Craft Beer Issue 2018
Conventional wisdom might suggest that Tobias Hahn and Nick Greiner have gone about this whole brewing business backward. But in just a few short years, their German-inspired brewery, Rosenstadt (it’s German for “Rose City”), has grown from a fantasy held by two homebrewing friends into a compulsively drinkable reality. Along the way they’ve built up a solid portfolio of draft accounts, established a diverse line of German-style brews, and won awards for beers that staunchly adhere to German tradition, offering a much-needed antidote to the region’s hoppy, piney ales. And they’ve done all this without their own brewery.
Opening a dedicated Rosenstadt production facility is still in the future for Hahn and Greiner—at the moment they make their beers primarily at Estacada’s Fearless Brewing—but with the recent revamp of Olympia Provisions Public House (OPPH) on Southeast Division into a German-style eatery, there’s now a venue where you can drink your way through several of Rosenstadt’s beers at any time. OPPH has dedicated seven of its tap lines to Rosenstadt’s offerings, in the process becoming the de facto tasting room for a brewery that, up until now, hasn’t had a home of its own.
It’s a brilliant marriage, when you think about it. It allows Olympia Provisions to focus on the charcuterie, sausages, and schnitzel, while Rosenstadt exclusively manages the beer. One only has to think of the countless brewpubs that juggle both beer-making and food prep without fully excelling at either to wonder why this unorthodox model hasn’t been adopted more widely.
Rosenstadt’s German influence is no mere affectation: Hahn grew up in Freiburg, Germany, and was reared on traditional German beers, including the excellent ones made by his hometown’s Feierling brewery. He first started homebrewing while working at a microbiology lab in Tucson and not finding much to drink there beyond Fat Tire. “If you can’t find the beer you like to drink, you make it yourself,” Hahn says.
Greiner’s wife is also German, and Greiner’s and Hahn’s kids have even taken German language classes together. Greiner and Hahn would cross paths at homebrewing supply store F.H. Steinbart’s, where Greiner picked up some hours after catching the homebrewing bug. “It takes over your life,” he says. “It’s like a golf game, but you can share it with other people.” Greiner would notice what Hahn was buying. “German yeast, German grain, German hops—hey, that’s what I make, too!”
Without any professional experience in brewing or running a business, Hahn and Greiner figured they had to make their own way without the help of investments or loans. Their first effort was brewed at Max’s Fanno Creek Brew Pub in Tigard, which had some spare capacity but wasn’t ideally equipped to make German-style beers. Nevertheless, Hahn and Greiner convinced Max’s to let them try, and they came away with a Kölsch that’s still one of Rosenstadt’s trademark offerings. Beermongers bought a keg, then Pizzeria Otto. Trifecta Tavern and the Olympia Provisions restaurant in inner Southeast followed suit.
As it turns out, Portland’s restaurants were especially receptive to Rosenstadt’s restrained, German-style beers. “Specialty beer bars always want something new,” Hahn says. “They buy a keg and then two weeks later they’ll have something else. But certain restaurants will say, ‘Well, I’m going to put this on my menu, and I don’t want to print another menu, so when that keg is out I’m calling you up and I’m going to want another one.’ So there are completely different sets of customers.”
“It’s something we kind of stumbled upon,” Greiner says. “We’d say, ‘We have a German pale ale and a Kölsch.’ And the specialty beer places would ask, ‘Do you have a sour? Something barrel-aged? You have a stout?’ And that’s not really what we do; we do really approachable, nice, tasty, German beers that...”
“...That happen to pair well with food,” says Hahn. “So there were a lot of restaurants that really liked our beer, because most of the beers we do are not overly assertive, if you will. They’re complementary to food.”
Rosenstadt’s made a handful of specialty brews for specific restaurants, including a smoked Altbier for the People’s Pig, a continental-style lager for Clyde Common, and a French-inspired pilsner made with parched wheat for St. Jack.
Olympia Provisions’ head salumist Elias Cairo always loved Rosenstadt’s beers, so when the company decided to overhaul its OP Wurst outpost, it seemed like a natural progression to augment the new German menu with a full line of Rosenstadt beers. “We have similar philosophies,” Greiner says of Olympia Provisions. “Best ingredients, doing it the old-fashioned way, all that sort of stuff. [They said], ‘You guys be yourselves—make the beers, pick seven good ones for us, keep ’em fresh, keep ’em rotating through.’ It took less than half of a second to say, ‘Okay, we’re in.’”
And OPPH is a fantastic place to drink Rosenstadt’s beers: Its spacious patio evokes a traditional German biergarten, and the food on the menu enhances the beers’ subtle strengths, which grow with every sip you take. There’s appropriate glassware for every style, including the outstanding Kölsch, the crisp helles, the roasty dunkel lager, and the thirst-quenching weissbier. It’s taken a long time for authentically German-style beers to catch a toehold in IPA-loving Portland, but Rosenstadt’s are some of the best around.
The backwards business model has turned out well for Rosenstadt. “We originally thought, let’s get a small seven-barrel system, do the brewpub thing, and see what happens,” says Greiner. “But because we’ve had to go about it differently, all of a sudden we’ve developed this wholesale business that is far beyond what we would’ve expected to sell out of a brewpub. We thought we’d have the brewpub that would create the demand for the wholesale, but instead the wholesale has the demand for the brewpub.”
“And now we have to build it,” says Hahn.
Until that day, there’s no better spot to drink a half-liter of locally made, German-style beer than out on the patio at Olympia Provisions Public House.