In late spring it was announced that Tom Bleigh had accepted the position of Innovation Brewmaster at CBA. Prior to joining CBA, Bleigh held various leadership positions, including Lead Brewer, Lead Cellar Operator, Head Brewer and Plant Manager at Portland Brewing, Pyramid Breweries, Independent Brewer’s United and North American Breweries. Most recently he was the Director of Brewing Operations at Hopworks Urban Brewery.
When asked about his decision to take on this new position at CBA, Bleigh was impressed with the opportunities that it presented. “Having worked in both a production and brewpub environment provides some understanding of the opportunities and challenges in both of those models. The position at CBA is a perfect amalgam of those worlds,” states Bleigh. “My prior oversight of QA, as well as exposure to both soda and cider production, also brings a broader understanding to the position. The position for me is an exciting balance of navigating unique one off beers, exploring research and development, and having an ongoing conversation with the industry through collaborations.”
Here in Portland he oversees the new 10 BBL, 4-Vessel Brewhouse built by MCF Craft Brewing Systems in Northwest Portland. This new brewhouse replaces the facility that Widmer once occupied in the Rose Quarter. With this new location adjacent to Widmer Brothers Pub, guests can now look into the brewhouse to see which beers Bleigh and his talented brew team of Corey Blodgett and Dan Munch are brewing. In the future the plan is to have a sign so patrons can see which beer is being brewed today just as brothers Rob and Kurt Widmer use to do at its original Westside location.
In addition to the new brewhouse, the fermentation side of the Innovation Brewery features nine 10 BBL fermenters all named after baseball positions. The former brewery at the Rose Quarter only had three 10 BBL fermenters so with this additional tanks its capacity for new, one off styles will dramatically increase to an annual capacity in the 1500 to 2000 barrel range. The goal is to have about 16 to 20 Innovation Brewery beers on tap in the Pub at any given time.
The goals of the Innovation Breweries at CBA are to bring forth the creative spirit within the brewers. Bleigh mentions, “The innovation breweries are an opportunity to make ourselves uncomfortable as brewers and bring ideas to life, to stretch ourselves through ongoing process improvements and trials, and to continuously pursue making ourselves and beers better. It truly is the endless pursuit of the perfect pint.”
The brew teams will not only lead this creativity as Bleigh hopes to incorporate ideas and suggestions from its beer drinkers. In the coming months the Widmer Brothers Pub will be adding a Small Batch Tasting Room that will be located across the glass wall from the fermentation room.
“The gap in closing the loop with drinkers has gotten smaller through social media, but I’m hopeful that physical conversations can be had with our guests directly in our Small Batch Tasting Room,” states Bleigh. “Another idea we’re exploring in the pubs is engaging our guests with iPad tasting surveys that we can eventually review and take under consideration. There’s no shortage of ideas, but this will allow drinkers to have a direct line to help inspire some fun beers!”
Over the past few weeks Bleigh, Blodgett and Munch have been brewing a few collaboration beers. One was with Hilda Stevens, owner of Bazi Bierbrasserie and her friends at the American Outlaws on a Kölsch that was poured during the recent Olympic soccer matches. Another collaboration was with the yet to open Wayfinder Beer on traditional Festbier that should be hitting the taps in the coming weeks. And fans of the once year-round Drifter Pale Ale will get a chance to have this beer once again as Drifter was recently brewed on the Innovation Brewery. Always check out the Pub’s taplist here.
Last Thursday, Widmer Brothers collaborated on its next Portland Timbers beer with Jake Gleeson, the Timbers goalie. This Pineapple Rye IPA will be released at the Timbers vs. Real Salt Lake match on Saturday, September 10 at Providence Park. If you want to try this beer make sure to get to the park early, as this beer will not last long. If you cannot make the match, the Pub will keep a keg or two to pour to its guests.
The latest tapping will take place today, Thursday, August 24th, when Widmer Brothers Pub will tap the collaboration beer it brewed with North Island Beer from Japan when its brewers were in town during the 2016 Oregon Brewers Festival. This collaboration combines North Island’s Coriander Black Stout with a Cascadian Dark Ale and White IPA that is called NXNW. Sitting at 6.2% ABV and at 55 IBUs, NXNW uses Cascade and Lemondrop Hops with coriander and orange peel.
With so many single batch beers now being brewed at Widmer, these beers are now easy to take home with you has the Pub recently added a Crowler machine. These 32 oz. cans are purged with CO2 prior to being filled to offer the best possible freshness.
Beyond the brewers here in Portland, Bleigh also oversees the Innovation Brewery teams at the various other CBA locations. When Redhook opens its new pub in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle at 714 E Pike, Nick Crandall will mover over to this position from his current one at Redhook in Woodinville, Washington. Once open this new location will feature a 10 HL Brewhouse built by IDD with its H.E.B.S System (High Efficiency Brew System with Mash Filter). Across the country on the east coast, Redhook in Portsmouth, New Hampshire has a 3 BBL system that is led by Mark Valeriani.
D.J. is a Portland, Oregon based writer that spent his formative years in the Midwest. With over 25 years under his belt of drinking beer at festivals across America and the world, he has developed a strong appreciation and understanding of craft beer and the industry that surrounds it. He can be found in any of the great breweries or beer bars that make Portland the best beer city in the world. His writing can also be found in the archives of Northwest Brewing News and can be followed on Twitter and Instagram at @hopapalooza.