaid. Due to some possible theft, the coffers were dry and a lot of the profits still are there in kegs, bottles and tanks. Whoever you believe or side with in the dispute, Mikkeller’s Portland partners Chefstable Group have purchased all of Burnside’s hard assets. That includes the kegs, bottles, brewhouse, kitchen etc. Now debts can be paid, the slate can be wiped clean. Meanwhile, Burnside Brewing’s owners Jay Gilbert and Jason Mcadam retain the naming rights to the brewery, brands and other soft assets. This means they can still produce and release Burnside Brewing beers and the company is not necessarily gone for good.
Regarding Mikkeller, it is an internationally known Danish brewery, and though The Oregonian notes they have 8 locations in the U.S., only two have breweries. If all works out, Mikkeller would be producing beers locally, and that might head off some of the concerns I read from commenters about their beer. The main complaint: Mikkeller beers are papery or taste like cardboard. That’s called oxidation, and it comes from those beers being shipped long distances and probably at less than ideal temperatures. With Mikkeller beer being brewed on-site, that would presumably not be an issue.
Then there is the location; Portland loves craft beer, but it’s also packed to the brim with it. Out of town breweries have been making forays into PDX for the last few years to varying success (Backwoods Brewing, Fat Head’s, Modern Times etc.), and some are skeptical Mikkeller can make it work. The location has gotta be one of the hottest areas for yuppies and hipsters to move into, though. Tons of apartments and condos are being developed and the area is already packed with breweries: Cascade Barrel House, Base Camp Brewing, Natian Brewing, Modern Times etc. Can Mikkeller compete with those? Of course it can! Modern Times is crushing it with their trendy but retro early 90’s throwback decor and hipster hazy IPAs and fruit-laden sours. Is Mikkeller the same as Modern Times? No. But they do have a unique brand, really cool design and hip European culture that I think will translate well. If Rogue Ales strange Eastside Alehouse and Pilot Pub and Lucky Labrador’s defiantly old Portland beer hall pub can make it in that neighborhood, then certainly Mikkeller can.
First, Mikkeller and partners Chefstable are going to have to compete with Portland’s urban redevelopment reality. Outside of Oregon Liquor Control Commission and Tax and Trade Bureau paperwork and signing-off to be done, there is the issue of the future of the building. Chefstable and Mikkeller have only purchased the equipment and the remainder of the lease.
“We know that it will take at least 6 months to get the regulatory stuff figured out AND then there is the question of what the landlord decides to do with the building. That is actually the bigger deal.” says Kurt Huffman, managing partner of Chefstable Group.
According to Huffman, the building is about to undergo a facelift, and may indeed still be sold. It’s a negotiation that may take years, but that Huffman hopes will work out in their favor.
“A huge part of the value of the brewery, of course, is all of that plumbing etc. in the ground. The great part of this is that we are not in a rush here, neither Mikkeller nor us. We absolutely love the location and we’re cool if it takes a year or two years to figure out. There is always the possibility that this won’t work, in which case we’ll move everything to a new location. It’s impossible to know how it will all work out once the City gets involved, engineering and so forth,” says Huffman.
For now, Mikkeller will operate a pop-up pub at the space this June with food and imported Mikkeller beers. I hear there is plans to repaint the Burnside Brewing grain silo and cover the space in murals. Hopefully even turn the parking lot into a permanent beer garden. I anticipate this being the new outdoor local hotspot for hipsters this summer and hopefully for longer than that.
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.