Oregon’s newest brewing enterprise, for the time being, is Labyrinth Forge Brewing. The story of Labyrinth Forge is really the story of its owner, proprietor, and head brewer, Dylan VanDetta. VanDetta’s a family guy with a regular day job (not in the brewing trade), and his interest in brewing beer spans the better part of the past decade.
In early 2012, he started to take the hobby (and eventual business) of brewing beer seriously, winning a fundraiser bid for a brew day with a local homebrewer, putting together his own homebrew setup, and joining the Oregon Brew Crew homebrew club, a good place for learning how to step up one’s beer-brewing game. He also learned to judge beer and earned his BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) qualification. In 2016, VanDetta was offered the opportunity to join the Green Dragon Brew Crew, brewing on a semi-commercial basis on the small pilot system at what used to be Green Dragon Brewing (now Rogue Eastside Public House). The Green Dragon Brew Crew still formulates and brews small-batch beers on the system at Rogue, with weekly releases on Wednesday evenings.
Along the way, VanDetta had the goal of starting up his own brewing enterprise, and chose the contract-brewing business model, which required a lot less initial financial outlay; similar business models are employed by Pono Brewing and Rosenstadt Brewing in Portland.
VanDetta developed a business relationship with Ordnance Brewing in Boardman, Oregon, and just recently prepared two beers for the brewery’s commercial debut, Heinzelmänn Kölsch and Caerdroia Stout. A third Labyrinth Forge beer, Ambrosius Spruce Tip Saison, might still be available at Ordnance’s taproom in Wilsonville; VanDetta already plans to brew more of this as part of his product portfolio.
Labyrinth Forge held a preview session at Hi-Wheel Fizzy Wines on Friday, October 11, 2019, and the official debut party was held at Rogue Eastside two days later. How did the beers stack up? Overall, pretty well. The Heinzelmänn Kölsch, named for a Germanic lucky household spirit, is aromatic and malty, with just the right light touch of hops and slight yeast fruitiness, a signature of the style. VanDetta formulated his Kölsch with a touch of Vienna malts to fortify the body and flavor just a little.
The chewy, rich Caerdroia Stout, named for a Welsh term for a turf maze built for ritual dances, is full-bodied at 6.7% ABV, with plenty of roast and hop bitterness at 51 IBU. Both of the debut brews are clean and appropriate for their styles.
The name “Labyrinth Forge” comes from VanDetta’s long-running hobby of drawing and designing mazes and labyrinths. The derivation of the word “labyrinth” comes from the ancient Lydian term “labrys,” a type of double-headed axe, which was cast in a forge. VanDetta’s idea was “a forge where labyrinths are made,” and thus the name.
Initially, Labyrinth Forge beers will be found in Portland at Hi-Wheel (at least while it’s still open; Hi-Wheel is closing its doors in November) and at Rogue Eastside, as well as at Ordnance’s Boardman taproom. In between, VanDetta will be commuting out to Ordnance periodically to brew Labyrinth Forge beers. Expect to see more of Labyrinth Forge at Portland-area watering holes in the coming months.
Don Scheidt has been into good beer since before the dawn of craft brewing in the Pacific Northwest. He created the Northwest Brewpage, a regional guide to good beer in Oregon and Washington, back in the mid-1990s, but has since retired it. Don started writing the Washington state “Puget Soundings” column for Celebrator Beer News in 1998, and continues to do that today. Don also wrote about beer for the Seattle Weekly in 2005-2006.