Q&A: Discussing Ghost Beers and Cartoon Labels With Gigantic Brewing

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An industrial area full of warehouses situated far off the beaten path might seem an odd area to setup a brewery and taproom, but it seems to be working for the folks at Gigantic Brewing Company, as their brewery has managed to turn their forgotten corner Portland into a happening hotspot for area craft beer enthusiasts.

In the short time since Gigantic first opened its doors, brewers and co-owners Ben Love and Van Havig have generated serious buzz for their small-scale brewery. Their ever-rotating array of limited edition one-off brews showcases the broad range of big ideas and bold flavors the duo have on tap. We recently caught up with Love to pick his brain about everything from the brewery’s beautiful comic-style label art to his take on craft beer’s booming heyday.

Paste: You’re certainly no strangers to the Portland brewing scene, but with Gigantic Brewing Company being a relatively newer operation, how have things been coming along since launch?

Love: Everything has gone better than we had planned. Our taproom is much busier than we had ever expected – our model was kind of a new concept for Portland. There were brewers with small tasting rooms, but no one with a small bar that also has a large outdoor seating area – and no food or pub. So our estimates turned out to be very low. We’re in a very industrial neighborhood, but all the neighboring business shut down by 4pm, so it makes for a nice quiet place to sit outside and enjoy a pint.

The distribution side of things has also been better than planned. We now sell beer in Oregon, Washington, California, British Columbia, Alaska, Vermont, and Chicago. We originally hadn’t intended on selling beer in Vermont, but Mark Ewald came out here with a great plan to bring a number of Oregon brewers to Vermont. Oh, and we just started shipping beer directly to Brew Dog Bars in the UK and to Hato’s Bar in Tokyo.

Paste: Despite the big name, you’ve been pretty adamant about staying a small operation up to this point. Why?

Love: It’s pretty simple—by staying small, Van and I can to continue to work in the brewery. If we got big we would become administrators and brewers in name only. Also, we’d have to be pretty big assholes to name our brewery Gigantic then get really big.

Personally, it allows me to continue brewing and also do the other things I enjoy in the business, like working with distributors, or doing our marketing. [I get to] develop labels and do our website, Facebook and Twitter, and I get to travel to all the places we sell beer and do events. Basically a little bit of everything.

Paste: So what spurred you to stick with bottling only one year-round IPA, while offering lots of other limited batch and seasonal brews?

Love: Variety is the spice of life. We’ve both been brewing for quite a while, mostly at brewpubs, so there are a lot of different beers that we like to drink and that we’ve made in the past. Why stick yourself with doing only a couple of the same beers every year?

Paste: Where do you draw inspiration from for crafting each unique recipe?

Love: We brew what we want to drink. Inspiration for those beers comes from the beers we’ve brewed in the past, beers we’ve drank from other brewers, and the random ideas that pop up in our heads.

Paste: More than just on the palate, Gigantic brews really stand out on the shelf. Can you talk about what goes into creating the distinct label art to match each offering?

Love: Each label is done by a different artist. The artist designs the front of the label, the G on the side of the bottle and picks the quote. The front of the label is designed to look like a comic book cover: Our Gigantic “super friends” logo, the G in the upper right, staples on the left. We give no direction to the artists, only the name of the beer, which results in labels looking very different, yet the layout ties it all together.

We get to work with incredible artists because of our art director Rob Reger and friend of the brewery Matt Wagner from Hellion Gallery. Artists like Frank Kozik, AJ Fosik, Winston Smith, Shohei Otomo, and Tim Biskup.

We want to match the artist with the name of the beer. We have a list of artists that we’d like to work with, and when we decide what beer we’re going to make and what the name will be, we look at the list and the artists work to see what will match up.
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Paste: What are the chances we’ll ever see some of these on-off bottled brews returning for a repeat performance?

Love: We’ve discussed doing a year of “Greatest Hits” every 5 years or so…It’s still up in the air.

Paste: It’s a great time for beer lovers, given the current beer boom. What are your thoughts on where things stand right now in the craft beer world and where things are headed in the future?

Love: There are only going to be more and more brewers, both large and small, but I think mostly small. There is plenty of room in the market to grow. The big things holding growth back are raw materials – specifically, will there be enough hops. And local regulation – how easy is it to get a license to brew, and sell your beer at your own taproom/tasting room. Given an endless supply of hops and the regulation that makes it easier to open a brewery and sell beer onsite, there could be little local neighborhood brewers making 400-1500bbls a year all over the country.

Paste: What new and exciting brews can we look forward to from you guys down the road? What’s next on the menu?

Love: Next up is Most Premium Russian Imperial Stout. After that, 2014 will see Bang on! Proper British-style beer, Too Much Coffee Man beer, and Ginormous Imperial IPA. We’ll also have a number of barrel-aged beers coming out next year.
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