Nine year-old Coalition Brewing has quietly closed and sold all of their hard assets to an ambitious new brewery startup called Gorges Beer Company.
Gorges Beer Co. is a new brewery from Bryan Keilty, longtime Lompoc Brewing head brewer, with partners Travis Preece, founder of Tap & Table; ex-Goodlife Brewing sales manager Steve Denio; and general contractor/builder Willis Boyer. For now, the brewery will be based in Portland, but the ultimate plan is to move it east, up Interstate 84 to Cascade Locks.
Today, Gorges Beer Company signed an agreement to purchase the brewery and taproom from Coalition Brewing. The closure of Coalition is effective immediately, and the location will be closed temporarily before Gorges Beer Co. moves in.
Coalition was founded by Kiley Hoyt and Elan Walsky in June of 2010 with flagships like King Kitty Red, Wu Cream Ale and Two Dogs IPA. Coalition pivoted their brands more recently and went with flagships like Space Fruit Citrus IPA and became nationally recognized for their CBD beers like Two Flowers IPA. With the explosion in popularity of CBD in food and drinks, Coalition Brewing was one of the only breweries in the country marketing a year-round alcoholic CBD product. Even with the success of the CBD beer, Coalition Brewing has closed and there will be no goodbye ceremony, no last pints at the brewery.
Bryan Keilty has come up the ranks from wine aficionado to trained chef, and has become a one-man workhorse for Lompoc, doing everything from scheduling tastings to overseeing the brand and cleaning the restrooms. Keilty graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in New York before becoming a chef in the San Diego area, falling in love with craft beer, and eventually moving to Portland. He first got his feet wet in professional brewing with McMenamin’s before getting a job at Lompoc Brewing in 2006.
During Keilty’s first year as head brewer of Lompoc in 2011 he was named one of Starchef’s Rising Stars of the year. He was the only brewer among that year’s winners, which included the likes of Gabriel Rucker and Naomi Pomeroy. Despite winning a gold medal at the 2018 Great American Beer Festival for Lomporter and a Silver at the 2015 GABF for Proletariat Red, beer geeks have largely ignored his work at the legacy brewery. These days, it’s hard to stay relevant at a classic pub brewery like Lompoc, but Keilty pulled it off. Early on, he started Lompoc’s advanced barrel-aging program with complex cocktail and culinary inspired beers aged in Kentucky bourbon, Oregon whiskey, and Northwest wine barrels. He collaborated with local writers, beer personalities, chefs, and farmers before it became in vogue to do so. By harnessing his first loves—cooking, food, and wine—Keilty plans to bring his experience and passions to bear at Gorges Beer Co.
“We’re going to get back to the roots of Craft Beer,” says Keilty of his brewing plans. “We’ll be self distributing so won’t have the daily burden of brewing production beers. Instead, we’ll have the opportunity to focus on unique, experimental, seasonal beers, brewing only small batches.”
Travis Preece founded Tap & Table on Anekeny in the former taproom/brewpub of Coalition Brewing that is basically just across the street from the brewery on SE Ankeny. Preece later opened a second outpost of Tap & Table when Lompoc Brewing decided to close up shop at their northwest 23rd Lompoc Tavern location. Keilty and Preece met through Lompoc owner Jerry Fechter.
A Portland native, Preece has a corporate strategy and marketing background, but his love of food, drink, and experiences drew him into the industry. Lompoc owner Jerry Fechter now describes Preece as a publican just like him.
“I think he means that I’m not a typical beer nerd, I just love the experience of sharing a beer good with good friends…but I would go a step further to say that I am a person who believes every great moment in life needs the right beer to match,” says Preece.
All four of the Gorge Beer Co. founders live in Portland, but plan to center Gorges Beer around Cascade Locks for good reason. They hope to start construction soon on a 1.9 acre plot of land on a hill just below the Cascade Locks Elementary School, and looking down upon the Columbia River.
“I often went to the Gorge with my family as a kid,” says Preece. “I’ve taken my two boys hiking in the area, and my wife and I were married on a hike nearby at Wahclellah Falls. The Gorge is extremely special to me and my family.”
Steven Denio is a service and sales professional who recently finished a stint as the regional sales manager for Goodlife Brewing, a company he helped open in 2011. In 2007, Denio was living in Bend and had already been a homebrewer, bartender and craft beer fan before taking a job as manager of Bend Brewing Co. When Denio started at Goodlife Brewing he was initially brought on to get the taproom up and running, but as the brewery became more established he moved into a marketing and events role.
