Organic Free Range Red
One could be forgiven for expecting bush-league beer when visiting the Laurelwood Public House. Despite the hulking presence of the brewing tanks,
its well-scrubbed, family-friendly interior (a play area? Sacrilege!), bountiful menu of pub grub and display case of diet-unfriendly desserts somehow suggest that worthy beer may not be available in this clubhouse. That notion is quickly dispelled by the line-drive arrival of the brewery sampler of eight beers (3 oz each, $8) or simply by getting cozy with the Organic Free Range Red, the top pitcher in the house. It’s a bold brew in the prime of its career, known for a full-bodied, expansive taste and numerous ardent admirers among the local suds set. Owner Mike De Kalb says his Boss IPA is the best-selling beer in the pub itself, but Red is the most widely distributed, to between 50 and 60 accounts in town. And friends of the earth can drink deep—it’s organic.
“Free Range Red won the gold medal at the World Beer Cup in 2004 for the best ESB-style beer in the world,” De Kalb says. “It didn’t matter that it was organic. It was just the best ESB. Whenever we enter these competitions, we never enter our beers in any organic categories. We just enter them in the regular categories.”
De Kalb’s zeal for ale and knack for fashioning an “everyone is welcome” vibe is paying big dividends in development. The company has two locations, with a third on the way. De Kalb plans to move the restaurant part of the operation a few blocks down and leave the current location off NE Sandy Blvd to serve as brew HQ. “We’ve totally outgrown this brewery,” he says. “The demand has been amazing.”
De Kalb is quick to praise the contributions of departing brewmaster Christian Ettinger, but he’s got his eye on the next ace warming up in the bullpen.
“Chad Kennedy is our new brewmaster, and he’s been with us for 3½ years,” says De Kalb. “I think eventually he’ll show us some real innovation and creativity.”
The scouts are watching, kid. Better bring your best stuff.
Known primarily as that place on SE Hawthorne Blvd where thirsty dog owners can paws for a bit of refreshment while their canines carouse out back, the Lucky Lab has bulked up to three locations—a second in Multnomah Village and a third recently opened in Northwest—thanks to unpretentious chow, a shorts-and-caps warehouse ambience and a roster of beers that range from complex to comforting.
Alex Stiles, who served his apprenticeship as a Bridgeport brewer in the early ’90s, has been part of the ownership contingent since the Hawthorne pub opened in 1995, and along with Dave Fleming is a key architect of the Lucky Lab beer arsenal. According to Stiles, the telltale mark of a good brewer is the ability to turn a near error into a heads-up play. “We have a few beers on our menu that were total screw-ups by the brewer—usually me, or my old assistant, who’s long gone,” Stiles says. “Like Superdog. It was a mistake, and it gave us an opportunity to really hop it up.”
Fleming’s recollection of the birth of Lucky Lab’s nascent dog star differs somewhat. “Alex went to New Zealand and left the rest of us knuckleheads in charge—that’s what happened,” he recalls sheepishly.
“I was training this guy and he added too much grain to our Top Dog, so I said, ‘Well, it isn’t Top Dog anymore. It’s Superdog!’ So we super-dry-hopped it (added more hops after the original boil to increase the bitterness). It was kind of over-the-top on the hoppiness scale at the time, but people loved it. Now everyone’s got a superhoppy beer.”
Thanks to Bridgeport raising the IPA profile, reports from most pubs in the area indicate that variety as the top-selling style—which was formerly the case at Lucky Lab. But the race for No. 1 has tightened up considerably with the arrival of a certain hoppy hound: Superdog and Dog Day IPA are dead even in sales.
“Portland is a bunch of hopheads, and Superdog is nice and bitter for them. But it’s the aromatics that draw them in first,” Stiles says. “Everyone smells the beer first—and it smells good! It smells green and spicy.”
“Dry-hopping gives it that flowery nose, but it’s super bitter on the back end,” Fleming adds. “It’s a nice contrast.”
And a lucky catch saves the day.