Navigating the challenges of COVID-19 stressed all local breweries. Those hardships were particularly difficult for newish places like Montavilla’s Threshold, which opened in early 2019 and was still building a following when the pandemic struck.
Owners Jarek and Sara Szymanski followed the path paved by others: They constructed a seating area outside the pub. Once that structure was complete in late September, the couple wondered how they would go about filling it.
“Most everyone in the industry was kind of freaking out about winter,” Sara Szymanski says. “There was this rush to create outdoor spaces. Then you had to envision people actually sitting out there in December and January.”
Fortunately, the past intersected with pandemic as they tossed around ideas to draw in customers. Jarek Szymanski was born and raised in Poland, and Threshold has a small Polish following thanks to that connection, so he decided to tap into his heritage and try making grzaniec (pronounced guh-SHAWN-ee-ets), a traditional winter beverage in his home country. Though he admits he initially wasn’t sure they could pull it off successfully.
“I was reluctant to offer this beer,” Jarek Szymanski says. “I worried about the amount of prep time it would take. You can’t make this drink in advance; you have to make them as they’re ordered. That was a significant issue because we’re a small operation. But it proved to be a winner.”
Served in a stein and garnished with cinnamon sticks and orange wedges, grzaniec is essentially a mulled beer. At Threshold, the base is its flagship Jens Bailed Grisette, the lightest and least hoppy offering available. The beer is simmered with a host of holiday-evoking spices, including cinnamon, clove, cardamom and orange zest, then back-sweetened with a bit of honey. The result is a fragrant drink that will take the chill off with each sip, even doubling as a hand-warmer.
“Grzaniec would be made with a domestic lager in Poland,” Jarek Szymanski explains. “You really just want something that doesn’t have a lot of flavor or bitterness so the spices take over. The closest thing to it here would probably be a mulled cider.”
It took the Szymanskis several days to figure out what ingredients worked best, then they spent some additional time picking out the optimum glassware. This is, after all, a festive drink often found at Polish Christmas markets, so presentation is key. After debuting their pandemic experiment at the taproom last November, the reception was warm.
“I tend to think the best way to deal with challenges is to embrace them,” says Sara Szymanski. “It’s wintertime and it sucks. How do you make something out of it? That’s how we looked at it and that’s what this beer was about. It was nice to see people enjoying it.”
And it looks like the grzaniec may be at least one pivot that will outlast the pandemic. Jarek and Sara expect to bring it back to the menu this fall.
Get It Here: 403 SE 79th Ave., 503-477-8789, threshold.beer. 4-8 pm Tuesday-Thursday, 4-9 pm Friday, 3-9 pm Saturday, noon-6 pm Sunday.