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Tigard brewmaster combines work, pleasure at Maxs Fanno Creek

(Kristen Forbes is a freelance writer living in Tigard. To view her blog, visit www.krissymick.blogspot.com.)

The purpose of a hobby is to seek enjoyment, relaxation and entertainment during off-work hours. To achieve this, some people knit, cook, scuba dive, golf or put together scrapbooks. Others drink beer.

Jaime Rodriguez of Tigard, 32, drinks a lot of beer.

Five years ago, Rodriguez started brewing from his home in Eugene and, after four months, decided to enter a competition. Two of the three beers he entered won first place prizes at the KLCC Homebrew Competition.

Caught by the brewing bug, he began shadowing professional brewers in his free time and realized that his industrial background as a pipe welder served him well.

'Fluid dynamics in an industrial setting - pressure vessels and things like that - it makes sense to me,' Rodriguez says.

Shadowing brewers and donating his labor paid off when Rodriguez was offered a position with Steelhead Brewing Co. in Eugene in 2005. He spent a year there, working under brewer Jamie Floyd. Two summers ago, Rodriguez met Max Tieger, who spoke to Rodriguez about opening a brew pub in Tigard.

Rodriguez decided to come on board and moved to Tigard last January.

He has parlayed his hobby into a career, so much so that he now spends less and less time doing the home brewing and more time working on business brewing.

'It's kind of like the mailman going for a walk on his day off,' he says, noting he still enjoys it, but the time he devotes to it has scaled down significantly.

When he began, though, he was driven by a quest for passion, enjoyment and fun.

'It was a Sunday thing,' he says. 'Friends and I would get together, and essentially we started formulating a neighborhood home brew club. Every Sunday, we'd all get together and have beers, lunch and make beer.'

There is more to brewing, Rodriquez says, than meets the eye. He's quick to point out that it's not just about making and drinking beer.

'The process itself, anywhere from 90 to 95 percent, essentially is sanitation and cleaning,' he says. 'Sanitation is the only variable that you have complete control over. Biology will happen, regardless.'

Rodriguez has found himself in dangerous situations and witnessed lids blown off from pressure vessels, but for the most part, his brewing experiences have been mellow.

'With the brewing process itself, it's more problem solving. If your beer's not chilling properly and you run into a chilling issue, then your beer will ferment out of range and that's not good. There are a lot of constants - keeping an eye on the children, so to speak,' he says.

Rodriguez is currently taking a style analysis course through the Beer Judge Certification Program to become an official beer judge.

Over the years, he has noticed a drastic change in his taste palette.

'I used to be a big wine guy, and I don't even touch it anymore,' Rodriguez says, adding, 'It's just that beer is so complex.'

Grain build, hop additions, yeast strains and temperatures - he cites these as several of the variables that can create vastly different end products.

Varied and busy - this is how Rodriguez likes to lead his life. He divides his work week between selling outdoor gear at REI in Bridgeport Village and brewing and waiting tables at Max's Fanno Creek Brewery in Tigard.

When he's not working or brewing, he's cycling, hiking, camping, going to the gym or working on a mechanical car project.

'REI is fun,' he says. 'I sell fun! I sell camping equipment, bikes and things like that.'

Serving at Max's is more low-key than when Rodriguez worked for Emeril Lagasse's five-star Delmonico Steakhouse at the Venetian Resort Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Rodriguez also managed restaurants and an athletic club in Eugene.

'I chased the woman of my dreams, and it didn't pan out,' he says, of his initial reason for migrating to Oregon after growing up in Nebraska and spending time in Las Vegas.

'But it's actually evolved - I wouldn't have dreamed of brewing beer as a career. As brewers, we're not in it for the money. We're in it for pride and creativity and being an artist and having beer as the medium. People enjoying our product is just outstanding, but things can happen at any given day, at any moment, so it's definitely a very humbling experience,' he says, noting he's maybe the happiest he's ever been.

Humble and happy, Rodriguez has found his niche in beer.