Spinning Wheels Brewing Project opens beneath Lake Taco
Story and photos by Laurel Brown
Most Gorge-folk are quite familiar with beer and breweries thanks to the many options in the area. From Carson to The Dalles, there is no shortage of places to quench your thirst. Add to the list Spinning Wheels Brewing Project, a new taproom in downtown Hood River.
Spinning Wheels Brewing Project had its grand opening April 29 in the space below Lake Taco on Oak Street. Owner and Head Brewer Andrew Rosette is excited to start his own entrepreneurial endeavor after years of working and learning with other breweries. After volunteering to clean the downstairs tap lines for longtime friends Maria and Enrique Ortega, owners of Lake Taco, he discovered the potential of the space and proposed using it for his own project.
Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Rosette moved to Seattle in 1996 and found his way to Hood River in 2012. He worked in IT for much of his life and found the Gorge thanks to his love for biking.
“There was a race here that I would come to pretty much every year,” he said. Once settling in Hood River, Rosette decided he wanted to make a career change.
He shifted from technology to beer. Matt Swihart, owner and co-founder of Double Mountain Brewery and Cidery, taught Rosette about the brewing process and the brewer-owned model — which is not very common in the Gorge. However, Swihart would not hire him.
“He didn’t think I was serious about the career change,” Rosette said.
To prove it, Rosette went to brewing school in Chicago and shortly after landed a brewing job at Double Mountain for a few years. He then left the U.S. to help start a craft brewery in Southwest Ireland called Killarney Brewing Company. Though he was enjoying the craft, Rosette missed the Gorge; like many others, he found his way back, and took a job as head brewer at Thunder Island in Cascade Locks.
It’s here that Rosette believes his reputation as a brewer began to gather a following. He assisted Thunder Island in opening and establishing their new brewery space. Rosette said that Lake Taco still offers several Thunder Island beers on tap.
“I brought the skills of making balanced beers from Ireland and consistency from brew school [to Thunder Island],” Rosette said.
He spent around three and a half years there and, once the new head brewer was prepared at the new location, left that position to pursue his own project.
“I decided that the next thing I do is going to be my own,” he said.
However, COVID-19 delayed his start and he dipped back into IT jobs while social spaces were shut down. Rosette took the long route to opening but once public congregating was allowed, his brewery plans commenced.
In January 2022, Rosette formed the Spinning Wheels Project and began to figure out licensing and branding ideas. He settled on the name for a few reasons, like its reference to bicycling as well as the colloquial meaning, sitting on an idea for a while, just as he was spinning his wheels on the idea of a brewery for a long time.
The project logo is a reference to bike gears and another essential component of his taproom: Music. The inner circle of the gear in the Spinning Wheels logo is designed to look like the a 45 rpm record insert. Rosette has acoustic treatments and special lighting in the taproom to add to the vinyl-inspired atmosphere, as well as a speaker on the corner of Oak Street to draw pedestrians in for a pint.
Rosette takes pride in his brewer-owned business, driving to his workspace in Portland on brew days and packaging days. “I know what’s going on in the industry and I wanted to create a gathering space. I appreciate the community pub or taproom like they have in Ireland — I’d like to bring back that local pub feel,” he said.
His first few brews have included a pale ale, a Mexican lager, and collaboration beers like a red ale with Double Mountain and an Italian pilsner with Ferment. He also has an IPA in the works with an art collaboration for the can design.
“I want to control the quality so I’m only doing draft or local cans right now. The goal is to have people come to the source for the beer,” Rosette said. He’s not yet interested in larger production or distribution, instead focusing on gathering a local following. He does plan to branch into special events, but does not plan to close his doors to regulars for private events.
“July 4 and Christmas might be the only days I decide to close,” Rosette laughed. His current hours are 4-8 p.m. every day except Friday and Saturday, when the hours are 8-10 p.m. He has a few part-time employees but Rosette is there every day, enjoying his hands-on approach and creating the right aesthetic for his taproom. He mentioned his “soft play” business moves, like organic growth and building a faithful following.
With goals like building a stage and on-site brewing, Rosette is grateful to have established roots in the Gorge years prior to starting his own brewery. His friends helped design and hand-make many elements of the taproom, including the taps and spouts, drip tray, drinks rails, and bar.
The wall art is comprised of photos from Rosette’s personal stash, concert posters, and memories with family he has collected. “Everything in here has a personal experience and story behind it. I like being able to be creative and do my thing. Making the beer, seeing people enjoy my work, and curating something personable,” he said.
Rosette is excited to share the space with Lake Taco, since he does not want to do anything more than snacks. His menu is simple, with options like pickles and Japanese style cocktail peanuts. The patio, which is dog-friendly, is home to Taquito, the resident cat at Spinning Wheels and Lake Taco.
