The brewers walk the catwalk in their flannel shirts and tall rubber boots, occasionally peering into the enormous tanks of the brewing system to check the wort or assess the boil, but mainly hanging out and talking shop. The crew has much to discuss, and much in common. Frank and Patio used to work together in the early brewing days of Seattle. Ty grew up in the Wallowas, where Frank and Tristan brew today. All of these guys brew beer in the mountains of Oregon — unique, delicious brews that celebrate hops, craft brewing and place. And going by the easy banter, joking and big smiles all around, all of them have a heck of a lot of fun brewing beer.
It’s the first collaboration brew day for the brewers of Terminal Gravity Brewing, of Enterprise, and GoodLife Brewing, of Bend. The team is working at GoodLife’s facilities, a 50-barrel brewing system in a big industrial space on the west side of Bend. The beer is named G-Two, for “Good” and “Gravity;” it’s a new recipe for a big, hoppy Imperial red that the team hashed out together, around a table a couple of months ago. G-Two will be brewed in two sessions at both breweries and released on Valentine’s Day (after all, it is a red).
On this early January day, the brewers started their work at 8 a.m. Within the hour, the energy is turned up high. Frank Helderman, head brewer for Terminal Gravity, is sharing the story of how seven years ago he left urban breweries in Seattle and Baltimore to move to tiny Enterprise, where “the TV doesn’t work, the internet isn’t hooked up, the radio’s broken, and I’ve never been happier in my life.” Tristan Bradford grew up in Colorado and came of age at the same time as did Fort Collins’ craft brew scene. He recently graduated from Oregon State University’s fermentation science program, and brought to his first brewing job at Terminal Gravity plenty of the nerdy science of brewing. Today, he’ll happily discuss water-to-gist ratios, “bread class,” and the chemical reactions at the heart of a great melted cheese sandwich. Patio Shea, GoodLife’s lead brewer, has accumulated a couple of decades of brewing experience hopping from lily pad to lily pad in Bend’s burgeoning craft brew scene, having put in time at Deschutes Brewery, Three Creeks Brewing, Crux Fermentation Project, 10 Barrel Brewing Co., and now, GoodLife.
“I swear this is it,” he says above the cacophony of the clank of the bottling line in action on the floor below and the ghetto blaster entertaining the crew, grinning and maintaining his post on the GoodLife catwalk above dozens of shining tanks. Curt Plants is GoodLife’s brewmaster and co-owner, and casually strolls the building tailed by his big black dog, Dutch, making sure the whole crew is fed, watered and probably even sipping off a half-pint of beer (“constant quality control,” he explains).
Many craft breweries do collaboration brews these days, but sometimes that just means sharing a recipe over email. The TG/GL plan is a bit more elaborate, with both teams traveling to each other’s brewery to brew onsite together. “You bring a bunch of old time brewers together, partying, working,” explains Shea, “it brings people together. It brings ideas together.” This synergy is palpable in the room, rising up along with the smell of fermenting grain and steeping hops.
Terminal Gravity’s beers are malt-heavy, British influenced concoctions with heavy bittering characteristics, influenced heavily by the Wallowa Mountain’s hard water. GoodLife’s beers are aromatic, drinkable and made with plenty of Pacific Northwest-grown hops. But both breweries are similar in their dedication to craft, connection to place and the people who drink their beer. “Locality is part of our process,” says Terminal Gravity marketing manager Kevin Harlander. “The essence of our operation is a summer day at the pub.” GoodLife is named for the celebration of the “good life” that happens in Bend — one based on outdoor play and good friends. Both breweries also see beer as a personal, organic enterprise — an expression of art. “Beer isn’t ‘product’,” says Harlander. “It’s somebody’s creation.” When the idea to collaborate arose, it was those similarities as well as the connections between team members that made the idea a no-brainer.
Before noon, all but Shea, who maintains his post over the tanks, gather in the pub. Conversation is still going strong. Casey O’Brien, of GoodLife’s sales team, distributes beer-cheese soup made with Mountain Rescue ale, fresh made in the kitchen this morning. Tasters of both brewery’s beers circulate, and camaraderie and rich flavor dominate the vibe. It’s a workday, but it feels like a party. “Pretty soon I’m going to have to go run some errands,” says O’Brien. “But brew day is fun.”
G-Two Imperial Ale will be available for a limited time at both breweries beginning on Valentine’s Day. Two release parties will be held, one at GoodLife Brewing on February 14 (which is also Zwickelmania — a statewide day to celebrate beer) and one at Bailey’s Taproom in Portland on February 16.