“We never set out to be an IPA house,” says Breakside Brewmaster Ben Edmunds, who was the founding brewer of Breakside Brewery when it opened in 2010. “We were known in the Northwest in a small way more as an experimental brewery before 2014 when our IPAs won at the Great American Beer Festival.” That year, Breakside took home a gold medal for its Breakside IPA in the American IPA category and a bronze for its Wanderlust IPA in the American-Style Strong Pale Ale category. Despite the hardware, Edmunds says, “We were not known as a hoppy beer powerhouse by any means. In fact, until that fall, Pilsner was our best-selling beer.”
Breakside has also won GABF and World Beer Cup medals for its Breakside Session Brown, Breakside ESB, Passionfruit Sour, Breakside Dry Stout, Breakside Smoked Porter, Will’s Alt, Rye Curious?, and Lunch Break India Session Ale (ISA). “We cast a wide set of beers, which reflects my brewpub interest,” says Edmunds.
Edmunds found craft beer looking for local food. “I was in college in Connecticut in 2004, and at that point in time, ‘slow food’ was considered a European thing. There was no real regionalism in terms of farm-to-table dining or beer at restaurants on the East Coast,” he says. “My friends and I were really into that, though—we’d take a weekend road trip to go hiking and head to a local brewpub afterward. We figured that even if food was bought from a wholesale supplier, at least the beer was made on site.”
Edmunds’s travels took him to many a brewpub before he eventually developed an interest in homebrewing and then professional brewing. He went on to study brewing at the Siebel Institute of Technology and the Doemens Academy, and he landed in Portland where he’s now one of the co-owners and the brewmaster at Breakside.
Since its opening, Breakside has grown handsomely from a small tasting room on Dekum Street in northeast Portland to a mid-size production brewery in the Milwaukie neighborhood (a suburb just south of Portland), crafting more than 20,000 barrels per year and distributing to eight states and Canada. Despite rapid growth, Edmunds and crew still experiment with small-batch brews, releasing more than 100 different beers each year. They also offer a seasonal, organic food menu that’s mostly sourced from the state of Oregon.
“IPAs keep the lights on for us, and Pilsner to a lesser degree, but we’ve also made beers with Sungold tomatoes and pluots,” Edmunds says. Whether it’s the food menu or the beer menu, he drives home that Breakside is always focused on quality. “Our company philosophy includes the notion that if we’re going to do anything, we’re going to do it at the top level.”
That quality focus is critical in Portland, where more than sixty brewing companies operate within 145 square miles. A good majority of those breweries also happen to make hoppy beers. “We make an effort to differentiate,” Edmunds says, “and we can because we are living in a time where there is a proliferation of hops varietals on the market that has never been seen before. We’re seeing hops that are distinct and awesome, with much fruitier, more woodsy, and coconut flavors, for example.”
The Breakside IPA—brewed with Columbus, Falconer’s Flight, Chinook, and Citra hops—brings together tropical fruit flavors, hints of evergreen, and caramel sweetness. Wanderlust, Breakside’s golden IPA, is brewed with Cascade, Summit, Mosaic, and Amarillo hops. This dank, grapefruit-esque beer has a light grain bill to make way for its pungent hops to pop. The hops bill in Breakside’s American IPAs changes regularly, Edmunds explains, depending on the changes in varieties at each harvest. The combination of Columbus, Citra, Centennial, and Chinook is one of their favorites.
“There’s a whole range of IPA being made in the industry and even just at Breakside,” Edmunds says. “More aggressive and rich versions, sweeter and under-bittered ones, as well as the more austere type that we make. It’s just like the different expressions of pinot noir in France and pinot noir in Oregon. But, we’re not limited by our geography or by style, so we like to brew hoppy beers with an eye toward variety and new ingredients. For us, it gives us the chance to think about hops beyond the parameters of American IPA or pale ale.”
Hops are huge when it comes to beer flavor, but Edmunds reiterates that they aren’t everything. “People want to make an IPA and they focus a lot on hops—which they should—but I also think that before you can think about making a great hoppy beer, you have to have two non-hops components on lock,” he says. He further advises homebrewers to develop an effective way to minimize oxygen pickup and find a consistent way to control pH. “If you can’t control pH, you won’t be able to control your hops, and if you can’t keep oxygen low, you’ll lose all that awesome hops aroma.”
Edmunds also takes to heart that hops profiles change over time, losing perceived freshness, dankness, and other flavor profiles. He suggests further controlling hops by designing beers to have what he calls a flavor curve. “When we build a hops flavor profile, we’re maximizing freshness at day thirty,” he explains. The hops profile of those beers is brewed to last because “that’s when the average consumer is walking into a liquor store and pulling our beers off the shelf.”
Next up for Breakside is a new brewpub, the Slabtown Pub, named after its neighborhood in the industrial northwest area of Portland, slated to open in 2017. “As we grow, we want to be at the forefront of how breweries treat their employees in this industry,” Edmunds says proudly. “We offer a lot of benefits to retain our employees. Craft beer is a young person’s industry, but they won’t be young forever. If I have to open a preschool in the brewery to keep our staff around, I will do it. I think mid-size breweries need to do a better job of retaining employees, and I want to lead that conversation.”
Going forward, Breakside is also leading conversations about sustainable sourcing of brewpub food, dynamic hoppy beers that reflect the harvest, and curated brewpub tap lists that offer a worldly variety of well-made beer styles. As a company, Breakside embodies the “act locally, think globally” concept that Edmunds puts best. “We want to be citizens of the beer world.”
Want to brew a Breakside Brewery IPA? Check out the homebrew-scaled recipe Ben Edmunds shared.
PHOTO: EMMA BROWNE PHOTOGRAPHY