Old Town Brewing – Part II


In Thebeerchaser’s first post on Old Town Brewing, (hereafter OTB) I sketched the story of the founder and owner, Adam Milne and his vision which has become a reality.

https://thebeerchaser.com/2019/02/26/new-energy-and-ideas-at-old-town-brewing/

The Old Town Brewing Trademark

(Note:  This is a long post and even if you don’t peruse it in its entirety, be sure to check out the videos towards the end of the post.  But to check them out, you will need to click on the blog site rather than look at it through e-mail.  Just click on the title in your e-mail. You will be glad that you did…)

The prior post elaborated on the great ambiance and rustic environment, the team concept Adam espouses and briefly touched on the unfortunate legal battle with the City of Portland over the iconic OTB trademark in which Adam and his team prevailed after years of litigation.

But, the story is not complete without a detailed discussion of the beer and the creative marketing which goes into making it a gem in the NW micro-craft industry.  The list of awards for OTB beer is extensive and the styles of beer garnering awards diverse as can be seen from this link below:

https://www.otbrewing.com/dock-sales

Gold Medal Winners – Pilsner and Shanghai’d IPA

For example in 2018, there were two Gold Medals – – OTB’s Pilsner and Shanghai’d IPA – at the World Beer Cup in Nashville – Adam described this as the “Olympics of beer competition.”

And at the Great American Beer Festival in 2014 – the “Academy Awards of beer” according to Adam – they brought home a silver medal – Sun Dazed Kolsch – following by a gold in 2015 for Shanghai’d IPA.

The honors continued in 2019 with three medals at the Best of Craft Beer Awards in Bend where brewers from 33 states compete.   Shanghai’d won again with a bronze – also one for Paulie’s Not Irish Red and a silver for Dark Helmet.  I was impressed that besides the reaffirmation of Shanghai’d IPA quality, that OTB has garnered medals for a diverse group of brews.

Head Brewer – Adam Lamont – educated in his craft

Adam credits a lot of this to the fortuitous hiring of Andrew Lamont.  He had spent about eight years with the Boston Beer Company two and one-half of which were as brewer for Samuel Adams Research and Development Brewery.

Adam was looking for a brewer in late 2014 and thought, “There’s no way he will work for me.”  Fortunately, Andrew, who was pursuing a PhD, decided he wanted to relocate to Portland.  This was after Lamont had earned his Master’s in Polymer Science at Southern Mississippi and his Master Brewer at UC Davis.

But it’s a team approach that Adam credits for their success as can be seen from this photo from the OTB website and his statement:

“”We feel our biggest strength in brewing quality beer is creating a team approach that feeds all of our passion and excitement,’ he says. ‘It was important for [head brewer] Andrew [Lamont] and I to create atmosphere that allows our management crew to lead and have a voice in the beer creation process.’”

Adam Milne and his team – creativity can be fun…….

While it would be easy to do an entire post on the following issue, we should touch on  the trademark battle with City of Portland – an example of bad judgment on the part of the City – an ill-advised bureaucratic foray which drew the ire of the micro-craft community, business groups and those who value common sense…..

Many citizens wondered why Portland was taking on this small business when OTB had applied and been granted the image for its logo by the US Patent Office.  Moreover, Milne had come to the City offering to compromise before the fight escalated.

For those interested, a detailed account of the fascinating legal issues involved, check out Jeff Alworth’s blog Beervana:

https://www.beervanablog.com/beervana/2017/11/13/the-city-of-portland-versus-old-town-brewing

Now, Intellectual Property law can be very technical, but if you want to see a summary of the settlement use this link from an article in Craftbeer.com

https://www.craftbeer.com/editors-picks/old-town-brewing-portland-end-lengthy-trademark-dispute

Carson Bowler

Brien Flanagan

As I mentioned in the first OTB post, on both of my two visits I was accompanied by two very skilled lawyers who are also both wonderful human beings – some may think the categories are mutually exclusive.

Carson Bowler, a fraternity brother of Adam from U of O days in the ’90’s, and Brien Flanagan were in our group.

