Base Camp Brewing’s brewery and tap house have been operating in Portland, Oregon, since 2012. Its beers and their creators celebrate Oregon’s outdoors, and visiting brewer Stephen Helwig says he hopes to enjoy our own outdoors when he joins Beervana's Oregon Mash Up next month.
Beertown.NZ: New Zealanders are familiar with the hop-driven West Coast styles. Your website references “the frontier of craft beer”- what makes Base Camp beers stand out from the crowd?
Stephen Helwig: Base Camp's main brewing philosophy is innovation. Taking styles and techniques of the past, and new ones being created today, and applying them in different ways. Whether that's using a decoction mash on a IPA, or melding styles, or taking classic ingredients from one brewing tradition and applying them to another. We really enjoy looking for novel ways of creating flavor and trying to use that to get to a new place. Not torturing the ingredients or technique, but finding a new way to let them express themselves.
B: Tell me about your brewery and the brewing team.
SH: We designed the brewery and the cellars to be as kind to the beer as possible. Our brew house is gravity-fed to limit the use of pumps as best we can. We think this gentle approach really helps the final product. As for our brewing team, I think we have a great blend of brewing backgrounds. Paul Thurston, our head brewer, went through the World Brewing Academy of Siebel Institute (Chicago) and Doemen’s Academy (Munich). Austin Kneen graduated from the Fermentation Science program at Oregon State University. I ran a home brewing store for seven years, and brewed at home for three years before that, before starting at Base Camp. Our other brewers, Michael Porter and Jennings Sprattler, also have years of home brewing, and judging, experience. It's a great team.
B: How much do you know about New Zealand's brewing scene?
SH: Honestly, I know very little. I have heard about the growing craft scene in New Zealand for years, but have never had the pleasure of drinking one of them. I am really excited to see how a different brewing scene takes on the same styles I know and love. In the early days of craft brewing here, brewers were trying to make beers like they had in Europe, but adjusting to the ingredients they had available to them. That's how American pale ales and IPAs came into existence. I really want to see how brewers in New Zealand have interpreted traditional beer styles to fit their local resources and culture.
B: The Base Camp website/brand emphasizes the Oregon outdoors. Are you planning any adventures while you're in New Zealand?
SH: I really hope I can get a morning or afternoon to go fly fish. I have dreamed about sight-fishing giant rainbows and browns in New Zealand for as long as I can remember.
B: I've checked you out on Google Streetview and there is a very large Coors truck parked in front of the brewery. How did you organize that?
SH: In the U.S. brewers of nearly any size have to work with distributors. It is a relic of the early 20th century prohibition on alcohol here. Our distributor sells many great locally-made craft beers, but they also sell Coors. Google just caught us on a day one of their big trucks was picking up.