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Fearless Brewing Company celebrates ten years


Anniversary partly planned for June 8

by: ISABEL GAUTSCHI - Ken Johnson of Fearless Brewing holds his silver medal from Masters Championship in Amateur Home Brewing. Its an honor to be able to compete in the international Championship at all, as one must place in the top three in regional competitions to be eligible. Johnson won the silver for his Old Fearless No.1 Barley wine as a home brewer.Ten years in, and Fearless Brewing Company is still going strong.

Owner and brewer Ken Johnson has a particular mix of passion, technicality and a slightly wicked sense of humor.

A customer asked Johnson about the shirts his staff wears. They read, “The beer that made Estacada famous” on the back.

“You get the joke, right?” Johnson laughed.

He’d ordered the shirts with that slogan before the brewery even opened.

The slogan ruffled some feathers.

“So I knew we had to keep it,” Johnson said.

Johnson and his wife Bennett first opened the brewery doors on June 6, 2003.

They are going all out for their ten-year celebration on June 8, 2013.

Popular blues group, The Ben Rice Band, and Estacada favorites, The Mossy Rock Ramblers, will entertain customers as they sip the specially released Old Fearless No. 1 Barley Wine.

Nearly 20 years ago, before beer was his profession, Johnson first created the barley wine as a home brewer.

“I made this barley wine just the way I wanted it because I thought I’d be the only one drinking it,” he said.

He wasn’t.

The barley wine earned him a silver medal in the prestigious, International Masters Championship in Amateur Home Brewing.

Johnson recreated the barley wine for Fearless Brewing Company’s tenth anniversary celebration.

The company’s website lists the barley wine as a “birthday surprise for everyone.”

Hopefully they appreciate it, because producing the Old Fearless No. 1 Barley Wine was “like passing a kidney stone. It was a pain in the butt. It was a three hour boil.”

Not only that, but the brew called for 600 lbs of grain mash.

“That tank was clear full, I could barely stir it,” Johnson said.

His barley wine is in the old British tradition and approaches the alcohol strength of wine- Old Fearless is 10% alcohol.

He used an experimental hop variety called “Mosaic Hop” as the most prevalent hop in the barley wine brew.

“I’m more of a technical brewer,” Johnson said. “My Scottish Ale, the batch I made this morning should taste the same as a year ago.”

While he tries to make each batch a little better than the last one, Johnson values consistency and “clean” brews with “no off flavors.”

He credits the “magical waters” of the Clackamas River as some of the best to brew with.

The river was a major factor that led the Johnsons to decide to open their brewery in Estacada.

“It’s one of the reasons our beers are as good as they are,” Johnson said.

The brewery is covered in photographs of the Johnsons’ ancestors, old license plates, and a vintage cut out of John Wayne telling customers that “Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.”

“I wanted it to have a rustic, turn-of-the-century look,” Johnson said of the décor.

He fondly tells the story of how he made a sketch of his ideal booth and brought it to the Estacada High School shop teacher on the off chance his shop class might want to build the booths.

They did.

Johnson bought the lumber and brought it to the shop class.

The students would complete the booth and Johnson would pick it up to install it in the brewery, one at a time. The shop room was only large enough to accommodate one booth.

Johnson is modest about his brewery.

“There’s nothing really cool about my brewing system except it’s mine and it’s paid for,” he tells customers he’s leading on an impromptu tour of the facility.

The brewery is currently on a seven-barrel system.

Johnson works from 5:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. most brew days to produce two batches a day.

One barrel is 31.5 gallons. On double brew days the brewery produces 12 barrels, or 378 gallons of beer.

“I could probably sell twice as much beer if I had it,” Johnson said.

The Johnsons are planning to expand to a 15-barrel system this winter.

They’ve also purchased a faster canner.

Johnson explained that as only a few companies produce cans in the U.S., cans must be purchased by the truckload, or about 150,000 at a time.

The Johnsons have built a steel building on their property to house all of the cans.

The decision to can some of their beers raised some eyebrows.

However, Bennett Johnson pointed out that “Cans are a greener choice than bottles and they protect the beer way better from its two worst enemies, U.V. light and oxygen. Plus, we are on the river and cans are just more outdoor friendly.”

Fearless Brewing Company’s Loki Red Ale, Fearless Scottish Ale and Mjolnir IPA are available in 16 ounce cans.

The canned beers may be purchased at New Seasons, Fred Meyer, Market of Choice, Zupans, Haggen’s, Whole Foods and other stores.

Fearless beer is distributed throughout Oregon and Washington. The Johnsons are planning to distribute in Northern California and Idaho as well.

When pressed about his favorite aspect of being a brewer, Johnson has trouble picking just one thing.

He’s proud that he and his wife own the brewery building and that all of their loans have been paid off.

He’s quick to point out that they have never had any investors.

“We’re a true mom and pop operation,” he said.

He’s proud that his Scottish Ale has been lauded by true Scots, and that one sip of it can bring back a whole host of memories.

He really likes that part.

“Bringing back a memory and creating new memories. This is supposed to be a relaxing and casual place and I’ve watched thousands of people come in here, have a few pints, and make new memories. I get to make people happy and that’s the best part,” he said with a smile.