On the second visit, Carson, Adam and I got two flights of eight – a good idea given the variety of good beers and a very reasonable $10 – only a buck more than a flight of four.  My favorites on that visit were the Sun Dazed (German-style Kolsch) and the Belgian Tripel – a collaboration with Rogue Brewing with an ABV of 9.8%!

The three of us – based on the experience Carson and I had on our first visit, got another of the House Special PizzaThe shop favorite since 1974. A combination of pepperoni, salami, mushroom, black olive, bell pepper, and homemade Italian sausage.”

On the flight path….with Carson and Adam

On the first visit I got a pint of their award-winning Paulie’s Not Irish Red Ale.  As a fan of red ales, I can state that it lived up to the description: “Impeccably balanced and malt-driven with notes of sweet bread and caramel, partnered with a medium hop bite and soft finish.”

While having a reputation for great pizza, OTB also has some other good eats including five different salads, pasta and six toasted subs of which the Meatball is the house favorite “Sliced meatballs covering a garlic buttered roll, mozzarella, cheese and house-made marinara dusted with Reggiano cheese and fresh basil.”  

The first trip to OTB was a belated 70th birthday present from Carson and Brien and they paid deference to their elder by letting me have the extra slice of the House Special Pizza we split.

Belated birthday present – as you can see from this picture and the last, Carson when being photographed holds his head at an angle and adopts an intellectual pose

Brien is also a Beerchasing regular and, in fact, his last foray on this blog was right in the same neighborhood at Billy Rays Neighborhood Dive Bar. You should stop by this great dive bar on a trip to OTB.

Flanagan (in the center) in a visit to BRNDB

One of the more impressive aspects to this enterprise is their creativity, which is demonstrated in the development and production of new beers – for example their Mushroom Ale – which some purists pan, but has gotten some good reviews.  Hiring a scientist as your head brewer allows adventures like this one that Andrew first tried as an experimental beer in 2015:

For example, this 11/29/17 review from Ratebeer.com:

“Not only does this beer give you an experience that I can guarantee you’ve never had, it also tastes amazing. Like drinking carbonated maple syrup with a touch of umami character. Amazing.”

https://www.pdxmonthly.com/articles/2015/8/5/old-town-brewing-mushrooming

Experimentation yields results….

But also the display of their product in the cans which commenced in 2018 (as evidenced by the pictures below and this statement on their website:

“There’s much to be appreciated about beer cans. We trust these sealed vessels with the momentous task of transporting our precious cargo safely. We outfit them in our finest digs to help celebrate and convey our stories about who we are and what we stand for.”

Another innovation was the delivery of beer by bicycle, which started in 2012 – perhaps you will soon be getting a Glow Torch IPA by drone in the near future….

Although they don’t still deliver beer by bike, Adam says:

“We were the first brewery in America to do that based on our research.. I had the idea and called the OLCC who expressed doubt it was legal. They called back and said they all met and couldn’t find a reason it was illegal.”

https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/portland-brewery-delivering-beer-on-bikes-149010975.html

One of the most innovative Brewery advertising methods I’ve witnessed since starting Thebeerchaser in 2017 is their video series. Maybe I haven’t been paying attention, but I thought these great ads were somewhat under the radar – “Beers in Paradise.”

They feature OTB’s Sales Director, Joe Sanders.  This four-part video series is extremely well done, humorous and shows what having an in-house creative artist and media expert can develop.  I asked Adam how this idea germinate:

“We decided to do something that spoke to our audience and communicated our seriousness for making beer in a really fun way. Once we made our first video, with Joe as our front-man…. the snowball started to roll. People loved them and we had so much fun making them.”

https://www.otbrewing.com/latest-news/2018/4/3/weekly-beer-hunting-beers-of-paradise.

My favorite was the Pillow Fist IPA although you should check all of them out.  (They’re slightly hidden on the Website under the drop-down “Latest News.”)  And for a fascinating article – again on Jeff Alworth’s Beervana blog, read about the process as described by Creative Director, Jordan Wilson.

Creative Director, Jordan Wilson

The process starts with naming of the beer, the context and set for the videos and is followed by evaluating the effectiveness of the videos through metrics.

