Owner and Brewmaster Christian Ettinger maintains an environmentally-conscious mission in the production of a wide array of organic craft beers.
"Our vision has always been to make the highest-quality beer as sustainably as possible," says Ettinger.
Hopworks Urban Brewery (HUB) uses only USDA-certified organic hops grown in Oregon and Washington, and organic barley malt cultivated along the Oregon-California border.
Marinated in Portland culture -- which prides itself on artisanal food and drink, environmental consciousness, and civic engagement -- HUB has been a B Corporation (the certification's motto: "people using business as a force for good") since February 2015. Ettinger says, "Our recent certification as a B Corp, I think, has given a way to talk meaningfully about what we've been doing all along."
In addition to its use of organic ingredients, the brewery's "Cleaning In Place" system allows it to recirculate water and detergent up to five times when scrubbing fermentation vessels, cutting down on water consumption. The company has also donated over $57,000 in cash and in-kind contributions to the community last year. The brewery's cans bear the motto, "Do What You Can."
Portland just might represent the pinnacle of bicycle culture in the US, and HUB has done more to promote that way of life than probably any other brewery. In addition to producing a traditional bicycle-rider beer -- a radler made with 50 percent organic lager and 50 percent organic lemonade -- the brewery has partnered with a local bike shop to manufacture a line of bicycles, the Hopworks Pub Runner. Then, there are the 42 bike frames mounted decoratively above the bar at HUB (and banana-seat headrests in the men's room above the urinals). HUB's smaller, offshoot location in North Portland is called the Hopworks Bikebar. HUB even parades a "bar bike" at various events: a "mobile party" on wheels with a bar top, hauling two kegs and three pizzas, in addition to using solar power to pump out music. "I've got a bike problem," Ettinger happily admits.
In addition to a dedicated 21-and-over bar, HUB's restaurant (located above its brewery in the same building) has a family-friendly seating section complete with play areas for the kids. Ettinger, 43, the father of two (an eight- and 11-year-old), says, "One of the most fun things I see here is newborns coming in, and it's the first restaurant experience the family's had after getting out of the hospital. . . . You can often see three generations sitting at one table. So, they feel comfortable coming here, because they know that we're sourcing things responsibly, and the kids are going to be well-fed with great quality food. And there's going to be something for everyone: The parents are going to have great beer or cider."
Yes, the brewery also makes a crisp, "semi-dry" cider, having obtained a winery license, as well. It's made with 60 percent organic apple concentrate, in addition to dessert apples, rather than harder-to-come-by, traditional cider apples. Ettinger says, "We actually like the flavor of the concentrate more than the fresh pressed. It really develops some nice flavors to it."
And when it comes to beer, it seems like there are few styles that HUB doesn't take on. Ettinger, who previously worked at Laurelwood Brewing Co., says, "Our crew is really talented, and I think the diversity in the menu reflects the diversity and the skill [of] our brewers." He adds, "We're not just camping in one genre."
Naturally, there are hop-forward beers – such as Gear Up IPA. Ettinger says, "We use a couple of new hops Azacca and Eureka, known for their tropical nature. There's some Chinook in there, too, which has kind of a piney-citrusy quality. So when you drink that, think about the tropics. The malt profile is honestly kind of like the pilsner, so it really allows those hops to jump out . . . incredibly aromatic." The flavor lingers long after the first pull: "That's the mark of a good IPA. You get your money's worth of hops in there."
A year after the brewery opened, HUB won gold medals at the 2009 GABF for its Imperial IPA and its red ale. It also makes a number of barrel-aged beers, such as Kentucky Christmas (its seasonal Abominable Winter Ale aged in Kentucky whiskey barrels), and sours. Razzle Dazzle is a tart Berliner Weisse that starts with yogurt in the barley mash, which sours the sugars, before raspberries are added. Ettinger says, "It creates this really dry, refreshing beer with just a hint of the raspberry. Kind of fun, huh?"
But there are also some more traditional flavors on tap. "My personal passion is about lager beer," says Ettinger -- and HUB makes a rewarding pilsner. Ettinger says, "It just has that wonderful crisp light malty honey body and layers of just slightly-herbaceous hopping over the top with a nice crisp bitterness. Super clean . . . Definitely one of my favorites."
In 2015, HUB produced 13,400 barrels of beer and cider. Ettinger says he expects to increase that amount by 10 percent this year.
Although a "tiny, little bit gets exported to the Netherlands, China, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand," Ettinger says, "The vast majority of our beer is sold in Oregon, right here, and then secondarily Washington. We've noticed there's an affinity for Oregon beer in Alaska. That's a pretty eco shipment: just send it up to the Port of Tacoma on a boat, not much carbon burnt there. Sell a little in Utah and Idaho."
HUB takes its environmental-consciousness seriously. But there's levity, as well. At the end of the day (or, actually, closer to happy hour), Ettinger says, "So, as you can tell, we're having a lot of fun -- and I think people taste that."
Favorite beers: Ettinger's favorites run from locally-sourced to those quaffed abroad: "On the European side, we just did a great project with Bitburger: You know they're quite a large concern over there [in Germany], but the quality of beer they produce on a massive scale is so fascinating to me. So, in the German scene, I love Bitburger, I love Schneider [Weisse]. . . . In the Belgian space, Cantillon and some of those wild lambic beers are super-fascinating.
"In town here, I love what Cascade's doing: They're doing an amazing job with their sour program. My buddy, Larry [Sidor], over at Crux is doing amazing work. My buddy, Josh [Pfriem], at Pfriem [Family Brewers], I love what he's doing on the Belgian side -- and he's got a great palette for lagers. The big guys still continue to amaze me: What Deschutes has continued to do with that size and scale is awesome. And then other parts of the country, the list goes on and on: I've always been a huge Sierra Nevada fan; they continually land right in the middle of the crosshairs for my palate: nice balance and the quality's amazing. We were at Russian River, recently: That name comes up all the time -- unreal!"
Challenges: Ettinger says, "Coming up with a good model and a budget. Our business is fairly diverse, because we run restaurants -- that's an entirely different business model than the brewery, which is production based. So, really coming up with a good model for the financial side has been a challenge. Managing 125 wonderful employees: That is an awesome challenge -- but I wouldn't say it's easy running things. And trying to balance sustainability and economics, so that we're able to do what we can every day to make a difference without blowing the budget. . . . The challenges are really about just being super-efficient with what we have, in terms of inputs of water and electricity and natural gas and labor."
There are also customers to please: "I think people in Portland are early adopters. They're used to having their palates challenged, so I think that mediocre flavors are not good enough. They want some bold flavors, too. IPAs have to be a little hoppier than they would in other parts of the country. Pilsners have to be, probably, a little more bitter, a little more traditional. People around here know what's up. So, that's great because it really challenges us to do our best."
Opportunities: HUB will soon be opening a new location just across the Columbia River in nearby Vancouver, Washington. Ettinger says, "Growing the brewpubs and serving delicious beer in underserved communities and engaging deeply in those communities: That's something near and dear to us."
Needs: "The biggest needs for the brewery have always been the great resources: making sure our contracts are super-solid with regards to organic barley and organic and salmon-safe hops," says Ettinger. "We like to source from companies and farmers that are doing the right thing: the organic protocols, the salmon-safe protocols." (Salmon-safe farming prevents the runoff of agricultural chemicals into fish-bearing streams.)
The company's recent B Corporation certification also provides a "highlighted road map" on ways to improve. Having already scored 96 out of a possible 200 points, Ettinger says it's "set us on a course of looking at the human side: you know, the people who work here and the people in our community. Trying to be a better employer, essentially."