By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
In 1979, a little place called Home Fermenter Center opened in Eugene. Focused on winemaking and homebrewing, the shop cranked along for 35 years until 2014, when the original owner, Jim Stockton, decided to retire.
Stockton passed the reins to Jason Alderman, 43, who has lived in Eugene, off and on, since 1998. He and his wife Jennifer have been upgrading the shop and expanding offerings. In April, the Aldermans celebrated two years of fermentation as a passion and a business.
Q: What led you to take over Home Fermenter?
JA: I was a regular customer and found out the shop was for sale. I have always worked for larger companies and was ready for a change. I felt it was finally an opportunity to do something for a living that I had more passion for: fermentation.
Q: What is your background?
JA: We started playing with different ferments back in 2007 and really found ourselves enjoying making beer. Most recently, I was an operations manager at a regional distribution center for a big box home improvement company. Our distribution experience has definitely given us good experience with supply chain and with inventory levels.
Q: How does the shop support home fermenters?
JA: Prior to taking over at the Home Fermenter, the shop was heavily focused on the wine side of the business. We feel that we have the beer side caught up with the times and would now say that the beer and wine sides are evenly represented. We have sought to support the home fermenter by carrying more product to make cheese, soda, kombucha, kefir and other fermented drinks and foods.
Q: How do you and your wife split the day-to-day duties?
JA: Jennifer has taken a big role with the wine, cider, kombucha and fermented food side of the operations. She has been experimenting with different ingredients and techniques to be able to share her experiences. I tend to be more of the go-to for the beer and draft departments. As a team, we keep everything going and keep a strong focus on customer service.
Q: What have been the ups and downs of the past two years?
JA: Being able to bring new life to the shop has been rewarding. It's great hearing customer feedback that we are taking the shop in the right direction. Being able to talk about fermentation most of the day is also an up.
A down is not having the time to brew as much as I like. We had to sell and buy a house last year to cut down on our commuting time. Now that we are settled, some of that time for brewing will be coming back.
Q: What have you been changing?
JA: We are currently rebranding. We are removing the "Center" from the name and going forward with Home Fermenter. This year, we are planning on getting the building painted and new signage.
We recently purchased a new electric house grain mill with a 60-pound hopper, as well as a new vacuum-sealing machine. We will be repacking hops and sealing them with a nitrogen flush. We have added new items to inventory, most of them being beer-related. Later this year, we plan on switching out the store fixtures and giving everything a needed update.
One large project currently going on is improving our website, homefermenter.com. We hope to turn on our online store this year.
Q: What are your thoughts on Eugene’s craft beer and homebrew communities?
JA: I love Eugene's and Springfield's craft beer scene. It's great to see the collaborations and support that the local breweries give each other. I have had the opportunity to attend a few of the Cascade Brewers Society club meetings over the last year. There's a great group of brewers over there, and I've picked up good information on improving brewing every time I visit.
Taking over the Home Fermenter was a big leap for us, but we are glad that we took that jump. It's great being able to follow some passion in life and being able to work with people with the same passions. We are thankful for the opportunities and thankful for our wonderful customers. Their support and sincere feedback and comments have been most valuable as we go through this journey. We are thankful to be a part of the homebrew community and look forward to it for many years to come.
[a] 123 Monroe St., Eugene
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Sometimes newlyweds return from their honeymoon and immediately prepare a room for a baby. But for Kiley and Michael Gwynn of Eugene, they returned from their 2008 honeymoon/first anniversary trip to Hawaii with a passion for a new hobby: homebrewing.
“We fell in love with Maui Brewing’s CoCoNut PorTeR, and that started us because it wasn’t available in Oregon,” says Michael. What began as a way to keep a beloved beer in the pantry, though, became an extension of something else. “It’s one more way for us to be connected,” he explains. “There are very few things we do separately. This is one more way to collaborate with each other. Like with any couple, you have so much going on, you don’t always see each other during the day, so this builds that connection even more.”
The couple focuses their time on work, craft beer, homebrew, “beercations,” and their dog, a red heeler named Penny. Today that Maui porter is a regular homebrew for the Gwynns, but their hobby has grown far beyond one clone. They started basic, but a “good tax refund” coincided with information that someone in Salem was getting out of brewing. The Gwynns bought his 10-gallon, single-tier, all-grain setup (though they now use a 26-gallon brew pot to accommodate larger batches). Their garage houses four 60-gallon wine barrels and a full-sized bourbon barrel. They maintain one bottling line for standard yeasts and a second for beers made with wild microbes. Members since 2009 of Eugene-area homebrew club the Cascade Brewers Society, in 2015 Michael, a learning specialist at University of Oregon’s University Teaching and Learning Center, became club president. (The Gwynns also keep the club’s Flanders barrel, and various other member barrels, in the garage.) A social media strategist at Oregon Community Credit Union, Kiley has promoted Eugene Beer Week and runs the Eugene chapter of women’s craft beer group Barley’s Angels.
