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The Estacada Sampler: Fearless Brewing

Have a beer with a side of food

'We lead with beer. Food is just an accompaniment.'

When the words came out of the mouth of Fearless Brewing Company owner Bennett Johnson, everything clicked.

With nine years under their belt, Bennett and her husband Ken are as far from an identity crisis as restaurateurs could be. They understand that most people who come into their restaurant do so to enjoy some of the most unique beers in Portland. Fortunately, the food is pretty darn good too.

Everything began about a decade ago, when Bennett was concerned that her husband was working too many hours at his job in an automotive shop. As a way to take his mind off work, she bought him his first brewing kit.

'He's obsessive, so I should have known he would have obsessed over beer,' she joked, looking back.

Fortunately, he was good. Really good.

After getting the hang of it, Ken entered his first home-brewing competition at the Rose Festival Home Brewers contest. He entered three beers and came home with four medals, including one for best in show.

'So then he started entering national and international competitions, and he was winning all sorts of things,' Bennett said. 'Eventually he even won the masters championship of amateur brewing, which is the biggest medal there is for home brewers.

'That was a sign.'

The funny part is, that wasn't the only sign.

Widmer Brewing held a collaborator competition each year in which brewers submitted entries, and winners got to brew small batches of the beer at the Widmer brewery. Ken won twice.

'Widmer had our beer on location before we even existed,' Bennett joked.

With the signs beginning to add up, the couple decided to sell their stake in an automotive company and begin a new venture.

According to Bennett, who runs the restaurant and handles the accounting, the initial business plan envisioned a series of 'rural McMenamins.' Like most initial business plans, however, things changed quickly.

Very early on, the Johnsons realized that the restaurant side of their business was quickly taken over by the wholesale distribution of the beer.

With no plans for more restaurants now in the future, Fearless has its beer throughout Washington and Oregon with plans for expansion to the rest of the west coast in its near future.

In Portland, Fearless has beer on tap at Henry's Tavern, all Blitz locations, Laughing Planet and a few other bars downtown.

What makes Fearless so unique is that in a Portland beer scene that favors bitter beers such as IPAs, the Johnsons have thrived with a beer that isn't bitter at all.

'We went after the non-IPA segment,' Bennett said. 'Our Scottish ale isn't bitter because in Scotland they didn't have hops for their beer. Instead, it's roasty and malty with caramel undertones.

'It's for the people who don't like in-your-face beers.'

Then again, if you do enjoy IPAs, Fearless offers a number of beers other than the flagship Scottish ale. Those include Mjolnir Imperial (IPA), which will soon join the Scottish ale as the only Fearless beers offered in cans.

Whatever type of beer you're in the mood for, the restaurant offers a menu full of food that is the perfect accompaniment.

'When we opened, we made special note of things that we liked in brewpubs across the country,' Bennett said. 'We even found the burger that we thought was the best and replicated it with some slight modifications.'

While the menu features typical bar food such as burgers and sandwiches, Fearless also offers a variety of wraps as an alternative to fried dishes.

On my visit I got the recommendation to try one of the specials, the Philly cheese steak and a cup of Hungarian mushroom soup.

The soup, made by Bennett, was unlike any soup I had ever tasted before, but was absolutely delicious and worth going back for.

Next up was the sandwich. While the Philly cheese steak is an item offered almost anywhere, this sandwich was massive. Piled high with steak, Swiss cheese, peppers, onions and mushrooms, the sandwich was enjoyable and filling. And these people say the food is just an accompaniment.

If the food and drinks weren't appealing enough, Fearless has recently changed prices on drinks, including two beer options for just 75 cents. That wasn't a typo - 75 cents for a full pint of beer, fresh off the tap just feet from where it was brewed.

Currently, that price exists on Fearless' Clackamas Cream Ale and the porter, while other beers start at just $2.50 per glass.

While the restaurant has been around for nine years already, the Johnsons have big plans for the future. They're in the process of finding a space big enough to open another brewery since their current operation is already at capacity. The new space would be in addition to their space in Estacada with the goal of increasing production enough to attract a national following.

For now, though, Estacada is big enough. Fearless is open from 4-9 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, noon-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and noon-9 p.m. Sunday. The restaurant is at 326 S. Broadway St.