Beaverton is not the sexiest location for a brewery compared to venues such as Bend, Hood River or Astoria, but at least it has more suburban panache than Gresham. That said, Brannons’ Pub and Brewery is a classy new watering hole – one that replaces the notorious Blue Iguana and brews excellent beer along with great food.
Kevin Brannon, the co-owner, is also a good friend, having practiced law at my former firm, Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt before he decided to return to his “roots” in the brewery business – as stated in the recent Willamette Week review, “(the beer is for now) decidedly classic, a reflection of owner, Kevin Brannon, who’s pinponged between corporate law and brewpubbing for for the past twenty years.”
So let’s define “ping ponged,” by giving some interesting history on Kevin while also gaining a brief perspective on The Blue Iguana. In 1991 Kevin, after practicing law for a number of years, in a fit of entrepreneurial risk, co-founded and built a very successful brewery – the Frederick Brewing Company – in Maryland and managed its amazing expansion until it became one of the largest craft breweries in the mid-Atlantic region of the US.
This former attorney with an infectious grin and dry sense of humor was an outstanding business and corporate lawyer whose clients loved him. He joins a number of his legal brethren I have met since Thebeerchaser Tour of Portland Bars, Taverns and Pubs commenced.
They’ve become interested in brewing – first as a hobby, and then decide they enjoy the challenge of concocting the right blend of barley, malt and hops more than they enjoy analyzing the Rules of Hearsay in the Federal Evidence Code (including exceptions and exemptions…..)
My two trips to Brannon’s – once for the pre-opening with my wife and once with a group of tax lawyers – impressed me with the quality of their beer, the kitchen and the manner in which Kevin has used technology to give his patrons options while drinking.
Thebeerchaser has found that the history of watering holes is often very interesting and Brannons’ is no exception. The Blue Iguana was a restaurant and Latin night club where one could gorge on large servings, drink margaritas, salsa dance and maybe even hire a contract killer. As described in a 2009 Willamette Week review:
As much of sleepy Beaverton shuts down for the night, the Blue Iguana’s neon sign lights up Southwest Cedar Hills Boulevard. Large men in dark clothing block the club’s doorway. “I need to pat the guys down to check for weapons,” one says. “The ladies can just go in.”
Past the first set of glass doors, a woman behind a ticket counter says, “Twenty-five dollars, por favor.” Inside a second set of glass doors is a large room with a bar and two dance floors (one of them elevated) where couples grind to pounding music.
Most of the men are wearing cowboy hats, tight denim pants and cowboy boots. The women wear high heels and very tight everything. At 1 am, many people are just starting to arrive at the Blue Iguana, which stays open until 3 am.
Or check out this headline and excerpt from KGW.com in 2012: “Beaverton bar fight ends with man being run over. KGW spoke with the property manager of the Blue Iguana who said police are often called to the Latin night club. She said she was not surprised to hear about the incident and the bar has problems with fights spilling out into the parking lot.”
And not to belabor the point, but one other review from a few years back also offers some insight:
I was thrown out Saturday night for having the nerve to type on my laptop at the bar. Owner sez he’s afraid someone will spill a watery margarita on my Dell and he’ll be liable. This, from a place that probably sends a truckload of drunks onto Cedar Hills Boulevard every weekend night. Perhaps I should have tried to convince him that all of the cinnamon roll crumbs would absorb any oopsies. Skip ’em, I say.
Well, things were a lot calmer when Stuart Anderson’s Black Angus Steak House was the tenant, although it brings back memories of a franchise which had better baked potatoes than filets. As an aside, the owner of the Black Angus group filed for bankruptcy in 2004 with approximately $202 million in debt and an annual loss of $32.5 million. In 2009, the group attempting to rebrand and remodel the chain also went banko. (Wikipedia)
Frederick Brewing Company
The story of Frederick Brewing (FBC) is interesting and an enterprauenerial success story that could be a blog post in itself. With some of the pictures and stories Kevin related while I was drinking one of the Brannon beer samplers, his east-coast brewing journey is worth summarizing:
Brannon is from humble roots – Lebanon, Oregon and went to Stanford for his undergraduate degree where he walked-on and made the baseball team. He became a community organizer in Montana during the coal boom. Unlike the incumbent with a similar background, he didn’t think that qualified him to run for President of the United States, so he enrolled in Willamette Law School’s excellent combined MBA/Law Degree program.
