Ask most journalists, who smith in the craft of epicurean reporting and they will probably confirm that once they hit ‘submit’, on a new opening they probably won’t go back in a few years to check back on their progress. Sure there are breweries, wineries, cideries (etc.) that are worth revisiting but only as a consumer and not as a writer.
Then there are the rare destinations. You know the type, several hours away or requiring a multi-hour wait time. The kind of place that upon arrival you question why you took so long to come back. pFriem Family Brewers, located along the shoreline of the Columbia River is one of those destinations that remind you what a brewpub should be.
pFriem Family Brewers: 5 years of never settling, always expanding.
Left to right, Josh Pfriem, Ken Whiteman, and Rudy Kellner. Photos sourced from pFriem Family Brewers.
Back in 2012, with the goal of brewing Belgian-style ales, complimented with German-inspired lagers, Josh Pfriem approached Ken Whiteman and Rudy Kellner with the promise of producing award-winning beers, paired with regionally-sourced kitchen ingredients, complimented with the Columbia River in the windy town of Hood River. Since 2012, the brewery has celebrated countless anniversaries, numerous awards and accolades, while growing its brewery and staff. But in order to grasp the overall changes we've included this timeline.
2012 - Josh Pfriem and his silent partners assume the responsibility of 6,000 square feet, to develop a brewery/tasting room/kitchen inside the Hayland building.
2013 - pFriem Family Brewers assumes ownership of an addition 4,000 square feet, resulting in the development of the barrel-program.
2015 - pFriem Family Brewers, after years of draft distribution, announces the release of 23 bottled offerings including their first beers to use non-Saccharomyces yeast strains, with the release of Flanders Red and Blonde
2016 - With the continued popularity of their beers both at the pub and abroad, pFriem Family Brewers acquires the remaining 10,000 sq. ft. of space within the Hayland building.
2018 - The brewery announces an ambitious 100 unique beers throughout the year, including their latest experimental (barrel-aged) beer “Nectarine Golden Ale”
Recalling the last sip of beer isn’t the same as drinking it, so we drove to Hood River.
Realizing a few years’ of dust and dander had accumulated in our collective consciousness since we last visited the brewery (let alone Hood River), we drove down through traffic-congested interstates and highways, to meet up with Josh and Rudy Kellner for a tour of both the brewery as well as learn more about the kitchen.
Starting with the brewery we were shocked to learn the same 15 bbl (barrel) brewery used in previous years was still in use and through labor efficiencies, it's anticipated this workhorse will brew almost 19,000 barrels by end of this year compared with 17,000 the year prior. To put that in comparison a brewery within the same square footage (20,000 sq. feet) might be using a 30 bbl or 60 bbl brewery, resulting in at least 30 barrels of beer at a time. Instead, head brewer Gavin Lord and his assistants have filled the empty space with additional fermenters. Did we mention they also have a barrel-aging area?
Located a short distance from the brewery’s “clean side”, where they only use the “Saccharomyces” yeast strains (used in lagers and ales), the brewery has acquired over 600 wooden barrels previously used to ferment wine, sherry, and other fermented liquids. In addition to these barrels, the brewery has two foeders, which are native to wineries but have increased in popularity amongst breweries. These investments have birthed beers like 2018 “Nectarine Golden Ale” which is currently available on draft and in bottles. As always, never satisfied, the brewers have purchased a coolship which will assist the brewery with producing spontaneously fermented beers.
Before long we were back in an upstairs area, not previously known to us in 2012. It is here, that Josh, Rudy Kellner, and head brewer Gavin Lord invited to curate beers from their draft/bottle list (featuring over 20 unique beers on draft) while Executive Chef Justin Congdon provided us with a spread including hummus, charcuterie, pickled vegetables (and mushrooms), as well as a few sausages infused with various local ingredients. All of this allowed Josh, Gavin, and Rudy, to remind us of a few facts about both the pub and the brewery.
- Believe it or not, the most popular beers that people seek out are pFriem’s Pilsner and India Pale Ale. In fact, this accounts for over 70% of their overall sales. Which allows the brewery to spend time on their limited-edition beers like the barrel-aged and select series of beers (like the Golden Nectarine Ale).
- Despite being in Hood River, over 70% of overall sales from those in Portland or the Greater Portland area. Because of this, the owners have no current plans to open a location in or around Portland.
- Everything we enjoyed during our time with the owners was locally produced or locally acquired, from the fruits that go into the barrel-aged beers (like their Bobessen, Peche, or Kriek) to the meats and cheeses that paired so well with the numerous items on the draft menu. If you don’t believe us, we encourage you to take a look at their menu which takes into account the availability of ingredients.
The sun long since receded into the horizon of the Gorge, we started towards the exit before Josh Rudy, and Gavin tapped one of us on the shoulder to ask if we saw the side-bar.
That’s right, the brewpub with a prominent bar as you walk in, has a smaller bar, just to the right when you come in. Inside you’ll find draft-beer for takeaway or on-site consumption as well as bottled beers. After years spent watching thirsty guests with or without pending reservations, it made sense to increase the accessibility of bottled or draft beer.
Shaking hands with Josh, Gavin, and Keller we suddenly recalled what makes pFriem Family Brewers so special. It’s in the name the business. Family. During our previous visits, the brewpub staff provided positive accommodations while our reservation was pending or in something as innocuous as getting a growler to go. Even now as we leave the owners we have to admit the whole experience was welcoming and felt like family. Maybe that’s the reason people love the ownership, the brewers, and the brewpub staff; because they make you feel like you matter with each sip of beer.
Special thanks to Josh pFriem, Gavin Lord, Michelle Humphrey, and Rudy Kellner for taking the time on a busy Friday to provide us a reminder on what we've missed, and why we shouldn't wait so long to return. We can assure you we will be back soon. But for now, keep the beers coming as always.