Now another vehicle is joining the city’s fleet of boozy buggies: a rare Italian box truck that is about to become EarthLab Libations.
Business partners Matt McDonald and Daniel Denison are preparing to open the outlet in a current cluster of food carts near the corner of Southeast Belmont Street and 27th Avenue. Their truck will be the first to serve alcohol at that location, turning the modest patch of gravel into a much more lively beer garden once it is up and running.
McDonald tells WW that it was actually Denison who was drawn to the 1988 rig—which was only sold in the U.S. market during a brief period in the ’80s through a partnership with Ford Motor Company. The Craigslist find had been sitting in a Southeast Portland field, completely neglected, for over a decade, but Denison has a passion for boxy European vehicles of that era and immediately wanted to buy it.
McDonald, on the other hand, wasn’t as enthusiastic.
“I was definitely not excited about the vehicle,” says McDonald. “Upon arrival, I asked, ‘Did they pull it out of a swamp?’”
Denison ended up purchasing the truck with his own money, after negotiating the price down to $600, promising to get rid of it on his own if it didn’t work out. McDonald warmed up to the idea a couple of weeks later, and they began rehabilitating the clunker in the spring of 2020.
The two actually met as both were entering a career shift while working at a specialty Portland beer bar. McDonald, a union electrician for nearly two decades, left that position to seek out experience in the craft beer industry, in order to fulfill his dream of opening a beer bar. Denison had ditched his “soulless and unfulfilling career in banking,” and realized he, too, was interested in launching a similar business, so they decided to team up.
EarthLab will begin pouring from 12 taps—10 beer, one cider and one kombucha—but the truck is designed to hold up to 23 handles for future growth. McDonald plans to keep the selection in constant rotation, with a focus on local brands as well as smaller, self-distributed beverage producers. At least one Belgian-style will always be available.
McDonald takes pride in the fact that his system is 100-percent stainless steel, not the more common brass equipment that tends to degrade over time and infect draft beverages with a metallic flavor.
“This is an absolute dream come true for the both of us,” McDonald says. “Our excitement is only tempered by the amount of work we are putting into finishing out the truck right now. We hope to become a meaningful part of the beer community here in Portland.”