Part V - Columbia River Brewing and the Jimmie
Updated: Feb 8, 2021
Columbia River Brewery was located deep in the West/Northwest neighborhoods that abutted a long section of the city stretching from Burnside all the way to St. Johns. The area commonly known as the Industrial Northwest, was home to the Portland Cordage company, a manufacturer of hemp rope for the maritime industry, and the oldest industrial building in Portland. Celebrating it's centennial in 1987, it appeared a slightly worn but majestic massive brick and beam structure that encompassed the better part of the block. The streets were dark black cobble stained from a centuries hard use and hazardously uneven, and train tracks ran through every intersection.
I arrived at 1313 NW Marshall to find two large “jimmies” parked on the tracks outside the building. Jimmies, as I was to learn, are massive open topped train cars that dump their contents from their belly, and these particular jimmies were poised to offload their contents onto the street in front of the building opposite the pub. They had come from one of the canning factories nearby, and were filled to overflowing with heads, tails and entrails, soon to become fish emulsion and fertilizer. The stench on that late summers day was invigorating, and one had to admire the fortitude of the two laborers with shovels who appeared and began moving the massive steaming pile into a well on the side of the building, apparently to begin the process of turning the whole mess into some kind of garden gold.
Mesmerized by the entire scene, I watched until the stench finally overtook me and I hastened a retreat inside the massive wood beam and brick structure that housed the BridgePort Brewpub and Columbia River’s Brewing operations. The Character and charm of the building could not be denied. Wooden beams 3 and 4 feet thick and 60 or more feet long buttressed the red brick walls and a dark wooden ceiling that gave it a cavernous feel even though it was quite tall. The weight of the structure lent a sense of the eternal, while massive wood and steel sliding barn doors gated every room.
The BridgePort Pub had none of the trappings of a typical restaurant, or even much resembling a typical pub, English or otherwise. There was no hostess stand, or wait stations, only a few haggard looking tables with beat up captains chairs. The walls were completely bare, with the exception of a dart board near the restrooms, and the bar was a lengthy 50 foot long affair running the length of the back of the room. Behind the bar were a few largish windows that allowed a glimpse into the production area where fermenters were burping out their yeasty overflow.
Tim Bosworth, a goodly dry humored 30 something with a sandy blond flat-top and the easy air of restaurant manager whose restaurant is not open today, met me as I was taking in the space. He immediately said, “Don’t worry about the smell, most of us don’t even notice it anymore.” Karl had told him I was coming by he said, and after a brief conversation, he offered me a position behind the bar. I told him I was angling for a job in the brewery, but would be excited to be involved in any part of the operation no matter where. Minutes later, Tim was walking me through the pub, showing me the ropes of opening, pouring beer, pulling a cask pint, changing cask kegs, and all the real nitty gritty details, like how to wash a glass, and make change. We ventured over to a pizza oven about the size of a ski boot box that could cook at most 3 pizzas an hour. He stressed that we could train on making pizzas later in the week, while we were open, and he proceeded to pull a couple of cask BridgePorts as a demonstration and handing me one, invited me back for a tour of the brewery.
To this point, my brewery exposure had amounted to Coors brewing tours when I was in High School, and the Olympia brewery in Tumwater Washington. I’m not sure exactly what I expected, but what I saw looked a lot more like a giant home-brew set up than the gargantuan stainless and copper vessels I had seen at the other breweries. It was a 10 BBL brewhouse, capable of brewing about 325 gallons at a go. The kettle was clad in redwood which was very sexy, with little winged doors for hop additions and access for a brewer to climb in and scrub it out after every batch. The mash tun looked like a giant silver bath tub that had to do with cream separation in a dairy. Indeed, all the tanks had come from some old dairy or other. There were 4 x 20 Barrel fermenters, all definitely much older than I. Two fermenters clad in redwood like the kettle, and two that looked like they had been painted cream white about a thousand times. They were dished bottom and top, and the cooling was all internal. There was a small manway in the top which is how we would harvest yeast. Along the back wall, was a home made tube and shell heat exchanger of copper that would probably be worth $25,000 in scrap value today. And in a small cooler, shoe horned near the front of the production area, were 4 tall and skinny conditioning tanks.
I was speechless, and apparently thirsty because my beer was empty. I knew in that moment, that it wouldn’t be long before I knew every inch of this place intimately. But first things first, I needed to work my way into the family, and that would mean starting at the bar. Tim had me sign the usual w-2s and other paperwork, set a schedule, and told me I’d be making $3.35 an hour. It was a significant pay cut from the $5/hour I had been making at Burlingame, but I didn’t say a peep, I grinned from ear to ear, and walked out the door, greeted once again by the lingering but this time slightly sweet odor of rotting fish guts, got in my bight yellow Dodge Dart, and drove home.