“We brew things that aren’t as easy to get locally,” says Kiley. “The last year we’ve done a lot of Belgians, saisons, more beers for their sour character. This year we’re doing lots of British beers — ESBs, milds, real ales on a homebrew scale. It’s not something we’ve done before.”
Every year Michael and Kiley brew a different beer for holiday gifts. For 2015 they brewed a Belgian breakfast stout, modeled after Founders Breakfast Stout from Michigan. The Gwynns developed a variant they called Vanilla Latte, brewed with coffee beans and vanilla beans. Kiley designed labels and Michael worked with a mobile canner out of Salem for canning.
The couple met in 2001 while attending UO. “We met at a party, slowly got to know each other over the course of a year,” says Kiley. “It wasn’t an instant thing, but grew over time.” Six years after meeting, Kiley and Michael married in 2007.
A love of craft beer has been a constant. “Growing up in Oregon, you’re more steeped in craft beer than other places,” explains Kiley. “The cheapest thing I ever drank was Henry Weinhard’s.” When Kiley turned 21, her “first legal beer” was a growler of Bombay Bomber IPA from Steelhead. The next day Kiley went to High Street and brought home a Mason jar of Ruby. “My father was a Coors Light drinker,” Kiley recollects with a laugh, “and he just talked about how bitter it was.”
Michael came to craft beer in part through his love of cooking. “I’ve never been an exceptional cook, but I enjoy tinkering with food and flavors and have the do-it-yourself mentality,” he says. Already wading the shallow waters of the growing ocean of craft beer, a barrel-aged stout “blew me away with the flavors,” says Michael. “We had it with a meal where everything just worked together perfectly. I was heading for homebrewing, and that got me there.”
As with the rest of their relationship, both Gwynns cite collaboration as key to their homebrewing. Brews begin not over the kettle, but over discussion, says Kiley: “What do we feel like? What’s in season? What do we have? What could be different from what we have? We talk about recipe formulation together — hops and yeast.”
From there, the couple goes into a mode of division of labor. One gets a yeast starter going, one goes to the homebrew store. Brew day is on the weekend, after a full work week. “He does most of the work on brew day,” says Kiley. “He does the manual labor while I get other stuff done around the house or run errands. Some days we have a brew day together, but we are involved in so many other things related to beer, that we find those brewing hours work best with him brewing and me cleaning the house.”
For other homebrewing couples, both Kiley and Michael suggest collaboration as a top priority.
“Make sure you’re doing something that works for both people,” says Kiley. “If you only brew one batch at a time and you don’t have multiple years of beers to rely on, make sure you brew something you both can enjoy.”
Honest feedback is also key, says Michael, who considers his “nose and palate” to be less refined than his wife’s. “I’ve gone to Kiley multiple times with beer ideas,” he says. “I can’t tell you how many times she’s shot me down. And I don’t take it as a slap to the face. With our relationship, we are each other’s best friends and we can be blunt with each other.”
They also make time to talk back and forth, bouncing more ideas off each other until they have a concept and recipe. Then, once the beer is in a glass, they compare notes and discuss the final product: Did it work the way they both intended? What worked well? What can be improved next time?
“Everyone has something to bring and be part of the conversation,” says Michael. “Things will work out.”
Corvallis Club Combines Craft and Community
By Anthony St. Clair
Autumn is a busy time for the 33 members of the Corvallis-based Heart of the Valley Homebrewers (HotV). “We just got finished putting on our very successful Septembeerfest,” says Carrie Reeves, who became club president in January 2014. “This was our seventh year, and proceeds go to the Linn Benton Food Share. We estimate that we had around 3,000 attendees this year.”
Members also spent September participating in Corvallis Beer Week, which ran Sept. 5–13. But the club is hardly sitting down to catch its breath over a refreshing pint of homebrew. Now members are planning the club’s Annual Oregon Homebrew Festival, a Beer Judge Certification Program and American Homebrewers Association sanctioned event held every May. For the last 16 years, the competition has also been a qualifier for the Masters Championship of Amateur Brewing.
A club member since 2013, Reeves took to the community of homebrewers and their mutual love of all things beer—a common thread in the area. Today Oregon has 32 homebrew clubs registered with the American Homebrew Association, but the Corvallis club was one of the first. HotV was founded in 1982 as Corvallis Homebrewers, and also held its first annual homebrew competition, now the the longest-running event of its kind in the Pacific Northwest. Once homebrewers from surrounding areas participated, the name was changed to Heart of the Valley Homebrewers. Today, the club has members in Corvallis, Salem, Albany, Sweet Home, and even Eugene, home of the Cascade Brewers Society, a fellow homebrew club.
