Elan Walsky is on a natural high. His Coalition Brewing
made national waves in an Oct. 5 article in Fortune Magazine
about hops and hemp. Coalition brews the first hemp and CBD
beer in Oregon – Two Flowers India Pale Ale. The brew has
great flavor and aroma, but it won’t get you high or show up on
a drug test. Elan’s high is purely emotional!
The following Q&A with Elan has been lightly edited for
clarity and brevity.
How did Coalition Brewing begin?
I was teaching home brewing at Steinart Company when Kiley Hoyt came in to buy a fancy small batch setup.
As we talked, we realized we had studied at the same brewing science school, the Siebel Institute. When Kiley asked what I would call my
brewery, I replied, Hobo Brewing. Serendipitously, she had started an LLC under that name the week before. We began looking at production
spaces, and Kiley asked me to be her partner. We are among a small cadre of breweries that are brewer owned and responsible for the recipe
development and hands-on production of every beer. Our motto is “Community Through Beer.”
What happened to Hobo Brewing?
Before we opened, we received a cease and desist order from a brewery in California that produces a beer called Hobo. So with no name, we went on a hike through Forest Park and decided we weren’t coming down until we had a new name. Several hours and several beers later, we settled on Coalition. It represents a number of things for us. The company would not exist without the “coalition” of people who came together to launch it; we have very different, but complementary, skill sets. It also speaks to our desire to be a community-focused business.
You are Portland’s first cannabis and hemp beer makers, correct?
We hold the title as the first hemp and CBD beer in Oregon. It’s important to make a distinction here between cannabis and hemp. What people refer to as cannabis is the recently legalized flower and associated extracts of the marijuana plant used for medicinal and psychoactive properties. Cannabis contains THC, the active compound that gets you high when you smoke. Our beer contains no THC. Industrial hemp is a
marijuana plant bred to have little to no THC. It is used for hemp clothing, oil, seeds and some of the common hemp products available at
Our beer does contain CBD, one of the many cannabinoids that exist in hemp, cannabis and many other plants. CBD is nonpsychoactive, but
it is considered to be responsible for some of the anti-inflammatory and pain-killing properties of cannabis.
Has legalizing pot changed the beer industry?
Legalization was one of the driving factors behind our decision to move forward with this product. There is substantial marketing value
to participating in this new and exciting industry.
Lots of alarmists say the declines in beer sales are linked to legalization. To my mind, this is more of a casual correlation rather than causation. We view it as an opportunity to tap into a market segment that we would not normally have access to.
How many breweries can Portland support?
People love to say that Portland is saturated with breweries, and yet more open every year. To me there is more than enough room for unique and innovative craft brands to be able to grow alongside each other.
Who are your customers?
We have customers from many different social, economic and age backgrounds. In general, craft beer is considered an “affordable luxury,” something a wide range of people will be willing and able to treat themselves to in good or tough economic times. It’s been interesting to see the new market segment we are tapping into with our CBD beers.
Tell me about your family.
Both sides of my family come from what is now the area around Belarus. My father is from New York and now works as a neurologist in Santa Fe, NM. My mother was born in Argentina and raised in Israel. After her compulsory military service in the IDF, she immigrated to New York, where she met my father while working airport security at JFK.
I was born in Santa Fe, went to the University of Colorado in Boulder and came to Portland 10 years ago.
Did Judaism play a role in your childhood?
It certainly did. I was raised Reform in Santa Fe, and had my bar mitzvah at Temple Beth Shalom. At that point, I was given the choice of how to practice. While I don’t actively practice much other than celebrating the High Holidays, I consider it a deeply important cultural connection. Much of my extended family lives in Israel, so it has certainly informed my life. Judaism’s values of education, hard work and striving for excellence are something that I try to apply to my professional life.
How did your family react when you focused on the science of beer as a career?
My formal education is largely in the biological sciences. My area of focus was cognitive neuropsychology, the study of the physical brain structures responsible for cognition and perception. While I will always have an interest in that field, I’m very happy to be working in the beer industry.
I’ve always been a bit of a science nerd, but I also enjoy a working environment that is not as stringent as the laboratory or academia. Brewing beer is the perfect combination of art and science, a chance to use my educational knowledge and have a creative outlet.
My family was incredibly supportive of my decision, especially considering they are not really drinkers. I count myself among a lucky few to be doing something I love.
Do you have any advice for others about the industry?
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. The beer industry, especially in Portland, has some of the most knowledgeable and friendly colleagues I’ve ever met. You can brew your entire life and still only know half of it. Don’t be afraid to tap into the vast wealth of knowledge.
Did getting mentioned in Fortune Magazine affect your business?
Being mentioned in Fortune has certainly been a boon for us. The article is very new, so we haven’t experienced the full effect yet, but we have seen many mentions from patrons and retail partners and an increase in media inquiries.
What are the plans for your brewery?
In addition to a constant flow of new and interesting beers, including more CBD beers, Coalition has some very exciting things going on. We just released our Space Fruit IPA in six-pack, 12-ounce bottles to complement our flagship 22-ounce bottles. Our big project is the construction of a new covered and heated outdoor drinking patio. We will be opening our tasting room seven days a week and year round, so our patrons will have a cool, comfortable place to enjoy our beers, check out our brewery and experience beer right at the source.
Where can people get your beer?
You can find our beer at many local retailers. Our bottles are at Whole Foods, New Seasons, Fred Meyer, Safeway, Albertsons and select Plaid Pantry stores. We are at most if not all of the independent bottle shops, and our beers rotate on draft at lots of great restaurants and bars around town. You can also find it in SW Washington up the I-5 corridor and the surrounding region. If you happen to find yourself in San Jose, Costa Rica or Tokyo, keep your eyes out for it as well.
2705 SE Ankeny St.
Portland, OR 97214
Tasting Room Hours: Friday 5-9 pm; Saturday 2-9 pm; Sunday 2-6 pm