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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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 Group – Brien Flanagan, the Group Leader.
Old Town Brewing 5201 NE Martin Luther King Blvd