HotV members meet on the third Wednesday of the month, alternating between member homes in Albany and Corvallis. “We sample one another’s beers, as well as those of local brewpubs and unusual commercial brews,” Reeves says. “Occasionally we arrange comparative tastings of commercial examples of beer styles, with members voting according to their preferences. It’s a great way to experience brews that one hasn't tried before, and to find new favorites.”
In between meetings, members gather for club business and also for the good ole joy of homebrewing. Brewing sours is popular right now, Reeves says, a reflection of the ongoing changes in the industry and populace. “Just as Pacific Northwest trends have adjusted, our club has reflected that,” she explains. “For instance, members might increase the hop content of beers, and find ways to get creative with ingredients that are local to us here in the Willamette Valley. But a passion for making beer remains the same.”
Members plan a wide range of regular club and community events too. In addition to the 63 craft beverages on offer at Septembeerfest, HotV organizes club brewing days, holiday parties, pub crawls, and picnics. Since 1995, members have picked up litter on Highway 20 between Albany and Corvallis, as part of the Oregon Department of Transportation’s Adopt-A-Highway program. Today, four times a year members meet to clean up the highway. Over the last 19 years, their efforts have removed 900 bags of trash.
As Reeves looks ahead to the Nov. 29 Civil War between UO and OSU, she’s setting her game day plans. “I will be watching the Beavers hopefully win against the Ducks at my friend's house,” she says. “I will be drinking Lost Coast Tangerine Wheat, or whatever is on tap at their house, and I will be eating bad food like nachos and chili!” She might bring a bag of Chester's Puffcorn, her favorite snack.
Reeves also has her eye on 2015, her second year as club president. “It will be a really great year,” she says. “We have a lot of educational and fun activities planned.”
Changes Ahead for Eugene’s Cascade Brewers Society
By Anthony St. Clair
On the last Monday of every month, the brewers gather in the basement of downtown Eugene’s Rogue Ales Public House. Bottles hiss. People laugh. Eventually things settle down. News is shared, followed by discussion of a topic of beery import.
All the while the homebrew flows. Later, members of the Eugene-based Cascade Brewers Society (CBS) talk about life, homebrewing, beer, and more brewing. The meeting ends, but the camaraderie of homebrewing continues. Over the following month, club members will brew together, visit area pubs and breweries, plan events, and enter the monthly club-only competition.
Founded by a dozen people in 1988, the club’s membership stayed small for its first dozen years. In 2000, homebrewing gained in popularity. Today, people from Portland to Northern California are among the club’s 93 members.
“Meetings used to be in people’s homes. It’d be hard to have a regular space that could accommodate more people,” says Brandt Weaver, president since 2009. “Once we got our regular space in the bottom floor of Rogue, people felt more comfortable about stopping by. From there membership really started growing.”
Weaver joined CBS after moving to Eugene in 2002. “Most of the people there at the start are still really good friends. They wanted to share that homebrewing journey together,” Weaver explains. “When more people started getting together, they realized they had the energy to do more things. Bus trips, beer pairing dinners, things like that. The increase in membership led to more planned events. It also led to more of a focus on technical programs. Education, discussion of more particular aspects of brewing. It went from having homebrew and talking about it, to people presenting on different aspects of homebrewing.”
Today CBS members organize a range of events, from a summer group campout and monthly style-based judged competitions, to a fall chili cook-off and monthly happy hour. In collaboration with the Oakshire Public House, CBS members also participate in National Learn to Homebrew Day, an annual American Homebrewers Association event that introduces the public to homebrewing.
As the club rolls into an Oregon autumn, the fermenters are bubbling and beers are conditioning. Ciders, pumpkin beers, winter warmers, and Belgian styles are underway. Sour beers and barrel-aged beers are popular right now. “We’ve had club projects where we brew the same beer, fill a barrel, age it, and then divide the final beer,” Weaver says, noting the club’s love of experimentation.
“People use adjuncts that you wouldn’t see in commercial beers, things that wouldn’t be marketable,” he explains. “Non-traditional bittering, like teff or yarrow root. People are growing things in their yard to brew beer with.”
Looking ahead to the UO/OSU Civil War game, Weaver plans to attend any parties the club is invited to. He’ll pour a pint of what’s on tap—maybe an Oktoberfest or IPA—tuck in to chips and guacamole, and see how the game plays out. He also professes respect for Corvallis’s “impressive” Heart of the Valley Homebrewers. “We’re talking about having some events that could get the two clubs together, but we don’t have a lot of official contact.”
Future relations are a job for the club’s new president though.
After five years, Weaver will step down at the end of 2014. “We’re getting new blood and energy to do different things,” he explains. “We’ll hold the course with what we’ve been doing, but I’m excited about how new folks will be stepping up and bringing in their ideas. There will be good changes and growth for 2015.”
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