The Zoiglhaus Story

Many say, and we agree, that Portland, Oregon is one of the world’s great beer cities. A community of excellent breweries has been growing over the last 3 decades, spearheaded by a number of talented and adventurous brewers. SE Portland is home to a pretty large number of them, bolstered by the neighborhood spirit of our great city and the beer-savvy drinkers in the area.

contactimageAs we worked on creating our brewery, community was always a very important aspect. So is tradition. And family. We wanted to put all of that together with one simple, yet illusive concept. Co-founder Nick brought up Zoigl as a jump-off point. Alan studied Brewing Science in Germany and worked in a few German breweries, so he started researching the idea.

We loved it so much that we flew over to Bavaria to visit all 5 of the remaining Zoigl communities. Once we had seen what Zoigl is all about, we wanted to bring the brewing culture back to SE Portland.

The word Zoigl is pronounced just like it looks. And it’s fun to say. We dare you to say Zoigl five times without breaking into a grin. Besides being incredibly addictive to pronounce, there is something pretty cool behind it all.

(photograph above copyright “The New School”) 

That something special goes back many centuries. Back in the day when towns worried about everything burning down in one big fire, some towns pooled their resources and built a community brewhouse. Not only did that reduce the amount of people firing up their homebrew systems (yes, we are talking about wood or coal as the heat source) and putting everyone’s homes in danger, it also elevated the quality of the equipment and consistency of the beer production. But some towns went a bit further. Now that they had one place to make the wort (pre-fermented beer), they cobbled together a special system where the citizens of the town could make that wort, take it home, ferment it in their basements/cellars/caves, then sell the beer to their neighbors. Instead of having a designated public house or bar, the citizens opened their homes to the community on a regular basis and served food and beer directly in their living rooms, barns, courtyards, or wherever else they could fit the thirsty masses into their homes.

Imagine you live in one of the five little villages that still uphold this tradition in the Upper Palatinate of Bavaria, Germany. You just got done bringing in some hay, fed and watered the livestock, then wanted a beer and something to eat. If you were in Eslarn, Windisch-Eschenbach, all you had to do is look for the sign. What sign you ask? Well the medieval brewer’s symbol, which denotes water, malt, hops, air, fire and water. Most people recognize it by its 6 points as two triangles on top of each other. It is the same shape of the Star of David, but has symbolized brewing for around 1000 years. While we are on the subject of signs, did you ever wonder why the word sign has a “g” in it? It comes from the German word zeigen, which means to “show.” The Germans pronounce their “g” and the Bavarians, bless their hearts, have a special dialect that morphs the word into Zoigl. The Zoigl star shows the thirsty farmer, chimney sweep, family with kids, and anyone else that the house is open for business and ready to serve the community.