By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
When Alesong Brewing & Blending opened its 2,500-square-foot facility in an industrial area of west Eugene in 2016, it was just the beginning.
“The dream since we all came together to start Alesong has been to have a brewery in the country, somewhere we can brew beer that reflects this little piece of the Willamette Valley,” says Doug Coombs, who founded the brewery along with his brother Brian and former Oakshire brewmaster Matt Van Wyk. In its first year, Alesong has acquired accolades, including a 2016 Great American Beer Festival gold medal, and now distributes throughout Oregon and the San Francisco Bay Area.
In July, the founders’ dream became real. Alesong opened its newly constructed 3,500-square-foot hilltop tasting room and wild fermentation and aging facility, located on 5 acres next to King Estate Winery on Territorial Highway southwest of downtown Eugene. With eight taps, beer to go, and views of the surrounding valley — not to mention air filled with microbes influenced by the agricultural and winemaking areas surrounding Alesong — the new space serves both as the public face of Alesong, but also represents the brewery’s wild side.
At the core of Alesong’s brewing philosophy is a dedication to unique, limited-release beers — no flagships or regular offerings here. Focused on oak aging and Belgian-inspired techniques, Alesong brews both wild and non-wild beers, using locally grown fruits, herbs, special yeasts and other microbes. Since the brewery adopted techniques similar to those used by artisan winemakers and lambic blenders, the owners believe their products will appeal to wine lovers too.
“Our desire is to capture the terroir of our little piece of the world through a combination of local ingredients and microbes,” says Coombs. “We also believe in the parallels between what we're doing with barrel aging and blending and what our neighbors in the wine industry are doing. There's a good opportunity for crossover between customers, both those that love beer and those that may not yet love beer because they haven't been exposed to some of the more unique styles that we make that could be more approachable for someone who's more into wine than typical craft beer.”
Surrounding the tasting room are extensive grounds where Alesong plans to have lawn games, child activity areas, “nooks and crannies” for hanging out, and crop and orchard space to grow produce that will end up in Alesong beers. A patio with 10 picnic tables wraps around the front and one side of the building, with space at the back for a small stage for live music. Food carts and in-house small plates are available, but picnics are welcome too. Inside, a large, bright common area houses comfy chairs and a couch. Alesong also is planning on holding onsite educational sessions for the public, plus special events for people on the brewery’s mailing list.
Currently Alesong brews wort at Block 15 Brewing in Corvallis, then brings it to the Eugene location on Conger Street for fermentation and aging. Now the wort’s final destination will depend on whether it’s going clean or wild. Throughout the rest of 2017, Alesong is moving some of its fermentation tanks, barrels and other equipment to the new Territorial Highway location, which will serve as the wild fermentation counterpoint to the “clean” facility that Alesong retains at Conger Street. (Future plans may include an onsite brewhouse at the Conger Street site for access to municipal water and wastewater infrastructure.)
Beers bound for spirits barrels will be fermented, aged and blended at Conger Street. The goal, says Coombs, is to prevent exposure to “wild bugs” such as Brettanomyces. “The new facility will look a lot like the current in-town facility, with stainless fermenters and blending tanks, an open-top fermenter for some more wild experiments. The barrels and packaging equipment for our ‘wild’ beers will move out there as well,” explains Coombs. “Having the separate facilities helps us focus on and control our wild and sour program better, and the distance gives us peace of mind that our ‘clean’ beers won’t get contaminated.”
While Alesong says they haven’t had any cross-contamination issues so far, Coombs notes, “There's always a little more stress than we'd like that comes along with doing testing on all of our clean blends.”
After a fast-paced year that involved a lot of founder-aided construction, painting and other work related to getting the tasting room up and running, the team’s collaborative roles are solidifying. Each founder is blending his own expertise with the brewery’s operations. “Matt and Brian work pretty closely together to manage production, with Matt leading the charge on the hot side and Brian claiming responsibility for the cellar,” explains Coombs. “I’m the point on most of the sales, marketing and admin, but those are all team efforts as well.”
Two new employees manage the tasting room. However, Coombs says that he, Brian and Matt will be there regularly, “bartending, bussing and just hanging out and chatting with people. We love being out there and love sharing our process and story. It's a big part of why we're all doing this to begin with.”
With construction finished, Alesong is refocusing on what matters most: the beer. “We're looking forward to more experimentation with spontaneous fermentations,” says Coombs. “The native microbes out in the country are a lot more exciting than what we might've been able to pick up on West 11th [Avenue].”
Alesong Brewing & Blending
80848 Territorial Hwy, Eugene
Dogs, minors and picnics welcome
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
It’s the start of a new year, so time to brace yourself and get up to speed on some of the upcoming developments in the craft beer scene from Eugene to Roseburg to McMinnville.
