Oblivion brewmaster Darin Butschy (left) recruited three new partners last fall, and their capital, enthusiasm and labor have re-invigorated sales and visibility. Pictured, clockwise: Bryan Harrison, Chris Springer and Ryan McDevitt. Photo courtesy of Ryan Schneider, Oblivion marketing/digital media coordinator
By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Oblivion Brewing in Bend has been on an economic roller coaster since opening in the summer of 2013.
Owner/brewer Darin Butschy and his wife started the small eastside brewery. Sales were slow at first, especially since it was a bare-bones, two-person operation with self-distribution out of their Subaru. The clean, crisp, easy-drinking beers soon gained a following and a local restaurant owner decided to open a pub on Northwest Galveston Avenue and feature Oblivion’s beer.
“We gave them rights to our name. We had nothing to do with the pub itself. We had all eight tap handles,” said Butschy. The pub was busy — too busy for owner Jon Sargent and he closed it after seven months at the end of 2015.
“It hurt the name,” said Butschy. “People thought the brewery was closed.”
When the couple split up, Butschy was on his own for a while. Business was definitely down. That’s when he recruited three friends to help shore up the operation. Together, they bought 65 percent of the company and Butschy retained 35 percent. Chris Springer, who worked at JELD-WEN for 23 years before retiring a couple of years ago, is now the assistant brewer and production manager. “When we came to meet Darin we really liked his beer and wanted to be involved,” he explained. The rest of the trio includes Bryan Harrison, who handles business management, and Ryan McDevitt, who is in charge of sales and distribution. “We have 85 active accounts now. We self-distribute all over Central Oregon in Bend, Redmond, Prineville, La Pine, Sisters and Sunriver. We are talking with distributors now,” McDevitt said.
Starting last fall when the new partners came on board, the brewery has seen steady growth. Production alone has increased to 60 barrels a month — three times the amount made in the same period of time last year. A small office was recently repurposed as a taproom inside the brewery for tastings and growler fills. The space is similar to Boneyard Brewery — no frills, just beer. While there are limited hours at this point, Butschy said drop-ins are welcome if you call ahead since someone is almost always there working.
Butschy learned to brew at SLO Brew in San Luis Obispo, Calif. while he was studying chemistry at Cal Poly. “I was there for six years during the time when Firestone Walker was negotiating a buyout,” said Butschy, “foreshadowing what it has become.” His brewing work brought him into contact with California’s craft leaders like Sierra Nevada Brewing Company and Anderson Valley Brewing Company.
He moved to Bend for the Northwest lifestyle and the excellent water. “I kept brewing to stay sharp on my game,” he said. As he saw more and more breweries pop up, he decided to go commercial. “I brew more traditional beers. I try to keep it balanced and traditional. That’s the way I was trained, not swaying away from what beer should be.”
His 10-barrel system includes a couple of 10-barrel fermenters along with one 20-barrel vessel and two 40-barrel tanks. Business manager Harrison is not stopping there, though, adding that “six more 40-barrels are on our wish list.”
The top-selling flagship beer is an IRA called Road Ryder, described as a “dry-hopped bomb.” Introduced as a fall seasonal, it took off and is now available year-round. “Our red is one of the best; it’s where we stand out,” said Harrison.
Oblivion has six regular beers, with additional seasonals and a few one-offs. All the beer is draft only. Other beers include a German-style pilsner with German lager yeast and hops in accordance with the German purity laws, a summer ISA, an IPA with five different Oregon hops and a stout featuring ten malts. Butschy is also aging a blond in Woodford Reserve bourbon barrels for the low-production/specialty XTap at the Bend Brewfest in August. Additionally, Oblivion’s Oblivious Blonde recently won the Central Oregon Beer Week SMaSH (single malt and single hop) competition. It’s customary for the winner to brew the official Central Oregon Beer Week beer the following year.
With that victory and a path for continued growth, Butschy and his new partners are looking forward to reestablishing Oblivion in Central Oregon and they’re having a good time while doing it.
Oblivion Brewing Co.
63027 Plateau Drive, Suite 4, Bend
Hours: Noon to 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday
By Dustin Gouker
For the Oregon Beer Growler
When the 2017 American Hop Convention came to Bend in January, it sparked a unique opportunity for the craft beer community in Central Oregon.
The convention, which is held in different cities across the country annually, examines the future and history of the hop industry across several days. It attracts hundreds of people associated with the beer industry.
But such a big event doesn’t come through relatively small towns like Bend all the time, so the brewers in the region decided to take the opportunity to do something special.
A variety of brewers came together — via the Central Oregon Brewers Guild — to brew a special beer for the convention, called Oregon Tr’Ale IPA.
Robin Johnson, the assistant brewmaster at Deschutes Brewery’s Bend location, recounted the effort to get a beer ready for the convention at the urging of Crux Fermentation Project’s Larry Sidor. More than a dozen folks from area breweries got together at the pub, as Johnson recalled.
“As we started kicking around ideas, everyone really liked the idea that it would be an all-Oregon brew,” Johnson said.
No detail was spared in making sure it was an Oregon-centric beer:
—Experimental hops came from Willamette Valley Hops.
--Madras’ Mecca Grade Estate Malt, used by several area breweries already, was tapped for the malt.
—The label is in the shape of the state of Oregon.
—The bottle cap features the state seal.
Picking the style was an easy choice, given the platform for the beer.
“We said, let’s do an IPA here,” Johnson said. “Let’s showcase the hops and show the convention what we can do as Central Oregon brewers.”
The group settled on using two varieties of experimental hops from Willamette and the Vanora and Pelton malts from Mecca Grade.
In all, 10 breweries had a hand in conceptualizing the beer and making the idea a reality. Boneyard Beer did the brewing, Deschutes coordinated the gathering of raw materials and Crux provided the bottling machine. A variety of breweries helped with the bottling process.
Showcasing hops was a major theme throughout the week in January when the convention was in town. Growers offered up experimental hops to area brewers who wanted to play around with them. Crux put 18 of those beers on display at a special tasting at its Bend pub.
But the biggest effort came with Oregon Tr’Ale. Will we see any more collaborations in the future from the Central Oregon craft brewing scene? Don’t count out the possibility.
“For this beer, we saw an opportunity to do something cool for Oregon,” Johnson said. “We would all be open to do it again in the future. It was a really positive experience and we felt really good about the beer we produced.
“But we’re all pretty busy guys with our own beers,” Johnson said with a laugh.
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