When we first stumbled across a photo of Basement Brewing’s bottles on Facebook in 2012, we mistook them for 750-mLs from a new brewery we hadn’t heard of. Turns out, those well-designed, wax-topped stunners are the work of Jon Larson, a very dedicated Portland, Ore., homebrewer. Larson sent us a couple bottles, and we hung on to those imperial stout bombers as a reminder to check back in with this homebrew overachiever.
Three years later, Larson’s set-up has only become more legit; he hosts brew day parties that attract 30-plus people, pours growlers for neighbors, experiments with infusions and, yes, plans to go pro. If you’re a homebrewer with grand ambitions, take notes.
Larson began homebrewing in the early 1990s while at college, at a time when few of his peers were interested in craft beer or trying new styles. After a hiatus, he resumed his hobby in the early 2000s as interest in craft beer was on the rise.
“That’s when I moved up to Portland, where it’s kind of in the city bylaws that you have to brew,” says Larson. When a neighbor closed his brewery in town, Larson inherited his 10-gallon brewing system and started hosting brew day parties.
“I’ll have 20-30 people over on each brew day,” he says. “My friends cook beautiful food and we drain the kegs. People just flock to the brew days, bring friends, and then people started coming back to fill growlers.”
Word of mouth, along with a slickly designed Basement Brewing website and Facebook page, help attract enthusiastic Portland drinkers. That success has inspired Larson to consider making the switch from his current full-time gig as a graphic designer and photographer to open his own brewery.
“Portland doesn’t seem like the ideal market with so many breweries already in town, but we have the people to support it,” he says.
Larson is currently in talks with investors to get Basement Brewing off the ground. He’s also considering what styles of beers the brewery would produce. When he brews a 10-gallon batch now, he reserves half of it for infusions and experimentation, creating beers like a roasted coconut and oolong tea-infused bitter, a habanero stout and a smoked porter with rosemary. He anticipates that Basement would launch with a line-up of standard, sessionable beers with a series of rotating one-offs and seasonals.
But if Basement Brewing moves beyond, well, the basement, will the name stick?
“I’m struggling with how far the name Basement Brewing can go,” says Larson. “But I may have come too far in terms of name recognition. I might be stuck with it.”
No matter what’s ahead for Larson and his beer, one thing is clear in 2015: Those imperial stouts we saved from back in 2011 would be worth spending money on. The classic 2011 India Ink imperial stout is easy drinking with just a touch of alcohol sweetness, while the American oak-aged version offers up dry tannins, dark chocolate and pleasantly fibrous new wood character. If Basement makes it to the big time, we’ll be proud to say we knew them back when.