“I seemed to gravitate to the community and outreach side of things, working with businesses, our distribution partners and non-profits to help cross market each other,” says Denio. “Eventually I ended up doing both the marketing side and taking on a sales territory of down state Oregon which we classify as really anywhere south of Portland.“
In 2015 Denio moved into the Regional Sales Manager role and quickly realized he needed to move to Portland to work more with their distribution partners for Oregon, Washington and Idaho. His home is in the same neighborhood as Coalition Brewing and the Ankeny Tap & Table. As a local and regular there, Denio hit it off with Preece and quickly realized their visions aligned. Last August, Denio officially left Goodlife Brewing to start on the Gorges Beer Co. project.
Willis Boyer is a Portland-native who has been working in the construction industry for the last 20 years after joining his father’s firm out of college. Working as a general contractor, Boyer fell in love with redevelopment and learning how people use their spaces as both homes and businesses. He fell in love with Cascade Locks when he was hired to view a giant old home that was converted into a five-plex.
“That deal fell through but as I spent time in the town I really just fell in love with it,” says Boyer. He eventually purchased a piece of property in Cascade Locks, a grassy knoll across Wa Na Pa St. from the Eastwind Drive-In, a popular spot for tourists to grab a burger and ice cream. Boyer had just purchased the 1.9 acre plot and had plans for it before he met Preece and a new vision came into focus for what will become Gorges Beer Co.
Gorges Beer’s future home in Cascade Locks has rough plans for something similar to a McMenamin’s lodging property, but with its own style and a new modern construction with an older feel. This epic project would feature a hotel, an event venue, outdoor park/garden, a bar and restaurant with rooftop seating and views of the gorge, and of course Keilty’s brewery and barrel room. Keilty plans to focus on his passion for fruited and barrel-aged wild ales, culinary-, cocktail-, and wine-inspired beers, and other clean and mixed culture experiments. Boyer calls the project an “adult playground,” with a practical beauty and modern and old design touches. Outside they want a family and dog friendly park-like atmosphere.
“Cascade Locks just needs a few more businesses and people to invest into the downtown area and it could really be something special,” says Boyer. “Being only 45 minutes from Portland makes it feels like a natural place for people to go play all year round. Mountains, waterfalls, rivers, trails, and streams are all so close that the transition between them and our beer mecca should be seamless.”
But, before the Gorges project in Cascade Locks can get underway, (which they project to be at least a year out) they’ll make use of the smaller batch production brewery and tasting room on SE Ankeny. They will not continue making any of Coalition’s brands but will make new popular mainstream styles there.
Coalition Brewing’s 10-barrel brewhouse is good at making classic American styles, it turns out, and so is Keilty. He will start off with a Pale Ale, IPA, Pilsner and a dark beer, possibly a Porter since he won that gold for Lomporter last year, but no plans for any CBD beers. Gorges will take advantage of the bare bones on-site taproom that is directly inside the brewing space with a covered and heated enclosed beer garden outside. They won’t have food, but may be kid friendly and are looking at options for bringing food in from Tap & Table across the street.
Some will wonder how a new brewery can succeed in this crowded marketplace, where more breweries are closing every year including the one Gorges Beer Co. is taking over and the one where Keilty previously worked?
“I do enjoy the creativity of today’s craft beer culture…But with this race to be the most unique and fresh, it can be hard to fall in love with one particular beer and associate it with a moment. You often never will taste that beer again. So we want to make great beers that will be available next time you visit in addition to the 1-off fun stuff,” says Preece, who will handle much of the hospitality/service side of Gorges Beer Co.
Preece, Keilty, Denio and Boyer want to make Gorges Beer an experience based brand, not based on fads or trends.
“It used to be (at least in my experience) you build a brewery and the pub is for the locals and for marketing purposes. Now its different where breweries are building more pubs to support the high cost it takes to distribute,” opines Denio, who will focus on the marketing angle of Gorges Beer. “In short – There are too many breweries and not enough tap handles and shelf space to support them all. The game has changed and the game is hyper local and what’s new and shiny.”
For Keilty, it goes beyond branding and to the heart of his own brewing philosophy, “Balance is a key to my brewing style, whether it’s an IPA, Porter, Pilsner, Red or a barrel aged fruit beer. There is a lot to be said for restraint.”
We should begin to see what Gorges Beer Company comes up with in early 2020. A tentative opening date is set for Wednesday, January 15th and a future website will be at http://gorgesbeer.com/
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.