Brew in the ‘Couve

Cobalt Designworks owners Jennifer Corio and Dave Frei
Brewpub
With plans to open up shop in Washougal, Portland’s Amnesia Brewing is one of a number of Portland breweries that have targeted Southwest Washington’s favorable business environment. Photo: Buck Heidrick

In the past two years, the number of microbreweries in the Clark County has grown to eight – with one closure and four opening. More are in the works, and aficionados are for the first time planning two Vancouver brew festivals this summer.

Among the recent arrivals are Mount Tabor Brewing, drawn from Portland by Vancouver’s lower real estate costs, and Highland Beer, founded by home brewers who left their day jobs and became entrepreneurs. Then there’s Amnesia Brewing, a successful Portland brewpub that chose Washougal when it decided to expand, following in the footsteps of trailblazer McMenamins, with two Clark County locations, and Laurelwood Public House and Brewery, in Battle Ground
since 2009.

Beer vats
Photo: Buck Heidrick
“I’d love to get ‘beervana’ going in Vancouver,” said Sunny Parsons, owner of Heathen Brewing. Parsons attributed the local beer boom to state laws that make very small breweries easier to set up than in much of the country, a supportive business scene and a customer base that’s thirsty for local brews.

Mike DeKalb, owner of Laurelwood Brewing Co. and a 1978 Battle Ground High School grad, said he’s been surprised by the sophistication of Clark County customers.

“We thought we would probably sell a lot of our golden ale,” which is closer to nationally distributed lagers than most of the drinks on the menu, DeKalb said. “We’re finding people order the same mix of beers in Battle Ground as in Portland.”

Sam Simms and Don Stewart, owners of West Highland Brewing in Vancouver, said getting licensed to make beer
in a home-based business, rather than a commercial space, was trickier than they’d anticipated. They credit the Washington Small Business Development Center and counselors at SCORE, with helping them navigate confusing bureaucratic waters as they developed their business and perfected their beers.

Juliano’s Pizzeria has started serving some West Highland brews, and Simms and Stewart hope to soon reach more area taps. With each state regulating liquor sales separately, however, they’ve been frustrated to realize they don’t have access to Oregon outlets. “You see dollar signs on the other side of the river,” Simms said. “But we can’t sell there.”

The same laws that make it hard for locals to sell in Portland create challenges for Oregon beer fans who want to taste Washington microbrews, said Andrew Stromberg, co-organizer of the first Vancouver Brewfest, scheduled August 10-11 at Esther Short Park.

Andrew Stromberg and Cody Gray
Andrew Stromberg and Cody Gray are the organizers behind the first Vancouver Brewfest, scheduled for August 10-11 at Esther Short Park. Photo: Buck Heidrick
He hopes to draw Oregonians curious about Washington brews, as well as locals who aren’t willing to drive to Portland for a beer festival.

Stromberg credits By the Bottle, a Vancouver specialty beer vendor, with helping to nurture Clark County’s brewing scene. By the Bottle has for several years hosted its own small-scale Who’s Your Daddy Beer Festival, at Turtle Place park. The Father’s Day weekend event will return this year on June 16.

Devon Bray, co-owner of fledgling Loowit Brewing (under construction at Columbia and West Fifth streets in downtown Vancouver), said he sees all of this activity as a natural extension of a Pacific Northwest beer culture that’s been fermenting for years.

“Portland and Seattle are obvious hubs for the regional brewing scene, but there is definitely an underserved market in Southwest Washington,” Bray said. “Over the years, we’ve spent so much time and money traveling to Portland for great beer. It’s time Vancouver had its own destinations to keep those consumer dollars from going across the river to Portland.”

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