You can drink beer—there’s plenty of suds spouting from four taps inside the pub Dean Pottle built in the basement below his plumbing shop on Northeast Fremont Street—but you can’t buy it. That would be against the law, because Dean’s Scene isn’t a licensed business, let alone a bar. Dean’s Scene is, as far as we know, Portland’s only noncommercial homebrew pub. Strangers who’ve heard about the Scene come to drink in this dimly lit cave. They sit in a haze of tobacco and medical-marijuana smoke below a coaster-covered ceiling next to special bottle-sized shelving built to house the most honored of dead soldiers.
It’s low key and apparently legal: Pottle says both the cops and the Oregon Liquor Control Commission have dropped by in the last seven years, and both seem to be all right with the model since there’s no booze sold and people serve themselves. Legally, it’s a house party with a keg fund at the door. Though some think of Pottle’s place as a speakeasy, it isn’t exactly low-profile. He was filmed for the Oct. 29 episode of the Esquire Network’s Brew Dogs. This Saturday, the coconut-brown ale Pottle made with his neighbors at Alameda Brewing will be on tap at Portland’s first Pro-Am Beer Festival (buy tickets here). Pottle hopes to someday convert his space into a commercial brewery.
Photos by Jerek Hollender
Though he’ll expect to replace his brewing equipment if he makes that jump, Pottle already has his one-barrel system rigged for efficiency, complete with faucets that pour automatically when positioned above the vessel they’re meant to fill. Currently it’s half-brewery and half-basement. A storage shelf holds six full glass carboys. Kegs of pumpkin brew for Pottle’s Halloween party are chilled by refrigeration panels salvaged from a plumbing job. There’s even a small commercial-grade glass-washing machine.
When Dean’s is open, a blue and green neon sign lights the window. Scenesters head down the heavy steel steps to his basement and stuff the $10 suggested donation into the box at the bottom of the stairs (“you don’t have to pay,” Pottle repeats) then grab a glass from the case which Pottle restocks at the 25 beer festivals he attends every year. Then, they sidle up to the double-sided bar. The brewmaster comes around to chat, an American Spirit between his fingers. He may or may not be wearing one of his Dean’s Scene T-shirts, which bear the slogan “The place where you never drink the same beer twice.”
Pottle is wiry and young for his 62 years, with a gray ponytail and mustache and square metal-rimmed glasses. By his count, Pottle was 41 the first time he had a “real beer.” It was 1991, and he was living in his hometown in Fairfield County, Conn. The beer was an amber ale from New England Brewing Company, and it made such an impression that Pottle wanted to learn how to make it himself. His wife, Misty, gave him a homebrew kit for Christmas. “I started brewing and I never quit,” he says.
In 1997, during his divorce from Misty—they were together for 20 years, split for 12, then got back together again four years ago but say they’re planning to split again—Pottle made his first pilgrimage to the West Coast and fell in love with Portland during a stay at the hostel at Edgefield. “I’d heard Portland had good beer, but we had no idea because we didn’t have the Internet back in those days,” he says. He spent the last night of his trip drinking in Edgefield’s packed Little Red Shed. “I was from the East Coast,” he says, “and I was like, ‘This is it!’’’
So Pottle moved to Portland in 1998. “Out here they really cared about shit, and that got to me,” he says. “That’s why people move here from all over the country, because they’re too good for where they’re from. And I feel bad, because they really needed me back there.”
After spending the summer in a hostel and a couple of years living off Southeast Foster Road, Pottle bought his Beaumont home for $140,000 in 2001. “Cheaper than shit,” he says, though the basement required more hours of work than he cares to count.
Shortly thereafter, he got back together with Misty, who’d been living in Tucson, Ariz. She became a fixture in the place and remains so. Even as they plan to divorce, she’s still there playing dominoes and calling for Dean to crack a framboise. They went to see The Heat last week, and have a couple’s Halloween costume planned.
Dean’s Scene isn’t much of a secret these days. Over the summer, his basement was a stop on the Fremont Festival’s pub crawl, closing out a night that began at Fremont Ridge bar and Smallwares. He’s had Yelp reviews over the years and, just this month, received a letter from Yelp congratulating him on the impressive reviews of his place. So, yes, it’s OK to talk about Dean’s Scene.
Just remember the second rule of Dean’s Scene: You cannot buy beer at Dean’s Scene. “People ask me for kegs and I say ‘I can’t sell you a keg,’” he says. “But invite me to the party and I’ll come and bring a keg.”
GO: Dean Pottle’s DMC Coconut Brown Ale will be served at the Portland Pro-Am Beer Festival at Con-Way, 2107 NW Raleigh St., on Saturday, Nov. 2. 2 pm. $25. Dean’s Scene, 4714 NE Fremont St., is open Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights when the neon sign is lit.
Pro/Am Beer Festival Tap List
(Buy tickets here.)Alameda with Dean Pottle
DMC Toasted Coconut Brown Ale
Dean Pottle teamed with neighboring Alameda Brewing to make a toasted coconut brown ale.
Breakside with Paul Kasten
Wildwood chef Paul Kasten helped on this English-style old ale fermented on oak spires.
Buckman Botanical with Steve Carper
Buckman Botanical’s collaboration with veteran Oregon Brew Crew member Steve Carper includes about 20 pounds of whole-berry cranberry sauce.
Coalition with Eric Steen
Slow Heather Ale
Eric Steen, who hosts the Beers Made by Walking park tours, brewed this ale with heather tips for a flowery and herbal aroma.
Deschutes with Ryan Spencer
Session Diesel IPA
This brew was made with Ryan Spencer, certified beer judge and host at Deschutes’ Portland pub.
Fort George with Charlie “The Beer Traveler” Herrin
Chärlezen Charge Märzen
Charlie Herrin has been an avid craft-beer consumer for 20 years. This beer, brewed with Fort George, is a traditional German Märzen.
Laurelwood with Liam Nagy
Rusty Robot Strong Ale
Rusty Robot was created by Laurelwood’s lead brewer, Shane Watterson, and his longtime homebrew accomplice, Liam Nagy.
Migration with Fletcher Beaudoin
Get Lit Wit
This imperial Belgian wit was brewed with Fletcher Beaudoin, who made an imperial red distributed as part of Sierra Nevada’s beer camp program.
Old Town with Brian Yaeger
I.P. Yae and LOLA Strawberry Lemonade
This Northwest-style IPA was brewed with WW contributor Brian Yaeger, author of Red, White and Brew. Old Town is also pouring a strawberry lemonade beer brewed with Ladies of Lagers and Ales.
Portland U-Brew with Aaron Bach
Chewy Wookie Imperial Stout
Chewy Wookie is an American-style stout brewed with Aaron Bach of the Portland Brewers Collective.
Sasquatch with George Dimeo
Vanilla Bourbon Creme Ale
Hillsdale’s Sasquatch and certified Cicerone George Dimeo will serve this vanilla bourbon creme ale, made with oak chips soaked in Evan Williams bourbon, on nitro.
Widmer Brothers with Noel Blake
Steel Bridge Porter
Noel Blake, member of the Oregon Brew Crew since 1995, teamed with Widmer on this porter.