RIGHT NOW, you might need to use your imagination a little as you approach Wayfinder Beer. The brewpub is still a few weeks from opening in the space next door to the former Branx club—just around the corner from Produce Row Café, the beer bar and restaurant that opened in the Central Eastside Industrial District 40 years ago. But soon enough, you'll be sitting in Wayfinder's 120-seat beer garden, perched under an umbrella, peering out at the Portland skyline from SE 2nd with the whir of vehicles speeding or perhaps inching onto I-5 from the Morrison Bridge. To keep you company, you'll have a chewy house-baked pretzel and delicate Wayfinder pilsner served in a Seidel mug—those dimpled, rounded mugs where the width softens up the beer's free-range carbonation bubbles and keeps the huge, foamy, white head perfect.
The ambitious Wayfinder Beer, scheduled to open later this spring, aims to be a hybrid of a German beer hall and a Northwest gastropub. Rather than one marksman shooting for this target, the project has three partners and a capable brewmaster who are all well versed at hitting the bull's-eye.
Wayfinder found its roots in Charlie Devereux's search for his next beer project after departing Double Mountain Brewing in Hood River. He quickly teamed up with Sizzle Pie's Matt Jacobson, who he describes as a "serial entrepreneur." The third partner is Podnah's Pit's Rodney Muirhead. Yes, the menu calls for amazingly prepared meats, including house-ground sausages.
To wash down those sausages, Kevin Davey will keep 16 house beers on tap. Of those, expect eight of them to be lagers. That's right in Davey's wheelhouse. His résumé includes stints at Chuckanut Brewing in Bellingham, Firestone Walker in Central California, and Gordon Biersch in Seattle. The latter is where he earned a gold medal in 2014 for his Munich-style Helles. A Helles is a bright, straw-colored lager, one of the most delicate beer styles on Earth. So look for this delicacy out of the four-vessel, 10-barrel brew house that they're waiting to be delivered from local brewery manufacturer JV Northwest.
"It's not very sexy to say I'm gonna make a light, yellow beer," Davey admits from inside the nearly 9,000-square-foot brick-walled space that will seat an additional 100 guests indoors. "But I'm gonna make a light, yellow beer that tastes really good.... I think the IPA drinker will be really impressed with the first two sips and the lager drinker will be really impressed by the last two sips."
A highlight of the shiny new brewing system that particularly excites Davey and Devereux is the fourth vessel for decocting (most contemporaries make do with three). Decoction provides for temperature-controlled mashing, giving brewers greater control over temperature rise during the boil. Think of this as beer's caterpillar stage where the liquid—wort—tastes like sweet tea made from Grape-Nuts before hops and yeast turn it into a beautiful butterfly. Decoction has a prodigious effect on the resulting lager's malt character, and German or Czech brewers would never think to omit this part of the process.
Freshness, like authenticity, counts. German-style brewing isn't absent in the Portland area, it's just rare. Apart from Widmer's American interpretations of German beer styles, Heater Allen was among the first to truly pick up the mantle in 2007, when Rick Allen launched his brewery in McMinnville. Then came Occidental Brewing in St. Johns in 2011. Alan Taylor studied brewing in Germany long before he started producing great lagers at Pints Brewing and, now, its sister brewpub, SE Foster's Zoiglhaus, which opened late last year. And contract brewery Rosenstadt features an actual German, Tobias Hahn, doing the brewing. Pilsners, undoubtedly the most popular style in the lager family, now hail from even those breweries that put their Belgian faces forward, such as Upright, the Commons, and Pfriem (which won a silver medal for their pilsner at last year's Great American Beer Festival). It's not as if no one's doing pilsner around here. It's just that Davey will likely get to do three.
There's the original Czech pils (a touch sweet, a bit spicy from Saaz hops), and German pils (perhaps drier and bitterer), and this being the Northwest, we're seeing bigger pilsners dry-hopped with Northwest hops in lieu of grassy noble hops from Hallertau. Standing next to Davey, Devereux mentions that the brewer made a Mosaic-hopped pils at Gordon Biersch that he refers to as "that hybrid thing."
We haven't even mentioned what kind of IPA to expect at Wayfinder. At this point, it's a bit nebulous. "IPAs are all about nouveau hops," says Devereux, "and providing good vehicles for what makes them different." He adds, "We're in the honeymoon phase where we have a million and one ideas. And we'll explore them all." In other words, look for something Belgian-y. Or several American twists on the classics. Or come in without expectations. Just don't come in anticipating taste bud-obliterating IPAs. "We don't have anything against IPA.... All things being equal, lager is probably more food-friendly," says Devereux.
Though there was talk about grilled pizzas—which would've made sense with their Sizzle Pie and Double Mountain DNA—prepare to sink your teeth into a Podnah's spin on pub grub, such as a cheesesteak, with prime rib from their own smoker on a roll from their own bakery. And New Orleans-style po'boys. And a carnivorous array of proteins grilled on an Argentine-style wood-fired stove, though veggies benefit from being cooked that way, too. In other words: everything from scratch. "It's a cliché," says Devereux, "but we'll be trying to elevate the average pub experience."
Asked how much patrons can expect to spend, say, for a couple of pints, a pretzel, and a sausage, Devereux implied that lunches could start around 10 bucks and dinner at around double that. Of course, if you'd prefer a cocktail in lieu of beer, there'll be a full bar, with spirits savant Jacob Grier heading the program.
As a fun aside, Davey's planning on making house sodas naturally through fermentation. They won't be gauche "hard sodas," nor will they be for Die Kinder. By fermenting their own lemon soda separately, Wayfinder won't have to tie up tank space in order to make a popular summery radler, because they can mix it at the bar, similar to the way Hopworks does at their three pubs. And, since Grier authored Cocktails on Tap: The Art of Mixing Spirits and Beer, we can safely look forward to some beer cocktails to boot. (Or should that be Das Boot?)
There's still the buildout to finish and the brewing equipment to install, but the Wayfinder Beer crew is hoping to get their lagers into people's mouths as soon as June. With all these talents coming together, we expect great things—and to be situated in Wayfinder's outdoor beer garden all summer long.