Tucked away on NE Russell Street is a small, relatively young brewery and taproom. It’s in the same area as some favorite past watering holes on Thebeerchaser’s Tour of Bars, Taverns and Pubs commenced in 2011 – the historic White Eagle Saloon, Prost and The Rambler are just a few. (Click on the links to see the reviews)
Although the Labrewatory is typical of many small breweries – a large garage door that can be opened in good weather – the venue is more than a cool, fifty-seat taproom. t’s actually a brewing experiment – an idea generated in late 2015 by its head brewer, Charlie Johnson. And it gets some good reviews including being selected by Travel Portland as one of “Portland’s Best New Breweries in 2015:”
“A new project by Portland Kettle Works (a company that crafts equipment for many local breweries), this cutting-edge brew lab is the first of its kind in the city. Rather than employing its own brewers, The Labrewatory serves as a testing ground for sudsy new experiments from creative minds all over the country.”
The idea to visit The Labrewatory (hereafter LB) was my son-in-law’s, Ryan Keene. He and wife, Laura, are veteran Beerchasers, having been on several expeditions before their recent September marriage last year. These included Stamtisch, Quimby’s and MadSon’s Pub. (To see Thebeerchaser reviews of these watering holes, click on the link over their names.)
It was a nice Father’s Day gift to me and Ryan’s dad, Ron, who along with Janet Williams, my wonderful Beerchasing spouse joined our group. The five of us enjoyed both the beer and the venue.
This was the first Beerchasing expedition for Ron who grew up in Spokane and has been in Portland close to 35 years. He works for XPO Logistics as a business analyst in IT working on pricing projects. Ryan, who is a an expert runner and excellent athlete, inherited much of his athletic talent from his dad although Ron asserts that “I owned Ryan on the Ping Pong table until he was 12.”
Charlie Johnson, the aforementioned head brewer, has both a masters degree in microbiology and a doctorate in chemical engineering and perhaps considerably more vision in his high school chemistry class than I did.
Most of us just tried to understand the logic as to why Iron was abbreviated Fe (Atomic # 26) while Iridium was Ir (Atomic #77) on the Periodic Table of Elements and what Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev was trying to prove when he created it.
The LB has a very upscale and attractive interior:
“The sparse, wood-grained brewpub signals its experimental nature with lab-themed decor: Light fixtures look like diagrams of the atom, and the back wall sports a series of beakers and Erlenmeyer flasks arranged on shelves like shoes at Nordstrom.” Willamette Week Bar Review (12/30/15)
The LB is a great place to taste beers from smaller breweries with the four guest taps hosting Freemont, Sierra Nevada and Cascade Lakes breweries when we were there. But you can also experiment with BL’s own innovative beers with ten on tap.
We tried two of their samplers and were able, with the six beers on each tray, to try most of the options.
And the samplers are reasonably priced at $12 for six four-ounce pours. Our two favorites were the BL Falcon IPA and the Cascade Lakes Brewing’s Salted Caramel Porter. BL’s Yuzu Mimosa (Kettle Soured Golden Ale) and Gose in Your Mouth both had plenty of pucker power!
Given their business model, it’s understandable while LB chose not to provide food service – at least not right away – but that does not seem to be a problem. Multiple parties were ordering food from Tamale Boy, right next door and the offerings (which they will deliver to the Labrewatory when ready) looked very good i.e. reasonable prices and expansive menu – while also getting stellar review in social media. For example, this 6/21/17 review on Yelp.
The quality of tamale goes beyond just authentic. A single tamale is $5 but is almost double the size of tamales I’ve eaten in the past. It is plump and avoids being dry. Wrapped in a freshly steamed leaf, you can tell care went into its production…..The salsa that accompanied the had a great tang, on the spicy side with fresh chunks of cilantro and tomato- excellent!
Delicious, made to order, fresh and full of flavor! Qué fantastico. Super fun eating experience. You can sit (if w/kids), in between the store and the brewery, and they will serve you on your wine barrel. (Yelp 1/8/17)
And the LB deserves credit for their enteprenaurial spirit and innovativeness. For example, in January of 2016, they released a crowd-sourced beer brew – the @PDXBottleshare IPA...
What’s that? Well read the description from their website:
“The beer was brewed during the December 2015 @PDXBottleShare event held in our taproom. Participants brought in a bottle of beer to share…and a bag of hops to contribute to the brew.
Nearly 40 people showed up to the event at Labrewatory, bringing in 50 bottles of beer and 23 different hops for the event brew!… For the IPA, Charlie used all of the hop additions in the mash and during fermentation- none in in the boil. He used a very low mash temperature and used traditional German mashing schedule to keep the beer dry, and then the beer was fermented with our house yeast strain from Imperial Organic.”
And the creativity is also reflected in their activities. In six years of Beerchasing, I have not seen another combination of yoga and beer similar to what goes on once each month:
Monday nights are Yoga + Beer nights in Portland! The last Monday of each month is our class at Labrewatory…..After class we roll up our mats, spread out the tables and enjoy pints of their most recent (and tasty!) concoctions. This detox + retox class, led by Yoga + Beer instructor, Jana Bedard, is an all-levels flow yoga class. After class, yogis are invited to stay to enjoy a delicious beer!
The cost is $20 for the yoga class and a pint or $15 just for the yoga. (They didn’t offer a beer-only option for somebody who wanted to come and observe the class and just drink while they were inspired by those more motivated to stay in shape.)
There are other interesting stories and perhaps Charlie’s imagination got a little overzealous for one of his first creations.
“…..It’s not too often that a brewer gets so much creative freedom to make beer. Then you get to ask yourself, ‘how far can you push the limits’?” A cherry Gose brined with squid ink. Yes, squid ink. The ink will act as the salty agent in the beer and give an enticing dark color.” 11 November http://labrewatory.com/meet-our-first-brewer/
Then there was another one based on an idea by a fellow brewer as documented in New School Beer.com: http://www.newschoolbeer.com/2015/12/the-labrewatory-is-now-brewing-up-strange-brews.html
“This beer was still clearing up in the tank but poured a milky yellow and is spiced with lemongrass, coconut milk, Thai chilies and fish sauce. It wasn’t half bad, though, and I think will get better after clearing up and getting some carbonation.”
Perhaps those experiments go beyond the cutting edge and maybe it’s a good thing Charlie got his PhD in chemical and not nuclear engineering. (He might decide to do some brewing with Radium – that’s Ra and atomic number 88 in the Periodic Table.) While I have no problem with brewing creativity, I don’t want to have to use a Geiger counter when having a brewski…..
Check out the Labrewatory. You will enjoy it and there are a lot of other good bars nearby if you want to make it an evening.