Mike and Brian McMenamin have traveled quite a distance since their formative years tending bar at Produce Row in the 1970s. Part of the contingent that pitched the state Legislature on the idea of brewers selling their beers to the public, the brothers McMenamin have sired pubs, hotels, movie theaters and restaurants, and their appetite for expansion shows no signs of waning.
Currently on tap are plans to move the company offices into the Little Chapel of the Chimes on N Killingsworth St and to put in a bar behind bars at a former jail site adjacent to the McMenamins Edgefield spread in Troutdale.
With all the fuss over the company’s entrepreneurial enthusiasm (53 locations in Oregon and Southwest Washington), the beer that put it on the map tends to get overlooked. And while McMenamins’ signature brews bear intimidating handles like Terminator and Hammerhead, it’s the more demurely designated Ruby that’s become a regional summer-beer staple.
“It started with a patch of blackberries in the parking lot,” Mike McMenamin recalls, referring to the Hillsdale Pub, the first of the company’s locations with a brewery on the premises. “We did a test brew to see what would happen—and we found there were some possibilities. Blackberries were first, and when we eventually tried raspberries it became immediately apparent that they were a key component. It was a great berry to work with.”
“And we tried ’em all,” adds head brewer Kevin Tillotson. “But there was something special about raspberries. It’s got a nice tartness to balance the sweetness from the malt. It’s a nicely balanced beer.”
McMenamin notes that Ruby was among the first 50 batches of beer produced by his fledgling operation—and one that flew in the face of conventional wisdom. There were no other fruit ales on the local front. “A lot of it was a reaction to what you should do, and how you should make beer,” he says, “and just throwing it out the window and saying, ‘Let’s just go nuts here.’”
This coming from a brew gang that once threw candy bars into the kettle, and once cooked up a beer called Afterburner—which had garlic in the mix.
“Ruby was a reaction against classic stuff,” McMenamin says. “But it definitely became kind of a classic.”
C-Note Imperial IPA
The New Old Lompoc brewing franchise—three picturesque pubs and counting—is responsible for one of the heaviest hitters in the summer beer lineup, especially from a hops standpoint. Brewer and co-owner Jerry Fechter invented C-Note to impress other local brewheads at the behest of Horse Brass publican (and NOL’s co-owner) Don Younger in honor of the Horse Brass 25th anniversary party a few years back.
Fechter was instructed to come up with a “really big beer,” so he decided to go hell-bent for hops—and get conceptual with the alphabet at the same time.
“Scientifically, I don’t think you can brew a beer over 60 or 70 IBU (international bittering units, a measure of a beer’s bitterness from the addition of hops). But on paper you can really get it up there,” Fechter says. “If you have a crazy boil then you can extract a lot more bitterness from the hops. I wanted to get one over 100 IBUs. So we ended up using 18 or 19 pounds of hops in a six-barrel batch. I think on paper it came in at like 108 IBUs.
“And I just thought it would be neat to make a beer with all the hops that start with the letter ‘c’: Cascade, Columbus, Centennial, Crystal, Challenger and Chinook.”
Hence the name C-Note, an IPA that’s out of the park in terms of hoppiness, but by no means a one-dimensional player. It has plenty of malt body to back up the bite and dries off nicely, leaving the mouth clean as a freshly swept home plate, eagerly awaiting the next delivery.
“That’s the art form,” explains Fechter’s partner Don Younger. “One hundred IBUs should rip your throat a new one; it would be like drinking battery acid—unless you can find a way to balance it.”
Like most of his brewing brethren, Fechter views local competition as friendly for the most part. He praises the work of other brewers and views the prevalence of pubs in Portland as nonthreatening, likening the scene to the culture in England, with each community having a local to call its own.
“Every little neighborhood is slowly getting its own neat little brewpub,” he says. “Maybe in the ’60s and ’70s they might have been smoke-filled taverns filled with blue-collar characters, but now we have pubs with good food, no smoking and friendly toward families—and with really good beer.”
Take me out to the brewpub / Take me out to the crowd / Buy me some C-Note and Cracker Jack …