Alesong Tasting Room and Beer Club
Currently the newest brewery in the Eugene/Springfield area, Alesong Brewing & Blending starts 2017 with additional developments: the opening of a rural tasting room and inclusion in a beer club.
Located on 4.5 acres bordering a winery about 20 miles southwest of downtown Eugene, the 3,500-square-foot facility will house a barrel room, production facility and tasting room. Co-founder Matt Van Wyk expects a spring opening.
Meanwhile, Alesong beers will be among the offerings in the Rare Beer Club, one of the memberships offered by monthlyclubs.com. “We were so happy to have connected with Alesong,” says Kris Calef, monthlyclubs.com president. “I can honestly say that I haven’t been as excited about working with a brewery as I was after tasting Gin Hop Farm. Outstanding beers.”
New Name for Mancave
After a year of ups and downs, including the loss of its brewery space, Mancave Brewing Company has established an alternating proprietorship arrangement with Elk Horn Brewery. To further mark the brewery’s new chapter, founder Brandon Woodruff has also renamed the business. With limited production of less than 25 barrels per month, Manifest Beer Company plans to release a beer per month, with limited keg distribution in the Eugene and Portland areas. The first release will be Exalted IPA.
“We wanted to give up more often than not, so many things piled against us at once,” said Woodruff on the brewery’s Facebook page. “Only two things kept us going: an insatiable search for beers unlike any other, and our family of followers.”
Oakshire Takes It Back to the Brewery
While visitors to Oakshire Brewing now come to its Public House in the Whiteaker area, the 10-year-old establishment wanted to take things back to its roots. The public will once again be welcomed into its production brewery, complete with a small tasting room — a tradition that had been abandoned for some time.
During the summer of 2017, Oakshire plans to resume Friday tastings “that were once a staple of the Oakshire beer experience,” says co-founder Jeff Althouse. “Beer, brewery tours, music and food carts will showcase the roots of our small company and allow our old and new friends to enjoy a beer at the location where it all happens.” More details will be announced in spring.
Oakshire will also bump up its CORE seasonal line: Sun Made Raspberry Berliner Weisse, with real raspberries, will be released in February 2017, followed by the original Sun Made Cucumber Berliner Weisse in May. Oakshire has added dedicated equipment for kettle souring and plans to release more sour beers.
Ninkasi’s Three Bs
Ninkasi goes into 2017 with a new distribution partnership with Bigfoot Beverages, a new director of brewing process development and a return of their popular Believer Double Red Ale.
Beginning this month, Eugene-based Bigfoot will distribute bottled Ninkasi beers to off-premise accounts in Eugene. This change will allow Ninkasi’s local distribution team to focus on sales to area bars and restaurants.
While completing his doctorate in Brewing Science at Oregon State University, Daniel Sharp interned at Ninkasi. Now with his completed Ph.D., Sharp returns to Ninkasi — but as the brewery’s new director of brewing process development. Drawing on his research on hop utilization and impacts to flavor and aroma in brewing, Sharp will focus on improving Ninkasi’s brewing capabilities as well as leading educational and research efforts.
And did you believe that Believer could come back? Originally released as a winter seasonal in 2006, the popular double red ale returns through April as part of Ninkasi’s Seasonal Release Series. A portion of all Believer sales will be contributed to three national nonprofits.
Lookingglass Looks Ahead
Lookingglass Brewing, located outside of Roseburg, aims to expand its brew system and Winston-based taproom, as well as add a bottling line, says founder Mark Nunnelee. “Ideally, we would like to expand to a 7-barrel system and increase the number of our sales accounts,” explains Nunnelee. “The number of accounts we can have currently is limited due to the size of our brew system.” Nunnelee is also exploring a partnership with Winston Donuts Cafe to bring food into the Lookingglass tasting room.
Backside Brewing Co. in Roseburg recently began bottling and self-distributing its popular flagship Axeman Red. Backside’s 22-ounce bottles initially will be available at the tasting room and in select locations in Southern Oregon.
“We’re really excited for bottles,” says owner K.C. Mckillip. “Getting beer on draft is great, but you only have one tap handle. The bottle gets our logo and image on the shelf. Axeman is one of our top-sellers, and there are so many more potential places for us to see beer now.”
Mckillip plans to extend distribution gradually, with the hope to have four packaged beers by summer.
Expansion/New Brewmaster for Salud
Roseburg’s Latin-inspired Salud Restaurant & Brewery is expanding. After naming a new brewmaster, Chad Northcraft, owner Manny Anaya has announced that Salud will be moving their brewery to an off-site facility. The new brewery will be walking distance from the restaurant, allowing more dedicated space for brewing, conditioning, packaging and distribution.
New Brewery Planned
A gluten-free brewery in McMinnville is in the works. Doppelganger Brewing applied for Oregon Liquor Control Commission licensure in October 2016. Its current address is on Northeast Riverside Drive in an industrial part of town.
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