“It’s total DIY….this feels like a unique strength for Old Town – we keep everything in house and avoid the high cost of creative overhead. And because of our lower investment, we can play with it more. Throw things at the wall, see what sticks.….(the videos have) become an extension of our brand and how we tell our stories.” 

https://www.beervanablog.com/beervana/2019/1/30/how-we-use-video

They also use videos to announce new releases.  Take a look at this one that announced Figaro Imperial Stout  – brilliant!

As you can see below, Adam gives his staff credit for their success – one of his core values.  For example, this notice on their website about Staff Appreciation Day.

“2018 was incredibly fun and certainly the most memorable year for us to date. We kicked off with a major rebrand of our company, canned our first brews, made it through a dispute that brought our community together and forever changed the way we hold our love and admiration for this industry, we started our videos series, collaborated with some of the most amazing and talented people, drank amazing beer, celebrated more“

Team values reinforced!

Another example was during the 2012 fire, when the Brewery and pub were closed for three weeks.  The staff’s pay was continued during the closure.

There’s no question that those who want a good brewpub experience have a multitude of options in Portland, but this 12/7/18 Yelp review summarizes the composite experience well and illustrates why you should drop by and say “hello” to Adam and his team:

“Delicious brews and FIRE pizza! The space is large but cozy. I was recently there for a work event and the food was AMAZING plus the service was top notch. Their bartender Tony got our 20+ person party drinks quickly and he was SO FRIENDLY – not the usual response to large parties in PDX. The vibes were great! Of course, I’ll be back!”

Old Town Brewing                   5201 NE MLK BLVD

New Energy and Ideas at Old Town Brewing

Old Town Brewing’s brewery and taproom on MLK Blvd – photo ,courtesy of Old Town Brewing

Notwithstanding the fact that there are many thriving breweries in Oregon, the micro-craft business in Oregon – it ranks fifth in the US for the number of breweries per capita – is extremely competitive.

An eastside mainstay closes its door in early 2019

This is evidenced by the closure of three major players in the Portland brewing scene just in the last several months – Alameda, Bridgeport and Burnside.  (Click on the links on the names of the last two to see Thebeerchaser’s reviews.)

And Widmer Brothers, the Lompoc Tavern and Portland Brewing have also closed their pubs – gone, but not forgotten as good places to raise a mug.

Bridgeport joins the legendary Slab Town in closing its doors in NW

While some not familiar with the brewery business, have a dream of establishing their own operation based on their enjoyment from home brewing, it takes considerable planning, risk tolerance and devotion to long hours and meeting challenges to sustain a successful brewery or pub – and there’s also the initial capital to even open it.

Backwoods Brewings’ second location in the Pearl District

That is why I have so much respect for the entrepreneurial spirit of some of my favorites including Mark Becker of Flyboy Brewing, the Waters family of SW Washington’s Backwoods Brewing and Jim Mills’ from Caldera Brewing in Ashland – and these are just a few.

Add to those, Adam Milne, the founder and owner of Old Town Brewing (hereafter OTB) in Portland.  I had dinner and beer with Adam and lawyer, Carson Bowler, on my second visit to Old Town’s operation in NE Portland – the brewpub and actual site where they brew their six flagship beers in addition to a number of limited batch seasonal brews.

By the way, due to the breadth of the story of Adam Milne and Old Town Brewing, it will be covered in two separate blog posts rather than the customary one narrative.

Adam Milne – young entreprenauer

The original, and now companion location is the well-known historic Old Town Pizza site.  And the story is interesting and fulfills a dream – similar to those of the people mentioned above in their enterprises.  Adam first visited Old Town Pizza when he was only nine years old.  It was owned by the Accaurdi family who opened it in 1974.

“It was in the historic Merchant Hotel in Old Town and a hub for like-minded people with a radical agenda. It stood as a beacon for the local community; a place to break bread and enjoy your neighbor.”  (Old Town Brewery web site)

That visit had an impact and demonstrates this young entrepreneur’s vision since he bought Old Town Pizza in 2003 when he was only in his early thirties – 33 to be exact.

He subsequently expanded to NE Portland on NE Martin Luther King Blvd in 2008, where he built the brewery and pub.  Assistance came in the form of a low-interest loan from the Portland Development Commission in its effort to promote enterprise close-in NE Portland.

