As communities along the famed Oregon Trail mark the 175th Anniversary of the nation's largest human migration, Oregon's Mt. Hood Territory is highlighting people who are modern day pioneers. These folks are trailblazers who, to this day, personify that adventuring spirit associated with the families who first made the six-months long trek across the wilderness to call Oregon home. Tim Hohl of Coin Toss Brewing is one of those pioneers, and a truly fun person to get to know.
Tim is a bit of a kindred spirit in that we both have backgrounds in radio. Granted his background is far more extensive than mine, as he spent decades as the voice Portland-area residents woke up with to get their news of the day. You can still hear that quality in his voice as he talks about his beer journey, starting as a home brewer until today, owner of a successful brewery in Oregon City.
Those early days were about fun and experimentation for him, and he quickly developed the nickname "The Beer Geek." He even had a regular segment on his radio show called just that, which featured the region's celebrated craft beer culture. Now he's a major part of that scene, which allows him to "geek out" about beer on a daily basis.
"I was a home brewer for 20 years before starting this whole crazy venture. I was never that guy who was so serious about it that I knew I was going to open my own place. That all came about organically," he said.
His early days were all about discovery, much like the settlers who first blazed the Oregon Trail. But instead of fertile farmland, Tim was looking for new ideas and crazy combinations.
"Back in my home brew days it was all about discovering something new and discovering something fun and some new quality. One of my favorite things to do was go on beer hunting trips. We'd get together and make a list of places we've never been and we'd go seek those places out. Sometimes the most unknown thing in that group was the most fun."
Today Tim still gets excited about finding new ingredients and combinations to create something special and unique. But his passion is ignited by something even deeper and more meaningful.
"Now it's all about community. It's all about bringing people together, it's all about having a good time. It's all about making a quality product that draws people in to hang out together, to get to know each other, to be a part of the community."
Looking at all the different types of beer out on the market today, it could be easy to get lulled into this sense that everything's been done, all that's left now is to try to perfect those recipes and make them better. But innovators are never satisfied, and they're always looking for something new. Even the most preposterous ideas sometimes bear wonderful fruit. That's how it was with one of Tim's latest creations, a beer with - of all things - pickle juice.
"You always have to be thinking of new ideas. You'll always have the standards you create, but you always want to have something new. The consumer in this part of the world has been exposed to really fantastic craft beer over the years, so they're always looking for something new. You have to play around with flavors, take what you've made and go crazy, throw pickle juice in a beer. You never know what might happen, sure enough, it's a thing."
That little experiment lead to something that's actually quite popular with customers. It started out as a fun venture, as Tim went out and purchased nearly a dozen jars of various pickles, and he and a few friends added pickle juices to different types of his beers.
"Nine times out of ten you're going to go 'Okay. That was fun,' and move on. But when we put the bread and butter pickle juice into our house lager, something magic happened."
Not all innovative recipes come from trying something new. Everything old is new again when you look at our entertainment; many of the popular TV shows and movies are sequels, reboots and revisits of older material. Exciting things can also happen with beer when you embrace the old to try something cutting-edge. Tim does just that, and even his brewery's name is a nod to the region's history. The famed coin toss that gave Portland its name in 1845 took place in Oregon City, a short distance from where the brewery that shares the event's name now sits.
"I always tell people I was a history geek before I was a beer geek," said Tim.
"I majored in history in college. I had a special affinity for Oregon and northwest history. Little did I know the two would merge 30 years down the road career wise; when we first started looking at opening a brewery we looked around to see where there wasn't one, and here was Oregon City, which four years ago didn't have a single brewery. We thought this would be fantastic because you could rope in all this history and heritage and have a good story. We could make historic beers, research historic recipes out there and put our own spin on them. It had been done in a few scattered places, but no one had seized on it for their brand. It's perfect here, Oregon City, the end of the Oregon Trail."
One of the beers Tim is currently developing is for an upcoming heritage festival. He will actually forage for ingredients along the path of the original trail to use in developing the beer.
"It will still taste like beer, but it will be a nod to the region. I think that's where the whole Coin Toss name came from. We're not only a nod to the history and heritage of Oregon City and the greater End of the Oregon Trail region but also Portland."
It's that "let's do it because we can!" mentality that has made Tim and Coin Toss Brewing such a popular stop along the Mt. Hood Territory Tap Trail, and also why Tim is a modern pioneer. So the next time you're suffering from a mighty powerful thirst after exploring the Oregon Trail yourself, stop in to Coin Toss Brewing, and let Tim regale you with tales of beer experiments, and fascinating history of Oregon City and the surrounding region.