Craft Beer Issue 2018
Although Thirsty Monk opened its first pub in Asheville, North Carolina, its Northwest roots are strong. CEO Barry Bialik spent several years living in Seattle and Alaska, and some of his formative beer experiences came from writing about beer for the Anchorage Press, which he cofounded. Barry’s wife lived in Portland for 17 years, and his brother Opus, who operates Thirsty Monk’s newly opened Portland pub, recently moved here after a long time living in Seattle. “We have so many friends and family in Portland, so this gives us another reason to be here,” says Barry.
They’d been keeping their eye out for the right place to bring their unique, Belgian-inspired beers to Portland, and when established Belgian beer bar Bazi Bierbrasserie became available, it was a perfect fit. Thirsty Monk is now up and running in Bazi’s former space just off Southeast Hawthorne, with 10 of their house beers on tap augmented by a wide range of Belgian and Belgian-influenced beers.
“The Belgian approach to beer is that each individual beer is its own style,” says Opus. “It’s a very American thing to do to classify everything—Belgians don’t even recognize a lot of the categories their beers go under. They just see beer as light and dark, and beyond that, everything is its own unique beer. And the Thirsty Monk beers play into that, because each beer we make is its own style.”
Right now, almost all of Thirsty Monk’s lineup is made at their Denver brewery, though they just brewed their first beer in Portland at Carson Haney’s Dirty Pretty Brewing (formerly Ross Island Brewing). Thirsty Monk plans to open its own small brewery in town, either in the back of the recently acquired Bazi space—there’s room for it, but the 100-year-old building poses some challenges—or somewhere else.
The pub, meanwhile, is casual, inviting, and not all that different from its former incarnation, retaining the big screen where regulars can watch soccer. Opus and Barry say they want to keep the tradition of Bazi’s former owner, Hilda Stevens, of introducing and converting new drinkers to the wide, wild world of Belgian beers.
Thirsty Monk has a few unique tricks up its sleeve, too. The menu pairs six different food flights with six different Thirsty Monk beers. It also has six burger options, similarly paired. “We’ve created these special kind of ‘snack packs,’” Barry explains. “Each food flight has a protein, a grain, a cheese, and a preserve in it. And the whole idea is that each item pairs with the kind of beer that you’re drinking.”
Their “Belgian” food flight, for example, pairs their Abby Blonde with a casual spread of roasted garlic chickpeas, cranberry almond relish, Gouda, and wheat crackers, served in little ramekins slotted into a bulky wooden tray. Sure enough, every bite and sip works wonderfully well, in an unpretentious but palate-stimulating way. “The secret is balance,” says Opus.
Meanwhile, the Bialiks know they’re introducing Thirsty Monk to a city with no shortage of beer options. “There are a lot of breweries in town, but our beers are unique,” Barry says. “People have asked, ‘How are you going into these competitive markets like Portland and Denver?’ And we’ve held our own. We do it a little differently; our beers are different, and we have the food program with the pairings. But most importantly, we’re really going for that neighborhood pub experience.”