Glaciers connote feelings of jagged cold, adventure, and size on an order of magnitude the human mind can hardly grasp. Over the years, many brands from Gatorade to mint candy companies have drawn on the positive associations evoked by glaciers to market their products. So when a beer equipment manufacturer set up shop in the shadow of Oregon’s glaciated Mount Hood, the name for their operation was right in front of them.
Glacier Tanks was established in Portland in 2006, less than 50 miles west of Mount Hood. It is a small, family-owned company with fewer than twenty employees. Staff members sport fleeces with the Glacier Tanks logo, a silhouette of Mount Hood with blue caricatured glaciers. The owners are Portland lifers, although their operation, which produces brewing tanks, has since outgrown its original confines and moved across the river to Vancouver, Washington. They get together with friend-breweries and compete in beer camaraderie like “Brewfit games,” which include events like the cask carry and beer chugging.
GlacierHub caught up with Nick Roelle, the company’s 39-year-old CEO, who is a snowboarder and outdoorsman. He confirmed the Glacier Tanks’ namesake is “an ode to Mount Hood” and to his youth, which he spent exploring glaciers in Alaska.
Twelve named glaciers and snowfields flank Mount Hood, which is a slumbering volcano and Oregon’s tallest peak. Iconic among Portlanders, the mountain is revered for both its beauty and mystique— there is no established path to the top. Its 7,000 feet of glacial cave passages comprise the longest system in the continental U.S.
Portland and the Pacific Northwest are informally recognized as the craft-brew capital of the world. A bit farther east, the Cascade Range casts a rain shadow over a vast, dry, elevated plateau. It is a sun-drenched region, which receives hydration year-round from a healthy mountain snowpack. These are ideal hop-growing conditions, a primary ingredient for making good beer. The region produced 99 percent of U.S. grown hops in 2017.
However, climate change forecasts predict a warmer, drier, less hoppy Pacific Northwest, which is bad news for beer makers. But Glacier Tanks, a company that got its start making rainwater storage tanks, is accustomed to adapting quickly. They also create equipment for brewing kombucha, coffee, wine, and tool custom products specialized for other niche productions. Their clients include the Boston Beer Company (the maker of Samuel Adams), Backwoods Brewing, and Humm Kombucha.
In 2015, some of the most recognizable names in American beer-making signed on to a climate declaration for greater integration of sustainability practices into their brewing. The declaration reads: “Warmer temperatures and extreme weather events are harming the production of hops, a critical ingredient of beer that grows primarily in the Pacific Northwest. Rising demand and lower yields have driven the price of hops up by more than 250 percent over the past decade. Clean water resources, another key ingredient, are also becoming scarcer in the West as a result of climate-related droughts and reduced snowpack.”
Levi Drake, the Glacier Tanks operations manager, studied stream ecology at the University of Illinois. He is aware of the climate prediction for their hop-growing region. According to Drake, who is also responsible for Glacier Tanks’ research and design, there is nothing glacial about the pace of the company’s adaptability. They are currently in the process of redesigning kettles for better heat retention and efficiency. The pursuit of sustainable systems is a theme of the Portland region, and will continue to drive brewery innovation, especially in the Pacific Northwest.