5 Questions with Breakside's Ben Edmunds
The bold brewmaster shares the story behind Breakside's new Milwaukie brewery and the perks of collaborating with Portland's top chefs.
After only three years concocting fanciful beers at Breakside Brewery's Northeast Dekum nano-brewpub, brewmaster Ben Edmunds is shifting the bulk of the brewery's production to a new Milwaukie facility.
Located in an industrial park near the Bob's Red Mill factory off of OR Route 224, owner Scott Lawrence's new 7000-square foot brewery will drastically increase Breakside's production with a 30-barrel system. Fans of the quintessentially Northwest beers will be able to tour the facility, take classes from the brewers, and sample through twenty four taps at a new tasting room, set to open on Wednesday, January 30th.
We caught up with Edmunds the day before the debut of Breakside's new facility to chat about the brewery's industrial location, upcoming changes in his creative process, and new brews in the works.
1. Why Milwaukie? What drew the Breakside team to the new space?
We planned the new brewery as a production brewery, so drawing a crowd to our tap room was never the primary goal. If we create a great bar—and I know we will—hopefully people will come. But brewing is fundamentally an industrial activity, and the space suited our needs. If you go to Seattle or San Diego, almost all of the production breweries are in business or light industrial parks. Commercial real estate in the city center is just too expensive for a "manufacturing plant." Ours is a very pretty industrial park, though. The fact that the area is sort of a beer desert by Portland standards is a nice bonus.
2. How will the opening of the new brewery change the way you develop beers?
The beers made on the new system will be the ones that have a broader appeal—they have to. It's very different to try and sell 120 kegs as opposed to 6. Fortunately, we have brewed enough different beers during the last few years that we come to the new larger space with a deep archive of beers to choose from. We've been working with our distributor, Maletis, to choose beers from our past that are ones that we are proud of and that are marketable. As far as actual recipe translation, we've had very few problems with flavor-matching between the two breweries.
3. Do you anticipate the rate of creativity and joyous off-the-wall-ness of some of your creations decreasing with a new focus on large-scale production?
I think it will actually allow us to do more experimentation. We're now making all of our year-round beers in Milwaukie in larger batch format, so the pub brewery on Dekum really can be a truly experimental, R&D brewery. Last year, we released 83 beers, and this year we're shooting for over 100. Probably 65 to 70 of those will come from Dekum. We appreciate what each place can allow: it's great to make Pilsner in large batches, but I also recognize that beers made with dill pollen have a limited audience, and six kegs of that is plenty.
4. What has been the best thing about collaborating with chefs on restaurant-inspired beers?
Every time I sit down with a chef it’s to hear how someone who thinks about flavor (and who is not a brewer) thinks about beer. I've learned so much from them about ways to make beers that are layered, multi-dimensional, and rounded. We recently re-brewed Toro Red, the beer we made with John Gorham, and what's amazing about that beer is that it appeals to people who would never normally order a smoked beer. The smoke and espelette and malt are so well balanced, and that was his vision and idea. I never would have thought of that on my own.
5. Can you share a few projects that are still in the works?
We've filled about 40 oak barrels in our new barrel rooms at this point—some Bourbon barrels, rye whiskey ones, and a few Oregon pinot noir barrels. We'll release the Bourbon Barrel-Aged Aztec (our strong ale with chocolate and chilies) in March. I've also got a small batch beer in the works that's modeled after Italian sparkling dessert wine, like Moscato d'Asti, that will be available for Valentine's Day.
5821 SE International Way in Milwaukie
Breakside Brew Pub
820 NE Dekum St. in Portland