“Lake Taco and the [Spinning Wheels] taproom have become symbiotic businesses, it’s been great,” he said. Customers can order upstairs and bring a buzzer down to the brewery, or enjoy their food there once it’s ready. Lake Taco is open anytime Spinning Wheels is except Mondays, and they adjusted their hours to offer a late-night menu on weekends. Details can usually be found on their Instagram, @spinningwheelsbp.
Rosette’s sights are set on building a stage on the back patio for live performances and getting fire pits for the coming winter.
“I want people to be able to come here and feel comfortable,” he said, believing that positive word of mouth is the best marketing.
Beer-lovers may very well have a new community spot to frequent, complete with vinyl records and tacos. “Anyone selling old record collections might have a new buyer, too,” Rosette added.
Summer might be winding down, but fun foodie events in the gorge aren't going anywhere. We have a great list of events and happenings for you this week. Get out there and have some adventures before fall hits us with its rainy reality!
Beyond Pickles: 10 Culinary Uses for Cucumbers
By Sarah Harper
Indulge in the freshest cucumbers by exploring and supporting your local farms and markets. Explore the many cucumber varieties such as Salt and Pepper, Cucumber-Melon, China Jade, Lemon, and Pickling.
Cucumbers play a prominent role in cuisines worldwide, adding flavor and texture to an array of recipes. From cucumber salads to zesty salsas to inventive appetizers, cucumbers leave their mark everywhere they go.
Below find 10 ways to enjoy cucumbers this summer.
These cucumber recipes capture the spirit of summer. So, as we enjoy the sunny days, let your culinary creativity flourish with the versatile cucumber.
Sarah Harper is a Registered Dietitian, creator, and one of many eaters behind The Addy Bean. She is also an avid hiker, a registered yoga instructor, and a former nursing home dietitian.
Based in Hood River, Oregon, Sarah lives with her husband Jacob, her dog Huey and her blog’s namesake – her cat Adeline.
Hood River’s Wilderton is America's first nonalcoholic distillery
Story and Photos by Noah Noteboom
As you walk into the Wilderton distillery, you are greeted by the tangy scent of fruity botanicals and the warm spirits of the employees. Co-founder Brad Whiting and Founding Distiller Seth O’Malley chose Hood River to open the first nonalcoholic distillery in America. On July 1, they opened their doors and made history.
Whiting grew up in Boston but chose a nomadic approach to life, moving every six months for a few years before finding a home in Hood River. A water sports enthusiast, he settled in the Gorge and eventually went back to business school at Portland State University for his master’s degree.
Still unsure of what he wanted to do, Whiting took a more nontraditional approach to job hunting. With his master’s degree in hand, he began knocking on doors asking around for business leads. His plan worked, as he found an opening at Hood River Distillers, where he ran the purchasing and procurement department for 14 years. Whiting was a member of the team who created the Pendleton Whiskey brand — which was bought by Jose Cuervo in 2017 for $205 million.
While Whiting worked with Hood River Distillers, O’Malley was the managing distiller at Townshend’s Distillery in Portland. Today, O’Malley is an expert in loose leaf teas, herbs and spices with a background in recipe development. O’Malley said he has every single botanical the Food and Drug Administration allows them to use — roughly 300 different ingredients.
“I try to work with an as expansive of a palette of ingredients as possible. I have literally hundreds of ingredients that I’m working with,” O’Malley said.
In April 2019, O’Malley and Whiting began laying the groundwork for Whiting’s idea to make a drink for those who live an active lifestyle. He also wanted to change the narrative attached to nonalcoholic drinks.
“A lot of people have this idea that if it’s a cocktail or drink without alcohol, that it doesn’t have a story,” Whiting said. “It’s always been that alcohol has been an assumption of a cocktail. But really, it’s about enjoying flavor. It’s about enjoying stories and being in a place where you’re spending time with other people.”
With this approach the two began experimenting with different combinations of plants, flowers, leaves, botanicals, roots and resins to find the right ingredients that would tell their story. Whiting says it took nearly two years to find the right concoction. Their endeavors came during a time in 2020 with COVID forcing lockdowns and residents confined to their homes.
Many started new hobbies — watched TV shows or tended to their garden, while others took up drinking. There was little shame with cracking a cold one or popping the wine bottle open at any hour of the day, they said, but over time, drinking can lead to consequences if not consumed responsibly. Wilderton is an alternative for those looking for more leisure.
By December 2020, Wilderton’s first bottles were on the shelves in Portland grocery stores.
As time progressed, so did their marketing and production strategies.
“It became less and less about people who necessarily didn’t drink at all or are looking to quit versus that idea of moderation and choice,” Whiting said.
