Growing up, Nick Herrera would always hear his dad say to his friends, “Hey, compa, want a beer?” So while Herrera, 44, isn’t quite fluent in Spanish, he’s very familiar with “compa,” an informal word for friend or buddy. That term became part of the name of the taproom he and Angel Medina, the mind behind the Pearl District’s República and Reforma Roasters, plan to open in downtown Portland later this year: Entre Compas, or “between friends.”
Herrera, a former head brewer at Portland’s LABrewatory (temporarily closed due to COVID-19), says Entre Compas’s vision is to represent BIPOC-owned companies while collaborating with other brewers. He imagines a neon sign where the “M” in Entre Compas flickers on and off, so it reads “Entre Copas,” or “between cups.” Unlike at most taprooms, Herrera says his whole lineup will be collaborations—across the state, the country, and in Mexico City. One potential collab? An IPA with Xicha Brewing.
Herrera says his background in microbiology and focus on collaboration will drive the beer, as opposed to gimmicky ingredients or expectations based on where something or someone comes from. “I want to make really good beer that’s respected in Portland,” Herrera says. “Mexican lagers are going to be around. Mexican beer is going to be around. I don’t need to tap into that market so much. I just want to make real good, high-quality craft microbrews.”
While a brewery is the ultimate goal, he hopes the taproom will generate the revenue they need to expand, potentially becoming the city’s first Mexican American–owned brewery. “With my parents coming from Mexico, and parents always wanting the best for their kids and to always have a better future, I think I just want to make them proud,” Herrera says.
Entre Compas, Portland’s first Mexican American-owned brewery, begins delivering on promise without cliché
Brewer Nick Herrera might not ever make a Mexican lager.
In fact, expect no clichés or preconceptions to come out of Entre Compas, Portland’s first Mexican American-owned brewery. Herrera, Entre Compas’ founder and the son of Mexican immigrants, has released the brewery’s first beers, a Vienna lager and the West Coast style Entre Compas IPA.
And Verano IPA, a West Coast style collaboration with Northeast Portland’s Culmination Brewing, will be released next week. Those styles of beer – appealing to the varied palate of craft beer drinkers – are among the wide range of offerings Entre Compas plans.
More collaborations are on the way, an approach that aligns with the brewery’s name – “entre compas” is slang for compadre, translating to “between really good friends,” Herrera said. The possibilities include initial conversations with breweries such as Portland’s StormBreaker, Old Town and Ecliptic.
“The ultimate goal is to highlight the industry, just how we all get along together and make really good beer,” said Herrera, 45. “I want to be respected, not just, ‘Oh, he’s just a person of color and he’s taking advantage of making these gimmicky beers.’ I don’t want to be that.”
Those gimmicks? Consider frequent brewery offerings along the lines of tres leches stouts and Mexican hot chocolate porters that attempt to represent the culture while using branding that leans on stereotypes, Herrera said.
Beyond that, Herrera’s attitude is limitless about what styles will come out of the Entre Compas brewhouse. At North Portland’s Labrewatory until it closed nearly two years ago, Herrera honed his craft as head brewer and instructor at the experimental and instructional brewery, and his bronze at the 2020 Oregon Beer Awards for German light lager was third only to Von Ebert Brewing and Breakside Brewery.
Herrera is a first-generation Mexican American born and raised in California by parents who emigrated from Mexico as children. His father is now a retired police officer, and his mother worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in California’s Central Valley.
Herrera earned his doctorate in microbiology from the University of California at San Diego after a bachelor’s in genetics from the University of California at Davis, then he worked for a decade in biotech before starting in the San Diego brewing industry. He moved to Oregon in 2018 to be near family, and he brought his background and desire to always be learning to the brewhouse at Labrewatory.
“In my whole tenure of going to graduate school, you have to learn all the different disciplines in science – there’s math, there’s physics, there’s chemistry, and biology of course – and all of those are used in brewing,” Herrera said. “So I feel like that’s my advantage, is just knowing all the little scientific details of making beer.”
