As Portland is an IPA town, I believe you can partition our history in terms of the seminal IPA of the time. Everyone agrees Bridgeport IPA was our original touchstone, but the dawn of the more hoppy American IPAs was with Terminal Gravity Brewing’s flagship IPA. If you’re not an Oregonian or you were not drinking much craft beer in the early to mid aughts, your IPA cultural milestone may be a different one, but as a budding craft beer geek of the time, Terminal Gravity IPA was everywhere and served as the new standard for the style. It remained champion until an upstart came out of nowhere–Ninkasi Brewing’s Total Domination IPA emerged in 2006, and with it a huge Oregon craft brewing boom that has hit some small older breweries hard. Terminal Gravity Brewing is undergoing changes, including new ownership that will help re-energize the brewery for a trickier, more competitive industry than there has been before.
Steve Carper and Dean Duquette founded Terminal Gravity Brewing in Enterprise, Oregon, in 1997. The building Terminal Gravity has called home for the last 17 years was originally Blue Willow Sausage Company. Steve and Dean first rented some of the space for the brewery and built much of it themselves, including two 5bbl jacketed fermenters and all the welding based on experience with Pike Brewing’s Pike Place Market brewery in Seattle. Terminal Gravity was so old school and do-it-yourself that the brewers milled the grains using a large coffee grinder that took so long they had to begin a whole day before brewing to prepare enough. Terminal Gravity’s tree branch, hand carved wood tap handles became fixtures in bars and restaurants; the simple black and green logo and branding gave it the feel of a small local craftsman (which it is) that Oregonians embraced. Enterprise remains an outdoors destination, and the pub is perfect for watching sunsets from the porch or camping nearby. This was before Portland had 72 breweries and every city in the state had its own local brewery, with some of them with fresher styles and bigger budgets. Hop Bombs and imperialized everything became the new trend, and TG taps have been seen a lot less frequently. As longtime TG Brewmaster Frank Helderman says, “There is a danger of great beers from the past becoming like flies trapped in amber as the beer world changes away from them.” Of course, TG has modernized a bit since 1997; the brewery now has an 18bbl brewhouse and still puts out a respectable 6,000 barrels of beer a year. “We have some great improvements, but we’re still “backwoods” by some accounts. That’s OK with us,” says TG marketing manager Kevin Harlander.
It has been seven months since Terminal Gravity quietly went through an ownership change. Steve Carper and Dean Duquette retired while minority partner Ed Millar has taken over. Slowly things have begun to change; instead of just focusing on the same three beers (IPA, ESG, and Pale) the brewery distributes in bottles, new beers and classics are returning. Kevin Harlander has came in to help with branding and marketing and the team is discussing organic ways to keep the brewery as relevant as ever. “[Ed Millar] thinks, and I agree, that TG can be more than it has been in the past. Things have changed in that we have renewed our commitment to making great beer, and we have taken a lot of steps towards improving the quality of our beer,” said Frank Helderman on the subject of change and relevancy. Kevin Harlander realizes and is honest about the challenges of a small older brewery in the middle of nowhere when faced with all the cutting edge new guys. “Steve really created an IPA that changed the game for a while there. Now it’s like everybody and their mother has an IPA that’s big and bitter. We’re in the land of 10+ tap handles now, and I’m not sure there is much a loyalist when it comes to craft beer drinkers. Also, the brewing industry has always been incestuous, but the movement from project to project is cool. There’s a lot of collaboration, and lot of good liquid coming out of Oregon.”
Some of the first steps to expanding Terminal Gravity’s presence and following have already begun. First, the new owners have been spending some money to upgrade the brewery, taking care of things that could be fixed or done better. They brought on Tristan Bradford (OSU-Ferm. Science grad) to help with the important research and science behind making really great beer that goes beyond the basic recipe. TG already has a few seasonals, including one of the best winter warmers, “TG Festivale,” and also bottles a summer beer called “Weed Whacker” and a “Breakfast Porter,” in addition to draft-only offerings like “Tap Out Strong Ale” and “Bar X Stout,” but the plan is to really expand those offerings. Head Brewer Frank Helderman would like to see the lineup expanded significantly: “In addition to our core three beers, I would like to see us release 8 seasonal beers in bottles every year, and in draft, between seasonals, and experimentals (not counting draft versions of bottled seasonals), an additional 10 beers a year.”
In the last year Terminal Gravity has introduced a few new one-off beers, including the first ever lager called “Wallowa Lake.” Steve even dared to try out a brand new IPA recipe using the newer and very popular Citra hop called “Eagle Cap IPA.” Both of those beers received a warm reception and will likely become new brewery mainstays on draft in 2015. In addition, the team is working on some Oregon collaborations. Does anyone remember “Gravity Mountain“? I hope that will come back. We can also all look forward to a brand new, yet to be announced spring seasonal in bottles in 2015.
Sometimes breweries can forget where they came from; they focus too much on new markets and expansion while the home market dwindles, but that won’t be the case with TG. A renewed focus on the beer also means even more work will be done on being part of the community where it all began. Much of the continued success that has kept TG around is all of the people who make the trek our to the brewery and pub, and the TG family wants to continue to show off the beautiful scenery around the Enterprise brewery. Cheers to another great Oregon brewery whose contribution to our collective beer understanding and culture cannot be overlooked; take a few minutes sometime soon to revisit a classic.
TERMINAL GRAVITY BREW PUB
803 SE School Street
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