Astoria Brewing's Head Brewer, Bolt Minister.
Astoria Beer Adventure

Astoria Brewing lives inside of the Wet Dog Cafe, right on the Columbia River, about five blocks from Fort George Brewery.

The first thing I notice about the brewery is that it just might just fit in my living room. And after tasting the beers, I want it in my living room as soon as possible. Not sure that my girlfriend would agree with the new decor though. The 4 barrel system is tiny. To put it in perspective, a single full-capacity batch would produce at most 8 kegs of beer. With larger beers requiring more ingredients, the final production size gets even smaller.

The easiest way to expand a brewery that has this type of size constraint is to add larger fermenters. Many breweries have days where they brew their best selling beers in double batches. Astoria brewing is no different. For example, in a recent expansion, Astoria brewing has added a couple of 10 hectoliter fermenters (about 8.5 barrels). This allows the brewery to brew two consecutive 4 barrel batches and add them to the same fermenter. Of course, this makes a brew day almost twice as long, but it increases capacity in a limited amount of space.

But small size doesn't mean you have to be antiquated. In fact, Astoria Brewing is a head of the curve by becoming the second brewery in the state to use solar power for hot water. Before the solar panels were installed, bringing the water up to mash temperature would take about four to five hours. With the new system, combining direct fire to the kettle and 175 degree water from the tap cuts the time down to one hour. This is a huge time saver in a very hectic schedule. The new 1500 gallon holding tank also provides enough extremely hot water to make brewery cleaning much more efficient as well. Astoria Brewing is proof that cutting your carbon footprint in the right ways can have an immediate and dramatic positive impact on a business.

Astoria Beer Adventure
More beer? OK, twist my arm...
But, let's face it, the brewery doesn't make the beer by itself. In a brewery this size, there is a single person in charge of the entire operation which includes, but is not limited to: keg washing, transferring beer, equipment cleaning, ordering ingredients, meeting with people like me, and attending events and festivals--all of which take much more time than the brewing itself. It is not as glorious as it might seem on the surface, although the festivals can be a perk! This job requires a lot of hard word, dedication, knowledge, and most importantly, the passion to create great beer. The man behind the beer in this case is Bolt Minister.

I meet up with Bolt in the brewery and we decide that it would be prudent to drink some beer while we talk. Why not start with a snifter of Imperial Wit? Why not indeed. It is evident immediately that the main function of the brewery is to meet demand. Of course, that's the goal of any brewery, but with Astoria Brewing's capacity, it's quite a chore just to keep up with demand as word of their beer spreads far outside of Astoria's borders to the ears thirsty beer drinkers.

Astoria Beer Adventure
House beer, guest taps, and espresso.
Bolt brews about 4 to 8 barrels each week with one day spent brewing either a single or double batch. While brewing one day each week isn't very much, it subsequently generates about 5 days of work for the rest of the week: cleaning, transferring, kegging, paperwork, etc. When a batch is brewed, it needs an immediate home for fermentation. So a fermenter must be emptied, cleaned, and the contents moved somewhere else, usually kegs--before the brewing can take place. With such a small capacity, there is never (ever) any unused equipment just waiting around. Picture one of those flat puzzles with 25 squares that slide around and only one empty spot to move to. In order to solve the puzzle, you must think several steps ahead and you can only complete the puzzle by working backwards. A brewery is exactly like this, but with no real solution, just a never ending revolution of pieces. Of course, the reward is beer, but it's never as simple as brew and drink. Add to this process, a commute from Vancouver Washington, and you can begin to see the dedication involved. Yes, that's not a drunken note in my book, Bolt lives in Vancouver. He will be making the move out to Astoria eventually, but for now, he's got a long, long commute. Fortunately for us in Portland, you can find Bolt at some of the events taking place here, so you can catch him and talk shop.

Astoria Beer Adventure
This is the most legible of my notebook hieroglyphics. My best guess is: "Porter -> A++"
If all of that hard work wasn't enough, Bolt is taking on much more work to get Astoria Brewing's beer to the masses: entering the Oregon Brewers Festival. Participants are required to bring at least 15 kegs of a single beer to the festival. This is to ensure that the beer will have a better chance of lasting the whole four days of the festival. For larger breweries, no problem--just peel a few kegs off of the inventory and send them to the festival. For Astoria Brewing, this is like squeezing an extra week's work into a week that's already completely full. But that's what Bolt does: takes the impossible and makes it possible! And that's the only way to accomplish the task of promoting the beer, keeping the restaurant taps flowing, rotating the beer style offerings, and entering festivals.

We move the conversation over to the restaurant and sit down for some beer sampling. I put down an empty glass and realize I just drank a Bitter Bitch Imperial IPA: Astoria Brewing's flagship beer. How did that get in my hand? This beer has won the People's Choice Award for the last three years at Portland's Spring Beer and Wine Festival. So, while my notes are useless, the people have already spoken on this beer. We sample a few more Astoria Brewing beers including the Kirby Kolsch, Astoria ESB, and a fantastic Poop Deck Porter. Other beers available from Astoria Brewing today are: Great White Shark, Volkweissen, Stone Cold Strong, Kick Ass Stout, Solar Dog IPA, and Old Redbeard Amber. Yep, a total of about 9 different beers from a four barrel b rewery, in Astoria Oregon. Bolt is working hard--for the sake of beer, and for his customers. And the results are paying off--just stop by any time and check out any of the beers in Astoria Brewing's lineup. You'll have to keep your eyes wide open to spot any of their beer here in Portland, but take my advice and make it a part of your next trip to Astoria!

Okay, I can't sit here and say that working on a story while drinking beer isn't awesome. To be able to talk to the brewers while tasting their beers--those released and unreleased--makes for a great day. But now I'm up to almost 100 ounces of beer across, I don't know, 15 styles, on an empty stomach--all while trying to take notes, photos, and talk coherently about beer. And I'm plagued by the thought that I keep tilting to the left.

I have one more place to go today. Next stop, Rogue Ales Public House. Hmm, maybe I can sober up over a few more samples of beer.

Check out the rest of the photos here.