We’ve told UFO stories, identical triplets stories, before-and-after building renovation stories and beyond – so many great tales and characters and legends have come to light throughout the life of this company. And some of the best insight comes from within.
One of the most fun projects on our plate has been interviewing longtime McMenamins employees about their stories – nothing is off limits. (Well, that’s not entirely true; some stuff is better left off the record.) Below are excerpts from our interview with John Richen (Breweries).
John Richen, Brewery Administrator
Employed with McMenamins since 1987
About life before McMenamins
JR: Well I was really into music. When I was in college, I ran the college radio station for four years, I was the program director at KDUP, it was like the University of Portland Radio station that was basically just a little radio station that broadcast to the students, kind of thing. … I’ve always been really, really heavily into music, since a very young age, and I sort of think that’s got a lot to do with [early childhood years spent in] the whole Berkeley scene and stuff like that. I think that’s where it got kind of planted, was being down there when all that was Hendrix, and the Doors, and a lot of that stuff was going on. So, I think it got planted early, and my dad was really into music, so… So anyway, I’ve always been kind of like a music historian, kind of thing. … So, when I got out of school, I was working with a couple local bands quite a bit. The Confidentials were one of ’em, and the Boy Wonders… The Confidentials actually were the bigger, sort of the bigger of the two.
Q: What genre of music?
JR: They were kind of… it was like a… The big thing at that point was kind of punk, new wave kind of stuff. They were kind of Clash-like, but they were a 3-piece, so there was a little more power, but… Definitely influenced by the Clash, and that whole Ska/Reggae…
Q: Huh! And do you play instruments as well?
JR: Not that I would admit to. [Both laughing]
About becoming a brewer at Edgefield (after working at the Greenway)
JR: Alright, so, Edgefield basically – at that time, because of the expansion and everything, once you got into the brewing system, if you had, you know, if you had certain qualities, you’re pretty much – that’s a fast track into a brewery at some point, just because of the way that we were growing.
Q: Yeah. And you found that satisfying? And, did you think to yourself, “This is what I’m going to do.”
JR: I really liked it, and I had a really, really, really good teacher, which is so important, because I had to take what I understood about beer, and look at it from the ground up, you know what I mean? And it’s different from being able to appreciate a bunch of different beer styles and whatever. And then, to reverse-engineer them, you know, go back to the beginning, that was kind of a different way of thinking, because it wasn’t malt extract, you know, it was actual all-grain brewing, and… At least, by the time I was doing it.
Q: Yeah. Who was your teacher?
JR: Eric Lengvenis. And he was a manager at the time. A brewery manager. Well, no, he wasn’t a manager yet, I don’t think. … It was a really exciting time. But, in terms of an actual learning… Learning the craft of brewing, I didn’t learn a thing about actually brewing beer until I got out into the small places, and started being trained by Eric. So, I started training at Highland, and worked there for about three weeks, and he was the kind of teacher that, you know, you would work all day, and then you’d go home with a big stack of homework, kind of thing. … Like I said, I started with the knowledge of the finished product, not how it got that way. And so, it’s kind of a whole different way of learning. But, you know, it worked, and it was fun. … I mean, we have had some really great teachers in the brewing ranks in the past.
About transitioning from brewer to compliance
JR: I took on a bunch of – a lot of what I do now is part of what used to be the general management responsibility. All the taxation, compliance, putting together all the source documents, all this really dry stuff that you don’t really know what it means, and you don’t want to, ’cause it’s boring as hell, but it’s all like legal stuff. But it’s kind of like, I can chew on… ‘Cause it’s almost like it’s a game. I want, when I do this kind of stuff, when I put these kinds of records together, I want to do it so good that, even if those guys come in and audit us ten times, they’re not gonna get a dime from us. It’s like a game, right? You figure out what do they want, how can we do this and give it to ’em, and then just keep them out of our hair! So, I kind of like that! I kind of get off on that, and so, it puts me in a position where all these other people are like, “I don’t want to do that. That’s boring. I don’t have the concentration to deal with that every month!” I can! … And so, having these kind of things, like preparing these source documents or whatever, and them having to be rock-solid and perfect, it forces my hand in a way that it kind of enforces this discipline, you know?
About his life’s philosophy
JR: Yeah. I mean … My philosophy is kind of the, sort of, “be the river,” you know, just kind of move the way that I feel like I’m supposed to move, or not – I’m trying to learn not to fight against everything all the time.
Q: Go with the flow.
JR: Yeah! Kind of. … Yeah. And it’s… So, it takes you places that you’re not always expecting. But that’s not always necessarily a bad thing. You know? So, if anybody would’ve asked me 27 years ago if they thought I’d be working for the same company for 27 years, I would’ve laughed in their face, but I feel like I’ve had like five careers in McMenamins, and that works, ’cause I really like it. I do. And I don’t mean this flippantly at all. I feel like I’ve been part of something pretty special, you know?