Garage to taproom - new business to open in Gresham
Jason Blair worked on his stepfather's 6-acre Spencer Guernsey Dairy Farm and often found himself surrounded by bovines.
"I was often with cows growing up, sometimes even angry ones," Blair said with a laugh. "Occasionally you would shout, 'that's one mad cow,' and that name stuck with me."
MadCow became the name of Blair's homebrewing operation, in which he would craft beers in his garage and win awards with them at local competitions. He named those brews following his childhood — Old Rusty Barn Scotch Ale, Evening Milking Stout, Homestead Saison, Dark Fields Imperial Stout, Golden Guernsey Honey Rye, to name a few.
Eventually, when Blair and his wife Kelly moved their shared passion for brewing beer into a commercial endeavor back in 2017, it was under the name MadCow Brewing Company.
"I love brewing because it blends science and art — I can make something with my own twist," Blair said.
MadCow is a true micro-brewery — with Blair saying "nano-brewery" is probably a better description. The slogan is brewing "one great beer one barrel at a time." The benefit of such a small scale production means that Blair can experiment more than his larger competitors, because he never gets locked into massive quantities of beer. That means more rotation of variety and bold ideas for seasonal releases.
In 2018, MadCow was the smallest brewery serving at the Oregon Holiday Ale Festival, and held the same distinction during the 2019 Oregon Brewers Festival.
"Some people think I am crazy for brewing on a small scale, but I don't want to be that big guy with a massive system," Blair said.
He makes his beer in a converted room off the garage of a home the couple purchased in Gresham, with a setup only slightly more robust than his homebrewing days. MadCow has one brewing system; four fermenters; one Unitank and one Brite tank. All of that allows the brewery to keep 8-12 beers in rotation.
"This has been a labor of love for us," Blair said.
But one of Gresham's smallest breweries is getting a little bit bigger. MadCow is taking a big step by opening a taproom this spring, which will be located at 686 N.W. Eastman Parkway in the Gresham Townfair shopping center.
"It feels good to finally be taking this step," Blair said. "It's scary and exciting at the same time, but I love sharing my beer with people."
Blair's first introduction to craft beer came during a visit to the California coast. He tried the Old Rasputin Russian imperial stout from North Coast Brewing Co., and something clicked.
"I was blown away, I hadn't realized that beer could be so good," Blair said.
But at the time it was difficult to discover that type of craft beer — as breweries hadn't gone through the massive explosion in popularity that now has them located all across the country. So because he couldn't find the types of beer he wanted to drink, Blair decided to brew it himself.
In 2002, he dove into his new hobby of homebrewing, sharing notes with his youngest brother who shared his passion. Since they lived in different cities, the pair became experts at describing the flavor profiles of their fledgling beers.
Blair began with extract brewing, which involves the use of concentrated malt extract to skip the mashing process, simplifying his early forays into homebrewing. But eventually he began to experiment with all different types of styles and processes. In total, he created nearly 350 batches of homebrewed beer, with meticulous notes as he learned what worked.
After moving to California and meeting his wife, the pair returned to Oregon in 2014. That is when Blair really dove into the homebrewing scene, bringing his creations to local competitions. In 2015, his beer won best in show at the Maui Brewers Festival and Homebrew Contest and took third place in the Oregon State Fair.
With growing confidence in his beer, Blair opened MadCow Brewing Company in 2017. In the beginning it was all about brewing good beer — with Blair admitting he never expected to do more than break even. But as he kept producing, more and more people were becoming fans of his work. He also scored a partnership with Grocery Outlet to sell MadCow beers out of their stores. That was quickly followed by similar deals with bottle shops across the region, and then keg accounts with taprooms.
"The responses I was getting from people kept me moving forward," Blair said.
About half the beers offered by MadCow have direct links to Blair's homebrewed beers. One of his oldest recipes is the popular Golden Guernsey Honey Rye Saison, brewed with Belgian yeast and Pacific Northwest blackberry and clover honey. Other common selections at MadCow include the Evening Milking Stout, a creamy beer with notes of chocolate, coffee, and aromas of dried cherry and vanilla; and the Oxbow IPA, a hop-forward beer with a citrusy aroma and flavor.
He also has seasonal beers that rotate. This winter the featured beers include the Scream Ale, Fence Line Logger, and the Nordic Highland Winter Saison.
His love of beer is why Blair is opening the taproom.
"We wanted a place where customers could come, sit down, and get a pint," Blair said.
The taproom should open around March, with the hope that pandemic restrictions on indoor dining will be loosened by then. The space will not only feature MadCow's seasonal rotation of beers, but will also have beers and ciders from other local breweries.
There will also be a small kitchen with "barnyard bites," sandwiches and other specials.
"I love being a part of the beer community," Blair said. "I can't wait to talk about the beer with people when they come in."
Eventually Blair foresees expanding the brewery by finding a dedicated production space. But for the time being, all his beer will continue to be crafted in his garage, one bottle at a time.
If you can't wait for the new taproom to open, MadCow Brewing offers beer for pickup or delivery to the Gresham, Fairview and Troutdale areas.
The featured beers include the Scream Ale, Fence Line Logger, and the Nordic Highland Winter Saison — though there are currently 15 available for purchase. Deliveries occur Tuesday and Friday evenings from 5-7 p.m.
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