Suite: One for All

Portland is home to hundreds of breweries, brewpubs, and taprooms, but there’s only one place where you can have a pint while you brew a keg of your own beer.

“Bigger brewers have a small pilot system to test new beers on,” said U Brew owner Zach Vestal. “We only have the pilot system.”

Portland U-Brew and Unicorn Brewing were opened eight years ago in southeast Portland by father-son duo Cliff and Jason Webb. Inspired by the Canadian “brew-on-premises” model, the two created a unique space where budding homebrewers could source ingredients for their projects or brew larger batches of their own beers onsite with the help of professional brewers and a full-scale brewing system.

The concept quickly garnered a cult following. Zach Vestal, a former elementary school teacher, used the space several times a year until 2018, when he took over the business. Now, Vestal gets a chance to combine two of his passions: teaching and beer. “I get the same satisfaction from teaching someone how to brew a batch of beer as teaching a kid multiplication,” Vestal said. “The only difference is everyone is happy here.”
Zach Vestal—owner of Unicorn Brewing—shown holding a pint of beer.

Vestal traded teaching elementary students for schooling homebrewers on the craft of brewing beer.

A quarter of the double-decker space hosts the malt-scented store lined with grain-filled containers, bags of locally sourced yeast, and basic brewing equipment. Another quarter is home to the wood-lined taproom of Unicorn Brewing, which serves rotating drafts of traditional styles like American IPAs, English mild ales, and a beloved German blonde ale, leaving the boundary- pushing creations to homebrewers who also use the nano brewery.

This basement brewery, visible through a fenced-off cutout in the taproom, has a sextet of copper, steam-jacketed kettles lining the furthest corner, each capable of producing 20-gallon batches of beer. Other rooms host fermenting, chilling, and soon, barrel-aging. For many homebrewers, using U-Brew’s facilities is the next step. For $250, they get all the ingredients, instruction, and equipment needed to fill kegs they can store in their kegerators at home and enjoy for months.
A bag of dextrose monohydrate that is used to create the beer in Vestal's shop.

While some might see the custom, small-batch mindset as limiting, U-Brew’s nano capabilities have been a big advantage, according to Vestal. “Bigger brewers have a small pilot system to test new beers on,” he said. “We only have the pilot system.”

A number of commercial Portland beer labels have started in this basement brewery, including Baerlic Brewing, Grixsen Brewing Company, and Magic Owl Brewing. Interns who cut their teeth at U-Brew have also gone on to work as brewers (and a distiller) at McMenamins, Breakside Brewery, and Zoiglhaus Brewing Company. First-timers hoping to pick up a few tips will find a brewer pouring suds behind the Unicorn Brewing bar, while those who stick to drinking beer rather than making it can stop by any day and enjoy a pint.

“We’re about as beer-centric a place as you could imagine,” Vestal said.

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