Over the past year, I’ve been fortunate enough to get to know McKean, one of the men behind Migration Brewing. The very first time I met him, he seemed cautious and reserved, almost skeptical which is neither good nor bad most of the time. My first impression of him was that he took life seriously; he came across as extremely professional, and he meant business. Clearly not David Nijhawan.
Very quickly I realized that beyond the professional and serious side, McKean possessed a tremendous life story that spans other countries and a broad set of really interesting experiences. I hope to shed some light on the man behind Migration here today and share with you some insights he’s been kind enough to show me over the past year.
There and Back Again
A 6th Generation Oregonian, not many of McKean’s type seem to exist (or at least I haven’t met them). His passion and zeal for Oregon are what brought him back to Oregon, but his passion and zeal for Oregon also took him away. Many people leave their home to simply see a change of pace, or simply to get the heck out of a place. McKean’s take stands in stark contrast. Yes, he did want to see something different, but in the back of his mind the notion of “where can I go and experience life and bring it back to Oregon” permeated his choices, from college, to the Peace Corps, to Thailand, to Morocco, to eventually coming back to Oregon. That frame of mind inspires me. It runs akin to the people of New Zealand who often spend significant time sharing their culture, but also taking in other cultures in order to bring something special back to their own culture. The more I spoke with McKean, I realized that ethos bleeds into every aspect of his life, especially with professional paths, and ultimately, beer. Ultimately he chose to attend Syracuse University, in upstate New York as his muse of sorts to find new life experiences.
Why Syracuse? He chose Syracuse as his first stop from Oregon because of the “energy, community, and the lifestyle” plus they had a reputable business marketing program. He said it best “something called me”- in many ways, I feel the same about Oregon for me (among other different places at various points of my life). As we discussed this, I began to realize that my life ran much more in common with this serious professional dude than I knew. It doesn’t really surprise me that Syracuse resonated with him. I’ve lived in Vermont, and that part of the country boasts some of the most beautiful sights in America. The culture is definitely different than Oregon, and the ability to synthesize all of those experiences and bring it back to Oregon is exceptional.
Next came Thailand. We all see pictures of Thailand’s beauty, so it also should not surprise anyone that it resonated with McKean. That said, something that stuck out to me was, again, how he framed it: “[Thailand] It made me want to live and help out developing a country and really get into the community and learn the language and eventually try to help my own community somehow, someway”. When I had the opportunity to go to Thailand as one of the winners of the Ultimate Thailand Explorer contest (which, unfortunately, I didn’t get to complete), my frame stood in stark contrast to that – for me, it was all about fun, games, and exploring. That doesn’t present anything inherently bad, rather, it’s just different. Just like I noted above, the frame of mind makes McKean different, and I’m sure he’s challenged and influenced others too.
Over the next few years, McKean spent time in Morocco, London, and most notably, spent time in the Peace Corps as a small business development volunteer. His insights from the Peace Corps could write another article alone, so we’ll leave it at that for now.
As is a common thread among people here, McKean noted he grew up around beer. In his own words: “I could literally see Henry Weinhard’s brewing…and if the wind was blowing the right way, I could smell it in high school” As noted above McKean boasts of his 6th generation roots, and he duly noted that it’s so woven into the fabric of the community here, it’s almost impossible to not at least consider it. Much like others I interviewed for this, McKean came from an entrepreneurial family. His mom and stepdad ran a publication that focused on sports and collector cars, and in addition, both his mother and father were involved in local politics, and community organizing. As a result, he grew up somewhat assuming he’d do something entrepreneurial in life. It was more a question of what, versus when or if.
Enter the Lucky Labrador
The Lucky Labrador Brewing Company presented McKean with his first real foray into beer. A high school friend worked there, and he joined the crew where he learned all facets of the business. Again, that’s not an uncommon path, but as the interviewer, you get a unique way of learning about someone’s history. As one of my mentors stated, the quality of information you get directly correlates with how good your questions are. Anyone can tell that McKean (and the other owners) know a lot about the industry, and further, you can easily tell that they put a lot of thought into every move they make. One can easily conclude that their experience at the Lucky Lab prepared them well. That said, one cannot easily conclude or see where their passion for the community came from, nor can you really tell the “why” behind Migration’s insistence on sitting at the forefront of anything that helps the community.
In short, I know a LOT of kind and giving people (and businesses). I know a handful, though, that really try to weave that mindset of service into everything they do. For me personally, they’ve helped me out in several nonprofit events with the arts community here as well as animal welfare. McKean traced it back to his time at the Lucky Lab. He felt they tried to make the environment there more like a beer hall than a bar; it was a a place to gather around and push society forward. In the same vein, the Migration pub is set up to do just that, and they regularly host events of all types for that purpose. As noted above, his parents had their hand in local business and politics so the notion of “service” standing at the forefront of his life seemed like business as usual for McKean. In talking to him, I realized very quickly that all he seems to truly care about is how to bring people up around him and help the community. Sure, he wants the brewery to succeed like anyone else, but that’s definitely not what drives him or his brother or the other owners. It’s refreshing if you ask me.
I can say, from my conversations with the other owners, that ethos is a shared ethos. And, as McKean noted it was the “culmination of all of those experiences…marrying the passion with the right group of people” that spawned Migration Brewing Company. He noted that the timing was right in 2008 when the sky seemed to be falling. For them, that was the right time to jump ship and do their own thing. Years later, it’s clear they made the right choice. I always ask people where the name came from, and of course, the story always reflects the person’s true character. McKean noted that one of the other owners proposed the name based on a poster he saw at Por Que No, and the poster was all about people migrating from place to place. It resonated with McKean because he felt the term “Migration” encapsulated a way of life: live life…move..travel…experience new cultures…experience new ideas…and celebrate that. He felt that the name represented what Portland was experiencing at the time and continues to experience. The name stuck.
Without going into the details, look for an expansion in 2018 that will include a production space and taproom. They have a ton of events in the near future, most notably the 2nd annual “Celebrating the Craft” on July 20th with features 8 breweries and some of the proceeds will support the Glen Hay Falconer Foundation to support scholarships for young brewers.
And that’s where I’ll leave this article…part 2 is forthcoming at a later date, but the thing I really want to hit home here is this: McKean is a gentleman and a scholar. He’s influenced my life personally with advice on getting plugged into Portland, to tips on how to life a more fulfilling and healthy lifestyle. This (and the rest of the team) is a man dedicated to service, to helping people’s dreams come true, and to helping our beloved community thrive. I challenge any reader to simply go into the pub sometime and ask for him, and just talk to him. My guess is that he will impart some pearl of wisdom for you to take away.