George Johnson knew the neighborhood, knew his beer, and knew his dough. He just—sorry—kneaded to make it a reality.
Now, 20 years after moving to Portland, Johnson–along with business partner, Adam Dixon–is ready to share his beer and pizza with the fine folks of Foster-Powell. Johnson is African-American, making Assembly "one of the few minority owned breweries in the country," according to a press release.
On Friday, March 29, the 15-barrel Assembly Brewing will officially open at 6112 SE Foster Rd with seven of its own beers on tap. (No need to wait until then. The brewery soft-opened on Saturday, March 23.)
The 7,500 square-foot room is spacious and decorated with a giant hand-painted mural showing the beer brewing process. (Five artists worked on the mural: Willow Darcy, Theo Holdt, Geahk Burchill, Michelle McCausey, and Erin Bishop.) True to the brewery's Motor City inspiration, the art was based on the early 1930s Diego Rivera fresco series, Detroit Industry Murals.
As for the beer, Johnson has taken a mindful approach to making his beer as flavorful, balanced, and “drinkable” as possible. That means beer that hovers around 5.5 to 6.5% ABV and won't “rip off someone’s face with hops.”
“I think that a lot of the way beer culture has been going [has] turned off quite a few people from beer, maybe becoming more elitist than it already was," says Johnson.
"I figured [that the beer] doesn’t have to come in a goblet, [or] that you can only get an eight-ounce pour. I want to have something where you can put down some pints and be able to drink beer.”
Originally hailing from Detroit—with a pit stop in Boulder along the way—Johnson started his craft beer journey as a teenager. “I started homebrewing when I was 19, [and] I got my first job in a [Boulder] brewpub when I was 20,” says Johnson. Johnson says he had been working on his pizza game simultaneously, making Detroit-style pizza at home and sharing it with friends (like Dixon) and family.
Johnson knew that if he was going to start selling his product to the masses, he needed to learn a bit more. “I needed to take this to the next level so I went to brewing school [at the] American Brewers Guild,” he explains. Then he upped his pizza chops by training with two-time world pizza champion, Shawn Randazzo, in Detroit, even getting his hands on the proprietary dough recipe from the original Detroit-style pizza joint, Buddy’s. Johnson's recipe is all about the crispy edge—a square, deep-dish style with a rim reminiscent of lasagna corners, but without that gut-bomb heaviness of Chicago-style deep-dish.
In 2015, Dixon and Johnson found their dream spot. “We started looking at this building in June 2015,” says Johnson, referring to their location on the corner of 61st and SE Foster, which they purchased in 2017. After all, they met in the neighborhood, and plan to turn the former grocery store into "something that we hope is an asset, and a cornerstone of the neighborhood,” says Dixon.
Hard-to-find Detroit-style pizza and freshly brewed beer? Sounds like a great reason to explore the budding Foster-Powell neighborhood with an empty stomach.