Portland Beer Icon Van Havig Leaves Rock Bottom

Rock Bottom's Van Havig

In a not so shocking turn of events, Portland Rock Bottom Brewmaster Van Havig has announced his departure from the company. After a recent merger between Rock Bottom and Gordon Biersch in which the conglomerate CraftWorks Restaurants and Breweries, Inc. decided to homogenize a number tap offerings across its national chains, the opposing and outspoken Havig was released from the company on Monday January 2.

Havig, a former President of the Oregon Brewers Guild and well respected visionary and recipe developer says the order came down from the top via Rock Bottom Corporate Brewmaster Kevin Reed. “(Kevin and I) are friends” says Havig without regret. “We had been talking for a while. We had a relationship of honesty and I respect him.” Following Havig’s departure after his shift on Friday January 7, assistant brewer Charlie Hutchinson will assume the post as brewmaster. Brewer Bolt Minister will also continue his stint with the company. “Charlie is gonna be @#%&ing awesome” Havig says.

So what does this move mean for the future of Rock Bottom? Havig says that regional beers are being decided and there are still positives regarding Rock Bottom to come. “(Rock Bottom) will keep three beers that are some of the best beers brewed at all the locations’ he admits. Havig also believes that due to the prime real estate of Rock Bottom’s downtown brewpub, that the establishment will continue to thrive saying “It’s a great location of no matter who is running it.”

Havig began his tenure with Rock Bottom in 1995, and 16 years later he says the thing he will miss the most are his co-workers. ” The thing that was awesome about working for Rock Bottom was the group of guys and gals who supported each other and learned from each other” he attests. “I can’t express how important these people have been to me. Some are the best friends I have made in life.”

As for the free speaking Havig’s attitude toward being released by Rock Bottom, his optimism and sense of humor appear untarnished. “I am my father’s son” he says. “Outspoken and free speaking. My dad was let go from two companies for not keeping his mouth shut.”

So will we see Havig and his taste his beer again in Portland? In an interview I conducted with him four years ago for Belmont Station’s Beer Forum, the seasoned brewer expressed “Portland is a great town. It’s a fantastic town. It’s hands down my favorite city in the country. It’s a great town to be a brewer in. The problem is, every aspiring brewer in the country knows that. And I would say that even though there are a lot of breweries here and a lot of brewing jobs, they happen to almost all be taken. The problem is that you have a great number of people in this tiny town who are trying to be a brewer than probably anywhere else in the country. My honest advice: Move somewhere else. I’m dead serious. If you really, really want to do this, you have to make a decision: Do you want to do this, or do you want to live in Portland? I moved here in 1988 and got lucky enough to move back. But the fact of the matter is, you can get a job much easier in the Mid-Atlantic, probably much easier in a place like Chicago or Minnesota, or places like that where there are breweries, but it’s not the coolest thing in the world and everyone doesn’t think about beer all the time. It’s tough. It’s really, really tough to get a job in this town.” When I mentioned his previous sentiment Havig stated “I’d love to stay (in Portland, Oregon). It’s home to me. But I don’t know.” The brewer says he will talk to friends in the industry and weigh his options. “To tell you the truth” he says ” the ultimate goal of mine isn’t to have my name everywhere or run ‘Van’s Brewery.’ I want to continue to make good beer, preferably at a larger place than at a brewpub.”

Rock Bottom's Van Havig
Van Havig

In the meantime, Van Havig will be catching up on facets of his life he did not have much time for while working full time at Rock Bottom. He says he’ll be doing some duck hunting, enjoying long drives in his car, and riding his bike if the winter weather permits. “The number one thing I want to do is work on my relationship with my dogs” Havig says.

Join Van Havig and many other Oregon brewers for the Portland Cheers to Belgian Beers Dart Throw at the Horse Brass Pub on Tuesday January 11. He’ll be working with Lucky Lab’s Ben Flerchinger to host the event and orchestrating a PCTBB homebrew competition. He jokes “Bolt is going to lend me his (homebrewing equipment) and now I can join the contest.” After his last shift at Rock Bottom Havig plans on opening a bottle of 2006 Full Sail Old Boardhead Barleywine. Cheers, Van, and good luck, though I don’t suspect you’ll need it.

Read more about this story in John Foyston’s article from the Oregonian’s The Beer Here.