Six samples from the Vertigo Brewing lineup.
Vertigo Brewing

In an out of the way warehouse space in Hillsboro Oregon, two guys named Mike are spending their weekends--and a bit of other spare time--starting a brewery in a town where there seems to be a brewery on every corner. So far, they are on the right track: they've got great beer.

Mike Kinion and Mike Haines are planning to conquer the Portland beer scene--one barrel at a time, literally. At capacity, their current system can produce 8-10 barrels each month. That's right, month. In a town where most breweries are running 7 to 15 barrel systems, Vertigo is brewing on a 1 barrel system. And since it's a spare time gig, they can only squeeze out an average of 2 barrels each week, brewing mostly on Saturdays.

In 1995, Mike Kinion and Mike Haines started brewing at the brew on location U-Brew in Tigard Oregon. "After learning some of the basics, we realized we wanted more flexibility and control over the 'generic' U-Brew setup and process...[They] purchased homebrew equipment, 'learn to brew' books, and started brewing 5 gallon extract batches in the garage. We were entering our beers in local competitions looking for feedback from more experienced and knowledgeable brewers. Within a year, we went from 5 gallon extract to 15 gallon all grain, constantly reading and experimenting with different techniques to improve the quality of our beer. Over the years, we were fortunate enough to win a number of competitions which gave us the opportunity to brew with some of the best professional brewers in the NW at their breweries."

Vertigo Brewing
Vertigo Brewing's award winning past.
In May of 2008, the brewers bought a space in Hillsboro in order to fulfill one of the requirements of becoming a licensed brewery: have an address. After a few months of filing paperwork, making phone calls, and crossing fingers, Vertigo was fully licensed. They started brewing their first batch in October. Although the small size of the operation has obvious limitations, it also has pluses. "One of the biggest pros of being such a small brewery is that there is not a lot of bureaucracy within the brewery walls. We can make decisions quickly to adapt to changing environments. Actually, an ongoing joke at the brewery is the number of 'Engineering Change Orders' we implement real time during brew sessions to improve efficiencies and ease of use of our equipment. Another pro of being small in the ability to provide a personal dedicated service to customers, we want to know our customers and their needs and not just see them as a number."

Even with their capacity limitation, Vertigo Brewing had their full lineup of 6 styles for me to sample: Cream Ale, Apricot Cream Ale, Schwindel Alt, High Altitude Amber, Friar Mike's IPA, and Raspberry Wheat. On a side note, Friar Mike's IPA is not named after either of the Vertigo Mikes, but rather a third Mike. I asked how they intended to set themselves apart in a city with so many great breweries. "That’s tough. Living here in the NW you are surrounded by great beers, great breweries and great brewers. We have tailored our beers to be to style, yet with a bit of uniqueness." This philosophy was evident in tasting the six different beers. All were clean, crisp versions of their designated style. Their flagship IPA has gone back to the style book and represents a balanced English IPA instead of an extremely hop forward Northwest version. The most obvious twists on the standard styles were in the apricot and raspberry additions to the cream ale and wheat ale, respectively. Vertigo has gone back to basics with their beer, but this is in no way a step backwards. Mike Kinion was not shy about saying that he wanted to expand the lineup to include darker porters and stouts as well as experiment with seasonals, but at this stage of the game, it doesn't make sense. As a two person operation, they need to strike a balance of having a solid offering of beers, spending a lot of time on the phone and knocking on doors, and yeah, keeping up with their day jobs.

As a new company, Vertigo Brewing is now trying to crack into the saturated beer market by taking over tap handles wherever they can. It can be a tough sell to convince a bar to serve your brand new, unknown beer at the expense of replacing a historically good selling beer. Currently, you can find their beer at O'brien's Pub in Hillsboro and they've got a few more spots in progress. They mentioned possibilities at Baily's Taproom and a Meet The Brewer event at the Green Dragon. For more information, check out Vertigo Brewing's website. Oh, and their grass roots brewery would love some grass roots help, so make sure to ask your favorite spot to contact Vertigo Brewing and get their beer on tap!

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