South of Portland: Block 15 Brewing Company in Corvallis
Before I get started with this writeup, I think it's only fair that you know I've got a big prejudice against Block 15 Brewery. It may color my writing a bit, so I wanted to air all grievences right away. I did talk to owner Nick Arzner about my problem, but he said that there's nothing he can do about it, and for that I'll always be a bit let down. You see, I used to live in Corvallis and my only gripe against Block 15 is that they opened up after I already moved to Portland. If that isn't thoughtless, I don't know what is.
Our group met up with Block 15 owner Nick Arzner, just as the Sunday lunch rush was piling in. He was, of course, behind the bar serving beer. He can be found in this exact spot a few times a week pulling the taps on the beer that his brewery creates so that he can get feedback from the customers. Customer education is also an important part of the process, as Block 15 is not just pushing out a few generic styles of beer. In less than two years, Block 15's 7bbl system has churned out 295 batches covering interpretations of over 50 different beer styles using:
- 50 types of grain
- 20 hop varieties
- 15 types of yeast
- Various barrel aging: bourbon, wine, oak
- And a partridge in a pear tree (NOTE: Nick has yet to actually brew with fowl)
Amazingly enough, Nick actually had a few barrels of beer that have been aging for almost as long as the company has been in business. That's a load of patience, dedication, and planning from the day the doors opened. For most of Block 15's beer arsenal, subtleties reign supreme. With the diversity in recipes and careful attention to aging, customers have a lot to talk about when it comes to the beer. Rather than allowing the brewer or customer dictate the direction of the beer, the conversation between the brewer and the community is at the core of how Nick runs the operation.
Nick also serves food, works weekends, sweeps floors, hoists kegs, and anything else that needs to be done to keep Block 15 on the right track. As owner, Nick has many hats to wear, and while it's a tough job, seeing his dream become reality is a great reward. With so many other duties, he leaves the position of Brewmaster in the able hands of Steve Van Rossem. Steve and Nick work together to make sure that both the short term and long term beers pouring at Block 15 represent the vision of creating amazing local beer. A couple of weeks ago, they took the People's Choice award at the 2010 Cheers for Belgian Beers Festival. On the Block 15 website, Nick Arzner talks about his ideas for next year: "As the winner of Peoples Choice award I get to select the yeast strain for next year’s competition. Yes, my vote would be for some Brett or the Roeselare blend, but I don’t believe all breweries are set up to tame the wild. As I travel to Belgium next week I will look into the possibility of Wyeast being able to supply special yeast that I will be able to sample on location. I will work with the organizers quickly and encourage a timely dart throw to give our great Oregon breweries ample design and conditioning time."
It is important to Nick to serve the local community first. They must drink a lot of Block 15 beer, because it doesn't make it out of town very often. To get the best glimpse of what Block 15 is all about, get down to Corvallis, and sit in front of the giant board where at least 10 unique beers will stare back at you and dare you drink them. It's best to go slow and make a weekend out of it.
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