The Portland beer community has lost one of its most unique and lovable personalities.
Dean Pottle passed away Thursday morning at age 65 from heart failure. Pottle ran Dean's Scene, a speakeasy in the basement of Pottle's plumbing shop where drinkers served themselves home-brewed beer made on a system in the corner of the basement.
The affable Dean presided over a an ongoing house party, where the curious and a collection of regulars congregated around a double-sided bar in a haze of smoke—cannabis and tobacco alike. Dean was the DJ—Alice Cooper and Frank Zappa were his favorites—and always eager to talk about beer. He attended dozens of beer festivals every year, did plumbing for a number of local breweries and was an active member of his homebrew club.
Sammy Sklover—Dean's close friend who has been the brewmaster at Dean's for the last few year's and serves as de facto GM—wrote about Dean's final moments on his Facebook.
Originally from Connecticut, Pottle moved to Portland 15 years ago this month. As he told me for a profile published in WW in 2013, he didn't have his first craft beer until the early 1990s, when he was already 41. He moved to Portland in 1998 after a magical stay 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 told us then. "I was from the East Coast, and I was like, 'This is it!"'
"Out here they really cared about shit, and that got to me," said Pottle. "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."
There's no place that doesn't need a man like Dean Pottle, and Portland was lucky to have him. He was a quintessential Portlander, too—beyond loving beer, music and cannabis, he was also a committed pacifist and vegetarian.
Once in Portland, Pottle bought a house across from Alameda Brewing on Northeast Fremont where he lived and operated his plumbing shop. He was soon joined by his ex-wife Misty, who he'd been married to back in Connecticut. She moved out to Portland and they remarried. They split up again three years ago.
Pottle built up a scene in the basement of his shop. My 2013 story led to some notoriety—and to a visit from the OLCC, who convinced Pottle to fill out paperwork giving them the right to inspect his premises. They later warned him about some of his practices, such as the donation box by the door, and sent a letter that led to the spot's temporary closure. There was some blame spread around over the whole thing but Dean's Scene quietly reopened, and has been going strong since.
We're pouring a collaboration beer at tomorrow's Portland Pro-Am Beer Festival. The beer that Sklover made, with a little help from Dean and me, is a hazy New England-style IPA infused with CBD, a terpene found in cannabis that promotes relaxation.
Though things are still up in the air, Sklover tells me his intention is to keep Dean's open in something close to its current form.
"Dean really wanted to have a place where people could come and talk about beer," he says. "And drink craft beer, even if they don't have money."
To me, that was the most endearing part of Dean's whole operation. It was very much a clubhouse, a little gang of beer-loving Lost Boys who'd drink, smoke, debate politics and drink some more. When I came over to brew the Pro-Am beer, one of Dean's friends was asleep on the couch in his basement pub, and another was sleeping in a hammock in the back yard.
I asked Dean a few times why he wouldn't go commercial and he told me that he would not get an OLCC license until they allowed cannabis use in bars. He foresaw a day where that'd happen, too.
There will be a memorial in Dean's neighborhood announced very soon, Sklover says. Already, there is a GoFundMe to cover his final expenses. At the memorial, expect to hear a lot of funny stories about a kind, creative and loyal man.
Here's my own favorite Dean story:
Back in the summer of 2012, Wilco played a show down in Jacksonville, Oregon, the quaint little town in Southern Oregon. I happened to stop into Dean's three or four times in the months leading up to the show, and every time I came in Dean was playing Wilco on the stereo. He managed the stereo himself, and was very deliberate about creating the right vibe with music. Wilco is my favorite band, so I loved this. But you could tell Dean wasn't into it. Finally, I nodded at him from around the bend in his little double-sided bar, and asked him what the deal was.
"I'm really trying to get into them," he says through the thick haze of smoke. "My buddy and I are going down to the show next month and I wanna like them by then."
Dean never did come to like Wilco.
But the fact that he tried so hard to get into the band struck me. This was a man in his 60s, not a teenager. And yet, that's how he lived his life—with the spirit of a kid who wanted to get excited about the band his friends were excited about. And that's why Pottle had so many friends that are missing him right now.