De Garde Brewing

Even in beer-drenched Oregon, de Garde is a rarity. The Tillamook brewery—which specializes in “sour” beers—caught on like wildfire from its very first batch, and the momentum has only picked up since then. Perhaps more than any other brewer in the Pacific Northwest, de Garde’s devotees claim the brewery as their own, and share a sense of community that you wouldn’t expect for a business whose clientele typically drives 75 miles each way to visit. And now they’re finally moving into a space that’s worthy of the acclaim their beers have earned.

The true origins of de Garde may have been lost to the mists of time (and rehashed beer articles), but some facts are indisputable. In 2013, after several years of dedicated homebrewing and a lifetime of “study,” Linsey Hamacher (now Rogers) and Trevor Rogers decided to start a brewery out of their garage, focusing on wild-fermented ale. The site for their venture was Tillamook—literally a cow town, known chiefly for the Tillamook Cheese Factory and not much else. Despite starting with what can only be described as “not enough money,” demand for de Garde exploded. Quickly in need of more space, they moved out of the “brew-rage” and into a nondescript rented warehouse in the shadow of a WWII blimp hangar on the outskirts of town.

The Rogers purchased their new property in late 2015, and after two years of work and waiting, de Garde’s new brewhouse and taproom is set to open in the coming weeks. At a time when most breweries are looking to increase distribution and brew in ever-greater quantities, de Garde has stayed true to its beginnings, making this move with quality rather than quantity in mind.

The new brewery began life in downtown Tillamook nearly a century ago as a feed store, eventually becoming a Napa Auto Parts before sitting vacant for the last few years. By updating an older building, de Garde hopes to maintain its original character while simultaneously changing the space into a working brewery. Safe to say, it needed some major work.

“We’re lucky that we were able to make this happen, largely through Linsey’s dedication and efforts,” Trevor says, “but it certainly was not a sure thing that we were going to be able to—or to survive the delays and cost overruns.”

The renovations included removing old oil tanks and performing an environmental cleanup. A new second floor was added, the roof and bottom floor were replaced, and two additions were built. Additionally, the brewery is moving away from aging the beer in 220-liter wine barrels to larger 500- and 2,000-liter oak tanks. The second floor will hold as many as 246 of these 500-liter oak tanks—requiring a fair bit of engineering to support the approximately 260,000 pounds of beer.

According to Trevor, the switch to the larger vessels is about more than just efficiency. The bigger tanks reduce the introduction of oxygen into the brewing process, a crucial factor in de Garde’s long aging process—22 months on average—and result in a more complex beer.

The tasting room is in a newly built extension into what was formerly part of the parking lot. There’s a covered outdoor area that’s dog-friendly, and customers will be able to bring in food from nearby restaurants and stores.

The new facility, however, begs a comparison with another Oregon brewery—the Commons, which is closing its doors on November 11. Both started as garage-based home breweries and rose to prominence at the same time, but while de Garde has thrived, the Commons went underwater after acquiring their large facility in Southeast Portland.

Different circumstances and unique business needs aside, the comparison provides an example of how difficult it can be for a brewery to succeed on a large scale in a contracting market, and demonstrates the dangers of taking on too much debt. The Commons was always well-liked, but never quite had the cultish dedication of de Garde; furthermore, de Garde has sold the majority of its beer in-house, eliminating distribution costs that for some breweries run as high as 30 to 40 percent. De Garde also runs a membership program called “The Keepers,” pre-selling beers before release, and its success provided them with a helpful injection of liquid capital.

With a new building on the cusp of opening and a rabid fan base excited for the prospect of better beers and better parties, the folks at de Garde have a lot to look forward to.

“You know, we started on a ridiculously small budget because it’s all we could do,” Trevor says. “We’ve grown a lot from there, through both a lot of effort but also a lot of luck. We know that we’ve been incredibly fortunate to have the reception that we do, and are humbled and grateful for the support we’ve received and continue to receive.”