PictureTomas Sluiter, Owner and Brewmaster
One summer evening, deep in the heart of Southeast Portland, a small group of people gathered at a well-known beer blogger's house. Other beer writers, publicans of nationally-renowned taprooms, exceptionally-talented brewmasters, and a few prolific, award-winning homebrewers mingled in a garage around taps of liquid gold. Among the beers pouring that night was a plum sour; perfectly well-balanced and pleasantly tart with subtle plum flavors, it was one of the favorites among beers such as Block 15's Framboise White and an aged Hellshire. No one I spoke with that night knew who brewed the beer, and I left the party without asking. It was months later when I found out that the beer was brewed by the future owner of Culmination Brewing, Tomas Sluiter, using plums he picked from his own back yard.

Sluiter flew under the radar for eleven years as brewmaster for the underwhelming suburban brewpub, Old Market Pub. Quiet, a bit of an introvert, and uncomfortable with drawing too much attention, Sluiter has kept mostly to himself, staying out of the Portland beer scene and the public eye. Until now. Culmination Brewing has been his ongoing project for the better part of six years, and after looking at dozens of buildings, three name changes, potential partners having come and gone, and enduring an emotional roller coaster of excitement, apprehension, joy, fear, disappointment, and self-doubt, Culmination Brewing seems like a particularly appropriate name for the final result.

Slated to open nearly six months ago in a huge storefront warehouse in Goose Hollow, close to downtown’s Providence Park, Culmination Brewing would have been a multi-level masterpiece – brewery downstairs, a taproom with majestic ceilings and exposed brick on the main level, and a stunning rooftop beer garden. Written into the lease agreement was a guaranteed option to buy the building after the first five years which would have been a phenomenal achievement had it panned out. Construction had already begun on the Goose Hollow space when – after a series of very expensive surprises and critical structural faults with the building – the deal fell through (see Sluiter's article in the Oregon Beer Growler).

PictureYou'll be able to view the brewery from the taproom
Having been the brewmaster at Old Market Pub for so long is hardly an advantage for Sluiter, as the brewpub carries a reputation which he'll need to overcome in order to be successful. Tucked away in the suburbs, expansive and brightly-lit with a family diner feel, OMP seems more of a place to stop for something to eat between destinations – not a destination in itself. OMP actually had some pretty solid brews, but the owners' priority wasn't necessarily to showcase the beer. And the longer Sluiter worked there, the more his interests and the interests of the the pub owners diverged.

It was an emotional tie that kept Sluiter chained to the pub. After having built the OMP brewing system himself from used equipment in 2005 and increasing annual beer sales five-fold between 2002 and 2013, the brewery almost felt like his own. OMP's owners would only serve the most basic of styles, however, and insisted on limiting experimentation. Despite this, Sluiter's skill as a brewer and his passion for high-quality beer never waned. He continued to brew phenomenal barrel-aged and bottle-conditioned sour ales – never to see the light of day at the pub, save for the rare private tasting. So while cases of excellent barrel-aged beer and kegs of aged barley wine collected dust in the dank corridors of OMP - never to be tapped - Sluiter worked diligently to open Culmination.

I was planning to open a collaborative nanobrewery and taproom when I was introduced to Sluiter by my real estate agent about a year ago. Because I was a beer writer and an aspiring taproom owner and Sluiter worked as a professional brewer and a brewery consultant, we had a lot to gain from each other as colleagues. Our friendship grew as we were able to commiserate on the trials and tribulations of opening a business and provide each other with much-needed support on the days when we'd almost had enough. Then, early this year, while the weather was still icy, I was invited to a tasting in the Old Market Brewery and had a chance to try some of Sluiter's aged brews and sours. It was then that I knew his secret: what he was capable of as a brewer.

To give you an idea, here's a description I wrote of one beer Sluiter brewed - a Belgian-style Dubbel with Brettanomyces, aged in a local pinot barrel, then bottled and aged an additional four years:

It pours a dark amber-red with a three-finger head that dissipates to a well-retained creamy beige that coats the top of this gorgeous tawny port-colored beer. The aroma is chocolate and malt with lactic dark fruits and raisins. It's a beer which balances perfectly a rich, complex chocolaty raisin, dry malt flavor with a lactic acid sourness – which integrates perfectly and does not overwhelm – and a slightly funky oak and dark cherry. As it warms, the complexity comes out even more and the balance remains spot-on.
PictureThe future Culmination taproom
It may be a while after opening Culmination Brewing before we'll be able to taste something like the Dubbel as these styles take a lot of time and patience on the part of both brewer and beer enthusiast. Until then, Sluiter plans to have twenty-five taps of the typical styles one might see in a brewpub – undoubtedly, of high quality.

In addition to a five-barrel system, there will also be a small sake-brewing system, making Culmination the first American-owned sake brewery in Portland. Sluiter has extensive knowledge of sake from working in a sake brewery and has a Sake Professional Certification from the Sake Education Council. (A note: sake is technically a beer because it's brewed from grain – not a wine, which is fermented from fruit).

In my time knowing Sluiter and watching him grow his idea into a business, I've seen him approach everything with caution, a lot of thought and attention to detail, and with impeccable aesthetic taste and focus on quality. Sluiter is a romantic at heart, with a sophisticated eye for design and a perpetual awareness of detail which becomes all the more apparent as you watch his brewery evolve. I have no doubt that, after production is moving, he'll finally gain the recognition he deserves.

“This is quintessential Portland. All under one roof,” says Sluiter. Culmination Brewing will be located in the Bindery Annex at Northeast Oregon and Northeast 21st Avenue and will be sharing space with a boutique sock maker, a coffee roaster, a mead brewery, a custom studio microphone maker, a multimedia production company, a marketing company, a digital photography phone-app company and a food truck. The taproom is expected to open in five to six weeks and will serve guest taps until the the brewing systems are up and running – likely by the end of the year.

To keep track of the Culmination Brewing's progress, visit the Culmination Facebook page or follow them on Twitter.

 


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