It now houses, in 6,000 square feet, an attractive and bustling brewpub in addition to their brewing hardware and canning/bottling equipment.  Adam and his family live in the same neighborhood.  This review will focus on the NE location rather than Old Town Pizza brewpub which is still located on Second and NW Davis Streets.

Those who view the story on the OTB website will see that the enterprise, since that time, has had two major expansions and thus may conclude that it’s been a smooth ride for this native of Marcola, Oregon, but that’s not the case.  He graduated from Mohawk High School – with twenty-one other classmates in his senior class.

In 2003, to raise the capital to purchase Old Town Pizza, Adam mortgaged the equity in his home and sold a rental house to make the down payment.  Only one month into the new venture, their primary refrigerator went out – they had no cash to replace it.  He had to buy all new refrigeration and new pizza ovens.   When I asked how they resolved, Adam chuckled and said, “I suppose that’s what credit cards are for!”

Attractive recovery from the 2012 fire in the second story

Then there was the fire upstairs at the NE brewpub in 2012, which resulted in closure of the pub for two to three months.

Many people are also familiar with Adam’s battle with the City of Portland over the Old Town Breweing trademark – the iconic “leaping white stag” – which was not only stressful, but the multi-year legal battle, resulted in significant attorney fees before OTB eventually prevailed and settled with the City.

Source of mult-year legal battle…

On both of my visits to OTB, I was accompanied by Carson Bowler, a partner at Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt law firm and with whom I had the pleasure of working for a good portion of my 25 years at the firm.

Starting in 1990 and for four years, while at the U of O, Carson lived in the same fraternity – Sigma Nu – as Adam.  Carson also bears a strong resemblance to former Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter, Art Vandely, President of Vandely Enterprises.

https://thebeerchaser.com/2014/01/31/beerchaser-of-the-month-art-vandelay/

Art Vandelay in his executive role has a different legal perspective…

This environmental attorney has enjoyed his friendship with Adam and stated:

I’ve known Adam for more than twenty-five years.  We were in the Sigma Nu house and his reputation then was that he was the nicest guy in the fraternity.  Unfortunately, that reputation was accurate. 

One could never lie to, or ‘borrow’ from or prank Adam without the everlasting worry that God, Himself would punish any such shenanigans with eternal damnation. 

Adam always had one great idea too many until he didn’t and launched Old Town Brewing.  It was in this enterprise that his ambition, good taste, generosity and entrepreneurial spirit blissfully collided to produce pure-love in a pint.  Adam makes good beer because only good things come from Adam.”

We will get back to Adam in the second blog post, but first let’s talk about their quarters in NE Portland.  The architect was another Sigma Nu at Oregon, Eric Aust, now practicing in Newport Beach, CA and who specializes in custom residential and commercial development.

https://www.austarchitect.com/old-town-pizza

He succeeded in making Old Town Brewing one of the most impressive and comfortable brewpubs I have visited in seven and one-half years of Beerchasing.   Thebeerchaser is not conversant with technical design concepts and themes, but I know what I like and that was definitely the case with the environment at OTB.

While some of the new breweries and brewpubs in the Pearl are sleek and modern-industrial, the OTB building is rustic – large fireplaces, dark wood and a home-grown Northwest ambiance.  And there are interesting historic photos as can be seen below.

For example, most of the wood in the two-story structure is reclaimed from an old tobacco warehouse in Kentucky.  When we were touring,Adam stated, “You can still smell tobacco,” – (well, at least somebody without the sinus issues that plague me probably could….)

The round barrel tables are former sewing machine stands purchased from an antique store in nearby Aurora.  The bar and backbar are very attractive and there are a variety of seating options.

Attractive bar

Okay, ambiance is nice, but what about the beer?  OTB fares very well in that category which is evidenced by the extensive list of awards on their website dating back to 2013:

https://www.otbrewing.com/dock-sales

I will cover the beer in significantly more depth as well as the food and the trademark battle and show some of the pictures from my first visit – this time with two lawyers – the aforementioned Carson (not Washington) and his fellow lawyer in the Schwabe Natural Resources GroupBrien Flanagan, the Group Leader.

Bowler and Flannagan

Old Town Brewing        5201 NE Martin Luther King Blvd