While learning to analyze torts and discounted cash flow models, he also started brewing beer. After passing the bar in 1984, he practiced at NW firm, Preston, Gates and Ellis for seven years before being lured to West Virginia with his fiancé.
He denies any assertion that the country classic, “She was only a whiskey maker, but I loved her still,” had anything to do with their move east. Actually, it was one of his clients who persuaded him. The options were to either open a fly shop or a brewery so in 1991, after purchasing a Smith Carona word processor, selling his house and cashing in his 401(k) he made the leap.
Brannon and his partners wrote their business plan, soliciting investors and did their “pilot brewing” in a rented 18th– century house in West Virginia, where they brewed in the cellar (improved by dumping lime and a bunch of ¾ inch gravel on the floor – one reason why he was separated from the Environmental lawyers at Schwabe Williamson)
As Brannon relates it:
Armed with little more than $200,000 in investor dollars and more confidence than common sense, we leased a building in downtown Frederick…….Because we had a deal to supply our Blue Ridge Golden Ale to the new stadium housing the Frederick Keys – the Single A affiliate of the Orioles – we bought a couple hundred “nasty old kegs and contracted with a now defunct Michigan brewery to produce it.
We were under construction so we leased a falling-down warehouse, bought and repainted a refridgerated truck from a peach farmer and started selling beer to the ballpark and local bars. It only took five months from funding to our first batch – this depite the fact that we decided to save money and time by skipping the permitting process, renting chain saws and clearing the back of the property ourselves. (Another reason Kevin was located on a different floor than the firm’s Environmental Group when he was at Schwabe.)
I gave three free brewery tours every weekend for more than nine straight months and on most weekends after that for 2.5 years. I filled the tasting room with beer memorabilia from defunct eastern US breweries to complement the brewing history speech I gave at the beginning of every tour.
Thanks to an idiosyncratic law, we were allowed to sell beer in the new brewery’s taproom though still not sell it on the premises for money, but at least the sales paid for the free beer we gave away on the tours!
The bottling line was painfully slow and completely manual except for the bottle/filler/capper and labeling machine. Shelf life was pretty good.
After the 1996 Initial Public Offering, their brewing facilities were pretty close to the then state of the art.
The demand soared – by their first anniversary party, they were brewing as fast as they could but completely sold out by the week of the party so they had to “beg” one of their retailers to sell a keg back so they had their own beer for the staff celebration.
“In 1997-98, we purchased two local competitors within a few weeks of each other – Wild Goose and Brimstone breweries and merged them into ours. We brewed their brands after that which was pretty much the high-water mark for the company.”
Kevin and his partner, Steve Nordahl and two other early FBC staff went on to found their own breweries. Nordahl is now the owner/brewer of Lone Peak Brewery and Pub in Big Sky, Montana. The drummer in the picture went on to found a brewpub called Blue Moon in Savannah, Georgia.
The guy playing the guitar in the photo below (Matt Swihart) moved to Oregon and worked at Full Sail and then Double Mountain Brewery in Hood River. Based on their anniversary party dilemma, he wrote and performed a song named, “The Brewery That Had No Beer.”
The intense effort that went into making a successful brewery took its toll, and Brannon, as the Brewery’s legal counsel, found himself doing more desk work than he wanted so he and has partners sold the brewery to Snyder International in 1999. By then, it had grown into one of the mid-Atlantic region’s largest independent craft breweries.
Consistent with his desire to follow a respectable and traditional Lawyer/MBA path, he and his wife decided to move to the Bahamas, where they leased a house on the beach and became scuba diving instructors in an eco-resort….
Business was great during the tech boom, with many wealthy tourists moving or vacationing in paradise, but this traffic dried up – immediately when the boom turned bust in 2000 – as most of us remember from our 401(k) balances. They moved back to Oregon and Kevin returned to the same desk at Preston Gates until he moved to the Schwabe firm in 2004 followed by his own practice at Brannon Law PC.
The Second Brannon Brewery – This Time in Beaverton
After several years of planning, his pre-opening event was in early October 2014, when he had three of his own beers on tap – that has now grown to nine. Stay tuned for Part II on Kevin Brannon’s newest venture Brannons’ Pub and Brewery including an interesting lunch with five tax lawyers!!!
I’d beg to differ! 🙂
Okay, perhaps I was too hasty in making that conclusion, especially since some would assert that the town in which I spent most of my youth – The City by the Falls – Oregon City is not the epitome of tree-lined boulevards and classy establishments.
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