His heritage is part of who he is and what Entre Compas will be, Herrera said, but it won’t define the brewery’s scope. His beers will range from IPAs and pub styles, to lagers across the spectrum, to sours and beyond.
“Culture is part of our mission. It’s not all of it,” he said in a recent interview with The Oregonian/OregonLive to announce the start of the brewery. “Like this collab, this Verano IPA, Verano means summer. It’s a summer IPA.
“So I don’t mind thinking about maybe all my beers will be named in Spanish, as a teaching tool. I don’t know yet, but I kind of like it. So then people have to say Spanish words,” he said with a laugh.
Herrera and Entre Compas are receiving the support and backing of Angel Medina and his República Hospitality Group, operator of such Portland favorites as acclaimed coffee roaster La Perlita and the restaurant República. Medina’s latest venture, Los Ponchos, is serving as a surrogate home for Entre Compas, which is contract brewing and exploring the possibility of a taproom or brewpub in the near future.
Mexico City discussions
Medina and Herrera met in 2019, when the Labrewatory instructor was teaching brewing classes in Mexico City, Medina’s home at the time.
“Some of the initial conversations he and I had happened in Mexico City,” Medina said. “I was able to see him in his element. I was able to see the way people were just learning. As cliché as this sounds, they were learning not just how to make beer but the appreciation for it.”
Medina and Herrera recognized their parallel thinking in distancing themselves from dominant-culture clichés and expectations. Medina, for example, doesn’t serve chips and guacamole or margaritas at his establishments.
“We didn’t want to do any of the stuff that we thought was just goofy,” Medina said. “We said if we’re going to take on a brewery that’s Mexican American owned, then it’s going to have very much that image without having to exploit the idea of what Mexican American or what Mexican is.
“So even as we started developing some of these ideas, it was very much no, no, no, we’re not going to do a horchata pale ale. That’s too easy,” he said. “We’re talking about using native (herbs and fruits) from Mexico, and figuring out a way to add to the character of what a beautiful beer could be.”
They have also developed a very deliberate business plan for Entre Compas. Los Ponchos will have taps dedicated to the brewery, and its beers are already being delivered to retail establishments through Day One Distribution.
“We love that their goal is to just make really great beer and to avoid gimmicks and unnecessary ingredients,” said Rob Roda, Day One’s founder. “When Entre Compas first approached us with the idea of working together we were thrilled by Nick’s vision for the brewery, and we’re very excited to work with the first Mexican American owned brewery in Portland.”
Herrera and Medina are in the early exploration stage of opening a taproom and a kitchen.
“I would partner with República Hospitality Group, there would be a brewery front and center, like a showpiece of the place, and a lot of taps,” Herrera said. “He would provide all the food and run the restaurant. So, it would be almost like (Los Ponchos) but bigger with a lot of stainless steel in it.”
The beer collaborations are part of that plan for introducing Entre Compas to Portland.
“The thing to do is use (Herrera’s) connections and the friendships that we’ve developed here and reach out to people and say, hey, this is what our idea is, this is what we’re trying to present,” Medina said. “So when the time comes for us to open a taproom or open a brewery or whatever it might be, that you do all the things you’re supposed to do initially when you start a project like this, so we didn’t just go flip the light switch on from one day to another and nobody had a clue who we were or what we stood for.”
Eager to be a part
April Sluiter said she and her husband and Culmination co-founder, Tomas Sluiter, were eager to be a part of Entre Compas’ beginnings. For them, mentoring and helping develop young breweries and brewers is an important part of their lives.
“The way Tomas and I see it, collaborations are not about who is the coolest kid on the block,” she said. “It’s not about trends, it’s about friends. Sharing stories and learning from each other.
“It’s like, welcome to the community. There’s no ego involved. It’s about a final product that we all created and can be proud of.”