THE BAVARIAN ZOIGL brewing tradition is centered on community. The word applies to communal, small-village brewing systems in which homebrewers share a central facility to make their beer. The brewers then take turns serving their concoctions at temporary pubs operated out of their homes; the term Zoiglbier broadly blankets the type of beer—unfiltered brews similar to German-style Kellerbiers—these Bavarians make via their shared, wood-fired brewing systems.
Zoiglhaus Brewing Company holds a common philosophy with this obscure tradition, even if it doesn't practice it the same way (or, at least, not yet). Instead, the newly opened, humongous brewpub feels like the furthest thing from a cozy, impromptu drinking den in your neighbor's house. Which is fine: Zoiglhaus is poised to draw together its surrounding community in a more concrete and lasting way.
The most exciting thing about the brewery—from Pints Brewing Company's Alan Taylor and Chad Rennaker—is the way it geographically expands our city's beer map. It's the southeasternmost of Portland's many breweries, offering ample room for 200-plus customers alongside a menu of sessionable beers. And it's more than just another family-friendly brewpub (although it is absolutely that): Whether by intent or happenstance, Zoiglhaus has shouldered the role of focal point for the developing Lents neighborhood—a totemic business for the area that's less than a stone's throw from the local MAX stop, and a common space for residents to enjoy easy-to-drink beer and rib-sticking food.
The beer, however, is not made on site just yet, as the brewhouse is still being set up. In the meantime, Taylor makes Zoiglhaus' brews at the Pints facility downtown. Whether the styles and recipes will shift dramatically once the on-site brewery is up and running remains to be seen. Some reports indicate that Zoiglhaus will eventually share its brewery with other brewers and projects, in the Zoigl tradition. As of now, five regulars and five seasonals make up a sturdy roster of beers, nicely priced at $4.50 ($3.50 at happy hour; $2 tasters).
Generally speaking, it's best to stick with the more robust of Zoiglhaus' German-style beers. The seasonal Belmont Bock is roasty and full, and the black Schwarzbier is crisp and excellently nuanced. The Zoigl Hefe-Weissbier, meanwhile, goes for the traditional Bavarian style rather than the hoppy but streamlined Pacific Northwest iteration. If Zoiglhaus' hefe is not as brilliant as the best German versions, it works on its own terms, with appealing banana esters and a light zippy quality.
The Lents Lager, however, is a limp interpretation of the compulsively drinkable Helles style, and the Kicker Kölsch is similarly unexceptional. You'll be better off with Zoiglhaus' stabs at American brewpub standbys, like the satisfyingly hoppy IPA, and the Milk Chocolate Porter made with cacao nibs, which isn't overly sweet. A red ale and a seasonal bière de garde are also worth trying. The only other dud on the menu I encountered was the PDC Pale (named for the Portland Development Commission, which made significant investments in the Lents neighborhood, paving the way for Zoiglhaus' opening); a single-hop golden ale made with Polaris hops, it crumpled under the competition.
The food, meanwhile, carries on the fine Teutonic tradition of filling up bellies as opposed to dazzling tastebuds. You should get the Flammkuchen ($8-10, or $6 at happy hour), a flatbread-style "pizza" that's crispy and unusual. I had an off-menu variety with bacon, goat cheese, and fried jalapeños that deserves to become a standby. The Jägerschnitzel plate ($13)—pork cutlets, spätzle, and a lot of mushroom gravy—was disappointingly bland, and the currywurst (sausage, fries, and curry ketchup; $7, happy hour $4) didn't quite stick the landing, missing the essential spiciness that makes that weird combination of flavors work. But the cheese-loaded fries ($8), served with dill sour cream in both meat and vegetarian varieties, were great and decadent, like a German take on nachos in the very best way.
Zoiglhaus' greatest strength is its embrace of the surrounding neighborhood and all its denizens, regardless of age. A Saturday afternoon visit found the place packed with families, while a Sunday night visit was quiet with a handful of low-key drinkers. With its spacious layout and kid-play zone, Zoiglhaus feels substantially more utilitarian than some of the flashier, beer-knurd-baiting taprooms around town. That's a good thing. Sure, none of the beers outright wow, but several are good enough for repeat consumption. And the food menu effectively emphasizes comfort, providing a worthwhile counterpoint to its modest beers. If Zoiglhaus is nothing to write home about, that's because it already feels like home.