If you’ve ever home brewed, it’s always in the back of your mind: “Could I get a larger space with more equipment to brew large batches and actually sell beer?”
Dylan Goldsmith from St. Helens-based Captured by Porches is doing exactly that. Starting out as a home brewing club in Portland, the brewer, through inventiveness, sheer beer knowledge and good ol’ Craigslist, has managed to piece together enough brewing equipment and a rented space behind a pizza shop to go legit.
It wasn’t easy. The story starts with a rented house and a group of friends who brewed and drank beer – a lot of beer.
Our house had big porches in the front and back and we had the grain mill set up in front and the rest of the brewing equipment set up in the back. I killed three kitchen stoves brewing there – electric stoves don’t like it when you over-boil them.
The name started out as a joke – people would come over and end up hanging out on the porch and brewing and drinking – and they would stay. What’s the motivation to leave?
When it came time to start going legit, then the obvious name was Captured by Porches.
When we had to move out of our rental house, we started looking for a place or a garage to rent so we could continue to brew beer. The home we were leaving had had a beautifully laid out setup. We started out renting a small space from Clinton Street Theater, which had a small licensed area in the back. So, I cut a deal with the Clinton Street Theater and started doing their house beers. Months later I started to distribute, but outgrew it looked elsewhere.
We looked around in Portland and found this really cool old gas station location on Highway 30. It didn’t work out between us, the City of Portland, ODOT and DEQ. It was going to be costly to make the place workable. DEQ wasn’t going to let us dig into the ground; ODOT was putting really weird restrictions on what we could do. We were going to grandfather in a couple of the parking spaces, but the Portland Department of Transportation required us to have four parking spaces based on the square footage of the building – even though it was just mostly me and on occasion, my wife.
In addition we needed two bicycle parking spots outside and two inside the building – remember this is basically just me inside the building. ODOT then said we couldn’t have the driveway going out onto the highway, and had to move that to the side – preventing us to from being able to fit Portland’s requirements. We were dealing with the ATF and OLCC, so we were doing everything by the book. It was frustrating, so we just stepped away.
The City of Portland wasn’t interested in helping a small business. The building department was very helpful but still couldn’t give us any exceptions, giving us only options such as appealing the parking lot restrictions for $1,000 to file the appeal whether you win or not. That’s pretty expensive for a small business. I could buy an extra fermenter and a dozen more kegs for that price.
Regardless of the bureaucratic red tape, most of your restaurant and bar customers are still in Portland, though.
Our sales are mostly in Portland and we’re working on re-establishing a steady source of income with known businesses before we take the plunge of trying get into Columbia County – where accounts still believe that Blue Moon is a microbrew.
The main problem in a small brewery is how quickly you can get your kegs back and empty. If we were to distribute outside of the immediate area, it would take about four weeks for an empty keg of IPA to get back. If it’s an unusual variety or a specialty, sometimes it takes eight or nine weeks to get back. That one keg of IPA is doing the work of two kegs. So, if we distributed to, say, Seattle, it could take a couple of months. The further you go the more expensive it gets.
I don’t really see why some of the larger breweries such as New Belgium or Lagunitas are shipping hundreds of kegs hundreds of miles away rather than simply staying local.
What styles of beer are you making? What sells?
I started brewing because I couldn’t afford my IPA habit – our IPA is still the best selling beer we produce. We also keep an amber year round but the IPA is the main seller. We’re doing a single batch of something different each month, and not necessarily seasonal – something that I really enjoyed making or really enjoy drinking, but don’t want to be stuck with a beer that might be too weird to sell. One of my favorite beers is a Bavarian style Hefeweizen, or a Roggenbier, made with all-malted rye instead of all-malted wheat. When I first started at Clinton Theater, I tried distributing it and people didn’t really take to it, though I think I could get away with it now.
We have to make rent and the IPA is great for that but I still want to make some interesting stuff. There’s a farmer on Sauvie Island who wants to give me raw wheat berries, and a bee hive cooperative that I want to hit up for honey – this beer would have 50% if its ingredients from Sauvie Island. I’d need to do some expensive upgrades to my space for that to happen though.
Our IPA is made with 100% local and organic grain. Due to hop contracting, we cannot currently do organic hops, but we are working on it. We are working with Great Western and some local farmers on creating availability of local and organic malted wheat.
What’s your output?
As our sales are catching up we’re increasing production to one brew a week that occupies two horizontal fermenters I purchased from Hair of the Dog Brewing. The 400 gallon one is nicknamed “Zero” because it has that embossed on the side (I think it is the manufacturers name). It acts as a primary fermenter to its little bro “C3PO,” so called because it holds 300 gallons. C3PO holds the beer for secondary, and from there it goes to keg for aging and conditioning. Someday I will be able to afford nice vertical, jacketed fermenters and will sell these beauties to some broke 30-something with a dream.
C3PO can fill nearly 20 kegs (10 bbls). The two larger tanks (currently not in use) are the unpainted stainless horizontal tanks purchased from Green Dragon before the Rogue acquisition. They hold about 20 bbls and can fill 40 kegs.
The schedule for Captured by Porches beer rotationals:
June: Bavarian Hefeweizen
August: Belgian Wit
September: White Rye (Wry Wit)
December: Santa’s Red Nose (9.99% Red)
Captured by Porches will be serving at the North American Organic Brewers Festival, June 26-28 at Overlook Park in Portland.