Up until late-2022, Wilderton had relied on O’Malley’s previous employer to distill their drinks, and Whiting had a vision of becoming a craft spirit.
“I thought it was really important to have a consumer facing place. Most of the people walking by the tasting room have never heard of this,” Whiting added. “I want to bring people in. And that’s why we offer free samples and free tastings.”
In October, Whiting and O’Malley closed on the waterfront space beneath Ferment. In less than eight months, they had their flagship location up and running.
Whiting explains that making nonalcoholic beverages is similar to the traditional process of distilling spirits and brewing beer, but the main ingredients differ. Hot water is poured into a 1,000-gallon lauter tun filled with the “several hundred pounds of botanicals,” where it is left to soak for three to four hours. During that time, the water will become something like a bitter, concentrated herbal tea. At this point, the water is separated from the botanicals and pumped into a still where the boiling point of the liquid is lowered. Whiting said they change the atmospheric pressure inside the still to separate and concentrate all the different flavors.
“Essentially what goes in is this really gnarly brown, super tannic liquid. And in this case you get out this just perfectly clear, hyper concentrated version of what we started with,” Whiting said.
Two of their products, the Lustre and Earthen, are calorie- and sugar-free. Along with the newest drink, the Bittersweet Aperitivo, all three products are vegan and do not contain any gluten or caffeine. Whiting said they created the Bittersweet Aperitivo as homage to the Italian Aperitivo tradition — having a late-afternoon drink after work or as an appetizer to dinner. Popularity of the Aperol Spritz is rising in the U.S.
“This one was a little bit of a diversion for us where the first two don’t include any sugar at all. Because the Italian Aperitivo traditionally do include sugar, we use a little bit of a chardonnay grape juice to create a little bit of sweetness. And this has quickly become our top seller,” Whiting said.
The Bittersweet Aperitivo is described as aromatic and herbal with a blend of grapefruit and orange blossom. This drink is suggested to be paired with club soda and an orange slice garnish. The Earthen botanical spirit has smoky hints with a savory aftertaste that Wilderton suggests is paired with ginger ale and a lime garnish.
My personal favorite, the Lustre, is another floral and citrus drink that when paired with tonic water and an orange wheel is prefect for an afternoon by the water.
Wilderton’s tasting room and distillery is open every day from noon to 6 p.m. at 407 Portway Ave., Suite 100 (ground floor neighbors with Ferment brewing). Tours of the distillery are available upon request and tastings are free of charge.
benny's hawaiian shave ice truck opens
Story and Photos by Laurel Brown
Have you tried one of the newest food trucks in Hood River yet? Benny’s Shave Ice is nestled downtown near the movie theater next to Four and Twenty Blackbirds on Fifth and Columbia Street. Run by Benjamin Tubbs and his family, Benny’s Shave Ice opened in May after purchasing their bright blue trailer in the winter.
Tubbs has been in food service for many years but always wanted to own his own business. Originally from Seattle, the Tubbs have spent time living in Hood River and traveling the world. They moved back to the area in 2019 and, after a family trip to Hawaii, and realized the lack of shave ice options in the Gorge.
Hawaii holds a special place in their hearts, so choosing authentic Hawaiian shave ice was a no-brainer. Not only did Tubbs work on a cruise ship there in the past, but he and Akela hope to move to Hawaii someday after years of making it their destination for adventures and vacations.
“Locals are slowly starting to know where we are and what we have to offer,” Tubbs said. The truck has a fruity menu with plenty of flavors to choose from, including alternative dairy choices and homemade mochi. Check out the Three Sisters with passion fruit, orange, and guava or the Mt. Hood topped with strawberry puree.
“One of the next steps is trying to get more natural, fresh puree options. We’d like to support local farmers wherever possible in our ingredients as the business grows,” said Tubbs. His kids, Caden and Chloe, are his primary workforce while his wife Akela helps outside of her busy nursing schedule.
“We did push for a spot on the waterfront or Oak Street, but it’s been nice to be around other food trucks. The recognition and business we get during the Saturday markets is also great,” Tubbs said. They plan to stay open through October, depending on the winter weather, and are excited about the positive buzz from both locals and visitors.
Benny’s Shave Ice was a featured vendor at the waterfront for the fundraising event Kiteboard 4 Cancer in early July, though moving the food truck proved to be difficult. “We probably won’t do that again,” Tubbs laughed, “but we do hope to offer vending options down the road, maybe for weddings or parties.”
With punch cards for returning customers and credit card payment options, Benny’s is a refreshing new place to check out for something sweet and unique. Their new summer hours are now in effect: Wednesday 3-7 p.m., Thursday and Friday noon to 7 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sunday noon to 7 p.m. Check them out on Instagram @bennysshaveicehoodriver.