After recently profiling 21st Amendment in San Francisco, I decided to focus on a local brewer. Although I had never tasted Vertigo Brewing’s beer, I heard a lot of good feedback, so I decided to check them out. I stopped by Vertigo's brewery in Hillsboro, OR on a rainy Saturday afternoon to sample some beer and chat with co-owners Michael Kinion and Mike Haines.
How did you guys get started?
We’ve been homebrewing since the mid-90’s and have always had a passion for beer. A lot of people liked our beer and wanted to buy it. But as homebrewers, we couldn’t sell to them. So we decided to give it a go as professionals. We’ve been operating as a brewery since September ’08 and it’s been pretty crazy so far.
How do you distinguish yourself in a crowded Portland beer market? What’s your niche?
Being a small brewery actually helps. People seek us out because they’re looking for something different. Our beer is unique because we brew to either the low or high ends of each beer’s style guidelines—our beer isn’t mainstream. As an example, our porter is at the high end of style guidelines for alcohol and our amber rates at the high end for IBUs.
What are your most popular beers?
Friar Mike’s IPA is our best seller. Our fruit beers, Razz Wheat and Apricot Cream Ale, are also very popular. For Razz, we add raspberries to secondary fermentation, then we filter and perform a tertiary fermentation. We’d like to make Apricot Cream Ale a summer seasonal, but Henry’s Tavern in downtown Portland has it on tap year-round. So we have 7 flagship beers and a few seasonals that never went away.
How do you brew your beer?
We use a one-barrel system (2 kegs or 31 gallons). With this system, the two of us brew six batches (which takes about 20 hours) to fill one of our fermenters. We recently purchased a new a new 7 barrel system. After the new system is installed, we’ll be able to brew one big batch to fill a fermenter. This will save us a lot of time. We’ve been brewing about 25-30 barrels a month, which means we brew every 2-4 days.
All of our beers are ales. Most of them take 14-17 days, depending on style. Big, high-alcohol beers need more time to ferment and age. But in general, most are ready to go in 17 days.
How to you distribute?
We currently do keg sales, dock sales, and growler fills. We self-distribute within the Portland Metro area. Once our 7 barrel system is running, we expect to work with a distributor who will sell our beer and broaden our reach.
When we first started the brewery, we made a lot of sales calls. But lately, demand has been grass-roots. People who’ve had our beer are going to restaurants and asking for it. So now, we’re getting calls from restaurants. It’s hard to get tap handles, but once we get in, we do very well.
Are you considering bottling?
We are. Bottling lines are very expensive. We plan to use a mobile bottling outfit that fills 22 oz bottles. We’ll be able to do this after our new 7 barrel system is up and running.
Have you thought about canning your beer?
We’d love to can. It makes a lot of sense in the Northwest, where people are active and like to get outdoors. There are some drawbacks though—you need to buy a truckload of cans and have a lot of storage space.
We have a Vanilla Porter and a Jack Daniels Stout. We’re also planning to make a Coffee Porter for the Holiday Ale Festival.
One last question...who is the Mike in “Friar Mike”?
Neither of us. We have a friend named Mike who really likes IPAs. Mike had some friends who asked him to officiate their wedding. Mike found that for $50 he could become ordained though the Internet as a Reverend or for $55 he could be Friar. He chose to be a Friar. He helped us to develop our IPA recipe so we named the beer after him.