When Burnside Brewing closed back in February, it was ugly. Leaked employee emails about not getting their last paychecks, padlocks on the doors and a note that they hadn’t paid rent in three months, announcing they were closed for a snow day and then never opening again. Lots of rumors, and to my knowledge still no official announcement from the Burnside Crew.
The Oregonian dropped a bombshell on Friday that really flips the Burnside story from negative to somewhat positive. Apparently, famed Danish brewer Mikkeller (who also has locations in New York and California) is going to take over the Burnside location in a series of pop-up pub situations as they try to navigate the regulatory hurdles to open a permanent brewery/restaurant in that location.
There’s a couple of really juicy tidbits in this story that caught my eye. The first is that Mikkeller and restaurant partner Chefstable have purchased all of Burnside’s physical assets (brewery equipment, bottles, kegs etc) and paid off all of Burnside’s debts. Not only is this a huge windfall for the Burnside crew, of course, it also signals that the Mikkller crew is all in on this location. Technically, they probably paid way more than they would have for a blank empty location.
Also, in the agreement is that Burnside keeps all of their “soft” assets. Names, trademarks, etc. So, in theory, Burnside Brewing could reopen in a different location and start up again. Not sure how likely that is, but it could happen. The Burnside “brand” still lives somewhere out in the ether. This, according to a follow up story from New School Beer.
A lot of the discussion around this is how well Mikkeller will fit in to the crowded inner Southeast Portland space, but I think they’ll do just fine. What is interesting to me is that Portland has been considered a “beer destination” for a long time, from the point of view that people come here for the beer. That is starting to flip (and is a direct byproduct of the beer tourism) to a “brewery destination”, i.e. breweries are looking to expand and they think “Well, we have to have a place in Portland.” It was relatively close to the old Burnside location where San Diego brewery Modern Times took over the old Commons location (the Commons also retained their names/rights etc and are rumored to reopen at some point). Even small local breweries are getting into the act, Vagabond Brewing out of Salem just recently opened a Portland taproom.
2019 has been a rough year for the local beer scene. Hopefully this is a little ray of light to offset some of that bad. There will still be more breweries that struggle and close. Such is the nature of business, but hopefully some places will continue to grow and shine.
My experience with Mikkeller is very limited. I’ve had four of their beers, but the first one was certainly a doozie. The first Mikkeller beer I had was Black (Grand Mariner Edition) at the Festival of the Dark Arts. It was an imperial stout aged in Grand Mariner barrels and clocked in at 21% alcohol. That was a beer that when I saw it on the menu I just had to try it, but was also very glad it was only a 3 ounce pour. I can’t imagine drinking much more than a few sips of it.
The Mikkeller pop up is scheduled to open in June and then run till the end of the year, when it will close again with the hopes of reopening permanently. One of the articles also mentioned that Mikkeller has to find out what the building owner intends to do with the space. So, it seems they have an agreement for the short term, but the owner may still decide to sell the space or tear it down. My assumption when Burnside closed was that it was going to be bulldozed for condos, like basically everything else in Portland (especially inner Eastside). This keeps the location intact. At least, for now.