Pono Brewing, a small, creative brewery known for a range of offerings that includes fruit-complemented beers such as its Pineapple Express Kölsch style, will open its first taproom and pub in the original Laurelwood Public House & Brewery location that most recently was home to Columbia River Brewing.
The brewery, which draws inspiration from the lifestyle and ingredients of the South Pacific Islands, hopes to open the family-friendly Northeast Portland brewpub in the spring. The location, called the Pono Brew Labs, will pour Pono’s beers and offer a food menu that includes Hawaiian, Filipino and South Pacific-inspired fare along with traditional pub staples, the owners announced Monday morning.
“We’re going to bring something original with some Southeast Asian flair but also have the good old standbys as well,” said Pono founder and brewer Larry Clouser.
Erick Russ, a Pono Brewing co-owner who manages sales and distribution, said the owners are eager to open in the Hollywood neighborhood.
“With us kind of being in the neighborhood and interacting with people, they are so excited,” Russ said about area residents seeing Pono’s van parked outside the location for the past couple of months.
Opening the taproom has been a dream of the ownership team, which recently added Hawaiian born and raised Byron Sina, who handles sales and is also the graphics artist behind the brewery’s color-splashed labels and branding. The brewery’s initial license as a contract brewery prohibited it for years from opening its own taproom, but after a long regulatory battle the owners recently were able to change that designation and start looking into opening their own pub.
“There’s some major work to be done, like floors to repair and a redo for the kitchen and front of house,” Clouser said. “We want to brighten it up and make it look newer and fresher, but we think it should move pretty quickly.”
Clouser said he anticipates making at least 500 barrels of beer this year. Pono has been brewing out of Zoiglhaus brewery’s Southeast Portland brewhouse and will continue to produce most of its beer there, but it will use the seven-barrel brewery at the new site for smaller-batch and experimental beers.
Pono since its inception has pushed boundaries for beer styles but also brewed traditional ones as well. In 2016, it first grabbed attention by winning first and second place at the Portland Spring Beer and Wine Festival with its Kīkīao Tart Farmhouse and Pineapple Express, respectively.
“We like to take traditional styles and make them our own,” Clouser said. “It’s funny because we have a lot of people who are hard core purists and they won’t try a pineapple kolsch. But for us, it stands out, that’s how you remember us, we like to put interesting twists and tweaks on beers.
“But not every beer we make is a fruited beer,” he said. “We have a straightforward German-style pilsner, Aloha Mr. Hand, and our Flagship IPA, El Garrote, is a traditional one that mixes old school techniques with newer hopping techniques. “
Clouser has been in and out of the brewing industry since he began brewing in his 20s. He spent a significant amount of time in Hawaii and traveling, including the Philippines, where he met his wife. He said his love of the culture and food of the South Pacific inspired his desire to create Pono.
“The Philippines has amazing fruits and other ingredients, and I got exposed to a dynamic range of stuff,” he said. “And Byron grew up in Hawaii, so we have ties to the Hawaiian community but not solely influenced by Hawaii – we love to mix it up.”
Russ said the owners don’t envision Pono Brew Labs with the type of play area that made Laurelwood so popular when it opened at 1728 NE 40th Ave., which originally started as Old World Brewing in 1999. But Pono will feature arcade games for kids and adults, and it will be all ages until later in evening hours, when it will switch to 21 and older.
“Ultimately from the neighborhood, they don’t really care about a hype brewery,” Russ said. “What they care about is being able to walk down the street to a place with their kids.”
– Andre Meunier; firstname.lastname@example.org; sign up for my weekly newsletter Oregon Brews and Newsand follow me on Instagram, where I’m @oregonianbeerguy